Hungry Hamster Fills Cheeks with Potentially Deadly Antidepressant

The Details

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With a name like Professor Sweetcheeks, you wouldn’t think he needed mood medications. When this rascally rodent got his paws on some sertraline, the active ingredient in Zoloft, however, the drug made its way into his cheeks faster than you can say, well, Professor Sweetcheeks.

“Our 11-year-old son Gregory begged for a pet hamster, and named him Professor Sweetcheeks,” said Christie of St. Louis, Mo. “A few months ago, we let Professor Sweetcheeks scurry around the kitchen island while we cut up carrots for him, and the next thing we knew, he was eating a Zoloft that was accidentally left on the counter. When we couldn’t remove the pill from his cheek, I asked my husband Greg to call poison control. They informed us the closest emergency hospital that treated rodents was 45 minutes away.”

At this point, it was time for the family to divide and concur. Greg shuttled the kids to school and other activities, while Christie loaded up Professor Sweetcheeks’ cage into the family minivan and headed off to the animal emergency hospital. The family was taking a trip to Lake of the Ozarks, so Christie was planning to meet the family down there once the hamster was released from the hospital.

Once Professor Sweetcheeks made it to Fox Creek Veterinary Hospital in Wildwood, Mo., Dr. Nelson, the veterinarian, worked on getting him to empty his cheek pouches while on the phone with the Pet Poison Helpline® team. They removed some dissolving pill material, but it was very likely the hamster ingested some of the medication. His cheeks were flushed with water after emptying and was then administered activated charcoal to prevent absorption of any remaining medication in his GI tract. The next step was to determine if Professor Sweetcheeks had ingested a toxic amount of sertraline.

“There is no specific toxic dose amount of sertraline for hamsters,” said Dr. Renee Schmid, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline®. “Given their relationship with other rodents used when the drug was being studied, however, we were able to determine there was a severe risk for poisoning, which can result in central nervous system (CNS) and cardiovascular signs. We recommended decontamination, monitoring and supportive care including fluids, sedation and methocarbamol, which is used to treat muscle tremors.”

While treating him for the accidental ingestion, the hospital team noticed that Professor Sweetcheeks also had severe dental disease. Because of the thorough veterinary care provided by the team at Fox Creek Veterinary Hospital, all of Professor Sweetcheeks’ treatment needs were met.

“Although Professor Sweetcheeks made a full recovery, it could have been much more serious,” added Dr. Schmid. “According to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 13% of adults aged 18 and over used antidepressant medications in the past 30 days. The growth in the use of medications like Zoloft means more pets are in potential danger of accidental poisoning.”

“The moral of this story is — don’t leave your family’s medication on the counter if you have a pet,” added Christie. “Hundreds of dollars later, and multiple trips to the veterinarian in one day, we learned our lesson. We’re just relieved that Professor Sweetcheeks is still his curious, cuddly self and didn’t experience any seizures. He recuperated in the Ozarks, where we woke him every few hours to check on him.”


About Pet Poison Helpline®

Pet Poison Helpline®, an animal poison control center based in Minneapolis, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. The veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline®’s fee of $85 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the poison case. Pet Poison Helpline® is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.