Coming in to 2018 I experienced something that no hamstery should. A heavy attack of parasites!
Brought in by complacent quarantine procedures, I was super lucky and my parasites turned out to be Ornithyssus bursa….the northern fowl mite. By the time I’d realised that Ivermectin wasn’t working, and got the vet to send a sample (yuk!) for the lab to identify, I’d lost a significant amount of hamsters to the anaemia that these blood sucking mites cause. At it’s height, my infestation was visible all over the cages and it doesn’t take many to cause the death of an animal the size of a hamster.
Here’s what I learned:-
- Mites are visible to the naked eye if they aren’t species specific. Don’t assume fleas or lice, get a sticky tape sample to your vets asap. Some species are immune to Ivermectin and Permethrin so will need something stronger. I used Stronghold but you have to use this under direction of a vet.
- Other breeders and exhibitors aren’t always careful to check their animals for parasites so even if you get hamsters from someone you know, quarantine, quarantine, quarantine! Even visible mites are hard to spot when there are only one or two of them.
- Mites can be zoonotic. Ornithyssus is a perfect example of this with the rat species also being zoonotic. I’d always thought that mites and lice were species specific.
- Infestations can occur in the cleanest of hamster rooms!
I’m not intending to write a lengthy process of how to sort out this kind of issue. My top tips are as follows:-
- Use prescription strength spot on at the intervals and dosage recommended by your vet.
- Treat the cages with a spray like Total Mite Kill or Poultry Shield (or both!) and understand how they work.
- Treat the room with Indorex aerosol and follow the instructions carefully.
- During treatment be aware of the need to wash your own clothes and not transfer bugs to different areas of the house. Do not move untreated cages to other rooms
- Treat other animals in the house like dogs or cats
There are many different types of mites, fleas and lice that you can find on hamsters. Some suck blood, some feed on dead skin and all are a significant health concern in a hamstery situation where populations of parasites can get out of control really quickly. I won’t list them all here, the list would be extensive. I cannot stress the importance of getting your parasites identified. Each species lives and behaves differently with different amounts of time they can survive away from the host too. Chicken red mites, for example, would require spot on treatment to last up to 6 months in order to catch them all whereas the northern fowl mite lives off host for three weeks. Most fur mites cannot live off host at all.
Needless to say I’ve been in the clear for a month now with no signs of any repeat offenders. And I’ve got a stock of Stronghold to treat my show team, once I’m brave enough to risk putting any in a show again. I note that parasites are still being spotted at shows so I’m cautious but hoping to exhibit again soon. With tight quarantine procedures there’s no reason to fear exposing the show hams. For now, my whole focus is on making the pups I need to rescue the remains of my lines. Fingers crossed!