Happy New Year!

Here’s hoping 2021 is brighter for everyone!

A few changes are coming to the breeding line up including new lines in red eye blue and husky blue, both of which are currently being bred for in The Netherlands but not in the UK. Hopefully by branching out into these two lines I have doubled my chances of getting both non patterned blue, agouti blue and black.

Syrian hamster Olly (short of Olympus) arrived on the 17th December after collecting him from Tristar. He’s a long haired sable banded and I’m hoping to feel well enough to restart my syrian hamster breeding. It really does hinge on my feeling better though as my syrians will be in Ferprlast Mary cages which are heavier to move around and clean out than the robo’s underbed boxes.

I’ve very much missed having syrians around! Bear in mind it’s unlikely that I’ll have more than one or two litters a year as my focus will remain on the roborovski

In other news, I’ve had confirmation that I have no lasting pulmonary hypertension and that the Hammersmith hospital will continue to investigate my long covid and lasting blood clots.

This is very good news but as I approach month 10 post covid I do wonder if I’ll ever recover. I read that someone did recover recently but there again a six year old and a couple of marathon runners still have theirs at month 10 and 12 respectively so I’m cautious of being too optimistic

I think I may have found a way to make the garden more accessible which will allow me to grow my own fruit and veg, something I was looking to do this year before everything went a bit pear shaped. I’m really looking forward to finding a way to be able to enjoy being outside again and the hamsters will really benefit from fresh organically homegrown treats!

Lastly, I’ll not be returning to showing until at least July when the summer show in Bath is on. Whether I go there will again completely depend on my health and the health of my show buddy Vectis Hamstery who usually does the driving.

I’ve got my fingers crossed and the plans all drawn up, 2021 can’t be worse than 2020 can it?…..

Long Covid – Month 8

So far, the hamstery is running on the pure good will of my family. Particularly my husband.

I see more and more news on long covid which is great as it means that things might get done. To date I’ve seen no one specifically for my long covid other than my GP who, try and she might, cannot find a place for me to go. Support groups such as the one in the image are invaluable. If you suffer from long covid please follow them for news and google your local support group.

Complicating matters is my recent diagnosis of chronic thromboembolic disease. This relatively rare disease occurs when the body does not aborb blood clots, usually in the pulmonary blood vessels. My two large friends, nicknames Bill and Ben, are still with me and apparently here for good. I may have medication options but have no idea if Long Covid makes me a good candidate for surgery.

I’m waiting on the specialist Pulmonary Hypertension Service to get back to me with, hopefully, some more info. My respiratory consultant was, as usual, a bit too brief and I’ve had to do my own research (as usual) as to what this actually means for me. I had hoped the cardiologist might be more illuminating but instead she too ignored my long covid and suggested graded exercise might be a way forward.! When I reminded her of , ya know, crippling fatigue she almost…..almost….. shrugged. And visibly seemed to either a) be confused or b) not care. It was hard to tell which to be honest.

I feel very sorry for all you M.E/CFS and fibromyalgia peeps who’ve had to put up with this sort of thing for decades.

So, the consultants think my long covid isn’t a thing worth discussing, my GP is trapped between me and them, and I’m transformed. From a bright and lively 40 year old juggling two jobs (one full time), the hamstery, voluntary work, walking three dogs and hiking in my spare time to …. this.

The official reply seems to be ‘well just go exercise then’. Laughably and woefully inadequate. This month NICE changed it’s guidelines on graded exercise as it has been proven to do more harm that good, promoting ‘crash and burn’.

So far my list of changes are:-
Now moderately bad asthma instead of really mid
Super allergic to everything
Exhausted by both physical and mental exertion
Cognitive dysfunction – I feel stupid and like I’ve got early dementia
Clotting – As above
IBS – used to be unidentified dyspepsia that varied in intensity
Acid reflux – now really quite bad
Vision – Blurry half the day, as if I’m not wearing my glasses at all
Light sensitivity
New type of migraine – Used to only have optical migraine with aura. Now have this weird beast of a migraine that sneaks up unannounced and takes out my whole skull, neck and shoulders

What I am not – Deconditioned, weak, frail or elderly. I’m still doing physical activity because otherwise the hamstery would have to shut. but I’m pacing this around other strenuous tasks like getting dressed. I just can’t walk far from the house and not far enough to commute to a job, and I can’t do more than 20 minutes of exertion at once. I doubt an employer will let me work from home for 20 mins a day…….

I have taken up yoga and meditation. Kinda. I need to grow more patience with myself and start to accept that getting back to work is just not going to happen for a while. I’ve now got a wheelchair so at least I can go see places further away that the end of my road (assuming someone pushes me). Luckily my husband is a competent wheelchair pusher lol

It is my hope that the hamstery will live long and prosper into 2021 and that I’ll recover from the long covid symptoms at least. Crossing all my fingers!

Roborovski Update- Looking into 2021

This year has certainly been challenging! I’ve had covid, got long covid and now a condition where my pulmonary blood vessels are diseased (complication of covid clots). The hamstery has been keeping my morale afloat and I’ve had some excellent successes including breeding my first BEW boy, finding possible dominant husky, breeding a beautiful typey cinnamon (pictured) and a litter of gorgeous agouti.

Of course I’ve also suffered from husky-itis. That is, managing to get a husky out of half of all my litters this year haha!

It’s about now that I look ahead to spring pairs. I’ve still got active pairs together and a lot of next year’s plans will hinge on what they do or don’t give me. Here’s a breakdown of what I’m breeding for right now:-

Blizzard x Cairness – If I get white I can then say the gene involved is dominant. Cairness is nothing to do with BEW lines so shouldn’t be able to make one at the first mating. This result will also confirm that BEW is not a double dominant phenomenon i.e. not homozygous dominant pied. If I just get a litter of all pied (as one continental breeder suggested) it will tell me that the white is related to double dominant (homozygous) pied (daddy can only give pied genes to the litter). If I get just all agouti it could suggest, but not prove, that BEW needs a recessive gene.

Elijah x Raey – Solidifying my agouti show lines with these two very high quality hamsters. Both bred here. I’m so proud!

Moss x Trigger – Reinforcing my agouti pied line with an excellent class winning agouti. Hopefully he’s not too old!

Irvine x Marmalade – Test breeding to see if I’m playing with dominant husky. If all the huskies born are the same apricot colour as their mum was from just a week old then I’ll know I’ve got something. Recessive husky is usually pale, like cream syrians, and matures as the pups reach 2 months old.

Rueben x Sabine and Lucien x Julienne will/have been both working towards the goal of proving or disproving the phenotype of self blue and agouti blue.

So what’s on the cards for 20201??

Agouti – I’d like to get a nice boy out of this pair and grow him on til summer when shows start again and I can get in some agouti from elsewhere.

Agouti Pied – I’ll be picking the nicest carrier from my out cross and breeding back to a lovely looking uncle to keep all those nice traits in my line. If Moss doesn’t produce then I’ll be pairing Trigger again and this next step will delay until Autumn 2021. I’m hoping for a nice large litter of pied when I do this.

Husky – I’ll be pairing up my very nice girl this year with my gorgeous agouti boy for some more carriers. I’ll pick the nicest of these to breed to the wonderful, smooshy, Colorado.

Cinnamon – I’ve got plans to breed out to my agouti line as there’s been a fair bit of inbreeding to get the cinnamons without the pied. This will also improve size with any luck. Love the temperaments on my red eyes.

Cinnamon Pied – Crossing out to agouti pied (Trigger’s sister) to get some variety in the gene pool. Both lines are gorgeous right now so I’m not too worried about needing to breed back to daddy Papaya later

Blue – Several goals here. I’ll be breeding my nice blue boy Azzan to keep the blue going. I’m hoping for agouti out of Rueben this year so I can put another pair of agouti carriers together to try to lose the pied on the blues themselves. At the moment I either get agouti or blue with too much white on. In time that in itself might prove that blues will be white under, but as this doesn’t happen in other mammals unless you have the ‘fox’ gene then we need to still chase the more ordinary theory first.

Blue varieties – I’m hoping to pair up for cinnamon blue and husky blue next year. It may go some may to further illuminating what the blue gene is and how it works. Continental breeders are already working on these so I’m not the first but no doubt the more people who breed this, the wider the variety of results. Or, if there is no variety, the quicker the consensus!

Black eyed white – I’ll continue to breed Blizzard. I’ve got another breeder in the fancy interested in dabbling in BEW that will prove useful. It all hinges on this current pairing

Lastly, Dom husky? Well I’ll have to see if it is a thing first. It may just be that Marmalade was really well coloured. You’ve got to do the breeding before you start assuming.

All in all, I’m hoping for less litters next year as a lot of these pairs are simply to keep lines moving. As ever, it will be the blues that give me the most pups as I’ve got to keep pairing if I don’t see the colours we need to get this recognised in the UK. But this means you lovely people have more chances to nab one as a pet so it’s not all bad.

My last word is that, plans are great but it all depends on the following:
1) What I get from these pairings
2) What my health is like going forwards. I may not be able to breed all these lines and may have to cut back.
3) Space. My biggest constraint. Remember I do this from home as a hobby and there’s only so many hamsters you can comfortably look after. I don’t cull so some of these plans may need to wait until older hamsters naturally pass away. But that’s ok, I love all my robos as pets too and I do breed for health and lifespan also. I don’t want them departing too soon. If I don’t have space I just keep boys and grow them on a bit longer.

Here’s hoping, with the vaccine as well, that 2021 is more positive!

New Genes – Red Eyed Roborovski

Not exactly new, I just haven’t posted about them yet! Back in early 2017 I imported red eyed pied roborovski from Double Special hamstery in Holland. I’ve been working on this line very hard and now have unpatterned ‘cinnamon’ robos and even a red eyed husky.

How does it work? Well, pretty much the same as cinnamon in Syrians. As it’s natural basic phenotype it is an agouti hamster with dark red eyes. Pied robos have brighter red eyes. The colour is a diluted agouti, with both all aspects of the coat colour being diluted as I believe this largely affects the ‘red’ pigment in the coat.

I initially wondered if I’d stumbled across ‘rust’ as we already have the brown eye gene recognised although everyone in the fancy I spoke to has never seen one. However, it soon became obvious that my cinnamon hamsters were exactly the same as those being bred by Casanova hamstery, again in Holland, and we compared notes. The redness of the eyes is harder to see in unspotted animals but the difference in coat colour is very clear. The pictured husky is a good few shades lighter than any black eyed husky I have bred. And the cinnamon, again, is a good few shades lighter than even a pale normal agouti

The gene is recessive so it did take quite a lot of work but I think it’s well worth it for such a pretty roborovski. I’ll be breeding them in both agouti and pied for the moment. I actually nearly lost all of these genes in 2018 due to a virus that wiped out an entire litter and their parents. However, with the remaining ‘carriers’, a lot of luck and the import of a lovely girl called Cindy from Piccoli Amici hamstery in Germany early this year (pictured below with my boy Avocado) I’ve been able to save this gene from extinction in this country.

The application for recognition along with a provisional standard was submitted for discussion in August, awaiting a meeting of our standards committee. Fingers crossed!

Mixing My Own Hamster Food

By popular demand I have decided to write about the mix that I feed my Roborovski hamsters. Disclaimer: there are no ‘secret’ ingredients! What you read below is what I feed, I’ve left nothing out. Have fun experimenting!

First some basic principles:- You need a base mix that’s at least 60% commercial food or you have to supplement with lots of added vitamins and minerals, especially copper, calcium and D3. This mix is based on the Shunamite diet that many rat owners and breeders use and is not intended to be a purely ‘straights’ mix.

To this mix you add seeds, fibre and protein depending on what you base mix is lacking and what sort of variety you want.

The base mix I use is a rabbit muesli that used to be made and sold by GJW Titmuss and is now available from Time For Paws. It’s available in 20kg or 4kg. The amount you buy doesn’t matter it’s the amount you use! If you can store 20kg and will use it within a few months then that will likely be the cheaper option for you.

I recommend storing all food in suitable containers and not just leaving them in the bag. Look for containers designed for dog food storage. This will protect you from weevils, moths and the food itself going stale. The food comes dried but it may be affected by your household humidity and can still ‘go off’ over time.

Now for the extras. The following information is taken from the Rat Rations website

Seeds vary but my mix usually consists of the following:
Buckwheat – For protein and fibre
Dari – Protein and oils, good for weight gain
Hemp – Contains essential fatty and amino acids
Millet – Good protein, carb and iron levels. Can be added as puffs for variety
Paddy Rice – A different way of feeding rice. For variety.
Pumpkin – Phosphorous, magnesium, tryptophan, vitamin K, iron, copper, zinc and unsaturated fatty acids. Also good for protein and fibre
Safflower – Iron and vitamin B6
Sunflower – Linoleic acid, tryptophan, vitamin E, B1 and B5, folate, copper, manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, selenium, calcium and zinc.

Why add seeds? In addition to the benefits listed above, roborovski really do enjoy husking their seeds and is an essential enrichment activity for them. This is one big reason why I don’t feed pellets. If you can, get some puffed rice, puffed millet and even puffed spelt or puffed quinoa as this is a different texture for them.

Quinoa is a good source of many vitamins and amino acids but is, in my experience, easier to feed cooked (and cooled).

A word on linseed (flax). Linseed contains linoleic, linolenic and oleic acids, ┬ávitamins A, B, D and E, minerals, fatty and amino acids. But….it’s a very small seed that can easily get missed if you scatter feed. So I either buy linseed enriched dog biscuits available from Rat Rations or I mix flax oil into their weekly porridge. You can also give barley rings, which have flax oil in them.

Protein:
I add dried mealworms and dried silkworm pupae, again from Rat Rations. You can add dog kibble but if you want to give them something different to munch other than biscuits or kibble, the dried insects are good for this.

Fibre:
All my roborovski are offered, and eat, barley straw. I used to offer hay but unfortunately I am very allergic. I’ve also previously had hay mites in a commercial bag I bought so I’m very wary these days. Because I’ve seen them readily accepting this fibre, especially so when pregnant and on a young litter, I now add alfalfa pellets. These can be hard to find now so I’ve bought a very large bag of pellets for horse, made by Dengie. Just make sure there’s nothing added and it’s just 100% alfalfa. You can, of course feed this as dried grass or dried alfalfa.

‘Other’:-
Flowers – My lot all universally love dried flowers. Rose petals, marigold and hibiscus although this last one can stain! These are roughage but do also add vitamins to the diet.
Echinacea – For immune support
Tiger Nuts – High in protein, calcium, iron, thiamine, and phosphorus
Berries – I currently add cranberries but you could add rosehips instead. It just depends on what you fancy. Be careful of wet or sticky ‘dried’ fruit that may make your food go mouldy if it’s not eaten quickly
Nuts – you can add chopped, shelled or in shell nuts over winter if you feel you’d like to. Just watch your hamster’s weight!
Dried veg – I give dried green beans at the moment so that I know they are getting veg throughout the week. I don’t add anything that I give them as fresh food.

That’s the food, what about the quantities?

It’s all about proportion. Weight has nothing to do with it. Let me explain. Most of your order will be seeds (including puffs). Add in some protein and fibre as well as your ‘others’ selection. I order 3.2kg of seeds with safflower and hemp making up a kg each and then smaller amounts of the others, especially those that can be fatty such as pumpkin and sunflower seeds. I then add 500g of dried insects between mealies and silkworm pupae, and roughly 800g-1kg of ‘other’ foods including the flowers.

What I order exactly and in what quantity varies each time depending on the weights of my hamsters in general. If they start to drop off or as the weather gets colder I’ll add foods with higher fat content and more protein. In the warmer weather, after April, I’ll cut down on this and bulk out with more fibre and veg as I’ll usually need to cut down on excessive weight gain by then.

Your Rat Rations order has arrived. Cut open all the bags and mix it all up in one box. So you have now one tub of ‘extras’ and one of ‘base mix’.

Get a scoop. The scoop can be any size as long as you use the same one all the way through. In a third tub, add 6 scoops of base mix and four scoops of extras.

Keep going until you have used up all of your extras. You may have base mix leftover and you can save this for next time. Take a note of how much you used so you know when you need to order more muesli.

And that’s it. Simples. If there are ingredients that your roborovski definitely don’t like and always leave then just try something else. Browse through the whole site and try not to spend all your money!

Some people have had problems with weevils and moth eggs in their rat rations orders. Personally the only problems I ever had was with pre packed commercial bird seed and I’ve not had any issues with rat rations food myself. Nothing is guaranteed though so you can, if you wish, put the unopened food bags in the freezer for 24 hours and then defrost it before mixing it up. This should kill any eggs or larva of any food pests that may be in there.

If you have any questions please ask them below or email me. I’m not a nutritionist I’m sharing my knowledge and experience. If you experience any doubts about the diet you are feeding or if your hamster develops any health concerns please speak to your vet.

Lastly, I do not recommend feeding any foods that alter body chemistry (medicinal herbs) such as fenugreek which lowers blood sugar, valerian which causes drowsiness or dandelion which is a diuretic, as this could harm your pet. Don’t forget your robo is tiny so even small amounts of medicinal herbs can be harmful.

Long Covid – 6 Months Later

One day in March 2020 I got on a bus to go to work and although I was aware that a pandemic was looming, my government assured me that we were still safe in the community unless we had travelled. This turned out to not only be false, but this bus journey was to be the last I would make this year.

I’ve already written a post on my journey through covid but I never expected to still be on the sofa in September.

I have my post embolism recovery (those clots are still there), and my post covid recovery and between the two I feel pretty well battered. Writing on the website takes longer, and more brain power than it did before. Organising tasks ahead of time is nigh on impossible and absolutely everything has to be written down or it’s simply forgotten. I feel angry, sad, lost and isolated at times but also still have moments of happiness and that happiness is in my family, hamsters and dogs.

Breeding wise, the hamstery faces an uncertain future. Whilst I’m hoping to still be able to help out my club and the National Hamster Council in my role as treasurer, my breeding is a different issue. The exertion involved means my husband is already shouldering most of the work for me when it comes to feeding and cleaning. Should my condition become more permanent, I will review burdening him with my hobby when he has his own work to do.

I’m told there are naysayers on social media who claim covid simply does not exist. Perhaps instead of spreading falsehoods online they should count themselves lucky. Lucky that they themselves, their family or friends have not been touched by this illness. Perhaps it’s too much to hope for but I assure the country that I do exist!

Pacing is my friend. If you are in the same position as me, pacing is honestly the way forward for the physical exertion. Mentally it’s more difficult. It’s hard to pace this when, like me, you are used to multitasking three or four jobs at once while on the phone and answering emails. This has, hands down, been the most difficult part of this debilitating condition. Losing my mind, quite literally. I have to remember that even ‘just’ writing this blog will mean I need to rest my brain. It’s not just about pacing what you perceive as a job like building a shopping list or answering emails etc. It’s the fun stuff that you like to do too. If it’s brain heavy then pace it. Rest, nap, be present in the moment, do something that you can switch off to like listening to music.

What happens next is uncertain. Investigations are still ongoing and results are still pending. I’m in limbo for now but there’s hope that full recovery is still attainable, it just feels very far away! In the meantime the hamsters will carry on breeding so I can keep my lines running and have something positive to focus on.


If you’ve been touched by any of the issues in this blog and feel like you need to reach out, there should be support groups in your local area. If you are a member of the hamster fancy consider reaching out to your club. Write your experiences into the journal to help other members.

New Genes:- Black Eyed White Roborovski

The best thing that’s happened to me so far in 2020 is being given the opportunity to breed the incredibly beautiful black eyed white Roborovski.

We know next to nothing about this colour that only pops up from time to time in some UK pet shops and a couple of continental breeders.

Having bred a white mum to an agouti pied dad I got a white boy and a husky pied girl. This pairing gave me limited information as the agouti pied dad had white in his pedigree but it did give me a boy to breed. Mum, Ida, was getting on towards a year old and needed to be bred straight away.

It did show me that this is nothing to do with a homozygous dominant gene as only mum would have been able to give dominant husky or another kind of dominant dilution gene to her son. If it is a dominant dilution gene then it can produce white with just one copy of it.

Her son, Blizzard (pictured below) will certainly be busy! I’m also breeding his sister, Lady Marmalade, as getting white from her might go towards proving a recessive gene.

Both are being paired with agouti carrying no other genes except a slight chance of recessive husky. We already know that two recessive husky genes just makes more husky so this shouldn’t affect any results.

Theories:-

– In Chinese hamsters, black eyed white is achieved by pairing two dominant spot hamsters that carry the right modifier for white.

– In mice, black eyed whites are usually genetically marked mice, you just can’t see the pattern. However, in roborovski we already know that pied hamsters have markings on their ears. White robos have pink ears which would suggest that it’s not a case of a patterned animal with just one agouti hair somewhere. It is thought that headspot roborovski could be produced by this same method of selecting out animals with less and less colour, these hamsters seem to retain the markings on their ears

– Interestingly, black eyed white rats are produced in the same way as the above point and these do have flesh coloured ears so the jury is very much still out on this theory

-According to the AFRMA, some black eyed white mice are produced when you combine an extreme dilution gene to a red/fawn gene. In this case I would have to be able to find and separate the extreme dilution (called beige in mice) to show this.

Only by breeding sensibly will we see exactly what is going on with this new colour.

Exciting times afoot for the previously underestimated Roborovski!

My Journey Through Corona Virus – A Breeder’s Story

It was January 2020 and the best time for planning the first season’s litters. I had a couple of pairs I needed to put together straight away as my girls are getting closer to a year old. There’s never a guarantee they’ll have a litter straight away and it’s not a good idea to breed them over a year old for the first time so if they are 9 months old then you’d better get a move on! Later in January I got some amazing and important hamsters from Bradford Champs and some of those needed breeding in short order. It was exciting! 2018 was a very dry year for litters, 2019 saw me desperately trying to salvage lines and losing some despite my efforts. I had to keep everything I bred until the end of 2019 so I had recouped hardly any of my costs at all. 2020 was going to be my year!

February 2020 saw 9 pairs in total introduced to each other. I had at least two months to make the boxes I needed for these litters, assuming they were all successful. Despite some problems with my asthma, due to my pet rats, the hamsters were cheering me up.

Towards the end of February a few of the January pairs had their first litters, bang on time and were even giving what I’d hoped for! Astounding. And, to be honest, a sense of foreboding should have occurred, I never usually get what I’m after on the first try.

March saw me starting to prep for splitting up a couple of pairs although with a couple I did want a second litter if possible. I do this in a very controlled way normally and certainly don’t go for repeated back to back litters as this takes it out of mum too much and pups get too small for me to keep and breed on. By now, every pair but two had their litters.

Lockdown kicked in the middle of March. Yes they had talked about corona virus but there was allegedly no community transmission in the UK. I hadn’t travelled and knew no one who had. I decided to split everyone would be a good idea because rehoming would be difficult under lockdown conditions.

Then I got ill.

I thought it was bad hayfever, then I thought it was an asthma flare up as I’d been having issues with the rats. As the week progressed to the end of March I got a high temperature, a cough and thought I had a cold. It wasn’t a continuous cough afterall…and I hadn’t travelled anywhere. There was still no community transmission in my area apparently, although my friend had been ill with corona virus, we hadn’t seen each other in weeks. We were looking after her dog for her while she was ill, he came over in the week I was already feeling a bit off.

The first week of April saw me confined to bed with pneumonia. I was lucky in a way, I didn’t need hospital, but I was in a big grey area. Clinically my GP thought I had corona, which does lead to pneumonia, but I couldn’t get tested unless I went to hospital. If they sent me to hospital and I didn’t have it, I would certainly pick it up and was in no state to fight it off. So I received a special brand of home care that involved taking lots of steroids and antibiotics (as I was at huge risk of a chest infection on top) and daily phone call check ups from the GP. I don’t remember that Monday at all, I had a very low temperature and couldn’t get warm, I couldn’t breathe properly and getting out of bed caused my heart rate to rocket up and my oxygen sats to drop all the way to 89-90%.

This carried on all week. I ate just soup. We had beautiful volunteers from a local facebook group deliver more soup as we couldn’t get any food shopping at all. I vaguely remember a discussion about running out of toilet roll and how it was all gone in the shops. I still have no idea why people went panic buying for loo roll…..

On the Wednesday my husband called the paramedics. Again they said they were wary of taking me in. It felt surreal to be asked repeatedly if I wanted to go to hospital? I wasn’t well enough to make that decision. After nearly an hour of keeping me sat on the stairs all I wanted to do was sleep. I knew I needed help but help was not forthcoming. The paramedic told us it was so risky taking me in that unless I needed intensive care I should stay at home.

By the end of the week I started to feel better. I didn’t need supervision to go to the toilet and started eating solid food. I felt lucky. The relief from my GP was palpable.

I didn’t know that I was busy brewing the third stage of corona virus. Blood clots.

On the next Monday morning I had spoken the GP about my daughter’s ear infection. They were glad I sounded so good. I was still ill but miles better than the week before.

I started to think about the hamsters, I remember not really being able to grasp the enormity of my situation.

After lunch I got up to the bathroom, and when I got back to bed I felt….weird. I called my son in and found I couldn’t breathe properly. My heart rate went up really fast. I’d had this briefly the night before but it went after 10 minutes. This time it didn’t go away. I couldn’t expand my lungs without pain in my chest.

My husband called the GP and after he listened to me for just 10 seconds, he advised to call the ambulance and insist on hospital. This time the paramedic was lovely, he was a first responder so had to call in an actual ambulance and he stayed with me all the way to hospital. The only thing I remember is the pain and him holding my hand. I wish I could remember his name.

I went straight to resus and stayed there for what must have been at least a couple of hours. They were lovely, I was swabbed, poked, nebulised, injected and monitored to try to stabilise my heart and breathing. I remember only one doctor suggesting a possible blood clot and it is purely thanks to her (I firmly believe) that I didn’t die that night or the following night. Because of her I got my blood thinning injections started that night.

The following day I got my CT scan which showed two large clots in the arteries around my lungs. I had an echo which showed my heart was under strain.

Throughout my week in hospital I saw different wards and different doctors. I was told I should be in respiratory high care but that it was now intensive care for people needing ventilators. Over and over I was told I was lucky.

During a particularly bad night I messaged my close friend and my husband about the hamsters. I didn’t think about the breeding, I was thinking about not coming home. I didn’t want my husband having to deal with them.

The following day, things were starting to get better and I managed to organise the breeding pairs going to my friend. She also breeds and I knew that she could split them all up properly.

It wasn’t until I got home I realised my predicament in it’s glory. A total of 9 breeding pairs had produced nearly 50 hamster pups across two litters and a couple who had three. I mean, it could have been worse if they’d all had six pups each. It took the whole month of May to sort them all out with them coming back to me in two batches, girls and then boys.

Both my friend and I were, and are still, recovering and are both on the clinically vulnerable list now. We both experience severe fatigue so while I wanted to lower her workload, I had to be able to deal with them here too. My thoughts turned to rehoming. I had a total of 109 roborovski in my house, double my normal numbers. Most of these were in same sex groups of siblings but it doesn’t take long for them to start needing to live by themselves.

Every roborovski needed to be coded (I give four letter, the year and a number for a unique identifier on all of my hamster pups), logged into my breeding record, given a pedigree, fed, cleaned out and my keepers chosen. The prospect of photographing each one for sale was so daunting I opted for videos on request. Rehoming could be done socially distanced with a little thought. Videos replaced choosing in person. Photos of whole litters for the website instead of each hamster all helped. Each hamster who leaves goes in their own box and payment is electronic so I don’t have to touch anything belonging to someone else.

Skip to today and I have managed to rehome a lot of the older pups born in February and March. The April and early May litters are ready to go and are up on the website. The upshot is that I still have to breed or I lose the lines I spent the whole of 2019 struggling to keep going. I risk 2021 being a year of keeping everything again and I cannot do that. So I breed or I close. I keep males where I can so I don’t have to breed those until next year.

Private rehoming is more stressful than homing via shows where you can talk to people face to face. A lot of enquiries don’t go anywhere but need to be replied to. A lot of people assume that as I’m shielding I have nothing to do all day so why can’t I provide a hamster by tomorrow? I’m not a back yard breeder or a pet shop so I need to know where the hamsters are going and if homes are suitable or not. I spend 1-2 hours a day just answering emails.

Apologies for the super long blog post!

My experience has brought it home to me that I’m not invulnerable. I never considered myself ‘weak’ before and this is a term the media uses to describe people like me. I’m definitely weak now I guess. What would happen to the hamstery if I did die? I’m only 40 so didn’t think I needed to answer that in terms of an out of the blue illness like this was. I know who all my hamsters are, I know their breeding history like the back of my hand. I know all their names and who many pups they’ve had or why I wouldn’t breed them.

Somebody coming in to take them en mass won’t know these things. This was proven by a member of the hamster fancy who sadly passed away. There were many problems arising from taking her hamsters. Her husband, like mine, helped with the hamsters but didn’t ‘do’ hamsters. So there was a big information gap.

From May onwards I have been improving my existing paper records, my existing spreadsheets and now moving towards improving my labelling.

Having corona virus and surviving is one thing. Doing it while being responsible for a large amount of animals is entirely a different issue. No one can come in to help you do it, especially if you live alone. Responsible rehoming absolutely has to happen for both your own and the animal’s welfare.

I’m still undergoing testing and monitoring to see why my lungs and heart are still not 100%. I hope to achieve some sense of normality soon. I also hope that other survivors reading this know that they are not alone. If you are in the hamster fancy particularly, reach out to your local club for support. If you aren’t a member already, do join up. You’ll get a monthly journal that you can write in to if you would like.

Club information as follows:-

Southern Hamster Club
Midland Hamster Club
Northern Hamster Club
National Hamster Council

Which Bedding?

Choosing a bedding or substrate for the main floor of your cage can be a daunting task for both the newcomer and the seasoned hamster owner. It could be that you are purchasing your first hamster or that you are having to switch bedding.

I’ve recently had to move away from shavings due to developing an asthmatic sensitivity to this type of natural bedding. So I’ve had some very recent experience of a familiar exercise. What on earth do I try this time?

Please read on to see some of the examples of bedding or litter you can buy and my experience of them. Note that anything you buy for your hamster should always be dust extracted and unscented/treated. Scented bedding just makes your hamster mark more in order to make their cage smell like them and has been shown to stress the kidneys in other species of rodents. Plus, if you don’t like the smell of a hamster then it’s likely not the right pet for you.

Woodshavings

The most controversial bedding on the market are woodshavings. I’ll group them all here together as they are all very similar. You can buy quite large flaked bedding such as Littlemax or Bedmax and some smaller grade flakes like Snowflake Supreme or similar. You may even find you can buy unbranded woodshavings from your local farm shop.

I avoided this bedding for a very long time as I had rodents with sensitive lungs such as mice who really are very picky about their bedding options. Hamsters, however, do very well on these and you should choose a flake size suitable for your species. Roborovski, for example, prefer the smaller flakes. As long as your shavings are unscented, dust extracted and kiln dried then they are perfectly safe. After keeping 100 odd roborovski on Snowflake supreme I noticed no impact on health or lifespan and they are were, if anything, healthier looking with bigger litter sizes.
Quality of brands seems to be comparable as long as you heed the above advice.

Pros – Naturally scent free, very absorbent, good for burrowing, both warm in winter and cool in summer
Cons – Allergies can happen in both humans and animals. If you notice itching or sneezing that isn’t to do with another health condition or parasites then change the bedding to see if this is the cause.

Snowflake Supreme

Paper Bedding – Fitch

I’ll split these up as they are two very different kinds of bedding. Fitch used to be very good when it was first spotted by hamster keepers. It was reasonably priced, soft and of very good quality.
However, these days it is very expensive and the quality is not as good. Fitch was the only contender for decent paper bedding on the market a couple of years ago.
Paper bedding is a very good alternative to shavings if you have small animals. If you want a small size of bedding pieces and are willing to pay for it then Fitch could still be an option for you. I note that Carefresh (not reviewed here as I’ve never used it myself) is a similar price and I’ve been told it is softer.

Pros – Of Fitch, it is mostly hypoallergenic and relatively dust free (packs may vary). The pieces are small enough for dwarf species. Absorbent
Cons – The price does not reflect the quality. Does not have the natural odour control of shavings for bigger species

Fitch

Paper Bedding – Shredded Teabag Bedding

I have to note that I’m not getting a commission for any of this blog! Shredded teabag bedding is hands down the best alternative to shavings I’ve ever used. Some people say they do not like the long strands and I believe some companies do offer different kinds of cuts. I will review The Teabag Bedding Company as this is the only kind I have used so far.
Roborovski particularly enjoy tunneling through the long strands and I’ve found that not all the food immediately falls through to the bottom. For breeding, they seem to like using the strands for the nest, which my hamsters did not prefer to do with the Fitch.
It can be a bit tricky to extricate your hamster if it’s not cooperating but it’s not too difficult. Again, it’s not as good as shavings but it is the best alternative I’ve found so far.

Pros – Well priced, cosy, soft, holds tunnels well. Hypoallergenic and dust free. Somewhat absorbent
Cons – Lacks the natural odour control, long shreds not for everyone

Teabag Bedding

Cardboard Bedding

Shredded and squared cardboard beddings are another alternative but more appropriate for your syrians than your dwarfs. Dwarfs can live on it happily but they just don’t get around or tunnel in it as well as with other, less bulky, bedding options. If you have a diabetic dwarf or a large species of rodent, you will find the cardboard tends to compact into a kind of papier mache at the corners. I found this with both Finacard and Eco Pet Bed (now just called cardboard squares) so I assume this would be a problem with other, similar, products.
Hypoallergenic compared to other beddings but interestingly not as dust free as you may think. Poorly stored cardboard bedding bales can also grow mould in the corrugations so do make sure your supplier hasn’t had the bales sitting around too long, and don’t store yours where it’s damp.
A note about hoovering…..if you want an easy to clean up bedding then don’t get cardboard. It’s large size means it’s a pain to hoover.

Pros – Mostly hypoallergenic, largely dust free, somewhat absorbent
Cons – Bulky, not suitable for very small or very old/frail hamsters

Finacard
Cardboard Squares

Natural/Plant Based Bedding

Chopped hemp, wheat and flax are becoming more popular for small animals. Aubiose and Flaxcore particularly. I have found this to be either too hard and sharp (Aubiose) or too fragile (Flaxcore) to be suitable for my pets. In addition, very early on, I became very allergic to Aubiose and couldn’t even open a bag without a lot of antihistamines. I’m very wary of using bedding that gives me very bad hayfever, given the hamsters are nose deep in it 24/7.
Very absorbent, I was also concerned that bits of bedding would end up stuck in eyeballs and up noses and sure enough it wasn’t long before a mouse had an unfortunate accident with Aubiose in it’s eye. This type of bedding should really stay for the horses in my opinion

Pros – Absordent, natural odour control
Cons – Can cause allergies, not dust free (despite claims), not comfortable

Aubiose

Other Bedding – Pellets

I have used wood and paper pellets for the long haired syrians in the past. Wood pellets just grind up into dust in my experience so this review will focus on paper pellets.
Somewhat absorbent, paper pellets are as uncomfortable underfoot as you might think. The biggest drawback, aside from making your cage weigh more when full is that the hamsters can’t burrow in it. Of course, your precious show syrian probably shouldn’t be burrowing into anything with that lovely long hair but I like a bedding that they can dig into and larger flake shavings pull out of a syrian coat just fine.
Pellets like Back To Nature don’t yet come in the nice big bales that we breeders like to buy in but the bags are an ideal size for a pet owner.

Pros – Somewhat absorbent, largely hypoallergenic, mostly dust free (bags can vary). Ideal for long haired syrian coats
Cons – Can be pricey, does not provide the opportunity for burrowing behaviour. Can be heavy

Other Bedding Not Mentioned Above

So I can’t possibly cover all your options. There is Megazorb, shredded egg box bedding, shredded newspaper bedding and more on the market. I have never used these and perhaps that’s a telling review in itself.

Carefresh and Kaytee Cozy is a different matter. The only reason I’ve never used these is the price and bag size. I’ve heard good things about them but I would refer to the sections on Fitch and Pellets for a comparison.

A Note on Hay and Straw

I haven’t included these above because I don’t believe they are a suitable substrate material on their own. Straw can be absorbent but hamsters do like to eat straw and hay so I offer this as a complimentary food as part of their balanced diet. I wouldn’t want them eating soiled food/bedding.

**I have not been paid to review any of the brands mentioned above. I include no links for this reason. All reviews are due to my own first hand experience

New Genes: The Black and Blue Roborovski

I’m so proud to have imported agouti pied and possibly blue agouti pied roborovski from Holland and Germany via Houten towards the end of last year. As soon as possible I shared one of these hamsters with Vectis Hamstery for the purposes of exploring the new colours black and blue. Excited because, if it’s the same blue as with other species, you cannot have that without black (blue colour is usually dilute + black).

I’m even more proud to have bred black pieds out of two of these robos. Something that was possible thanks to Tebbe Bonder of Bonder Exotics and Daniella Ringling or Piccoli Amici for letting me import these and thanks to Vectis Hamstery for getting on board with breeding them. I’ve handled breeding new colours by myself and it’s no fun!

So far it looks to be behaving as expected but with new genes it’s important to keep an open mind. I’ve bred mine to make more of the genes available to us. The plan is for one of us to breed unpatterned agouti’s carrying the genes. These agouti hamsters will, hopefully, produce black, or blue (or both) and this will prove it’s recessive. If both parents do not show the colour (the phenotype) but produce it in their offspring then the gene cannot be dominant.

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The Carab litter born here, with mum S’krivva

Unpatterned blue agouti hamsters will suggest it’s a dilute gene and we will also like to see what a self colour looks like without a pattern as no one knows for sure what markings a self roborovski would have. Close examination of the fur would be needed to ensure it’s the same colour to the roots. If it isn’t it will raise more questions that can be answered with more sensible breeding.

Once recognised by the standards committee, then further breeding can be done with other varieties. What does a husky black look like? A husky blue? A dilute husky? But it’s important to take things a step at a time and only use the wild colour (agouti) to prove your case. You can’t have a black agouti, for example. If you don’t produce a blue agouti (the expected phenotype for the dilute gene), it suggests the blue is something else. Like a gene that is only a modifier that affects black.

In any case, it’s very pretty. I’ve been in total love with roborovski since I first started breeding in 2013 and, indeed, they were my very first litter of hamsters. I’m extremely excited to be working with this and it seems far more robust than the blue I have been working with in Syrians. Health can be improved but when the health is good to start with, it makes any project like this much better to work with.

We’re not jumping to many conclusions with this. We’ve only produced a couple of litters so far and there’s a long way to go yet. I’m enjoying the journey though!

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The Carab litter the day they were split up. Two brothers and one sister. One agouti pied and two black pieds.

Photo credits:

All mine! Please do share but do credit me if you do.