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?…..

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, ¬†vitamins 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.

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!

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.

Carab 20180708 Day 21 a.jpg
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!

Carab 20180806.jpg
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.

Hamstery Management: Parasite Control

It’s been awhile since my last blog post! Back at the beginning of the year I handled a major crisis surrounding an outbreak of Ornithonyssus sylviarum, the Northern Fowl Mite, that normally prefers chickens and other birds but is readily zoonotic to other animals. I detailed my, somewhat despairing, journey towards their identification and ultimately finding they were resistant to Ivermectin. I’ve decided to update my advice as below.

I’ve been mite free since April following three doses of Stronghold (salamectin). There’s a stigma about these things but by being honest about what is happening to your hamsters, you can save others a lot of grief.

Sadly, I find myself again under siege. It seems these mites, or similar mites and fleas, are rampant amongst keepers and needless to say it will take us all treating them with something stronger than Ivermectin before they will truly disappear. Thankfully I’ve only lost a couple of elderly hamsters this time, as I would have expected to due to their age.

As a pet owner you may find yourself encountering fur mites, fleas, lice or the more visible mites of other species. If you visit shows (main class or pet class, or socially) your first step is to stop. For the benefit of containing any outbreak, whether its an illness or a parasite, you have to assume you could pass it around on your clothes, on hamsters that look clear but who live in the same house etc.

The next step is to identify and get to know what you have. You can do this via your vet and mine were sent to the lab for an ID. Knowing this is invaluable when it comes to judging treatment and isolation. These mites, for example, can spend 3 weeks without eating and often travel, especially once their host has been removed. This makes them highly contagious. It also means that when an animal dies, their entire burden of mites immediately travels to the nearest cage and this is what causes the outbreak of deaths as each infested animal becomes overwhelmed by an exponential increase in mite load.

This can happen in the space of a week.

They are also likely to be found more in the bedding than on the animal, making them hard to spot early on. In chicken houses they have been known to readily infest small mammals and can complete their lifecycle on mammals (but not on humans although they do cause a lot of irritation when they bite us). Moreover, it means that these mites, unlike lice or hamster fur mites, will readily move into the bedding off the animal and so will be in the show pen, for example, and then kicked out on to the show table, onto clothes or shoes and they have three weeks to find a new host. The early life stages are almost invisible to the naked eye, becoming visible and black as adults and red once they’ve fed. You won’t see just one, or a few if they are young. Easy, and scary, when you think about it.

NorthernFowlMitesonChickenFeathershaftwithnitsviaTheChickenChick

Chicken farmers have long found these, and similar mites, to be resistant to Ivermectin. Your next step is to treat your animals with a prescription strength treatment that is ovicidal. As detailed above, you want your treatment to kick in as quickly as possible. Most of the hamsters I lost died in the first week of treatment. Biting the hamster will kill the bug but they’ve still taken blood. Anaemia kills small animals very quickly.

The identifiable difference between these and Ornithonyssus bacoti, the Rat Mite, is that these do not cause itching to the hamsters (according to the lab). So you don’t see them scratching, they don’t get scabs and they don’t lose fur. Again, this makes them very hard to spot. If you have the Rat Mite, please read up carefully on it’s lifecycle and, most importantly, how long it can go between feeds. This is the minimum amount of time you will have to dose your hamsters for to make sure you get them all. Some mites (such as the red mite, Dermanyssus gallinae) can survive for up to 9 months…‚Ķ..The nice thing is they will be within a close range of the ‘nest’ so are unlikely to occupy your bedding storage or food bins. Again, this will be different for each parasite so do check.

If they are zoonotic for Syrians, they will be for dwarfs. I found these things on the gerbils, the Chinese, the robos and the Syrians. Thankfully none made it to the pygmy mice who were in complete lock down bar me feeding and watering them using fully disinfected hands/arms and rolled up sleeves!

Next is the length of treatment. Initially, Stronghold requires three treatments spaced 2 weeks apart (according to vet advice). It’s really important that you follow this regime, even if the cages and animals start looking clear. It’s very hard to spot just one mite, or flea or louse but you only need to miss one.

Unfortunately, then you have to evaluate your whole hamstery plan. If you regularly attend shows it’s not enough to just treat those that go there. If the parasites you encounter are like these, they can come in on your clothes, show pen carriers etc. If you treat the hamsters that have been, the mites on them may choose to wander (quite far) to find a new food source and still infect your hamstery. Therefore, you would need to treat your entire room/shed monthly like you would for your cat or dog. This can be done relatively cheaply using a prescription and taking advantage of online prices. Vets are starting to come around to the idea that small furries need medication marketed for bigger animals and it is possible to get a 1ml vial of stronghold for your hamsters (assuming you need that much!) and dilute it as needed depending on whether you are treating dwarfs or Syrians.

Think about yourself during treatment. These mites will be all over your hands, clothes and shoes/socks so consider stripping down and washing after each treatment, or even while feeding/handling the hamsters during the initial treatment phase. These things are not fun when they bite you and as you haven’t treated yourself, every mite that picks you isn’t getting killed by the treatment!

Lastly, be vigilant not complacent. Treat everyone, not just the one or two you’ve seen. Assume everyone has it, whatever ‘it’ is or at least has been in contact with it. Assume, if it’s bugs, that they are on your shoes, clothes, other pets, carpet etc and treat accordingly. If you have to flea spray areas, use something like Indorex. Rethink your procedures. I now use Poultry Shield regularly to clean my cages as this kills most things and as it affects the outer coating of the mite, they can’t become resistant to it.

This time I spotted these little buggers a lot quicker, before I became infested, and treatment has already started. Stronghold is so effective that most of them will have died by now but I’m not complacent and I’ll follow the full plan.

You may read this and think that you’ve only got a couple of hamsters that go to pet class and you need not worry. Please bear in mind that other exhibitors, with many more hamsters, judge your pets and so are at risk of bringing these back to their hamsteries. All of us need to treat these things when they appear, and treat them seriously.

The same can be said about a virus or bacterial infection. Isolate, identify, treat, complete the course, prevent.

It only takes one. One bug, one shaving, one sneeze.

My preferred method of treatment, if hamsters weren’t so flammable of course –

xm42-modualr-x-products-4

 

**references

http://eol.org/pages/4318169/overview

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/ornithonyssus

Photo credit:-

http://www.the-chicken-chick.com

http://www.petprescription.co.uk

http://www.xproducts.com

Mitepocalypse!!

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.

Ick!

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!

 

Where Can You Find a Hamster?

You’ve made a space, got a cage, gone on all the forums and waded through fifty opinions on corn and pea flakes and you feel ready. All you need now is a hamster. You decided you didn’t want to pay a large chain pet store for a new pet (and that includes any in store adoption centres folks, it all goes to the same place) but now what? A brief search on Google proves frustrating….where are all the hamster breeders anyway?

Adopting a new pet isn’t meant to be easy. Animals represent long term commitment. Anyone can buy a new cage and even have it delivered the next day. A quick shop online gets you all you need with little thought or effort. The actual animal itself is supposed to take longer to get to you. In the current age of instant gratification we all need to remember that not everything comes with next day delivery!

You have two options now you have the set up ready. Personally I prefer people who haven’t bought everything in advance. Forum members aren’t all breeders or rescues and you need the best advice on what to buy from the place you intend to get your pet from really. There’s nothing worse than having to tell someone they have the wrong things for the individual they like or the species they want.

But yes, first big question:- Breeder or Rescue?

I would say, if you feel like you want to adopt then do that. There are many needy pets in rescue. However….not all pets in rescue are needy and not all rescues are above board. To find a rescue, google is usually handy but I’d go to a larger rescue centre nearby and ask. So locally here for example is St Francis Animal Welfare. A fantastic rescue dealing with many different species. Perhaps they have a hamster in, or they may know a small specialist rescue nearby that has some.

You’ve found a hamster in a rescue therefore you are being all ethical and you want to do some good. Wait! Stop for a minute and think. You didn’t want to buy from a pet shop because? Think on your reasons and then look at the rescue. Did you find it via Gumtree, or perhaps a search on Facebook? Look past the cute photos of hamsters available ‘right now!’. Look at the adoption fee and then see if you can find evidence of what the rescue has actually spent on you chosen animal. Do they have a lot of baby animals? It’s very hard (from my own rescue experience) to intercept a hamster that’s already pregnant. With the exception of dwarf hamsters that are often purchased mis sexed and come in large groups of various ages. Perhaps the rescue is breeding to supplement their income. Is that really what a rescue should be doing? There are more ethical ways to raise funds than intentionally breeding animals with unknown backgrounds and any kind of health issues.

Do they say they test for health problems? This is a common claim. The only health issue in a small animal that you can test for ahead of time is diabetes at the cost of a few pence per urine strip. Ultrasounds, x rays etc are all only done if an animal is ill already and are notoriously unreliable in small creatures.

What are the rehoming criteria, do you get lifetime back up, are they involved in education? All these things give you a picture of whether your chosen rescue is a good one. If it isn’t, and you still adopt then you may be perpetuating their continued existence and, in some circumstances, the suffering of animals in their care.

Adopt, but adopt with your eyes open.

Angus

What about if you choose to shop? You want to find a good breeder and get an animal with a pedigree, known temperament and health etc. Where are all these breeders anyway? You looked on Gumtree, you looked on Preloved, and you searched on Facebook.

I can tell you that very few of us are on Gumtree for a good reason. We all have full or part time jobs and the amount of enquiries you get has to be manageable. Although Gumtree says it doesn’t support breeders there are a lot of rather dodgy looking adverts on there along the lines of ‘rare coloured hampster’ when it’s actually just a sable and costs the earth.

On Preloved you’ll find a few of us. Quite a lot of us are on Facebook now too but your best port of call is your regional club. Either on the website, or via the club secretary you need to approach the Southern, Midland or Northern hamster clubs. This is where you will find genuine, registered prefixed breeders in or near your area. This is an important aspect to your search. Remember the rescue advice above? For everyone one good, responsible breeder there are ten other ‘back yard’ breeders who are interested in churning out pets only.

Unlike some issues you can find with pedigree breeders of other species, hamsters have to be healthy and tame to go to a show. I’ve talked about this before, and it’s a big reason why I do what I do. You are automatically buying a hamster that hasn’t been bred just because it’s cute, but because it’s parents, grandparents etc were healthy and tame. Maybe you’ll get a nice coloured animal because there were a lot in the litter but that’s not really a concern for a pet. You don’t have this with a breeder who doesn’t breed for show or to show standards (standards on body shape are written with health in mind). Your breeder may not show a lot but still try to conform to standards. We don’t give health guarantees because, with any baby, you can’t predict how they will grow. all we can do is select the best parents we can.

Look at your chosen breeder carefully. Do they offer lifetime back up? All the breeders I’ve encountered take back animals they’ve bred so as not to overwhelm rescues and because…it’s just the right thing to do. I get overly attached to my hamster pups and although I’ve only needed to take back one, I’d happily have them all back home again haha!

Don’t be dismayed if they don’t have a pup ready straight away. It’s normal to wait a few months unless you are lucky.

Your breeder or rescue should be able to advise you on what to buy, give you care information and be happy to hear about how your pet grows through it’s life.

To recap:-

  1. Choose whether to shop or adopt.
  2. Go to the club, or a local shelter if possible to find a source near you. If using Google, be critical about your search and careful.
  3. Look at the chosen sources website, or other info and ask questions if you aren’t sure. Are they doing what you expected they should be? If not, why not? Do you still wish to adopt or shop from there? Talk to them if you have concerns
  4. After this, THEN look at the available hamsters. Doing this the wrong way round almost always results in a disappointing experience.
  5. Be prepared to answer questions and to wait if need be.
  6. Don’t be disheartened if your chosen source says no, there can be many factors to a refusal so you can always try another place.

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