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……..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

Famous Pedigrees

I recently asked fans of my page…what do you want to see me blog about? One of the answers was ‘famous lines’. Here’s my take on this, not so simple, topic.

Many of us don’t ‘line breed’, in the strictest sense of the word, anymore. With hamster breeding there is a lot of line mixing, for want of a better phrase. Depending the species of course. So to pinpoint a famous ‘line’ is quite tricky. Line breeding refers, in its simplest terms, a degree of inbreeding involving parents or grandparents down the generations of bloodline. Said to cement certain features into the line, it’s losing it’s popularity among some fancies. Many newer breeders prefer to outcross (breed to something unrelated) and then incross (breed back to a relative), or keep outcrossing each generation. So you can’t really pinpoint a line that is famous as hamsters from either method might win a certificate of merit or a show.

The easier thing to do would be to name a famous hamster perhaps? Well I’d rather use the term ‘well known’ as we aren’t talking about celebrities 😉

In any species of hamster, a well known animal would be a champion or grand champion. With six certificates of merit, that can’t be awarded by the same judge, a grand champion really is a worthy representative of his species and variety.

Some of the nicest things about the hamster club are the following:-

1. A lot of breeders have a champion or grand champion.

2. Because nice hamsters and their offspring are readily shared, a lot more breeders have champions and grand champions in their lines.

3. Because we have pedigrees that we regularly give out to people, you’ll see the names of champions or grand champions on there. Sometimes marked with a *** for a champion or perhaps ‘GC’ etc. A breeder is also more than likely to point it out to you as a matter of pride.

These things mean that, instead of one famous hamstery or a few famous lines, there are many more opportunities for newcomers to the fancy to obtain nice animals with good pedigrees behind them.

Unfortunately, in addition to these champions and grand champions being rather too numerous to list, unscrupulus breeders or back yard breeders might use such a list to fabricate a pedigree. So it’s not something I could, or would want to, publish.

Lastly, there are no shortcuts to coming to a show, speaking to people and learning from experience. There really isn’t. Information is readily available for those serious about showing and breeding.

Alas, whilst I’ve had a few ‘nearly champions’ and a lot of other peoples champions in my own pedigrees, I’ve yet to get there with one of my own. A champion black would be the best achievement for me. One day!

If there is something you’d like to read about specifically, comment below and I’ll see what I can do!

From Birth to Rehoming. A Baby’s Journey

As an ethical breeder your challenge is to put as much effort into a litter as possible. Not just in terms of their care but also in terms of engaging with prospective homes. Some breeders prefer not to rehome privately and I have to say I can completely understand that point of view. Here’s a peek into what goes into a litter.

Even before birth you’ve spent a week of late nights introducing hamsters and hoping that tonight is ‘the night’ and then waiting a surprisingly agonising 16 days hoping for signs of pregnancy and nest building.

Your first clue is a mum that looks very round. Some build nests, some don’t. I harp on about that in a previous post.

Then you have another agonising 14 day wait before you can get in there and see what you have. Before that, you can sneak a peek if you feel it’s safe. I’ve posted these before but have a look now.

This is the Promaz litter at 6 days old:-

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 6

Mum didn’t think much of nests. They haven’t been uncovered, this is the aftermath of mum Mazu running out for a treat and me being sneaky enough to have a camera with the zoom already set up. Straight away I can take this photo back to my laptop and, with minimum disturbance to mum, I can count babies and have a look at emerging pigments. These babies have a very fine covering of fur but it’s the colour of the skin that will tell me the eventual colour of the hamster.

I don’t tend to count my chickens though because mums can be so fickle. 10 babies one day can be 3 the next but I do enjoy having a guess at what I have. These pics also clue me in on how mum is doing in terms of feeding but there isn’t anything that I would be able to do if she wasn’t feeding them. Hand feeding pups this young is nigh on impossible and very risky for them. You can’t give them back once you take them away so it’s best to leave them be.

So I wait. Which I don’t excel at I must admit.

Day 13 and colours are more obvious:-
Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 13

It’s worth noting that sexing them at this age is pointless in my opinion. I don’t know of any hamster breeder that culls so the thing that intrigues us the most is if babies are the colours we hoped for and that they are healthy. I see sables, blues and all sorts of variations of that. Mostly I can see no baby looks bloated, lethargic, missing limbs etc. Bloat is something that is very scary as it usually spells disaster for the baby. Often caused by a bacterial infection, medicating a tiny animal is tricky. A lot of us feed diced cucumber at this stage as we’ve found good hydration really helps.

Day 14 and handling starts. Eyes are starting to open and mums are usually fine with their babies smelling weird by this point although handling sessions are best kept short to start with. Each litter, far from being a money driven venture, is precious. The effort involved to this point means it’s silly to take risks. I wipe my hands in the bedding before handling anyway.

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 14a

The trouble is often that people start clamouring for reservations. “I want one!” they all cry. Not only do you need to fit in handling, feeding dry and wet food but also answering emails, endless photos etc. For me, it means updating Twitter, Facebook, the website, the blog, Youtube……it’s all worth it but can be stressful to fit in around the job I already have. And usually it’s to say “I don’t know what is available yet”. I don’t sex, split or put reservations on hamsters before 4 weeks old.

Day 18:-

Promaz Litter - 28 Nov 2015 - Day 18b
By this point they are fully functional, tiny hamsters. They run, climb, play, eat everything they see, chew, squeak. But Mum is still feeding them. She’s teaching them skills. Even though they go on to be solitary animals they still need social skills. When they then come to raise their own litter or come into contact with another syrian for mating, they are a more well rounded animal. Keeping Mum in til 28 days strengthens the immune system to the best it can be. All of the nourishment she has to give will have been given.

Up to this point they have been fed a variety of soft foods such as porridge and wet cat or dog food. They have had veg or fruit too. The focus is much more on protein rich wet food to help Mum get back her lost condition and for the baby’s upcoming growth spurts.

Day 30:-

Babies can be split between day 28 and day 35. You can see they are similar to the three week olds but they now have undercoat and are bigger. They start into their ‘bars of soap’ phase where they become particularly hard to keep hold of and all your handling time up til now really pays off.

Usually reservations can be confirmed and individual photos taken at 5 weeks onwards. Babies go to homes from 7/8 weeks here depending on maturity. Owners email using a short rehoming questionnaire and come to visit their chosen baby. Babies leave with pedigrees, caresheets, food and lots of advice. It’s a sad time in a way as you do grow attached but it’s also a little nice to give the tiny locusts to someone else to feed!

I’ll often be sent updates and photographs of them when they are older.

The Promaz litter, however, are staying here. Part of the breeding project to get the new blue/dilute gene recognised and standardised, it’s important to closely monitor how they grow and change. So expect more blog posts about them!

You can see videos of my babies on Youtube :-DoricHM

Multiple litters are here!

All three girls gave birth as expected. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to do a sort of breeders diary to give people an idea of what’s actually involved in raising these guys. My aim is to bridge the gap between those who think that multiple litters are horrendously time consuming and those who think they are very easy.
The reality is in between the two. Assuming the timing is right you can raise multiple litters without too much extra hassle. There’s not a lot of difference between one, two or three at the same time. But when you put in a degree of effort for one litter then you do have to plan in advance how to achieve this times two or three extras.
The hardest part, for syrians, is anticipating how many temporary cages you need for the youngsters when they get old enough to split up. The point at which they fall out with their siblings is hard to predict, as is the size of any litter. But the nice thing about hamsters is that they usually aren’t too difficult to rehome, especially when they are quality animals that are tame, healthy and good looking. This is why it’s worth putting in the extra time.

Contrary to popular opinion, mostly expressed online, a good breeder can breed multiple litters and across different species, assuming that they put the time in. I am not expecting to do much but eat, sleep and breathe baby hamsters for the next 6-8 weeks. In terms of profit. There are easier ways to make this small amount of money. The money we make is really more of a token towards the cost of raising them and to discourage those looking for a freebie. I like the idea of being the same price, or cheaper that major pet store chains as you get so much more for your money.