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.

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:-

www.the-chicken-chick.com

www.petprescription.co.uk

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.

9712PL

Houten Terraria 2017

I had the most amazing opportunity to visit The Netherlands over the weekend and their massive rodent and reptile exo-naag (expo or show) on Easter Sunday. I was equal parts very anxious about it and very excited. I hope to share some of that glorious weekend with you.

To give you an idea of the undertaking, this was my second time abroad and I’m nearly 40 so a new passport was needed as well as navigating currency exchange and all that. On top of that the show requires health statements for the animals you bring, plus making sure I had all the necessary pedigrees going. I had my list of animals travelling back and most of these were pre-booked. Although this is difficult sometimes, I highly recommend booking in advance as it gives you a sense of who you are dealing with before you arrive.

dav
4 litre ice cream tubs with holes on the top and sides. Already filled with bedding and food and labelled.

sdr
1 litre ‘Whitefurze’ storage boxes with holes drilled on the top and sides. Already filled with bedding and food and labelled.

Boxes had been dremeled, lunches prepared, overnight bag packed, euros in purse, folder of information in hand….I was ready to go.

I travelled with Vectis Hamstery and we set off from Harwich on the overnight ferry. My word, I never knew I could feel so sea-sick. The tablets I’d taken just in case really didn’t cut the mustard. On the way back I used Sturgeon 15 which you can buy over the counter and I highly recommend those compared to my prescription ones!

dav
The cabin was nicer than I’d thought it would be.

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The Hook of Holland, a photograph taken whilst not looking!

We pulled up and parked the ferry at the Hook of Holland. That was bumpy going but I made it in one piece. My travelling companion was the driver and she did a very good job of navigating the wrong side of the road….

sdr
Beautiful scenery out the Vectis Mobile window. Much of the landscape was similar to this.

I have to say, I don’t know how much the government spends on roads over there but ours could surely use some tips! A very smooth ride and not a pothole in sight.

We arrived in a wee bit too late for the exhibitors entrance and as we didn’t bring any animals to show (can you imagine the organisation skills required for that), we opted for the visitors entrance. It meant queueing up, and we got a little rained on, but it was less stressful.

sdr
The Expo Center in Houten

I was in awe at how many people were already waiting to go in, armed with carriers. And the sheer volume of animals, toys and food for sale. I must admit, photographs weren’t that easy to take so I only took a select few:-

dav
The rodent hall was a lot less busy later in the day.

dav
I was surprised to see the owl display in the rodent hall but at least it was quite far away. The owls didn’t seem too fussed.

sdr
Madagascan Day Gecko. One day I’ll have one of these…. They are displayed in these boxes for their safety and warmth. The reptile hall is heated and these boxes offer good insulation.

dav
I was amazed at the selection of small frogs, spiders, tortoises as well as snakes and lizards.

I wandered around the reptile hall in awe. It was hard not to walk with my mouth open. I have mixed emotions about what I saw. The reptiles were very well looked after. I don’t doubt that a lot of effort goes in to keeping any reptile, insect, arachnid or amphibian alive and they all looked bright and healthy.

There were rodents in there though, and those I didn’t take photographs of as they were not destined to become pets. I will say they had bedding, food and water but I’ll never be ok with the idea of snake food. That’s just my opinion.

The rodent hall was an overwhelming treat for the eyes and the urge to buy everything I could lay my hands on was strong! Like a fox in a hen house….or a small child in a sweet shop. I did buy some extras but overall I was fairly restrained. I’ve added a selection of photos for you. Its important not buy on impulse and make sure you’ve run your own eye over the animals you buy. Of course, you may be taken in my an animal that’s a little small etc but that’s different. However, none of the hamster breeders I’d dealt with gave me anything other than an accurate description of their animals. I’m very pleased with what I brought back.

New projects in cinnamon and headspot robos on the way…..

Needless to say the car was packed on the way home. There was an awkward moment when we were asked if we had any animals in the car. Luckily there aren’t any restrictions on bringing back the regular species of pet that we had on board. Always check any CITES info you need before you buy anything. We also were able to prove we were not commercial importers as those need an import/export licence. The lady at border control seemed genuinely fascinated and delighted at the idea of a hamster show!

It was definitely a very long day, stressful in places making sure everyone on the list had been spoken to etc. We’d packed the car through the day as it was nice and cool outside which made it easier. Five cucumbers later…..

We’d met with two lovely people whom I’d been organising a lot of the hamster ‘trade’ with prior to the visit who were both welcoming and very helpful. Wellington Hams and Lilliput Hams had also gone the same way as us and we spent the day around their table. North Star hams and Brambleberries Hamstery were also there as familiar UK faces.

Whether we can go again remains to be seen as I’m not sure what Brexit will mean in terms of UK customs laws. Nevertheless I’m glad I went, I’ve made a lot of new contacts and I had an amazing and wonderful experience.

The breeders I met and their animals who came home with me can all be seen on the Facebook page. Eventually I will have updated the website too.

For anyone thinking of going, here is my list of things to take:-

1. Roll of labels. I found this invaluable for re-labelling boxes, especially those that had gotten wet on the way in. You never know when you need a new label and you can’t afford not to mark each box with what’s in there and where it’s from. As I found out with a pair of gerbils!

2. There’s no such thing as too much cucumber. If it’s a hot day those boxes may get cucumber more than once in a day and overnight so pack a lot. We took five and had two left in the end but better too many than not enough.

3. Pre-pack boxes with dry food and bedding. Less to pack in the car and each box is ready to go.

4. Take extra toilet rolls. A few of these don’t take up too much space and one roll was enough for 28 boxes. That’s cheap toilet roll as I find the expensive stuff is a little dusty.

5. Make your own lunch. Take a cool bag. It’s cheaper and you have the food you want rather than what’s on offer at the time of day you eventually manage to sit down!

6. Put your European headlight stickers on before boarding the ferry. That’s a tip stolen from Vectis as I don’t have a car but trust me, it will save you a lot of effort. They are quite fiddly to fix on I’m told.

7. Take small boxes in crates. Plenty of ventilation and the animals are safe and warm. They want to be snug, not in a lot of space. Some of the animals we collected had already travelled from France, or Finland for example. Crates stack securely in the car and can be seatbelted in. We left the seats up to make the stacks more secure.

8. Take larger containers for Syrians, gerbils, mice but transfer them in the car. Don’t lug your big boxes around the show. A 4 litre is plenty big enough for a couple of hours. But not for overnight.

9. Pack the car with all tanks and tubs set up. Don’t flat pack on the way there, you need to know if it will all fit before you leave.

10. Take plenty of ‘walking around money’. No matter how much you pre reserve, you’ll see plenty of animals you want while you are there. Don’t miss out, but be sensible about it too.

I hope that’s been informative! If you try this trip I hope you have as much fun as I did.

Waiting For Spring – Planning The Spring Clean

The blog has been quiet recently as I’m spending much of my time pairing up hamsters!

I’m still suffering the fallout from cutting back in 2015 and then being elsewhere in 2016. I’m largely trying to breed older animals to limited effect. Despite having had three litters in September, none of those were for my black Syrian lines, my last litter for them being April 2016. Luckily I kept a male!
My line still run back to Dougal, my first black, luckily. I do also still have a boy whose father was another hamster I’d bred, Lorne. Thanks to another breeder, Roma Hamstery, I have a black boy here who came from my Engineers litter. So all is not lost! However, when faced with an in season female, none of these boys were interested. Perhaps she wasn’t really in season…they would know haha.

Despite some action a couple of weeks ago, no Syrians have produced pups yet although, annoyingly, spring has sprung in other hamsteries! I’m sure it won’t be long for us. I’ve been off my game for a while and it’s going to take a while to get things back on track.

One thing on my list is a full Spring Clean. It’s not something any hamster owner looks forward to but it’s time. It involves pulling out cages and cleaning in the crannies. Getting rid of any cobwebs and dust in the corners. There is a surprising build up of dust over time from skin, bedding and food. Even dust extracted  bedding leaves a layer behind once it’s been chewed and sat on.

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I normally  do partial cleans. It’s impossible to do the whole room at once anymore, not without help. So a section of cages get done at each feed so that all the cages are fully cleaned each month with part cleans done through the week to keep everything fresh. This time I will be moving each section to one side of the room, hovering behind and underneath and washing the wall. Yup, hamsters pee on the walls from time to time! I also get Indian Moths sleeping up where the wall meets the ceiling and this silk nests need removing to avoid a build up. Indian Meal Moths like hamster food, a lot. Then each cage in the section gets fully cleaned, both inside and out, before being put back. This is sort of a deep clean. As I have a lot of hamsters I don’t get a chance to fuss over cleaning the cages on an every week basis like I used to. So I revel in the opportunity to clear space in my schedule for this purpose.

With my back the way it is, I can’t get this done in a weekend like I used to, even with hubby’s help but we’ll make good progress. It’s a great feeling 🙂

I also take this opportunity to photograph hamsters as I put them back. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth the effort. There’s nothing worse than a smelly hamster room. Last year, with going back and forth the hospital to visit Mum and various appointments with my own doctors, that hamster room got the basic treatment and it showed. I’m looking forward to sprucing the place up a bit.

What I am also hoping to achieve is redoing my rosette holders and I’ll definitely be posting photos of these.

I have to also remember I have other rooms in my house that need a spring clean too…..

 

*featured image courtesy of Pinterest.

**embedded picture courtesy of wallpaper safari (click pic for link)

 

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!

2017 – Looking Forward

Wow 2016 sucked! I have to say that’s the nicest phrase I feel is appropriate for here. Two family bereavements last year along with a few other life stresses means that I’m in danger of losing even more bloodlines as hamsters seem ‘suddenly’ too old. I’m facing somewhat of a crisis. I start January with an urgent need to review all my breeding.

The trouble is I have back surgery looming and although I still don’t have a date yet, it’s looking to be for Feb/Mar or possibly April. With Houten coming around in April I’d better be back on my feet by then!

In the meantime, I’m grounded from almost all shows as I’m struggling to even sit in a car for the journey, not being able to lie down all day. Without going into too much personal detail about my particular condition, suffice to say that I need to be able to stand, sit or lie down as I need to through the day with most day ending with the use of hefty painkillers that really put a dampener on social conversation!

I’ve stepped away from my role as Sales Manager, despite being nominated for both clubs, to minimise stress. I’ve stepped away from the committees for now for the same reason. I’m still enjoying my time as PRO for the council.

So, what to do? I’ve temporarily shut my waiting lists for dwarfs. I have maybe half as many dwarf pups in any year compared to Syrians and I’m now down to only a handful of breakable adults. Most of those are Roborovski. I have lost nearly all of my Chinese lines to old age or diabetes. My Winter Whites haven’t bred and my Robos have been largely unreliable, despite being paired for some time. I’m currently looking at reviewing their diet and adding more fresh veg to entice breeding outside of the seasons.

Most recently I lost Fraxinelle, my last black eyed white. Although he hadn’t yet been tested as he was still under a year, he’s been draining his water bottle and I had suspicions. On the day I went to take him out to test him, he’d already gone. I’ve taken the decision to focus on my normal as I have two males and two females of breeding age that I’d like to use. The dominant spots I’ve got will either go into those lines or go out on loan as they are all from black eyed whites.

Robo wise I’ve done a lot of soul searching about whether I’m spreading myself too thin. I think probably yes, to a degree but I’ve had a lot of bad luck in sourcing breeding adults that has set me back quite a bit. What I need is agouti Robos and to get my agouti line back on track. This gives me breeding animals to cross out into pied and husky. I’m planning on quite a few robo litters this year.

The Winter Whites have so far been a bit tricky but I’ve got a pair of normal paired at the moment and a breedable sapphire female to pair up. I’m breeding for just normals, but I may get sapphires out.

Syrians are…..a challenge. I’ve dropped my chocolate plans as I’ve had to review space in the hamster. The Ivories are doing very well, the blues are on track, more or less, but the blacks need work. I only had one litter in 2016 towards my blacks but thankfully I kept a lot of boys from 2015 so I haven’t lost too much. If my blue girl, Brizo doesn’t give me anything this month then all I have left here are blue carriers. Proteus proved that blue carriers are just as handy at giving a whole litter of blues so I’m not too concerned at this stage. It just means that I’m making blues again, then crossing to goldens to eventually produce the elusive ‘dilute golden’. I had to choose a line to stop and I have too much invested in the blues now as well as the blacks so those will stay. The ivories keep me going when I feel like jacking it all in so they stay. The rusts and chocolates were very new and I’d already suffered a lack of successful litters and I have had plenty of those elsewhere!

Mongolian gerbils are here and waiting for suitable girlfriends. I’m unlikely to have more than one or two litters each year so very similar to the mice.

All in all, the knock on effect from last year’s lull is still very much being felt here. The dwarfs of course date back to 2015 when they slowed down. But, and despite the planned hospital visit, these hamster lines will not all be lost.

Breeding can have significant ups and downs at times I’ve found. I’m still determined to win another best/reserve best in show with a black! I’ve been down but I’m not out! The only way is up

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Syrian Hamster Conformation – A Judges Point of View

I’ve been judging for two years and as a qualified judge now for a year so I’m not the clubs most experienced voice by a long shot but as I have been trained, I feel able to write about something I enjoy. Judging is both fun and difficult at the same time. There are lots of different factors to focus on. You have to keep an eye on the points you have awarded through the day and on how much time it’s taking you to get through.

One question that comes up a lot is ‘Why did my hamster get those marks’? And a fan of the Facebook page has also asked that I cover this topic. All the official information on conformation can be found in the handbook but here is my interpretation.

This article is rather long, I do apologise! I don’t speak for all judges here, just what I’ve had experience of either judging or being judged.
Colour


The highest mark available. Your hamster may gain or drop marks from show to show depending on the quality of light, the opinion of the judge, the hamsters condition which can affect colour and whether it’s moulting. And its age of course. Different colours are affected differently by age. Creams mature into their colour, blacks and greys brown out of their colour.

It’s also important to check the pedigrees of any hamster you purchase. Some colours, when bred together, muddy the quality of each one so the colours you produce are poor quality. This can’t be helped when breeding for certain colours that require a combination but if you want to exhibit a particular colour then it’s worth checking what’s in the make up.

I won’t go into each colour here, safe to say that the best option for you is to talk to other exhibitors who show the colour you are interested in, or talk to judges on the day, to find out the various benefits or pitfalls to your chosen hamster. For almost any colour you can name, someone has bred that at some point in the past. Again, don’t always just talk to whomever is winning that day. There is a wealth of information to be had from many different exhibitors.

Patterned hamsters are judged on both colour and pattern so you need to consider that a hamster with exceptional colour may lose out on points because the pattern isn’t good or vice versa. Read the description of the pattern carefully. Does it ask for even spotting? A white animal with coloured spots means the colour isn’t too heavy. Do you need to avoid brindling?

I was taught to look at the top coat, blow through the fur to see the undercoat, check all the coloured areas of an agouti and to factor in the effects of satin, rex and long haired hamsters on colour quality. These things all contribute to the overall score.

‘Patchy colour’ refers to the hamster having areas of good colour and areas of pale colour and is usually found in animals that are moulting but can be a general fault in the overall coat colour.

‘Wide open, wide, narrow or no chest band’ is a common complaint for agouti hamsters. Don’t forget that hair’s width! Chest bands run around from the cheek flashes under the hamster’s chest.

‘Pale’ is what it is. Pale and patchy is particularly bad and means the hamster starts as pale in it’s good areas and gets paler in places.

‘Pale/dark undercolour’ is just specifically that the undercolour is either pale or too dark.

‘Lacks ticking’ refers to the ticking on the top coat of the hamster and indicates that there should be more of it.

dougal-5

Type
When judging type, two main areas are looked at. That is the head and the body. Both are described in the handbook. A Syrian with good type is very clear to see. I tend to lengthen the hamster out to see it’s true proportions. A long, thin hamster can still be seen even If it’s carrying extra weight. Adding too much weight to your hamster doesn’t win it type marks, only loses it condition marks. A Syrian should be cobby, not too overweight. Cobby means a body that is short and stocky rather than long and thin.
Ear size can really throw off an otherwise nice head and points can either not be awarded for type here or taken off Eyes and Ears. I prefer to judge the type and deduct marks in the other section for overly large ears. Particularly pointy ears have the effect of making a hamster look rather elvish!
Sometimes a hamster won’t put up it’s ears and that can be a trait that is bred into the line rather than being a sign of distress. I had an issue with this personally. A line of lovely laid back Syrians and none of them put their ears up, ever. Again, something for a breeder to breed out if possible.
There are a lot of marks to be had here and I’ve seen lovely coloured hamsters miss out on placings because of poor type and vice versa.
‘Narrow head’ is obvious but it is the space between the ears that is looked at primarily. There are degrees of narrow head that may be recorded.
‘Chunky’ is usually a good term. Very chunky is often not.
‘Long face’ is sometimes referred to as ‘horsey head’ and means the head is too long from the base of the ear to the nose and is particularly noticeable when the hamster reaches forward to sniff.
Perzik 1
Fur
Fur is judged by its condition, whether the hamster has enough of it and how it feels. So a woolly, open coat is to be avoided and a thick plush coat is desirable. Fur marks are deducted for the prevalent ‘TBF’ or thin belly fur. Fur can be affected by weight, age and hormones. A very heavy hamster carrying too much body fat will have thinner fur as the skin is stretched. Equally, a hamster that is out of condition may have areas of loose or baggy skin that affect how the fur looks or feels.
Long haired hamsters may lose points for ‘lacking skirt’ as males should have a nice full coat all over.
‘TBF’ is thin belly fur as above. There are varying degrees of this. I’d argue that a hamster with almost no belly fur really ought to stay at home.
‘WU’ is the dreaded white under and mostly afflicts creams, blacks, chocolates and doves. It’s important to notice the colour of your hamster’s belly as if you have a golden or a cinnamon, for example, with a white belly then this is potentially a ‘white bellied golden’ or ‘white bellied cinnamon’ and a different colour entirely that belongs, in my opinion, in non-standard class. These are hamsters that carry and show the white bellied gene. General splodgey bellies are just mismarkings and should be bred out.
‘Woolly coat’ is a texture of coat that feels rough. Similar to a rex coat but on a hamster that should be smooth coated. A rex hamster has curly whiskers, if yours doesn’t but has a textured coat then it should be bred to one with a good coat to try to take this out of your lines.
‘Open coat’ is when the hair doesn’t lie entirely flat and can be because the hamster is warm, or older, moulting, or may be not in the best condition. It’s most noticeable on an agouti hamster as the under colour will show through.
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Condition
One of my pet peeves is a hamster that is overweight. One whose natural type is long and thin so is fed suet to bulk it up. Judges can see this difference. When you pick a hamster up under it’s armpits, if your thumb is totally covered by the animal’s fur then it is overweight.  Overweight hamsters don’t win shows. You need to work on size to get near the big hamsters that get best in show and you can’t short cut that with the aid of too much suet (some suet in the diet can be useful but owners should keep a close eye on the condition of the hamster).
One problem some breeders encounter, usually new breeders from what I’ve seen, is over feeding baby hamsters. Your cute splatty hamster will soon turn into an adult with baggy, loose skin. Those nearly out of or just out of young stock can lose marks for looking terribly out of condition as they have all this extra skin hanging down.
Make sure your hamster is firm, chunky and the right shape for its natural type. Its natural type may not be what you are after but that’s how you know what to breed for and hiding it won’t help you in the long run.
Older hamsters most often lose marks here and sometimes marks can be lost from either fur or condition depending on the judge’s discretion.
‘Pin bones’ refers to the hip bones jutting up as the layer of good fat over this area has been lost. Usually found on older hamsters.
‘Old?’ is often noted on animals the judge feels have justifiable loss of condition. They’ll still lose marks but don’t need a ‘please see judge’ marked on the label.
‘Saggy’ is referring to the loose skin as above.
‘Please see judge’ should never be ignored by exhibitors. This could be anything from very poor condition to a lump felt or a chipped tooth. Southern and Midland club judges don’t tend to write the reason on the label as it’s potentially embarrassing for an exhibitor who may have genuinely not noticed an issue or that has arisen during that day. The public may misinterpret the label to mean the hamster is very ill. Sick hamsters are not put back on the show bench but disqualified and should be given back to the owner.
Size
Size overlaps somewhat with condition in the case of weight. I don’t tend to award marks for weight in this section, I go by look and feel. I award marks on what the animal’s true size is and deduct condition marks if the hamster is overweight. Have I belaboured that point yet!
Size marks vary across judges and is sometimes influenced by what’s on the table as there is no visible cue to a ‘perfect hamster size’ although all species have parameters into which the hamster must fall. Babies may miss out on size marks so this is a consideration for anyone entering young stock. If your hamster is very young but within the guidelines set for showing, is it worth entering them if they are very small?
Overall all though, this tends not to be a big deciding factor on who wins as it’s only ten points. Size tends to influence the results most when the size of the hamster is very small.
Eyes and Ears
Here a judge is looking for discharge from the eyes and deducting marks for nicks in the ears. Small eyes are penalised too. A sticky eye may not be penalised if the hamster opens it within a minute or two of coming out of the show pen. A true sticky eye may be helped by the judge or left for the owner as appropriate.
‘Sticky eye’ refers to an eye that won’t open and may or may not have some dry discharge around it usually from sleep.
‘Small eyes’ is definitely something to breed away from. Ignoring small eyes simply cause the issue to worsen down the line.
‘Nick in the ear’ is usually from a pairing or historically from pups fighting.
Plus and Minus Marks

Used to differentiate between too very close hamsters where the score is the same but one may be marginally better than the other. Minus marks are used in the same way but not every judge uses them. Some of us prefer to use a + or a ++ if more than one hamster needs to be ‘split’.
Show Pens
Marks are deducted for shabby pens but not if they are hire pens.
Syrian Pen 1
Duplicates
After the main judging, the judge and book steward go around the front of the table and judge the duplicates. Essentially this is based on the overall scores and can be quickly ascertained. A hamster in young stock with an overall score of 75 beats one with a score of 50 with no need to look at the hamsters as they have been judged already.
However, hamsters on the same marks need to be looked at again to see who beats who IF they have not ‘met’ before i.e. they weren’t entered in the same class so haven’t been judged next to each other. This is true even if one hamster has a plus mark already as this plus was achieved against a different hamster (s).
Effectively the winner wins their plus mark as if they were in the main class but this is not always noted on the pens. I like to mark a tiny + next to the duplicate class number and always put the pens back in the order I want them.
When judging for neck and neck hamsters in duplicates, again, you are looking for the better overall hamster. One may have amazing colour but lacks condition and type therefore the other hamster might win.
Lastly a little word on temperament. A hamster that is too grumpy or nervous does not show well. A judge will only spend so much time looking for a hamster’s best side, especially on a table with 150 other hamsters to judge. Do your best to breed well tempered hamsters and handle them as much as possible. Make their first show somewhere quiet or close to home.
Hamsters that bite can be disqualified. Although there’s no section for ‘temperament’ it does play a crucial role in the show.