Do you have more than one hamster?
Are you thinking about getting a new hamster?
If you answered yes, quarantine is important for you.
Quarantine aims to reduce the spread of hamster illnesses; it is better to prevent an illness getting in than to treat everyone when it has spread to many of your hamsters.
Believe me, I know!
Last year I had two outbreaks of mites in the hamstery. These weren’t normal hamster demodex mites, but big visible blood-sucking mites. The first time they were confirmed as rabbit fur mites; the second time the sample wasn’t good enough for a precise identification. Treatment each time covered a six week period with rounds of spot on and cleaning.
Hamsters died. Breeding paused. Quarantine changed.
This is why I say prevention is much easier than treatment.
Did you know?
The word ‘quarantine’ originated in Mediterranean ports during the Black Death.
Quarantino was the term for a forty day isolation period imposed by law; it comes from the Italian word for forty, quaranta.
Who do I Quarantine?
Think about the ways contagious conditions can travel in your home or hamstery.
A top route is from a new hamster, even if they don’t have any symptoms of illness right away. Your own hamsters can also bring back illnesses when they have been out of the home, for example at a show or staying with a friend or petsitter.
Quarantining a hamster doesn’t imply anything about anyone else’s care of their animals. It protects your existing hamsters, as well as giving the new hamster a chance to settle in.
Another route is from a hamster you already have. If you think a hamster might be suffering from an illness your other hamsters can catch then quarantine early; don’t wait until after vet confirmation.
Quarantine never replaces veterinary care for unwell hamsters
A less common route is your own clothing! If you have been around animals who are at risk of illness, for example in your work, then think about changing clothing before caring for your own hamsters.
How do I Quarantine?
The top thing to remember about how to quarantine is:
Items can move from the other hamsters to the quarantine hamster
NEVER from the quarantine hamster to the other hamsters
This is a big area for lapses in quarantine.
How easy is it to pop into the hamster room carrying something from quarantine?
You need to separate the quarantine hamster from the others.
The quarantine duration and location depends on the contagious conditions you are looking to prevent.
- How long do they take from catching them to showing symptoms?
- How are they transmitted from one hamster to another?
- Can they be transmitted from you or other animals in your environment to your hamster?
Incubation periods for a respiratory tract infection or diarrhoea illness may be a few days to a week, whereas other contagious conditions such as red mites or hamster polyoma virus may lie dormant for many weeks or months.
How long do I quarantine here at Vectis? One week for hamsters returning from a show who are up to date with their spot on. Two weeks minimum for anyone else. If in doubt, I go for longer!
Four Practical Quarantine Tips
At the minimum, keep the quarantine hamster in a different room; using a different area of the same room may not be adequate to prevent illnesses with airborne transmission or where the contagion can move, e.g. mites and fleas. This area should be suitable for keeping hamsters, i.e. a suitable temperature both day and night, secure from other pets and not too humid.
Care for your other hamsters before the quarantine hamster
Keep the care essentials for your quarantine and other hamsters separate. Have separate food and treat containers, separate food scoops. Thoroughly clean items used in quarantine before moving them back into your main hamster area.
Practice good hand hygiene after caring for the quarantine hamster. Consider whether you need to wear an apron to protect from transfer on clothing (or change your clothes after caring for the quarantine hamster). This will depend on the illness you are looking to prevent.
What happens when Quarantine is Over?
Finally, your hamster has got to the end of his quarantine period with no problems.
Give the hamster a health check. As well as looking over the hamster himself, check the nesting material and substrate carefully for signs of ill health or parasites.
Do you clean the cage? That’s down to your personal assessment of how, in this particular instance of disease prevention, you weigh up the pros and cons. Take into account:
- source of the hamster
- risk of infection transmission
- conditions you are quarantining for
- health/age of your other hamsters
- risk of distress through cage cleaning to this individual hamster
Remember to thoroughly clean your quarantine accessories and any carriers you have used.
Personally? I weight my decisions to protect the many in the hamster room over the potential temporary distress to the one or few quarantine hamsters. I clean them out thoroughly before transfer into the hamster room. If a new hamster needs longer to settle before a cage clean, I keep them in quarantine longer. But that’s me, and you know my recent experience with erring on the gentle side of quarantine!
Making a Quarantine Plan
Here are some questions to help guide you in forming your own individual quarantine plan:
- What conditions am I trying to prevent entering the hamster area from new hamsters?
- What symptoms may indicate a contagious illness in my existing hamsters?
- How are these conditions transmitted?
- Which hamsters do I quarantine?
- Where do I quarantine them?
- How long for?
- What will I do when quarantine is over?
What has changed at Vectis?
My quarantine plan has had an overhaul since last year. My aim is to protect the hamster room from having contagious conditions brought into it. Therefore even hamsters from my closest friends are quarantined. I’d rather have a longer quarantine than risk introducing a contagious condition to my hamster room.
No hamster goes straight into the hamster room. Ever.
I now do not allow visitors into the hamster room. When people come to collect their new hamster, they can look into the hamster room over the baby gate, but no more wandering round looking at all the cute hamsters.
Sorry for any disappointment this causes but I hope you can appreciate the reason why.
Do you have a quarantine plan?
Ask your questions in the comments below. I’ll answer every one.