Many exhibitors like to keep incoming animals isolated from their
existing ones to reduce the risk of bringing in infections. Also, if an
infectious disease does occur in a hamstery, it is vital to stop the
spread of the problem – both within the hamstery and beyond.
Isolation, whether for “preventative” reasons or for “quarantine” ones, can be thought of as a simple ABC.
To read what each photo is of simply move your mouse curser over the picture.
A – Assessment
The first task is to assess the situation and risk. Why is isolation being considered?
If a new animal has come in, there is little risk and it is simply a case of keeping him or her away from the others.
If an infection has struck, (or a hamster is a contact of an infected
animal elsewhere), the situation requires more thought. In this case,
information needs to be gathered.
Firstly, and most
importantly, the affected animal(s) must receive any veterinary
attention required. This is part of the Duty of Care under the Animal
Welfare Act and is LAW.
Secondly, a vet can
also confirm the diagnosis of the problem and give valuable information
about contagiousness, incubation periods etc. Other exhibitors may also
be able to help with advice. For example, it is crucial to isolate
animals with sarcoptic mange, since this is highly contagious, but
there is little point in quarantining those with demodectic mange,
Thirdly, the risks can
be assessed. If the illness is not contagious, there is no risk of
transmission from one animal to another. Even infectious diseases can
be lower risk factors if they are restricted to a particular species –
for example, HaPV, (Hamster Polyoma Virus, or Infectious Lymphoma), is
specific to Syrian hamsters and does not appear to affect other
species. Tyzzers Disease, however, seems to affect many small rodents
and hence presents a greater risk.
From this will come the final point; a plan of action. Different
illnesses have different incubation periods, so the isolation period
must be at least the incubation period of the disease you are trying to
eradicate. For most common hamsters diseases, including Wet Tail, two
weeks is sufficient, but for HaPV, thirty two weeks is required! If a
disease is limited to one species of hamster, then only that species
will need isolating but if the disease is more widely transmissible,
then all the hamsters may need to be quarantined.
Remember to move the curser over the picture for more info.
B – Barriers
“Suspect” animals, (new animals coming in, or those that have either
exhibited symptoms of disease and their contacts), must be isolated
from those that can be presumed “clear”. To be “extra careful”, it may
be necessary to consider hamsters that are contacts of a suspect’s
contacts as suspects too.
By this I mean, if hamster A has shown symptoms of illness and hamster
B is a contact of A, B MUST be isolated too. If a third hamster, C, has
been a contact of B after B was in contact with A, it would be good
practice to isolate C as well, even if C has not been in direct contact
Suspect hamsters must be physically separated from clear ones, meaning there must be at least one closed door between them.
Also, there must be no indirect contact between the suspects and the
clear group. For example, owners must never go from the suspects to the
clear animals – they should always feed, clean and handle the clear
group first. They should keep separate supplies of food, bedding etc
for each group, so that there is no risk of cross contamination.
Finally, they must wash their hands, (and may wish to change clothing),
before transferring from one group to another, to avoid transporting
possibly infectious sawdust etc across on their person.
C – Containment
The final step is the least active, but most thought provoking!
Once suspect hamsters have been isolated, they and any hamsters that
have been in contact with them enter the relevant isolation period,
(the time depending on why they are being isolated). The aim is to
“contain” visible or hidden problems within the hamster or group of
hamsters they currently exist in and prevent the problems crossing to
any new hamsters.
For this reason, suspect hamsters and any of their contacts that are
undergoing isolation must not be allowed in contact with other people’s
hamsters, since that would offer a chance of any problems to transfer
to a new group.
So, for example, when I have moved a hamster out of my hamstery that
was showing signs of HaPV, the remainder entered a seven month
“countdown” until I could be sure they were unaffected. During this
time they were not only isolated from the affected hamster but also
from all hamsters except each other – no showing or transfers in or
During this time, if disease is the reason for isolation, other
possible contacts of suspect hamsters need to be traced. If an
“incoming” young hamster develops an illness, tracing contacts can be
quite a task, since their siblings may have been widely distributed!
Generally, however, contacts with other hamsteries involve breeding
loans or transfers of animals. In this case, the timing of the transfer
needs to be considered, relative to the incubation time of any disease
that the suspect animal is showing.
For example, if a hamstery has an animal with Wet Tail, a male that was
sent to another exhibitor on loan the week before would represent a
possible contact and the other exhibitor would need to be informed.
They, in turn, might then wish to isolate the hamsters that are
contacts of the “at risk” male until they are sure there is no further
issue. If the male had gone out six weeks before, he would not be a
potential contact, since he would have been away from the affected
hamsters for more than the isolation period. In that case, there would
be no problem and the exhibitor who had borrowed him would not be at
risk. HaPV, having such a long incubation, is the major bugbear here,
as a hamster can appear healthy and then develop a problem several
months later, having travelled to several hamsteries in the meantime or
sired litters that have been scattered all over the country.. This is
why containing this virus is so difficult and requires absolute honesty
from all parties.
I apologise for the length of this article, but hope that people find it useful!
To sum up;
- A ssess the problem – is isolation needed? If so, which animals and for how long?
- B arriers – isolate the relevant individuals and their contacts, and avoid cross contamination.
- C ontainment – limit the spread of the problem within your hamstery and beyond.
Article by A.Bryan