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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, which isn’t!

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.

Papova signs (chin lumps)  papova secondary tumours

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 with A.
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 out, etc.

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


The NHC promotes a high standard of hamster care and welfare. Membership of an NHC affiliated club means you automatically agree to follow your club's rules and those of the Constitution. In addition, you also agree to follow the separate NHC Code of Practice. The NHC expects ALL its members to keep their hamsters in suitable housing, with some type of enrichment. There are no exceptions. A copy of the NHC Code of Practice can be found HERE
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