Welcome

Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Star Gazing

What is Star Gazing?
Some lines of hamsters seem to produce hamsters with behavioural disorders. They are often termed as a neurological disorder or simply as Star Gazing. The term ‘Star Gazing’ itself comes from a behaviour that causes the hamster to stand on their hind legs, gaze upward (toward the stars) and either flip over or fall on their back; this behaviour is often repeated and is compulsive and involuntary, meaning they cannot control this behaviour. Also included under this term are behaviours such as compulsive spinning and pacing. No one knows for certain what causes these issues to pop up, but they are largely believed to be genetic. These behaviours can have varying causes however, not all of them being genetic.

Symptoms

  • Compulsive pacing -- when a hamster is found to be pacing back and forth along the cage constantly.
  • Running in circles -- when the hamster is found to continually run in circles. The circles may be more like spinning, almost on the spot, and is referred to “waltzing” by Linda Price. It may take the form as running laps in a certain section of the cage continually. A video of Hoppinghammy's roborovski dwarf hamster, from Hamster Hideout, "waltzing":
    Click Here to View Video
  • Doing back flips or falling on their back, also called star gazing -- The hamster will stand on their hind legs either on the floor or on a toy and attempt to do a back flip, usually just falling on their back.Most of these hamsters, so long as they can eat, drink and sleep without too much trouble don’t need to be euthanized. With some effort on the owners part to make their life more comfortable, they can live healthy and happy lives. If the traits are extreme and the quality of your hamster’s life is not what is should be than euthanization should be considered. A lot of ethical points come into this decision and it is up to you as the owner to make the decision for what is best for your hamster.

    A popular viral video of back flipping hamsters, suffering from neurological issues:


Causes
There may be several causes for these symptoms to appear:

  • Ear Infection: An ear infection can cause a ‘head tilt’ (where the hamster’s head tilts a bit) and also for them to lose their balance, they often walk diagonally and sometimes also walk in circles. An ear infection doesn’t usually call back flipping. This can be treated by antibiotics from a vet.
  • Swelling of the brain: If your hamster has fallen or you believe it could have received an injury to the head, than this could have caused swelling to the brain that would effect the hamster’s ability to walk properly or act normally. A vet should be sought immediately if this is believed to be the case.|
  • Growth on the brain: If something such as a tumour is growing in the hamster’s brain than this too could also cause spinning, walking in circles and possibly even back flipping. If this is the case than a vet should be sought, though the prognosis is not a positive one.
  • Stroke: A stroke is thought to be another cause of some of these behaviours, again a vet should be contacted to see if this is the cause and to see what can be done for your hamster.
  • Less than adequate housing: Many times I have seen hamsters in small and bare cages displaying signs of compulsive pacing and circling. They’re bored and are attempting to compensate for lack of mental stimulation in their environment. One study on rats even suggests the following:

    Repetitive stereotyped behaviours are often performed by both wild and domestic rodents in small laboratory cages. In this study, a behaviour resembling a backwards somersault or backflip is described and quantified in captive roof rats (ship or black rats, Rattus rattus). ... Cage enrichment in the form of a wooden nest box resulted in dramatically lower rates of performance. Increased cage height resulted in delayed development of backflipping, as well as changes in the form of the behaviour. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that the development and expression of backflipping in young roof rats may be triggered by weaning and maintained by a heightened state of arousal in a relatively impoverished environment with limited opportunities for perceptual and locomotor stimulation” (Callard MD, Bursten SN, Price EO 2000. Repetitive backflipping behaviour in captive roof rats (Rattus rattus) and the effect of cage enrichment. Animal Welfare 9, 139-152).

    It might be easiest to look into this possibility as a cause, at least while also consulting your vet for other possible causes. Enlarging the cage and providing more for your hamster to actually do, in order to stimulate them physically and mentally.
  • Genetic Neurological Disorder: When these traits are caused through some sort of genetic link. They will begin to display the symptoms at a young age, usually around two to three months of age. Some lines of hamsters seem to have these issues, and should not be bred further, nor should their kin, even if the disorder doesn’t seem severe. Some have found that white faced Roborovski dwarf hamsters seem to suffer from this more so than agouti Roborovski dwarf hamsters. In Russian Campbell dwarf hamsters it seems most common in those with the mottled pattern. It is also attributed to be found in hybrid (Russian Campbell x Winter White) hamsters. This does not mean that it is limited to these variations or species at any rate. There is no cure for hamsters that suffer from this when it is caused by genetic issues, however they do not necessarily need to be euthanized in every case. Many can still lead happy and healthy lives.

Treating a Hamster with a Genetic Neurological Disorder

Owners of these hamsters such as Hamster Hideout’s “Hoppinghammy” or “Rhapsody” seem to agree that hamsters that suffer with this are greatly impacted by stress, leading to their behaviours to increase in severity and regularity. It is recommended that these hamsters are not subjected to unneeded stress.

  • Instead of doing a full cage cleaning, try to do partial cage cleanings so that their whole cage isn’t disturbed at once. If a full cage cleaning must be done than be sure to leave several handfuls of the old substrate and sprinkle it around their cage so that their home doesn’t smell quite so strange to your hamster.
  • Keep the layout of the cage similar or the same, as this will help to reduce the stress of a new environment. While this wouldn’t normally bother a hamster, even the smallest things can cause stress or excitement to a hamster that suffers from these compulsive behaviours.
  • On top of reducing stress, a large one level cage is recommended so that the hamster has room to spin (or whatever the particular behaviour might be) without risk of falling or having to climb ramps or tubes.
  • A variety of toys and things to do in the cage can help to keep them from becoming bored and to attempt them to divert at least from the frequency of their behaviour.
  • The cage should be in a room that is quiet and free from too much excitement, activity or noise.
  • If the hamster suffering from these compulsive behaviours is living with other hamsters it is best that they are separated. The behaviour can stress our the other hamsters and cause the affected hamster to be subject to more attacks causing more stress and a worsening of the behaviours.

There is some suggestion that there may be a medical approach to treatment for these behaviours. “missPixy” from Hamster Hideout, has suggested these treatments:

I don't know if you are interested, but in my research
I found some treatments that are used in birds to treat
stargazing. since so many medications for hamsters use
birds as a basis for dosages, these should be safe for
Ruby, too:

1. The drug Nystatin (safe for guinea pigs)

2. The drug Trimethoprim Sulfa (one drop per day)

On the forum, 'HamsterHideout' a member under the username of 'Luci' began treatment of her star gazing hamster, Mirabelle, with the drug Trimethoprim Sulfa (mentioned in the original article) and within days reported a noticeable difference in Mirabelle, namely walking normally and capable of better balance. Mirabelle has since passed away, though as far as I know, her death is not believed to be caused from the drug. 


3. Vitamin B 12. (one drop in mouth per day, 5 - 6 drops in
8 ounces water)
This can be obtained from a pharmacy (chemist) should a vet not be available right away.

Before any of these are attempted you should talk with your veterinarian first to discuss treatment options. I have no information on the success of these treatments on hamsters at this time.
Euthanization
Most of these hamsters, so long as they can eat, drink and sleep without too much trouble don’t need to be euthanized. With some effort on the owners part to make their life more comfortable, they can live healthy and happy lives. If the traits are extreme and the quality of your hamster’s life is not what is should be than euthanization should be considered. A lot of ethical points come into this decision and it is up to you as the owner to make the decision for what is best for your hamster.

Further Reading

5 comments:

  1. Poor things... :-( I believe I saw one in one of the local pet shops when I was looking for my Lilly. It was a dwarf russian I guess since it was winter and the hammie's fur was white. He was walking a few steps, than stopped in the middle of the cage as if there was a glass and turn over on it's back. Back than I didn't know the therm 'star gazing' but I intuitively felt something was wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, thanks so much for writing this. This will do so much to inform the hamster world of these kinds of conditions :( It's so sad, though.

    ReplyDelete
  3. That's so sad! The video of the hamster spinning is horrible, i feel so sorry for the poor hamsters :( Thanks for telling me, I would never have known otherwise.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I didn't know it was an issue. We had one at the petshop where I used to work we called Disney. Super friendly little thing, and seemed to be doing the flips for entertainment. She was perfectly fine and healthy otherwise, and definitely one of our favorites. (Our hamsters were a tad spoiled, big cages, low population, lots of toys and goodies...)

    ReplyDelete
  5. My little robo has been spinning for a few months her head tilts and we took her to the vet 85 bucks later we have meds and i gave them to her as directed but it didnt help still spinning

    ReplyDelete