A Hamster by Any Other Name (is still a Syrian Hamster)

Recently, I was approached by a woman in the mammal room. She asked me if we had “Black Bear” hamsters available for sale.  I explained that some of the hamsters we have in the room were indeed black. The patron insisted that what she was looking for was a special breed of hamster, that were bigger and made better pets. She appeared rather annoyed that I didn’t seem to know what she was talking about.

Knowing this story all too well, and having heard it several times before, I was forced to politely explain that the “black bears” are not a different breed, just a plain old Syrian that happens to be black. She simply fell victim to a clever marketing strategy lots of pet stores use, naming hamsters and other pets in cute,clever ways to make them more appealing to unsuspecting customers.

The woman looked thoroughly surprised.

“You’re kidding! I paid $25 for the last one I had, and the pet store swore it was some kind of new and improved breed!”

The reality is that the five main types of hamsters sold in pet stores are the Cambell’s Dwarves (also known as Siberian or Russian Dwarves), Winter Whites, Chinese, Roborovskis, and Syrians. The most popular and largest pet hamster is the Syrian, but very few pet stores actually label them as such. They can be called anything the pet store wants to call them: Common, Golden, Black Bear, Teddy Bear, Angora, Honey Bear, Panda, European, Sable, or just plain Fancy. No matter what you call them, all these hamsters are all the same species.

Many hamster breeders and pet stores may claim to have developed a breed of hamster that is supposed to be healthier, friendlier, or larger than “regular” hamsters. In actuality, they breed Syrians for color (or even just pick that color out of a litter of several different colors) and give them nicknames that may be more enticing to consumers. Often the new title allows these animals to be advertised at higher prices, too.

Black and White Syrian HamsterIn our small animal room, we often get requests for certain “breeds” of hamsters and it often takes some convincing about temperament, size, and rarity of said breed. I explain that we carry a variety of colors and patterns within our hamster selection that could technically be labeled in all sorts of exotic ways, but we choose the more generic term “Fancy” to avoid confusion. It seems to be quite a shock to those who’d been out on a desperate hunt for the one “rare breed” their child just has to have. All along they could have picked a perfectly good solid black hamster under the label of “Fancy” for half the price of what some other pet stores charge. Don’t be fooled, a hamster by any other name can still be just as sweet!

The common Syrian Hamster is the most common pet hamster on the market today, known for coming in many colors and patterns, in both long and short hair types. This hamster prefers living alone and can make a good companion for children and adults as long as it is handled gently and with regularity. An adult hamster will reach about 7 inches long and live anywhere from 2-4 years if given proper care. And of course, all hamsters enjoy a running wheel, chew toys, and plenty of tubing and hide-outs to explore and rest in. Hamsters can be great pets for the right person, no matter what the name.

Cruelty-Free Shopping – Finding Products that were not Tested on Animals

Animal enthusiasts often ask if there is any way to be sure that the cosmetics, personal care items and household goods they purchase have not been tested on animals.  While many companies make these claims (sales usually rise in response), recent scandals have revealed that abuses abound.

Legal Status

Unfortunately, in the US, legal standards that must be met before the label “no animals were harmed” can be attached to a product do not exist.  Frequently, distributors make such claims even though many of the product’s ingredients were tested on animals – after all, they reason, the seller itself did not test the final product on animals!  Sad but true.

leapingbunny.org

leapingbunny.org

A group known as the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics was formed in response to the lack of effective laws and guidelines in this area.  Many of the world’s best-known animal welfare organizations, including the 10.5 million-member Humane Society of the USA, are actively involved in its operation.

“Cruelty-Free” Certification

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) inspects companies that wish to be certified as “cruelty-free”.   In order to qualify, a company must prove that neither it nor any of its ingredient suppliers utilize animals for research.  So, for example, if 2 dozen chemicals go into the making of a kitchen cleaner, the suppliers of all 2 dozen chemicals must utilize non-animal testing methods.  In addition, all products carried by the company seeking certification must live up to the same standard.

Those passing the CCIC’s rigorous inspection are entitled to display the group’s “Leaping Bunny Logo” (please see photo).  This symbol, which is used in the USA, Canada, Great Britain and the European Union, is widely-recognized as evidence that animals are not used in product testing.  As of now, it is one of the few ways that a consumer can be absolutely certain of this fact (cosmetics testing on animals is banned in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK; the European Union is in the process of following suit, but there are legal challenges).

How Consumers can Help

Animal welfare groups are growing in strength and influence, as more and more people become deeply affected by the plight of animals that are injured in the name of better eye creams and such.   

The CCIC now provides support to stores that stock “cruelty-free” products.  It also supplies information to consumers and sample letters for folks wishing to encourage stores and companies to deal only in products that have not been tested on animals.  CCIC has also created an app for Iphone and Android users, where you can look up product information by barcode while shopping.  Take the leap, and go cruelty-free, today.

Pot-Bellied Pigs – The Other House Pet

Mature Potbelly PigWhen thinking of house pets, pigs may not immediately come to mind. Most often we associate pigs with kid’s movies, farms, mud, and…bacon. However a few species of domesticated pig have grown in popularity considerably since the 1980’s, when people began to keep for a new kind of house pet. A pet that would be intelligent, affectionate, easy to train, and above all, clean. The new trend would turn heads…Potbelly Pigs! A few weeks ago I saw one of these little critters first hand, on the end of a harness, proudly strutting down the dog toy aisle with his short tail a-waggin’, and I had to stop and gawk. I will admit pigs have always intimidated me because of their large size and loud vocalizations, but after getting to know a few pigs first hand and doing a little reading, I must admit the thought of having one is pretty appealing. Let me share with you a little about the care of the most popular type of pig, the Pot-belly. Read More »

Animal Shelter Volunteers – Having Fun While Helping Creatures In Need

Animal fans often have difficulty finding hands-on animal work, and most animal shelters are underfunded and cannot hire enough help.  Volunteering at a shelter is, therefore, a win-win situation….as most who have volunteered at anything will attest, the helper benefits as much as the “helped”.

Typical Volunteer Duties

Hands-on animal work at shelters may involve walking, grooming or bathing dogs, cleaning cages and preparing food.  Many volunteers find interacting with dogs, parrots, cats and other animals in need of human contact to be a very pleasurable aspect of their experience.  In doing so, they make the residents’ stay more pleasant, and fulfill their desire for close contact with a variety of creatures.

People with other skills can often help out in office work, fund-raising or educational programs. Read More »

Doggie Diets – How Homemade Pet Food is Worth the Effort

Dog Eating a raw treatA couple of months ago I switched my dogs’ & cats’ diets to a homemade one. Every Saturday I spend an hour or two in the kitchen cooking brown rice, vegetables, chicken, and various giblets. I measure vitamin supplements with care.  Every week is the same: I cook, measure, mix, puree (for the cats), and generally stink up my house. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it. Sure, making homemade food is less expensive than buying a quality dog food that passed my rigorous inspection of the ingredients and nutritional content, but was it really worth all the effort?

In short, yes, I would say it is totally worth the effort. First of all, I know exactly what is in the food that I feed my animals. I know that the mean they are eating is a quality cut and that they are getting every bit of nutrition that they need. In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of changes that justifies (to me) all the effort I put in to making my pets’ meals. The first changes I noticed were a reduced number of bowel movements, which were a smaller and a lot less offensive smelling. The dogs smelled better and needed bathed less frequently. Among other improvements I noticed Gatsby’s fur becoming less greasy and straw-like and much softer with less shedding. Who can complain about less shedding?

One change that I had hoped to see (but have not) was a reduction or end Gatsby’s repeat ear infections and itchy paws.  I read that removing corn, soy, preservatives and other allergens while adding Omega 3 and 6 supplements to his diet might alleviate his frequent ear infections and other allergy symptoms. It hasn’t happened yet, in fact, Gatsby just had another ear infection last week. So, it’s off to the Vet’s office again to discuss our next move.

The cats didn’t take to their new food as well as I had hoped. They still prefer dry cat food. I switched them to a higher quality brand of cat food and continually try to supplement their food with fresh meat, fish and greens. Their fur is much softer, though they still shed enough hair to create a new animal every week or so!

Golden Retriever eating treat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Denhulde

Small Wild Cats – Overlooked by Conservationists and in Serious Decline

Margay CatTigers and other big cats rival Pandas as “conservation darlings”…so much so, that an Africa-based colleague of mine recently commented that she doubted there was “…a single Cheetah alive that had not been radio-collared and filmed chasing down a Gazelle”!  However, 30 of the 37 known cat species are small, secretive creatures that, lacking the glamour of their larger relatives, are disappearing without generating much notice.   The plight of Chinese Desert Cats, Flat Headed Cats, Iriomote Cats, Kodkods and other rare felines should be of concern to all, especially Domestic Cat owners – after all, many taxonomists consider the Domestic Cat to be a mere subspecies of the African Wild Cat, and not a distinct species at all. Read More »

A 9-11 Tribute – Search and Rescue Dogs at Ground Zero

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since the Twin Towers fell. Each year we bow our heads in remembrance of those lost and in honor of those who worked tirelessly in the days and weeks following that fateful day. Some don’t remember or don’t know that service dogs played a vital role in search, rescue and recovery at those disaster sites. I came across this video tribute to the service dogs who worked the Trade Center site, and I really think it is something for everyone to see. Please watch the video and remember these magnificent animals for their past and present service.

Pets and Disney – How Animated Movies Effect the Pet Trade

DalmationLike most people of my generation, I was raised on Disney.  The characters, theme parks and merchandise were and are still part of my life. I’ve probably seen every one of their animated films at least twice. You could even go so far as to call us Disney nuts!  When I come to work each day, I am reminded of how Disney has and continues to influence generations of children, their parents and grandparents, especially with some of the more recent movies. Animals have always been the main or supporting characters in Disney animation. These endearing characters tend to sway families towards new pets. You can bet that if an animal was recently featured in a popular kid’s movie, those animals are sure to be in high demand in the pet trade. While they fuel interest in the animals and bring revenue to the industry, the films can be detrimental to the well being of the animals. It is important to remember that the fun and cuddly critters on the big screen may not necessarily be true representatives of the animals they represent. Read More »

Bengal Beginnings – Exotic Cat Breeds

SookieIn 1984 a new breed of cat became recognized into the International Cat Association, and since then it has become one of, if not the most popular cat breed in the United States today. I am of course talking about the sleek and stylish Bengal, which is in my opinion the Maserati of cat breeds. Originally crossed from the wild Asian Leopard cat, this cute, adventurous, and sometimes trouble making feline has worked its way into the hearts and homes of cat enthusiasts everywhere, including mine. Detracting from my usual blogs on small animals, I’d like to share with you a little bit about this cat and why I ended up with one.

The genetic make-up of the original Bengal went further than just an average house cat and a wild animal. They share traits with many other breeds including Egyptian Mau, Burmese, Abyssinian, and the American Shorthair. The producer of the Bengal breed was an American named Jean Sudgen, who crossed a black tom cat with a female Asian Leopard cat in the 1960s. From then on, further crossing experiments eventually gave way to the breed we know and love today. The Bengal combines the beautiful patterns of wild cats with the affectionate, adaptable personality of the domesticated cat, giving cat lovers a little taste of the wild with the convenience of being able to keep their pets just like any other house cat. Read More »

Every Dog Deserves its Day: National Dog Day

Service Dog - National Dog Day

National Dog Day

It’s National Dog Day—a day to remember and recognize all that these wonderful creatures do for us without question. Dogs save lives, keep us healthy, guide our blind and disabled, protect our neighborhoods, and bring joy to our families. Dogs do so much good for the world, yet so many of them end up neglected, abandoned, and abused.

National Dog Day is celebrated August 26th annually and serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, and acknowledges family dogs and dogs that work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe, and bring comfort. Dogs put their lives on the line every day – for their law enforcement partner, for their blind companion, for a child who is disabled, for our freedom and safety by detecting bombs and drugs and pulling victims of tragedy from wreckage.” (www.nationaldogday.com)

Take a moment to say ‘Thank you’ to your dog today. Something as simple as an extra belly rub or a special treat will be appreciated. Think about donating to your local animal shelter, or host a special dog-gathering with friends. Maybe even think about adding to your fur family on National Dog Day. Whatever you do, remember to celebrate all the wonderful things that dogs do for us each and every day.

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