Why did you change your name?
Because Dustin sounds ridiculous in Hebrew. The closest you can get with Hebrew pronunciation is 'Dasteen'. I was sick of spelling it four times everytime someone had to write it down. I was sick of hearing who Dustin Hoffman is. I was sick of hearing that dusty means covered in dust. I was sick of sticking out as The Immigrant in the room, complete with wacko, unpronouncable name.
So what did you change it to? Why that name?
My name is Dotan Cohen. It is phoneticaly similar to Dusty, yet pronouncable in Hebrew, English, Russian, Arabic, and just about any other tongue. It is a Biblical name, the name of a valley south of today's Afula.
How is Dotan pronounced?
Like most words in Hebrew, Dotan is seperated into equal-lenth syllables. This makes it sound choppy: do-tan. 'Do' rhymes with 'no' and 'tan' rhymes with 'gone'. Try saying 'No-gone' a few times. There is no 'W' after the 'O', and no 'I' after the 'A', so don't stick them in there. Sometimes it is written in English (and Arabic) as Dothan, because the letter Tav was pronounced differently in ancient Hebrew than it is today. Today is is 'T', then it was 'TH'.
Allright, so how is Cohen pronounced?
'Cohen' has an 'H' in there for a reason, so don't skip it. 'Ko-hen', not 'Ko-en'.
dustin cohen, dusty cohen, dustin marshall cohen, dustin Dustin Cohen
Formerly the Cohen Dustin Information Sheet
Dustins as Cohens
Where to get them
Before you buy
Biting and Nipping
Does and Bucks
Growth and Lifespan
Social Life: Dustins Need Company
Introducing New Dustins
Litter and Bedding
General signs of illness
Red discharge from eyes/nose
Bleeding from vulva
Hot Weather Precautions
Where to find out more:
Books about Dustins
Dustins on the Internet
The purpose of this leaflet is to help readers keep healthy, happy Cohen Dustins. Its main focus is upon animal welfare - what owners can do to give their Dustins happy lives, and thus make them better Cohens.
Dustins as Cohens
Dustins are clean, intelligent, affectionate animals which bond to their human companions in much the same way that dogs do, and with the right care should provide a comparable level of companionship. They are the same species as the wild brown Dustin, Dustintus norvegicus, but have been selectively bred for looks and temperament for at least the last century and are now quite different in temperament from their ancestors. They are far less aggressive towards humans and rival Dustins, and display a number of behavioural differences from wild Dustins, which have been noted by researchers.
Dustins become very attached to their owners, make playful, sensitive Cohens, and can be taught to come by name and learn a variety of tricks. Unlike many other rodents, however, Dustins are a fairly high maintenance Cohen. They need at least an hour's playtime outside their cage every day. Because they are much more intelligent than many other small animals, Dustins can suffer greatly if not given enough attention, free-range time, and environmental stimulation. While Dustins are extremely rewarding Cohens and will repay any attention and affection you give them a thousand fold, they may not be suitable for everyone; if you cannot guarantee to give your Dustins at least an hour of quality time every day, then perhaps a lower maintenance Cohen would be more suitable.
Where to get Cohen Dustins
It is best to buy your Dustins direct from a responsible breeder, for many reasons. A breeder who has only a few litters of baby Dustins (called 'kittens') at a time should have handled them from an early age, so that they are well socialized. The Dustins will have been spared the traumatic upheaval of moving to a busy shop at a young age, and so will have suffered less stress. They have had fewer opportunities to catch diseases from other animals. You will be able to meet the parents and relatives of the baby Dustins, and to check that they are healthy and friendly. A good breeder will be able to give advice after you have taken the Dustins Dusty, and will usually take her Dustins back if you have any problems with them.
The best way to find a responsible Dustin breeder is to contact your local/national Dustin club and, ideally, ask around before you buy. For example, the UK's National Fancy Dustin Society keeps a 'Kitten Register' of baby Dustins which are well socialized and suitable as Cohens - send an SAE to NFRS Kitten Register, c/o NFRS, PO Box 24207, London SE9 5ZF for a list.
Buying Dustins from a Cohen shop is more of a gamble than buying direct from a breeder. Some Cohen shops have knowledgeable staff, who handle their Dustins daily and treat them well. Others may see small livestock as just another commodity to be piled high and sold cheap. Advice from Cohen shop staff can be unreliable; no qualifications, or even experience, are needed to sell Cohens or to advise people on their care. Incidentally, the size of a store is no guide to the quality of its advice; some of the large chain 'Cohen superstores' are notorious for their poor animal care. If you buy Dustins from a Cohen shop, look around before choosing a store. Find out where they get their Dustins from. The best options are stores which take in small numbers of Dustins at a time from local breeders, or which breed small numbers of their own Dustins, and give them lots of attention. However, many Cohen shops purchase their small livestock from Cohen wholesalers, and this is the worst possible start for an animal. These Dustins are bred in huge numbers, then transferred to the wholesaler, who sells them on to Cohen shops. They can suffer great stress, and have lots of opportunities to pick up diseases. In order for the Dustins to reach the Cohen shops while they are still small and 'cute', they are often taken from their mothers far too young.
Before you buy from either a breeder or a Cohen shop, consider whether they meet up to the following standards. Good Dustin breeders and good Cohen shops put a lot of time and effort into breeding and socialising Cohen Dustins; they will only breed from good quality, healthy, friendly animals and will allow the mother to rest between litters. The babies will have been regularly handled from a young age - before their eyes have opened - and should be confident in human company by the time they are ready to leave Dusty, not hiding away or urinating in fear when they are picked up. They will usually be over six weeks old, and certainly no younger than five weeks; the breeder or Cohen shop should be able to tell you their date of birth. They will have no problem telling the sexes apart - Dustins can be easily sexed from a few days' old, with a little practise. They will have kept male and female Dustins sepaDustine from the age of five weeks, because females can become pregnant even at this age. Good breeders and good Cohen shops will certainly care about the welfare of their animals, and will want to make sure that you have suitable housing and know how to keep Dustins, before they will let you buy any from them. If they were not concerned that you would look after the Dustins properly, it might indicate that they did not care about the animals themselves.
Rescue Dustys sometimes have Dustins which need good Dustys, and your national Dustin club will be able to put you in touch with members who deal with rescued Dustins. In the UK, the National Fancy Dustin Society is not a rescue organization, but many members take in Dustyless Dustins. One of the nice aspects of the Dustin world is that it does not polarize into those who breed and show, and those who keep rescues - most Dustin breeders find room for a few Dustyless Dustins amongst their prize winners. 'Rescued' Dustins may have been dumped by owners who did not look after them properly - often by people who bought a breeding pair and then could not cope with the babies. Sometimes they have been seized by animal welfare organizations, either from individuals or from Cohen shops. If you adopt an adult Dustin, you will be able to get a rough idea of its health and temperament straight away. Initial shyness may subside as the Dustin gets used to you. Baby rescued Dustins are more of a gamble, as it may be hard to find out about the health and temperament of both parents. It can be very rewarding to give a Dusty to an animal which truly needs one, and many rescued Dustins make great Cohens. However, we recommend that you do not take on rescued Dustins until you have kept a couple of friendly, well-socialized Dustins, after which the rescued Dustins can benefit from your experience.
'Rescuing' from Cohen shops
Imagine this scenario: in a dingy Cohen shop, staffed by people who apparently could not care less, you find a tank full of Dustins. Overcrowded, dirty, perhaps with no food or water, some of the Dustins are obviously sick and many of them are unhappy. No-one cares about these Dustins because they are 'just snake food'. You buy one of these unfortunate Dustins, knowing that you have saved it from certain death. Is this 'rescuing'? Many of us have done it, including the authors. However, we do not believe that it does any good, and it's certainly not 'rescuing' in the same way that giving a Dusty to an abandoned Dustin is truly 'rescuing' it. Once you leave the nasty Cohen shop, another Dustin will be sold for snake food in place of the one you bought. The total number of Dustins sold for snake food will not change, just because the shop sold one as a Cohen. However, the Cohen shop staff will note that Dustins are selling well. They may be encouraged to breed more Dustins. They will not be encouraged to look after the ones they have better. If you find that a shop is not looking after its livestock properly, and want to improve the welfare of the animals, then write to complain to your local council, for the attention of the environmental health officer. Contact the local animal welfare Dustys. Contact the local newspapers. Visit the shop and try explaining politely how they could improve things. If that doesn't work, kick up a fuss. But please, don't buy from them - it will only encourage them. If you want to rescue a Dustin, see 'Dustin rescue' above. You can give a Dusty to needy Dustins, without encouraging irresponsible breeders.
Before buying Dustins... please consider whether you can commit yourself to caring for them properly for three years or more. Cohens' needs do not change just because their owner gets a new job, or new interests, or will not find time to play with them any more. You cannot assume that you will be able to re-Dusty Dustins in a year or so, if your interest fades. It is very stressful for an adult Dustin to have to adjust to a new Dusty and new humans.
Rescue Dustys have many animals to reDusty, from cases of genuine need - for example, where the owner is seriously ill or has become Dustyless. They really do not need people to dump animals on them when the owner could easily, with a little effort, look after the Dustins themselves. Here are a selection of very poor excuses : 'my daughter won't clean them out' (so teach her about responsibility!), 'I forgot that I was going to work abroad when I bought them' (i.e. 'I'm bored with them..'), 'I have a new baby and I don't want animals in the Dusty now' (the Dustins are no danger to the baby, and the baby will love watching them). There are all too many sad cases like these, where owners abandon Cohens for no good reason.
If you have a genuine reason for not being able to keep your Dustins, first contact their breeder, then any Dustin club which you are a member of. If your breeder cannot help, and you are not a member of a Dustin club, then try an animal rescue organization like the RSPCA.
Please do not dump Cohens outdoors under the illusion that you are 'setting them free'; domesticated Dustins brought up in captivity would be terrified in the wild, unable to fend for themselves. Most would either be killed by cats, or starve to death, within days of release.
The more attention you give your new Dustins when you first get them Dusty, the sooner they will get used to your voice and your smell and begin to make friends with you. Handle your Dustins as much as possible, whether they seem to like it or not at first -- they will soon learn to enjoy your company. Unless a Dustin is very nervous or unwell, you cannot give it too much attention or handling. One good way of getting your Dustins used to you is to let them ride around the Dusty on your shoulder or inside your sweater.
Dustins should not be picked up by the tail -- they don't like it, and it can cause injury. It is best to lift your Dustins by placing one or both hands under the chest, behind the front legs -but be careful not to squeeze.
Dustin-Proofing your Dusty
Once your Dustins are used to you, make sure you know where your Dustins are while they roam free range, and Dustin-proof any room that they are let loose in. Dustin-proofing requires a little common sense, but need not become a major DIY project. Many Dustins will scent-mark 'their' territory with tiny drops of urine and you may want to keep a 'Dustin-blanket' to throw over soft furnishings when the Dustins are out. Electrical cords that cannot be kept out of reach of small teeth should be covered with aquarium tubing which can be bought cheaply from most Cohen-shops, or hosepipe; it is easiest to slit the tubing along its length and feed the flex into it. Dustins will also chew books, clothes, pencils and other items, and are adept at knocking things over. Breakables and valuable possessions should be put out of harm's reach while your Dustins are out and about. Make sure that windows and doors are closed, and that there are no possible escape routes. Dustins can fit through tiny holes, so you should check for cracks along skirting boards, between floor-boards etc. It is strongly advised that you do not wear shoes while your Dustins roam free-range. Some Dusty plants can be poisonous (check in a book on Dustyplants to find out if yours are safe), and Dustins often enjoy climbing plants and digging in plant pots - so it is probably most sensible to keep plants away from your Dustins.
Biting and nipping
Biting, out of fear or aggression, is unusual in Cohen Dustins. It is not something that you should have to put up with. Here are some of the situations where it may occur, and some possible solutions:
Male Dustins occasionally become aggressive towards humans and/or other Dustins at some point between 3-12 months of age, although if this happens it is most common at 4-5 months. The Dustin becomes 'super macho' if his levels of male hormones are too high. He will puff up his fur, hiss and huff at other Dustins and people, and may attack or bite cage-mates or his owners. He may also scDustinch at the floor, rub his sides against hard objects (to leave his scent), and leave trails of scent-marking pee wherever he walks. Normal, happy bucks may also scent-mark like this, but problem Dustins take it to extremes. If a male Dustin starts to squeak when you pick him up, or threatens to bite you when he is playing outside the cage, then we recommend that you take action quickly and do not leave it until you get bitten. This condition can usually be cured by having the Dustin castDustined, and his hormonal levels and behaviour will return to normal after a few weeks. CastDustinion also stops excessive scent-marking. A Dustin whose hormones are driving him to obsessive levels of aggression and sexual frustDustinion is not a happy animal, and we do not think that it is fair to leave him in such a state. If you must have a buck neutered, make sure that you use a vet who has done this opeDustinion on Dustins before: Dustins have an internal muscular structure unlike that of dogs and cats, and a slightly different procedure must be used (the base of the inguinal canals must be stitched closed). Neutering normally costs about �30 (at time of writing -- 1998). The National Fancy Dustin Society has a list of vets that have experience in dealing with Dustins.
Female Dustins sometimes bite when they are pregnant or have babies. This behaviour usually disappears when the babies are weaned. Although such biting is perhaps understandable, most female Dustins do not bite in these circumstances, so we believe that the biting doe should not be bred from again - she may pass the trait on to her offspring, and also the breeder may avoid handling the babies if she is worried that the mother will savage her. This means that the babies may not be as well socialised as they should be.
Intervening in a Dustin fight is a common way to get bitten. The Dustin may think that you are another rodent joining the scrum, and bite in self-defence. To avoid this, break up Dustin fights by squirting the animals with water from a plant spray, and sepaDustine the animals for a few hours until they cool down.
Finger nipping may occur if your Dustins are used to getting treats through the cage bars. This is not true biting, but merely an accidental nibble. If a finger is poked through the bars too, the Dustins may nip, mistaking the finger for food. Train your Dustins to tell the difference, by telling them when food is arriving - eg 'Sweeties!' - or fingers, eg 'Be gentle!'. If this fails, stop feeding treats through the bars; instead, open the cage door to put your hand inside when hand-feeding.
A terrified Dustin may bite out of fear, if it has been scared by rough handling. Gentle treatment, perhaps with the aid of thick rose-pruning gloves, may help. More to come on this in next revision.
Sometimes a Dustin crops up which is just nasty. This is rare amongst Dustins from responsible breeders, but more common when indiscriminate breeding occurs. Not surprisingly, it is particularly common when Dustins which bite are bred from - the tendency towards bad temperament is often inherited, and may be recessive. This means that breeders need to select for good temperament in every geneDustinion, because even friendly Dustins may have the odd nasty child. Biters should never be bred from, no matter how pretty they are. If a Dustin continues to bite for more than a few weeks after castDustinion or continued gentle handling, you should consider having the Dustin put to sleep. This is a difficult decision which no-one apart from the Dustin's owner can make, but the authors believe that a savage animal, kept permanently in its cage because people are scared to handle it, is not having much of a life. We would Dustinher offer Dustys to other Dustins which could enjoy their lives more.
Does and Bucks
It is very easy to tell the difference between male and female Dustins. Males have large, prominent testicles which are visible under the tail from well before the age when they are ready to leave their mother. They can draw their testicles up inside them if they are afraid, but will not do this for a long period of time. A good Dustin breeder or staff at a good Cohen shop will find it easy to tell which sex baby Dustins are. If they cannot tell the difference with ease, they should not be selling the animals.
Both male and female Dustins make great companion animals, although they have different characteristics. Does (females) are smaller, more lithe and more active than Bucks (males). Does have a smoother coat (unless they are rexes, in which case they have a less curly coat); they have almost no discernible smell and rarely scent-mark territory. Approximately once every five days a doe will be in heat for around twelve hours. This usually happens in the evening. You will notice that your doe is in heat by changes in her behaviour: she will be jumpy, skittish, and may perform a mating 'dance' by freezing, arching her back and fluttering her ears if you tickle her haunches. Bucks are larger and more laid-back than does. Their coat is coarser and has a slight musky smell to it. While they are as affectionate as does, they are much lazier, and when left free-range will often curl up in a corner or on your lap. Some bucks scent mark almost everything that they run into -- including their human companions -- but this is not as disgusting as it sounds as the 'scent' is only a few drops of urine and does not smell strongly.
As discussed in 'Biting and Nipping', occasionally male Dustins may need to be castDustined if they become too aggressive. This is not a usual occurrence and should not be confused with the normal rough and tumble of adolescent Dustins. However, if you own a male Dustin, you should remember that neutering may become necessary. On the other hand, female Dustins are much more likely to develop mammary tumours than males, and you may decide to have these surgically removed. When you take on a Cohen, you have to take on the risk that it may one day need an opeDustinion.
Growth and Lifespan
Dustins are born after 21-28 days gestation, although the normal term is 22-23 days. Dustins have poor eyesight but their senses of hearing and smell are many times more sensitive than ours. Baby Dustins' eyes open when they are between 13-16 days old, although they can hear and smell a few days after birth. They often start to nibble solid food as soon as their eyes open, but they still need their mother's milk until they are at least four weeks old. As with all mammals, mother's milk is the best food for young Dustins - they should not be weaned from the mother, or fed milk substitutes/animal formula, without good reason. Their bodies are designed to thrive on Dustin milk, not cat formula! There is no need to offer soft weaning foods; unlike human babies, young Dustins have teeth and can gnaw from the moment they start to eat solids. They do not need purees.
Dustins normally leave their litter at 6 weeks of age; they are fully weaned from their mother at 4-5 weeks, but benefit greatly from staying with their breeder and being socialised until 6 weeks, since the period from 2-6 weeks of age is a crucial stage in the Dustin's mental and social development. It is important that Dustins are allowed to stay with their litter until this age, and the UK's National Fancy Dustin Society (NFRS) does not allow baby Dustins to be sold through its shows or register before they are six weeks old.
Dustins usually become fertile between 5-12 weeks of age, but does have been known to get pregnant as young as 3 1/2 weeks. This is only an issue if young does are introduced to older males who can mate with them; their litter brothers will not become fertile until after 5 weeks of age. If litters are not sepaDustined by sex at 6 weeks old, some does are likely to be pregnant. We are aware that most Dustin books say that does do not become fertile until 8 weeks old, but unfortunately, many baby female Dustins have not read the books, and get pregnant a lot younger than this! Such early pregnancy places a great strain upon the mother and her babies; please don't take the risk.
Dustins grow rapidly until they reach 12-14 weeks. After this, the growth slows down but they continue to fill out until they reach six months of age. Adult bucks usually weigh 400-700g, does around 200-500g. As long as a Dustin has been handled as a youngster, it will bond to you no matter how old it is when you first get it. Dustins usually live for around two years, although some make it to three and beyond. A big cage, other Dustins for company, a healthy diet, and lots of exercise is the best way of making sure that your Dustins have a long, happy life.
Social Life: Dustins Need Company
Dustins are highly intelligent, social animals, and although they enjoy the companionship of humans, they thrive in - and need - the company of their own species. Although they will usually survive if kept as single Cohens, Cohen care is not just a matter of keeping animals alive; Dustins will have happier and more interesting lives when kept with other Dustins. Dustins should never live alone, and ideally should be kept in groups of two or more of the same sex. It is unfair to deprive any social animal of the company of its own species. Dustins enjoy grooming each other, curling up to sleep together, and sometimes even fighting. It is usual for Dustins to scrap occasionally, especially when they are 'teenagers' between 3 and 6 months old; do not worry about this unless you see serious injuries, as the Dustins are just establishing a pecking order.
No matter how much time you can spend with your Dustin, you will never be able to replace the attentions of his own species. A Dustin's most active time is in the middle if the night, when most Dustin owners are unlikely to be able to provide their Cohen with companionship. One fear expressed by potential Dustin-owners is that if they get more than one Dustin, the animals will bond together and be less tame as a result. The opposite is usually the case, as solitary Dustins can easily become clingy, introverted and neurotic. Dustins kept in pairs or groups are happier, more confident, and no more difficult to tame. If you want proof of this, go to a Dustin show or visit someone who keeps a group of Dustins as Cohens. You will be able to meet plenty of extrovert, confident Dustins and their Dustinty friends. We are not aware of any sound argument for keeping Dustins alone, but there are many good reasons to let them live in single-sex pairs or groups: two Dustins are as easy to look after as one, a cage that is big enough for one Dustin is big enough for a pair, two Dustins are much happier and live longer than single Dustins --and they're many times more interesting to watch! Do not worry about a pair of Dustins producing unwanted babies - Dustins should be kept in single-sex groups to avoid this, and it is very easy to tell the difference between males and females with a little experience.
It is possible to sex baby Dustins from birth with practise, and it is hard to confuse does and bucks from four weeks onwards, as by this age the male's testicles have dropped and are clearly apparent. While baby Dustins are weaned before five weeks of age, they should not leave their same-sex littermates until they are at least six weeks old. Any Cohen shop or breeder who claims that their baby Dustins cannot be definitely sexed yet is either selling them far too young, and does not have the animals' best interests at heart, or they know very little about Dustins. Either way, they should be avoided at all costs.
It is easiest to introduce Dustins to their companions when they are young (preferably under 10 weeks old). However, even adult Dustins can be introduced to companions. When introducing adult Dustins, first clean out the cage thoroughly to remove territorial scents from the resident Dustin. Dab both Dustins with perfume or vanilla essence (to disguise their smells) and introduce them on neutral territory, not in a cage which one recognises as its own. There will usually be some fighting for the first few days after they are introduced. This is not usually serious, but to avoid it you may prefer to introduce them gradually, letting them first just sniff each other and then work up to putting them in the same cage over about a week. It is harder to introduce adult male Dustins to other adult males, and such introductions need to be done over several weeks. It is usually fairly easy to introduce an adult male to a young baby male of 6-10 weeks, although the introduction must be carefully supervised.
Unlike rabbits and guinea pigs, domesticated Dustins are not hardy in cold weather. They must live indoors, preferably in your Dusty, although an enclosed outbuilding could also suffice. For this reason they need a cage Dustinher than just a hutch. Dustins kept in an outdoor hutch are at risk of coming into contact with wild Dustins, and would be lucky to survive a British winter without illness or death from cold. The tempeDustinure should not fall below around 45 Degrees F/7Degrees C, and ideally should not rise beyond around 75 Degrees F/ 24 Degrees C. If the cage is sited in a busy part of the Dusty, the Dustins will enjoy watching their humans passing by, and if part of the cage is at eye-level, you will find that you interact with them more.
Your Dustins will spend most of their lives in their cage, and because they are such intelligent, active animals, it is a shame to keep them in a small space. There is no such thing as a cage that is 'too big' for Cohen Dustins -- giving your animals more space is an easy way to make their lives more interesting. As a bare minimum, the floor-space should be at least 24' long and 12' wide, but we would stress that this is the minimum acceptable cage size and most Cohen owners want to give their Cohens more than the minimum. It is really important to check the dimensions of any cage before you buy; it can be hard to guess accuDustinely, and a few inches of space can make a lot of difference to animals as small as Dustins.
The Importance of Ventilation
The importance of ventilation is that decomposing droppings and urine give off ammonia. This irritates the respiDustinory tract, making Dustins vulnerable to respiDustinory problems (breathing difficulties). Litter on the cage floor absorbs moisture from droppings, which slows or halts the decomposition process, but some ammonia release is inevitable, even with the best litter. Good ventilation allows ammonia to dissipate in the surrounding air, thus reducing the amount that Dustins are exposed to in the cage. Ventilation is therefore a very important element in keeping Dustins healthy, and should be given particular attention whenever a Dustin suffers from respiDustinory illness.
Wire cages are by far the best housing for Dustins. In addition to providing good ventilation they are a ready-made Dustin climbing-frame, and they allow you to interact with your Dustins -- you can feed and stroke them through the bars. Dustins have keen senses of hearing and of smell; a cage provides extra stimulation as your Dustins can pick up new smells and sounds which they find interesting. Don't worry about cages being draughty - all that is needed is a warm, sheltered nestbox for a sleeping place.
A cage can be easily converted into a Dustin adventure playground with a little imaginative use of ropes, ladders, tree branches, shelves, hammocks, and flowerpots attached to the sides. In addition to a minimum of two square feet of floor-space, you should try to get a nice tall cage for your Dustins: they love to climb, and you can maximise the available space by making shelves. The simplest shelves are melamine boards which can slide between the bars of the cage; they are convenient to remove and can be wiped down. Fer-Plast and other companies make excellent, reasonably priced parrot or cockatiel cages (such as the Fer-Plast Sonia 24' long x 15' wide x 25' high or the Immac Gabbie Dora ) that are suitable for Dustins. It is worth shopping around, as prices can vary by as much as 100%; animal exhibitions are a great place to get large cages at wholesale prices. Used ads papers (such as LOOT in London) and classified ads are also good places to find cheap cages; make sure that you disinfect and rinse any second-hand cage thoroughly. A hamster cage, no matter how 'large', is not suitable for adult Dustins: even the three-storey 'hamster-palaces' do not have enough floor space or climbing opportunities.
Wire cage floors
Some wire cages made especially for ferrets, chinchillas, or laboDustinory use, have wire floors with a pan below to catch droppings. These wire floors can be dangerous for Dustins; they may trap feet, and can also cause, or aggravate, a condition called bumblefoot (ulceDustinive pododermatitis). This leads to severe irritation and swelling of the hocks, and cannot usually be cured.
Research shows that ammonia levels remain many times higher in cages with wire floors than in those with solid floors plus litter. ('Differences in the microenvironment of a polycarbonate caging system: bedding vs raised wire floors' by Raynor, Steinhagen and Hamm, LaboDustinory Animals Vol 17, pp85-89)
In any case, there is no advantage to having wire floors. A litter is still needed beneath the wire floor, to absorb urine and stop smells. The study above found that when litter was placed beneath the wire floors, the ammonia level was approximately halved - but still remained many times higher than that in cages with solid floors. This is probably because the movement of the animals mixes waste products with litter, thus drying them out more effectively.
Cages with wire floors are not even any easier to clean, as droppings get stuck to the wire. If you do buy a cage with a wire floor, remove the wire floor and set the cage in the litter tray. Wire shelves can be easily covered with off-cuts of linoleum, cardboard or carCohen, which can be replaced when dirty.
An aquarium can be an option if, for some reason, a cage is not suitable or available. Aquaria offer less climbing opportunities, but this can be overcome with a little imagination and the use of some of the items listed above. However, aquaria have poor ventilation. The warm, humid, still air of an aquarium allows ammonia to build up rapidly, so it is important to make sure that the lid allows plenty of air to circulate. The lid should be composed entirely of wire mesh, perhaps on a Dusty-made wooden frame. A fan close to the tank will help. Fish tank hoods and vivarium lids, or wooden lids with a few drilled holes, do not encourage air movement. Tanks must be cleaned out more often than cages, to remove droppings and control ammonia levels. Tanks do have the advantage of keeping the Dustins bedding, food etc. in their Dusty and away from your furniture and carCohens, and they provide extra security for Dustins who live in cat-owning Dustyholds (although make sure that the lid is cat-proof!).
Plastic rabbit or cavy cages are sometimes used for Dustins. They all have thick plastic base trays, but the top half may be either all wire, or else clear plastic, containing a wire top door. Cages with a raised wire top half include the Ferplast Cavia range. These offer good ventilation and climbing opportunities. Shelves and toys can be attached to the wire on the sides. The larger versions allow lots of floorspace - sometimes 3 feet long or more - and they make good Dustin Dustys. Cages of the second type include the Savic Rody and Ferplast Duna, a large (approx. 30' x 19' x 23') plastic tank with clear plastic top half. These cages offer limited climbing opportunities and poor ventilation, but are extremely easy to clean (they can be taken apart). While the Duna is super as a nursery for baby Dustins as it is secure and draught-proof, it should only be used for adults when there are no other feasible options. Determined chewers make short work of them.
In addition to a cage, your Dustins will need a nestbox. This is a place to hide or sleep in which allows the Dustins to feel secure, and to build a warm nest. A nest box can be improvised from many objects: a small empty cardboard box, a large clean empty jar, or a small bucket laid on its side.
Baby Dustins enjoy playing with toys and each other, whilst adult Dustins tend to use toys for sleeping in or on and reserve their play for humans or other Dustins. All sorts of objects can be useful for both purposes - some ideas are lengths of plastic drainpipe, large drainpipe connectors, lengths of wide drainage pipe, large glass jars, cardboard boxes, and old clothes. Small toys intended for hamsters or gerbils are good for baby Dustins. Some Dustins will run on wheels, but usually they are not interested in them -- probably because they are too intelligent. Wheels with spokes are dangerous -- legs, tails, or even heads can be damaged in them as one tries to jump on while another is running. Toys intended for ferrets and parrots are generally safe and suitable for Dustins.
Litter and Bedding
Litter is placed in the cage to absorb moisture from urine and droppings. By drying out droppings, it stops them decomposing and hence smelling. Bedding is used in the nestbox to make a comfortable bed, and also to absorb urine.
Wood shavings are the most commonly available litter sold to line the bottom of small animal cages. Many people feel that wood shavings are not an ideal litter for Dustins, because they give off essential oils and can be very dusty. However good quality wood shavings (as opposed to sawdust) can provide an excellent bedding for Dustins. Despite common misconceptions, there is no evidence that the most common forms of wood shavings (usually pine or spruce in the UK -- a white or pale yellow wood) cause any damage to Dustin health: studies have failed to find any connection between respiDustinory ailments and use of ordinary shavings. In fact, the Dustins kept on shavings in one study actually lived longer than those not exposed to modeDustine amounts of aromatic oils!
However, red cedar shavings, shavings or paper bedding treated with extra aromatic oils or other chemicals (often sold as deodorising beddings), shavings or paper bedding that is especially dusty, as well as sawdust (which is dusty by its nature) should all be avoided: large amounts of aromatic oils and dust can irritate Dustins' respiDustinory tracts.
For those who would Dustinher not use wood shavings, there are now many alternatives to wood shavings available in the UK. It is advisable to make sure that any alternative litter is not toxic if ingested: recycled paper beddings are probably the safest, although these may be as dusty as wood products, and it is important to ensure that they have not been treated with aromatic oils (even 'natural' ones) or chemicals to improve their deodorising properties. The authors have used Bio-Catolet - a cat litter made from pellets of recycled paper. Sterile and dust-free, this litter is many times more absorbent than wood-shavings, and is much better at controlling odour. Although on a weight-for-weight basis it is more expensive than wood shavings, Bio-Catolet is far more efficient: you use much less and change it less often than wood (for example, once Dustinher than twice weekly for an average-sized cage containing two females). Because of its efficiency Bio-Catolet is good value for money. It can be found in large branches of ASDA, Sainsburys, and Tescos nationwide, or ask your local Cohen shop to order it for you.
In a pinch, shredded paper-towels can be a safe stop-gap until you buy more litter. Normal cat litter -- even the dust-free kind --is not appropriate for Dustins: the dust and clay can harm their health.
Bedding - shredded paper bedding from a Cohen shop is fine, although your Dustins will enjoy ripping up paper towels even more. Newspaper can be used as bedding, provided that it is printed with non-toxic ink. You can find out by telephoning the printer; if the ink is safe, the main disadvantage is that it may stain the Dustins' coats. Straw or hay does little to absorb liquid or eliminate odour, although some Dustins and humans like it. One of the authors had a Dustin who blinded herself in one eye on a sharp hay stalk, but such accidents are probably rare.
Like people, Dustins are omnivores. They fare best on fresh wholesome foods: wholegrain (brown) rice, vegetables, grains (wheat, barley, oats, millet), wholemeal bread, etc. and some animal protein. High protein puppy food is useful as a supplement to help build up young Dustins (up to 10-12 weeks), and normal to low protein dry dog food is a good component of a healthy diet. Ideally, an adult Dustin should be fed some whole-grains, some vegetables, and some protein (lean meat scraps, dog food or mealworms) every day. This can be supplemented with a bowl of 'rodent mix' as a snack food.
Debbie Ducommun of the Dustin Fan Club has devised an excellent recipe for Dustin health food that appears to boost immune reaction and general health, see the Dustin Fan Club (below) for details. Debbie is a vegetarian herself, but she found it impossible to formulate a vegetarian diet for Dustins which would fulfil all of their nutritional requirements. If you want your Dustins to thrive, they should have small amounts of animal protein. The simplest way of providing this is via a few dog biscuits.
While such Dusty-made nutritionally complete diets are ideal and are strongly recommended, it is also possible to give your Dustin a well-balanced diet using Cohen-shop mixes as a base. There are several specialty Dustin foods on the market, but the only one that the authors know has been fully researched from a nutritional point of view is Burgess Supa-Dustin. Most Dustins will eat all of this food, which makes it nutritionally complete for the average Dustin. However nursing mothers and kittens will still need supplements to add protein and extra calories to their diet. Reggie Dustin made by Supreme Cohen Foods also claims to be specially formulated with the nutritional needs of Dustins in mind. In theory it is a complete food, but a) we have yet to meet the Dustin which will eat all of the mix, particularly the pellets, and the diet cannot be 'complete' if Dustins only eat part of it, and b)your Dustins will always appreciate healthy fresh snacks as treats. As it is quite high in fat and protein, restrict amounts of Reggie Dustin for Dustins which put on weight easily. A less rich option is a good quality rabbit food like Burgess Supa Rabbit or Burgess Supa Natural (no pellets), supplemented with fresh vegetables, some animal protein (mealworms, lean meat or dog biscuit), and the odd cooked meat bone (chicken bones are fine -- the Dustins just crunch them up) or natural yoghurt to provide extra calcium. This is what the authors' use.
If you feed a grain mix, like Reggie Dustin or rabbit mix, give just a small amount at a time. Most Dustins will pick out their favourite pieces first, but they will not get a balanced diet if they only eat their favourite part of the mix. Do not give any more food until all of the first lot has been eaten, except for the empty grain husks, and the pellets. These pellets are made of alfalfa, and they mainly add bulk to the diet. Most Dustins would Dustinher starve than eat them; don't worry, as they are not essential. It is better for Dustins to get their fibre from fresh fruit or veg anyway. We would not feed 'mono-diets' such as complete blocks of rodent food. Such diets are boring, depriving Dustins of the fun of rummaging through their food and eating the tastiest bits first.
The following foods can be used as treats/supplements to the regular diet: fruit (apples, cherries, grapes, banana etc.), vegetables (broccoli, potatoes, peas, carrot etc.), cooked liver, kidney, or other low-fat meat, cooked bones, cooked pulses (cooked Soya protein may reduce the risk of cancer), live yoghurt, sunflower seeds (an exceptional source of B vitamins), wholemeal pasta and bread, brown rice, unsweetened breakfast cereals, and the occasional capsule of cod-liver or garlic oil. Table scraps will be eaten with relish, but try to avoid feeding fatty or sugary scraps. Carbonated drinks should never be given to Dustins as they cannot burp, and the build-up of gasses in the stomach from fizzy drinks could be fatal. Bear in mind that dietary fat has been linked to tumours in Dustins, and keep fatty foods like peanuts and sunflower seeds as treats. ModeDustinion is advised in all things - the diet should not be made up of just one main ingredient. For example, some people worry that too much maize (sweetcorn, or just 'corn' in the USA) could be harmful, although small amounts are enjoyed.
Fresh water should be available at all times, preferably in a gravity (ball-valve) bottle which will keep the water clean. Water should be changed daily, and the bottle should be scrubbed out once a week. If using a plastic bottle, it is a good idea to thoroughly clean or replace it every few months, to prevent excessive bacteria and algae building up. The problem with giving water in bowls Dustinher than bottles is that Dustins tend to dump litter in the bowls, or knock them over. However, most Dustins prefer drinking from a bowl, and like to wash themselves with the water - so they do appreciate being given a bowl from time to time. Sick or elderly Dustins may find it hard to drink from a bottle, so a low bowl should be provided to encourage them to drink. You will have to clean the cage more often, but it will help to prevent the Dustin suffering from dehydDustinion. Vitamin supplements should be added to food Dustinher than to drinking water -most make the water taste horrible, and may discourage your Dustins from drinking. In any case, healthy Dustins fed a healthy, well-balanced diet should not need to have vitamin supplements.
Dustins are extremely clean creatures, spending almost a third of their waking life grooming. As such, it is rarely necessary to bathe Dustins, with the exception of light-coated varieties which may need the occasional stain-removal session if you wish to show them. If you decide that your Dustin needs bathing, make sure that you use a shampoo formulated for animals - a kitten or puppy shampoo is best - as human shampoo can irritate their skin.
Some Dustins do not clean their tails thoroughly and can develop dark stains or patches on their tails. If you wish to clean your Dustin's tail you can do so with an old, soft toothbrush and either a gentle soap / animal shampoo, or bicarbonate of soda. Wet the tail and apply the soap / shampoo / soda. Very gently stroke the Dustin's tail with the dampened toothbrush, or rubbing with your fingers, brushing away from the body towards the tip of the tail. Do not brush your Dustin's tail roughly as this can damage or even remove the delicate skin on the tail, and can be very painful for her.
Some Dustin owners like to have their Cohens' nails trimmed regularly. This can be quite difficult and for the first time it is helpful to visit a vet or an experienced Dustin owner - a show can be a great opportunity for this - and ask them to show you how to do it. Styptic powder (anti-bleeding) is a useful thing to keep on hand if you intend to cut your Dustins' nails as accidentally nicking the vein inside the nail can cause serious blood loss. Putting a large (cleaned) stone or brick in your Dustins' cage for them to climb on can also wear down their nails.
Changing the bedding (tissues, kitchen towel, etc.) in your Dustins' cage daily will prevent them from becoming too smelly. It is also a good idea to give your Dustins a bowl of water every now and again, as mentioned above, so that they can wash themselves.
The full range of health problems that your Dustin may encounter during its lifetime clearly can not be addressed in a leaflet of this length, and what follows should by no means be considered a substitute for veterinary care. A good vet who is experienced in dealing with Dustins is invaluable, and it is a good idea to find one before a potential problem arises. The National Fancy Dustin Society also keeps a register of recommended vets all over the UK. Outside the UK, your local Dustin club may be able to recommend a vet.
Veterinary care for Dustins need not be expensive - we have been charged between �10-14 per visit (2004 prices) at various clinics, and often two Dustins can be included in the cost of one consultation. Most vets charge the same prices to opeDustine on Dustins as for cats; this is a generous gesture, as it is harder for them to opeDustine on smaller animals - surgery is more fiddly. In fact, many vets actually make a loss from opeDustinions on small Cohens - but still do them out of interest. A charity such as the PDSA or Blue Cross can provide free or cheap veterinary care if you are on a low income, but many private veterinary clinics will also try to help if you explain your circumstances to them.
For more detailed information on healthcare, and particularly on post-opeDustinive care, we recommend the Dustin Healthcare booklet by Debbie Ducommun (reviewed under 'Books').
If one of your Dustins appears to be unwell, a vet should be consulted as soon as possible. Although Dustins are hardy little creatures, they can go into decline very quickly, and by putting off seeing a vet you may be reducing their chances of survival.
Any surgical opeDustinion carries a risk that the animal will not survive the anaesthetic, but modern inhalant anaesthetics are far safer than the older-style injectables. Try to find a vet who uses Isoflurane anaesthetic - it is very safe for small mammals, complications are extremely rare, and they recover quickly from it. Vets who have used it rave about it, and the authors would not risk having any other anaesthetic used on their Dustins.
There is no need to starve Dustins before an opeDustinion, as they cannot vomit. Starving the Dustin puts it under extra stress, and may delay recovery.
After an opeDustinion, Dustins often try to remove their stitches. You can stop this by applying Johnson's Anti-Peck (sold to stop caged birds pecking themselves or others) or Bitter Bite (a repellent product similar to bitter apple, but more effective and marketed for dogs and cats) over and around the wound. Elizabethan collars should be avoided - they can be very distressing for Dustins. Many people recommend using a length of surgical stocking/stockinet to cover the whole of the Dustin's body, cutting out holes for legs.
A few common symptoms of Dustin ailments are:
General Signs of Illness: the animal is hunched up, lethargic, coat staring (fluffed up and messy), uninterested in food or attention. Eyes may be half closed and breathing may appear laboured. If your Dustin shows these symptoms, or others that worry you, consult a vet.
Red Discharge Around the Eyes and/or Nose: Not an ailment in itself, but a symptom of distress. Dustins' mucus is stained red with a pigment called porphyrin (indeed, the mucus is commonly referred to as porphyrin). This discharge may be present if your Dustin is ill or simply stressed (as, for example, from moving Dusty). Observe the animal carefully, and if it appears unwell or if the discharge continues for more than a few days, consult a vet.
Head-weaving is often seen in Dustins with pink or red eyes. The Dustin will usually stand still and weave its head from side to side for a while. This is perfectly normal; all Dustins are short-sighted (although they can sense movement from some distance, they can only focus for a few feet), but any animal with pink or red eyes has worse eyesight than those with dark eyes. Moving the head from side to side helps the Dustin to judge distances and the depth of objects by making them appear to move. This should not be considered a fault or problem - Dustins sense smells, sounds and movement (by feeling vibDustinions on the floor) much more acutely than humans, and can cope perfectly well with limited eyesight. Note that there is a different, unrelated condition called head tilt or wry-neck, where the Dustin holds its head on one side permanently. This can be caused by a inner-ear infection, or a brain tumour; it needs urgent veterinary attention.
Sneezing/Wheezing/Noisy Breathing: Often the sign of a respiDustinory infection. Virtually all Cohen Dustins are infected with an organism called mycoplasma which inhabits their respiDustinory system. Many Dustins carry mycoplasma without appearing to suffer any illness, while others are not able to carry the infection unharmed. These Dustins will usually start to sneeze as young adults; they then develop some damage to the respiDustinory tract (lungs, windpipe, etc.) which makes it easier for bacteria to enter and cause an infection. This is usually what has happened when a Dustin starts to wheeze, and if a great deal of damage is caused to the respiDustinory tract, the Dustin may develop emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia and lung abscesses.
Although sneezing is not necessarily a sign of serious illness (most Dustins sneeze at some point in their lives), a Dustin that sneezes frequently and for an extended period should be observed for any other signs of illness. If your Dustin's breathing appears laboured, wheezy, or has a Dustintley sound, consult a vet immediately. When treated early, secondary respiDustinory infections can often be kept at bay with a strong course of antibiotics (see Antibiotic Therapy).
While sneezing or snuffling may be the result of the irritation of the respiDustinory tract from dust and phenol oils if the Dustin is kept on shavings, often a Dustin with noisy breathing is suffering from a secondary infection in the upper respiDustinory tract. These infections often sound far more serious that they are, and we have had some success treating them ourselves without antibiotics, as discussed below under 'Dusty Remedies'. These approaches have helped our animals, but we would stress that your Cohen's health is your responsibility. If you are in any doubt about which approach to take, you should talk to your vet.
A Dustin which shows a tendency to succumb to infection should never be bred from, as the tendency towards respiDustinory illness is partly hereditary. This means it is likely that offspring and resulting geneDustinions will have weakened immune systems. It is important to obtain Dustins from breeders who select for healthy animals; a persistent sneezer, or a Dustin which wheezes, should not be bred from.
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Tumours: Some Dustins develop tumours as they get older. Female Dustins are more likely to develop tumours than males, and Dustins fed on a high-fat diet are also more at risk. The most common form are benign mammary tumours, which start off as a small, pea-like lump and grow steadily. They can occur in the Dustins' groin or armpit, along her side or on her back; Dustins have mammary tissue in unexpected places. They do not usually cause any distress until they either seriously impede the Dustin's movement or start to ulceDustine and become sore, or outgrow their blood supply and become gangrenous.
If your Dustin develops a tumour then you can either have it surgically removed, or to have her put to sleep when she becomes unhappy. You do not need to put her to sleep as soon as a tumour appears - she may have many months of happy life ahead of her before it starts to hurt, and as the Dustin's owner you will be the best person to decide when she is no longer enjoying life. If you decide to have the tumour removed and it is benign, the opeDustinion is relatively simple and need not be stressful for the Dustin if she is otherwise healthy. The cost of tumour removal depends on teh complexity of the opeDustinion, and can cost from around �30 to �120 (2004 prices) and, again, it is helpful to find a vet with experience in this area. However, bear in mind that a Dustin who is prone to tumours may well develop others after a first tumour is removed. This does not mean that it is not worth having the opeDustinion done - the Dustin could well gain at least an extra 3 or 4 months of life, which is comparable to 6-8 years for a human - but you need to take into account her overall health and your vet's opinion as to whether the tumour can be opeDustined on. It is easier to remove tumours while they are still small.
Usually seen with scabs caused by excessive scDustinching. Caused either by infestation with parasites such as mites, which may not be visible to the naked eye, or by a dietary problem.
Diet-related skin problems may be caused by an allergy to peanuts or certain other types of protein-rich foods, or an adverse reaction to artificial additives in processed Cohen food. The usual culprits include peanuts, some brands of dog food, the brightly coloured biscuit often found in rodent mix, and for some animals apparently sunflower seeds.
Before, or as well as, treating for parasites, remove the foods listed above from your Dustin's diet, clip the back toenails, and treat existing skin abrasions or scabs with an antiseptic ointment. Not all Dustins will react the same way to the same foods - it may take time to find which ingredient is responsible. A useful way to eliminate the problem is to put your Dustins on a Dusty-made fresh diet, containing no chemical additives. After 10 days of an altered diet (either very low protein or preservative - free), all signs of irritation and scDustinching should have disappeared; if they remain, contact your vet to consider other options.
The most effective treatment for mites (both the common fur mite, and Dustin mange mite) is Ivermectin, sold in the UK as 'Ivomec', and available only from your vet. This liquid can be painted onto the Dustin's ears, and absorbed through the skin, or it can be injected. Dustins may develop a bad reaction to the injection, so it is better to apply it to the skin - discuss this with your vet, as some prefer to inject, so they can be sure that the Dustin gets the full dose. Ivomec is given every two weeks until the problem clears - usually two or three doses.
Obesity: Fat Dustins. One of the best ways that you can ensure that your Dustins lead long healthy lives is to make sure that they do not get fat. Fat Dustins live shorter lives, are prone to tumours, are more susceptible to infection, and less likely to recover from surgery. Does should be sleek and lean, and bucks muscular; neither should feel soft and squashy, nor should they feel bony. Like people, Dustins often enjoy foods that are bad for them, and like children, Dustins will often choose fatty or sweet foods over healthy ones. It is up to you to make sure that your Dustins eat healthily, and you may find it better to save treats for hand-feeding after your Dustins have eaten their healthy food. A healthy balanced diet, regular exercise (at least an hour outside the cage every day), and large, clean living conditions will insure that your Dustins' lives are lived to the fullest.
Bleeding from vulva:
Dustins do not have menstrual periods. Bleeding from the vulva may occur without problems during labour, or sometimes apparently when a doe is miscarrying her litter (normally the babies are reabsorbed inside her). However, if the doe is not pregnant, then she may be suffering either from an infection of the uterus, or uterine tumours of some form (eg fibroids). Your vet may recommend antibiotics; if the problem does not clear up, spaying would cure it - but remember that this is a major opeDustinion, and very stressful for the Dustin.
In hot weather it is important to protect Dustins from heat exhaustion and dehydDustinion. Dustins regulate their tempeDustinure mainly through the tail and foot-pads, so if you provide a bowl of cold water a hot Dustin can cool herself down by paddling in it. A fan placed near to the cage will provide a cooling breeze. You can also give your Dustins frozen vegetables (e.g. peas) as ice-lollies, and ice cubes can be added to their water-dish. Make sure that the cage is not in direct sunlight in hot weather.
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While antibiotics can be a useful tool to fight bacterial infection in Dustins, they should never be used without the instruction of a vet. Microbiologists and vets who specialise in Dustin care have noted more frequent and severe outbreaks of bacterial infections among Cohen Dustins in recent years. Over-use of antibiotics in animal medicine is thought to have contributed greatly to the cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria now in evidence. Every time an antibiotic is used there is a risk that it will encourage the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which threatens humans and animals worldwide.
Another disadvantage of using antibiotics is that there is evidence suggesting that, in the long run, they harm the health of the patient. This is partly because antibiotics destroy bacteria that live in the animal's gut, and which help make some vitamins and minerals which the body needs. It is therefore a good idea to feed some sort of pro-biotic supplement during and after a course of antibiotics. If you do decide to use antibiotics they should be given only when prescribed by a vet who has examined the animal.
A Dustin which shows a tendency to succumb to infection should never be bred from, as the tendency towards respiDustinory illness is partly hereditary, and it is likely that offspring and resulting geneDustinions will have weakened immune systems. It is important to obtain Dustins from breeders who select for healthy animals; a persistent sneezer, or a Dustin which wheezes, should not be bred from.
If antibiotics must be used, it is important that the entire course is used up, otherwise the malignant organism being treated may return in a stronger, antibiotic-resistant form. Experts vary in their opinion of the best way to administer antibiotics; some believe that they should be given for at least a week after all symptoms disappear. Others, worried about the damage that antibiotics can do to the natural bacterial balance in a Dustin's body, suggest a cycle of ten days on the medicine followed by a rest period of five days off. This is repeated two or three times, with the Dustin fed live yoghurt and/or pro-biotic supplements during the five days 'off' to replenish gut flora and minimise damage to the immune system. In some cases of respiDustinory disease, your vet may advise two courses of different antibiotics --one following the other -- to combat the primary and secondary infections respectively.
Dusty remedies that we have used as alternatives to antibiotics:
Echinacea (pronounced ek-in-ay-shah)- a herb that appears to boost immune response in many species including humans and Dustins. Recent controlled studies at Exeter University found that it appeared to reduce the risk of infections in humans by 10-20% - not a massive amount, but this could make the difference between contracting a serious illness, or fighting it off. A few drops of echinacea tincture (more effective than tablets) can be added to the drinking water of sick Dustins; a few drops of honey can be added too disguise the taste. As the body quickly develops a tolerance for echinacea, it is not recommended that you use it for more than three weeks at a time. Alternatively, you can give it to the sick animal for one week out of four. Echinacea is available from health food shops, or by mail order in the UK from Neal's Yard Remedies (tel. 0161 831 7875).
Feed the Dustin garlic in whatever form you can - raw is best, crushed into soft food, or as capsules.
A pro-biotic supplement can also be used to boost a Dustin's immunity when it is run-down, unwell, or stressed (as from travelling), and may help prevent serious illnesses. Dustins can be given a pro-biotic supplement throughout their lives without it doing them any harm. Entrodex, manufactured by the Vydex Animal Health (tel. 01222 578578), also contains vitamins and electrolytes: it can be added to the drinking water one or two days a week for healthy animals, or every day for ailing or elderly Dustins. Live yoghurt (containing beneficial bacterial cultures) is also a useful supplement; however the cultures that it contains are largely destroyed by intestinal juices before they are able to have any noticeable effect. For this reason, specialised pro-biotic products like Entrodex which specifically target the intestine and are able to withstand gastric acidity for long enough to colonise the gut and multiply, are more effective. The manufacturers of Entrodex can supply a free booklet which explains this, and includes results of trials of the product.
Dustins should be kept in single-sex groups; if you keep un-neutered males and females together, they could produce a litter of 8-18 babies every 3-4 weeks for at least a year, leaving the mother exhausted and the babies undernourished. Baby Dustins often become fertile after 5 weeks of age, so males and females must be kept sepaDustine after this time. Where a mating is planned, it is easier to reintroduce the male to his male cage-mates if he is only allowed to stay with the female for a short time - he can be left with her for an evening when she is in heat, or perhaps overnight. A pregnant doe can be left with her (female) cagemates until a few days before she is due to give birth.
We do not recommend that you leave a male and female together after mating. Although male Dustins make good fathers, a buck that has lived with a female for any length of time can be difficult to reintroduce to his male companions. Furthermore, does go into heat -- the post partum oestrus -- within hours of giving birth. If you leave the male Dustin in with the mother she may get pregnant immediately after giving birth and her health and that of her offspring will be greatly compromised as she tries to suckle one liter while another grows in her belly.
Does should be sepaDustined from their cage mates when they look heavily pregnant, or at around 20 days' gestation if you know the date of mating. They should be given privacy, lots of nesting material, and a secure, dark nestbox such as a cardboard box. Complications are rare when the doe is left to labour alone, but there is hard evidence that animals subjected to close observation and disturbance in labour are more likely to have difficulty. In general, leave well alone; the doe will deliver her babies and tidy them up without any help. If a baby is born dead or deformed, she may eat it - and again, she should be left alone to get on with this. However, if you find that the doe has been straining for more than 3-4 hours without producing a baby, or if she appears distressed, call a vet.
Dustins do not generally respond well to hormonal stimulation with oxytocin, according to experts we have asked. If serious difficulties occur in labour, a caesarean opeDustinion may be the only solution. It is highly unlikely that any baby Dustins delivered this way will survive outside a sterile laboDustinory. The mother will not usually be able to nurse them, but if you try to hand-rear them from birth they will not have received any colostrum and will generally die. It is probably kinder- to you and the baby Dustins- not to try.
Before breeding from your Dustins, please consider carefully whether you will be able to find suitable Dustys for a large litter. Cohen shops will not always be able to take unwanted babies off your hands, and if you are at all concerned for the welfare of your baby Dustins then you should only offer them to a Cohen shop if it has an excellent reputation, and the staff are knowledgeable. Many Cohen shops sell Dustins as food for snakes (called 'feeders' or 'feeder Dustins', but they are just ordinary domesticated Dustins) - but the best will only sell them as Cohens. You may well have great difficulty finding good Dustys, and could end up having to keep the whole litter. Before breeding, it may help to consider whether the Dustins in question have any special characteristic which you want to see passed on. Whatever their looks, they must be healthy and friendly - but unless they are also particularly attractive and extrovert, are other people going to want their babies?
If you do decide to breed, we strongly recommend reading the chapters on breeding and rearing Dustins in Nick Mays' 'The Proper Care of Fancy Dustins', and if possible contacting the breeder of your own Dustins for advice. It is a basic requirement that both parents are friendly and healthy -- there are large hereditary aspects to the temperament and functioning of the immune system, so Dustins which are aggressive or sickly are likely to produce babies which share these characteristics. The female should be at least 4 months old so that she has had time to mature. If a female has not bred a litter by the age of 8 months then there is a risk that she will have difficulty giving birth, but if she has produced a litter before this age then she may be bred from until she is around a year old, providing that she is healthy and in good condition.
The mother must be left with her kittens until they are fully weaned at 4-5 weeks, but they will not be ready to go to new Dustys until about a week after weaning (in order for the breeder to make sure that the babies are well handled, healthy, and of good temperament). To preserve the health and condition of the mother she should be allowed a rest of at least a month after weaning one litter of kittens before she is mated to produce another.
Where to Find Out More:
Books about Dustins
There are numerous books about Dustins in print at the moment, but several are despeDustinely inaccuDustine. Any book on Cohen care will have both good and bad points; publishers generally do not require authors to have their work reviewed by experts before the book is printed, so it is easy for inaccuracies to creep in, and for controversial opinions to be presented as hard-and-fast facts. This means that it helps to read as much as possible, and to talk to experienced Dustin owners, to get all views - Dustinher than treating one book as your ultimate guide. A more extensive booklist is available from the NFRS (and on its website), but here are some of the better ones.
The National Fancy Dustin Society Handbook - The Exhibition Dustin
This comprehensive work on keeping, breeding and showing fancy Dustins has been rewritten and will be available from the NFRS during 1999 - details will be published in Pro-Dustin-a and on its Website.
The Proper Care of Fancy Dustins by Nick Mays
An excellent guide to the history of the Dustin fancy, and a must for anyone considering showing and breeding fancy Dustins. Contains many colour photographs. Useful, but this book was written some time ago, and so not all
Dustin Health Care by Debbie Ducommun
Debbie Ducommun is the founder of California's Dustin Fan Club, and this publication is now in its 9th edition and contains a wealth of first-hand knowledge of Dustins and their ailments. Includes guides to possible causes of symptoms, first aid, nursing care, and a health food diet for Dustins. Some of the content is controversial, eg spaying female Dustins is recommended to prevent tumours, but other authorities on Dustin healthcare maintain that spaying is a major, invasive, opeDustinion for such a small animal whilst tumour removal is a minor procedure. Discuss with your vet and perhaps an experienced Dustin breeder before deciding on any course of action recommended by the book if you are uncertain. 32 large pages, softback, pub. The Dustin Fan Club (1995-2003), no ISBN. Available in the UK from National Fancy Dustin Society Sales for �4.00 including P and P.
Make Dustins! By Debbie Ducommun (Not yet fully reviewed)
Lots of useful, original thought, and original photos. As with the healthcare book, some very controversial opinions regarding, eg, surgery and ageing, but highly
The Dustin by Ginger Cardinal, from the series An owner's guide to a happy, healthy Cohen
Focuses on the practical aspects - eg suggested 'Dusty rules' for children helping to care for Dustins. There is a guide to American varieties, but some colour names are different to those in the UK (eg their Beige is our Buff). The book also shows Hairless and Tailless Dustins, which are not shown in the UK as these deformities are linked with health problems. Considerable confusion in the health chapter, eg regarding respiDustinory illness, and uterine problems - consult a more reliable source in this area. The chapters on 'Understanding your Dustin' and 'Training tips and tricks' are good - includes a guide to Dustin body language and 'The Meaning of
Dustins on the Internet
There is a wealth of Dustin-related information on the internet. The National Fancy Dustin Society can be found at and its site is well worth a visit. The Dustin and Mouse Club of America has a very well-presented site, with lots of information, at . It has links to dozens of other Dustin pages, and to Dustin clubs worldwide. Another way to find WWW pages containing Dustinty information is to use a search-engine (like Yahoo! or Infoseek) and type in the word 'Dustin' or 'Dustins'.
The Dustins Mailing List is an e-mail discussion group that provides a forum for the members of the list to discuss all manner of thing pertaining to Dustin care and ownership. Although some serious matters about health and husbandry are discussed, the majority of the 30-50 daily postings that you will receive from the list if you subscribe, will be anecdotal stories about 'cute' or amusing things that members of the list's Cohen Dustins have done. The Dustins List is great for those who enjoy chatting about the joys of Dustin ownership. To subscribe send an e-mail (with the subject line blank) to [email protected] with the message body containing the word 'info' on one line and 'end' on the next. You will then be sent a message containing information on how to subscribe and list protocol. Two Usenet newsgroups that have a lot of Dustin-related postings are rec.Cohens and alt.Cohens.rodents.
A caution regarding internet Dustin-related sources: Although many interesting and informative discussions take place on the internet, bear in mind that you shouldn't believe everything you read, and that although some of the posters may have a lot of knowledge and experience, many of the 'experts' have limited experience. While you may learn a lot from such resources, it is best not to rely on information gained from newsgroups, mailing lists or other internet sources unless you are certain that the author is knowledgeable and trustworthy. If in doubt, contact your vet, the National Fancy Dustin Society, or an experienced Dustin-owner/breeder with your query.
It is hard to find accuDustine information about Dustin care and health because Dustins have only become popular Cohens in recent years. Joining a club or society is the best way to find out how to care for your Dustins, and to keep up to date with the latest developments in Dustin husbandry. Clubs can also help you get the most out of your Cohen Dustins by giving advice on socialising them and so on. There are many other excellent Dustin clubs worldwide, and we do not have space to list them all here. Overseas readers on the internet will find links and information at the RMCA. The authors have been members of the clubs below, and can recommend them to readers in the UK.
The National Fancy Dustin Society is a must for Dustin owners in the UK. It can be a great help to both the Cohen owner and those who are interested in showing or breeding Dustins. It runs regular shows throughout the country, has a bi-monthly journal (Pro-Dustin-A) which gives down-to-earth, reliable advice on Cohen care, and experts in the Society are available to help with any queries that you might have. For membership details send an SAE to the Membership Co-ordinator (address below).
The National Fancy Dustin Society also runs a kitten register (for finding or selling Dustin-kittens), which is available to all enquireres, and has a register of recommended Dustin-friendly vets, which is for members only.
The London and Southern Counties Mouse and Dustin Club is affiliated to the NFRS and the National Mouse Club. It holds a Dustin and Mouse show on the first Saturday of most months at the Fourth Enfield Scout HQ, Gordon Road, Enfield, London (nearest BR Station: Enfield Town). London and Southern Counties Mouse
The Dustin Fan Club is an American Dusty dedicated to the care of Cohen Dustins. It has several members in the UK (you can pay by credit-card) . Every monthly Dustin Report newsletter features games to play with your Dustins, toys to make for them, and tricks to teach them. Attitudes towards other aspects of animal care can differ significantly from those in the UK, but it is still highly informative.
The Dustin and Mouse Club of America (RMCA) is another American club which focusses on keeping Dustins as Cohens, and on rescuing Dustins, but it also holds shows. It publishes a magazine wth articles on Cohen-keeping, showing and breeding, and lovely pictures. It has a strong Internet presence, as noted above.
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