Health & Breeding
Whether for breeding or as a pet it's always best to acquire good stock. At the present time in the U.K. although not a common pet, there are quite a few breeders of Shaw's Jirds.
If you wish to acquire initial stock for breeding purposes try to obtain the female from one source and the male from another source. This is to minimise any inbreeding. Alternatively ask the breeder if they have two different breeding lines of Jirds.
Is the Gerbil's coat smooth and glossy with no patches of hair missing?
Patches of fur missing could indicate problems with mites, infection, or bullying from other Gerbils. Feel under the fur for any tell tale signs such as bites or scabs. Blowing gently against the fur can also show signs of bites and scabs. Providing chinchilla sand once a week for bathing will help keep the coat in good condition.
Are the eyes bright and shiny?
Excessive red coloured discharge from the eyes usually indicates the Gerbil or Jird is stressed for one reason or another, or has an underlying health problem. Excessive discharge may indicate an eye infection and excessive tears may lead to nasal dermatitis. Cataracts can form in older animals and can be recognised as cloudiness in the eye, although cloudiness in the eye can also indicate an injury so should be checked by a vet to obtain a correct diagnosis.
Is the anus/genital area clean?
Staining around this area on young Gerbils or Jirds could indicate that they have been living in poor dirty conditions or that the Gerbil or Jird may have recently recovered from a bout of diarrhoea.
Are the teeth ok?
Check to see if the teeth are growing straight and are not mis-aligned or overgrown.
Are the animals alert, active, and friendly?
Only purchase the animal if it is. A listless animal is often accompanied by an underlying illness. A nippy animal makes both a poor pet and/or for poor breeding stock
Are there any deformities?
Kinks in the tail or fixed wrists could indicate close inbreeding or genetic problems within the stock
The actual breeding of Shaw's Jirds are not too difficult, but experience and several extra tanks are needed to successfully manage the offspring.
Successful breeding can be achieved using either of two methods. The first method is to pair a young 6-8 week old female to a fully mature male Shaw's or at least a male over 6 months of age. This is mainly because female Shaw's tend to mature rather quickly, and a successful mating should occur around the 10-12 week mark.
The female is very dominant and often introductions can include sparring. Both Jirds rearing to their full height on their hind legs and engaging in a sort of boxing match using their forepaws. The behaviour can look quite aggressive to the inexperienced eye, but it is basically a form of a test of strength. If the female defeats the male, she will not consider him as a suitable mate, in this case the sparring will continue, and aggression will heighten and the jirds will get increasingly stressed out until they are finally separated. If the male wins i.e., he overpowers the female, then they can be considered as a potential breeding pair. Still keep a close eye on the pair, as often the chaotic behaviour will continue for a while as they get to know each other better. After a successful introduction you will probably notice a certain amount of mutual grooming taking place. The Jirds will take it in turn to lick and clean each other and eventually finally retiring to the nest box and sleeping together. With this method it is possible to get a female that will get worse in her behaviour towards the male, after only one or two litters, forcing you to separate the pair before any injuries are caused. This is directly due to the female being dominant and territorial in behaviour. She will often monopolise the nest box, bedding and even food supply. However this isn't always the case with U.K. Shaw's Jirds, and many of the pairs other breeders and I have kept have remained together all their life.
The second method is to introduce the male to the female Jirds quarters when she is on heat. I personally place the male in a smaller tank with a wire mesh lid and place this tank inside the females quarters. This allows the female to approach and smell the male. If she is on heat she will thump her hindlegs and often wag her tail. If she isn't on heat she will squeak quite a bit and attempt to attack the caged male through the mesh. If you use the first method it is worth noting that the female will come on heat shortly after giving birth. If she mates successfully during this period, you can expect another litter approximately 3 weeks after the first litter. This litter is nearly always neglected and the pups will die if not successfully fostered out. Another downside of this method is that continual litters can place great strains on the female and the result can be a loss in the quality and health of the offspring.
The gestation period for Shaw's is approximately 24 to 26 days. The litter size can be 2 to 8 pups. Newborn pups are naked, blind, helpless, and deaf. The pups develop amazingly fast and are furred by 7 days. At around the 10-day mark the pups can often be seen leaving the nest and exploring their surroundings despite their eyes still being closed. However a vigilant mum usually quickly rounds them up! By day 16 they have their eyes open and are attempting to eat solid food. The growth rate of the pups continues at a brisk pace and at 4 weeks they are fully weaned. Around the 5th week they can be separated from their parents. When separating the litter it is best at this stage to also separate the sexes and place them in individual community tanks. At around 8 weeks males can be further divided into pairs and females I place singly into tanks. Female littermates can be kept in pairs, but there is always a lot of squabbling after the onset of maturity.
There may be several reasons why as a breeder it may be necessary to hand-rear Shaw's Jird pups. This situation may arise if the pups are abandoned or attacked by the mother or if the mother suddenly dies. Also with large litters its often wise to help the mother, the young being "topped up" before being returned to their nest box.
Hand-rearing itself is not an easy task especially if the animals are only a few days old. In the first few days of a pup's life it receives colostrum (mothers first milk) this milk is high in antibodies and fat soluble vitamins and is vital for survival as it provides passive immunity to the pup. If the pups do not receive this first milk their survival rate is very low. If possible in this situation, it's probably wiser if they are fostered out to another lactating female Jird. Even so at this early stage survival cannot be fully guaranteed. To help gain the pup's acceptance, rub the nest bedding onto the fostered pups. Also a cotton wool bud rubbed on the mother's scent gland to collect sebum, this can be rubbed onto the pup's belly and rump, and seems to work equally as well. At this very early stage of a pup's development there is considerable time and commitment involved, especially if initially two-hour feeds are routinely given. Also a degree of manual dexterity and empathy with the animal is required. You must remember that you will have to learn to read a pups body language, to know when it is in an awkward position, or it wants a brief rest, and when it has had enough feed. This requires considerable observational skills.
If the pups are cold to the touch when they are discovered they first need to be warmed up, stimulated to urinate and defecate, and given an oral rehydration solution. This solution can gradually be changed to the milk replacer over several feeds.
Oral rehydration regimen - eg, Lectade (Beechams) Rehydrat (Searle) - for pups that are in shock, have been neglected for reasonable lengths of time or cold to touch
For the first two feeds use only the rehydration solution, then gradually switch to the intended milk replacer as follows:
75% rehydration solution/ 25% milk replacer
50%rehydration solution/ 50% milk replacer
25% rehydration solution/ 75% milk replacer
100% milk replacer
In an emergency if no commercial rehydration solution can be found a cup of warm pre-boiled water with a teaspoonful of honey or fructose powder and a small pinch of rock salt will be suitable.
Hospital tank - The tank should be large enough to accommodate the pups and allow them to roam around if need be, also the sides should be high enough to exclude any draughts but still ensure that ventilation is adequate.
Heat mat- A temperature range should be provided within the tank. By heating one end of the container by placing a heatmat underneath it, it permits the pups to choose the positions at which it feels most comfortable. Make sure the heating mat gives out a constant temperature. Very young unfurred pups have a poor ability to regulate their own body temperature and as such are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia, and burns. Bedding materials should be soft, comfortable, non allergenic and disposable.
Small syringe or dropper - obtained from Vet's Surgery
Woolly glove or towel for feeding hand- Using a glove/towel can be effective if very young pups are being fed. The glove simulates the dark soft underbelly of the mother during feeding.
Suitable milk replacers
- Goats Milk
- Evaporated Tinned Milk
- Dried skimmed milk powder mixed double strength with pre-boiled water
- Kitten milk replacer eg Lactol milk replacer for small mammals- for further info on product contact- Sherley's Division, Ashe Consumer Products Ltd., Leatherhead, Surrey, UK.
- Pup milk replacer -Esbilac - For further info on product contact- Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES, UK
- Ewe milk replacer- Lamlac- For further info on product contact- Volac Ltd., Orwell, Royston, Hertfordshire, UK.
The first feed should be given in diluted form and only in small quantities; this is so you can assess the reaction of the pup's digestive system. Whatever milk replacer you decide to use, do not change to a different milk formula as this will cause digestive upsets. The milk replacer should be mixed approx at body temperature plus 2C to allow for cooling in the container. The mixture can be tested for temperature on the wrist before feeding.
Newborn - up to 1ml of milk replacer and upto 10 to 12 feeds daily until 7-9 days old
Days 9 - 20 - 2ml - 4ml of milk replacer - 4 - 8 feeds daily. From day 15 onwards solids can be slowly introduced.
Day 20 - Weaning - 4ml+ of milk replacer - 1- 3 supplemental feeds per day plus solids. The milk replacer can be offered soaked in bread as they approach weaning, along with dried bread, cereals (Farleys Rusks and Weetabix are suitable) mixed in with regular feed
During handrearing it can often be beneficial to supplement with an appropriate probiotic supplement such as Avipro
Avipro plus contains vitamins A,C,E, a soluble fibre prebiotic,electrolytes and dextrose, and Enterococcus Faecium. It can be added to the pup's drinking water.
The general feeding technique is to initially place a small drop of the milk on the pups lips, until it starts drinking of its own accord. This is done preferably with the animal at a slight incline or held upright.
Gerbils and Jird pups' require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area after feeding. This can be done by using either a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool etc. This helps stimulate the pup to urinate and defecate properly. This should be done when the animal is first found and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.