There is no doubt the mouse fancy now is very different from the way it was when I joined in 1982. I’ve been giving some thought recently to the issues we seem to have at the moment, chiefly the matters of 1) ailments and 2) breeding show varieties, which will be the subject of a different article.
The biggest difference of all is in the way people approach the hobby. In 1982, when you wanted to know something, anything at all, about the mouse fancy, you asked someone face to face, on the phone, or by letter. The most successful exhibitors were the first choice for approach, particularly when coupled with experience. Fanciers of my age still talk about their advisers and mentors, and still value their opinions.
All this has changed with the blooming of the internet. The first recourse for novices now seems to be Google. Almost without exception, the information they see on the subsequent links has been written by someone who is/was not an exhibiting mouse fancier of the NMC—I can say that with conviction since I know it to be a fact.
The authors of web advice fall into three categories: they are scientists with laboratory knowledge; they are pet keepers who like to show people how much they know; they are neither of the above and are regurgitating something they have read themselves and therefore feel qualified to repeat.
Social media is a mixed affair. There are videos available of past fanciers and shows on YouTube, but there are also terrible videos made by people who just want the limelight. There are many Facebook groups for fancy mice keepers, but most of the advice given is worthless, or bad—not deliberately bad, but bad through ignorance. Still, we all look at these at some point. New fanciers unfortunately can’t know the difference between good and bad. And if the information sought is asking, what is wrong with my mouse? the results in the mouse fancy are far-reaching.
A major problem today concerns health, crucially not just that of your own mice. Health issues which cropped up 40 years ago were swiftly dealt with by culling affected stock—taking mice to the vet was not even considered an option (with good reason—vets are not trained to treat mice). Added to this, most of the stock was domestically bred therefore prone, or resistant, only to ailments prevalent in the UK.
Even within our domestically-bred mice, different strains have resistance to different ailments, and combining a strain which is resistant to digestive problems with a strain resistant to respiratory problems will produce a generation which is resistant to neither.
These days, we also have mice from different origins freely brought into the country, bringing with them their different strains of diseases. This may be helped by quarantining for long enough to see they are visibly healthy, but some problems don’t show externally till it is too late, and usually fanciers are understandably eager to use the imports and introduce them to the domestic stock straight away. The results are predictable.
The same thing applies to some parasites, for example worms, but external parasites like lice and mites can only take hold if husbandry is at fault, and are easily treatable.
The answers to these problems are simple:
only introduce new stock into your stud when you have made sure it is fit by quarantining it, and make sure your housing, feeding and general maintenance are properly addressed (regular, not erratic, being a priority);
ask fanciers with experience for their advice, don’t rely on the internet or consult a vet till you have taken that obvious first step.
Most new members fall by the wayside because they have assumed that, since mice are small, they only require small effort. Successful fanciers know this is not the case. You get out what you put in.