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Choosing a Dwarf Hamster

By: Chris Henwood

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The dwarf Russian hamster is one the newer species of hamster to make its appearance in the last few years – and is different in size and character from the familiar pets kept by millions.

Appearance and Behavior

The dwarf Russian is smaller than commonly kept golden or Syrian hamsters. Adult males grow only to 8 cm or 3 inches. The dwarf Russian is also a highly social species that lives in small family groups and large colonies in the wild. In captivity, however, they appear to live most happily in pairs or small groups of the same or different sexes.

They are also vocal little animals and spend quite a lot of time play-fighting. So do not panic if you hear lots of squeaking and fighting in the cage. This is normal for them. Do not interfere with this behavior or you may find that they will actually fight for real. It is only on rare occasions that dwarf hamsters fight seriously.

Three Species of Dwarf Hamsters

  • Campbell's Dwarf Russian hamster. This is probably the most common of the three species available in captivity. They have a great variety of mutations in color (black, argent, dove, mottled, patched, opal, albino, blue and more) and coat (satin and rex).

  • Winter White Dwarf Russian hamster. This hamster is often known in the United States as the Siberian hamster. It is also available in mutations. The common name for this species is based on the fact that in the short winter days their fur will turn white to match the surroundings that they would find in the wild.

  • Roborovski hamster. This is the third and rarest species. It is the smallest of the hamster species and is at present only available in a single color: a pale sandy brown with a striking white underbelly.

    Housing

    One problem in keeping all these species is their size. They're able to squeeze through the bars of cages originally designed for the Syrian hamsters, so be certain that you get a cage with very narrow bars. Multi-unit habitats are suitable for this species, but only if the vertical tunnels are equipped with ladders.

    A better idea for a habitat may be an aquarium fitted with narrow wire mesh top. The size of the aquarium depends on the number of animals kept. The floor should be covered in a fairly deep litter of either wood shavings or sawdust. Hay or soft toilet or kitchen tissue should be provided as bedding. Cage furniture such as branches or twigs may be added but on the whole they are rarely used. Jam jars for hiding, wheels for exercising, and the inner part of toilet rolls for burrowing are all appreciated.

    Food

    The food requirements for these hamsters are basically the same as those of the Syrian hamster: a mixed seed and grain diet with the addition of small amounts of peanuts, sunflower seeds and dog biscuit. They will also take small amounts of vegetables and fruit, but exactly what type will depend on the individual animal. Water is an important part of the diet and should always be available. In fact, a lack of water will cause fighting in a colony.

    Breeding

    If you get more than one dwarf Russian hamster, be aware that a pair of the opposite sex will breed. If they do, you could be looking at one to 10 babies every month for a year, and each of these babies will begin to breed at the age of 21 to 30 days.

    The gestation period is usually about 21 days although it can vary from 16 to 30 days. Litter sizes average about four but can be as many as 10. At birth the babies are hairless and blind but they do have teeth and whiskers. In colored varieties the skin darkens at about three days, and, even at this age, you can see the dorsal stripe.

    The actual fur appears at six to eight days and the eyes open at 14 days. Solid food will be taken from nine days, the age at which the babies may be seen moving about the cage for the first time. They are independent at 18 to 21 days and are able to breed at 30 days. The average life span is 24 to 36 months.

    Pairs should not be separated after they have been living together for it's quite likely that they will not accept each other again. This is also true of new adults brought in to the group, although experienced keepers can and do manage to get adults together for breeding.

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