Animal Care

Dwarf Hamsters
Campbell's Hamster (Phodopus campbelli)
Roborowski's Hamster (Phodopus roborowskii)
Winter White/Russion/Siberian Hamster (Phodopus sungorus)
Chinese Dwarf Hamster (Cricetulus griseus)

Diet: Herbivorous
Adult Size: 2-4"
Lifespan
: 1-3 years
Native To: Desert Regions of Asia
Characteristics: Nocturnal, timid, can live in pairs                      
 

Did You Know:

  • Their larger cousin, the Syrian Hamster, is a solitary animal, but Dwarf Hamsters
    live happily in pairs, enjoying the companionship of others of their species.

  • Like deer and many other animals, hamsters have harderian glands behind their
    eyes. Aside from lubricating the eyes, these glands aid in the detection of light and
    the maintenance of body temperature.

  • Hamsters make a variety of sounds to communicate with one another. Many of
    these sounds are ultrasonic, so are not audible to the human ear.

Look Out For This:
All hamsters are naturally desert and grassy plains animals, so they do
not tolerate moisture well. Campbell’s Hamster, for example, excretes
concentrated urine to conserve moisture. With this in mind, it’s
important to keep a hamster’s cage relatively dry. Spilled water or
drinking bottle droplets should be removed promptly. Always keep a
hamster’s cage in a dry area of the home, rather than a humid spot
such as a basement.

The material below is a general guideline, and is not intended to serve as your sole sources of pet care information. Visit a veterinarian and consult a broad range of literature to ensure that your pet receives adequate care.

Things You Should Know About Dwarf Hamsters

The Basics:

There are several species of Dwarf Hamster. Experts disagree on many of the species’ names, for example some call Campbell’s Hamster the Djungarian Hamster, while
others use that same name for the Winter White Hamster. To complicate matters farther, there are now several hybrids of the main dwarf hamster species. However, knowing the
exact scientific name of a dwarf hamster isn’t necessarily vital, since care for all the dwarf hamster breeds is very similar. Dwarf hamsters originate in various regions of Russia, Siberia, Mongolia and China. Unlike Syrian Hamsters, dwarf hamsters live together in large groups, digging vast underground burrow networks. It is therefore possible – and desirable – to keep more than one dwarf hamster in a cage.
Dwarf hamsters are happiest when they have a companion. Campbell’s, Roborovski’s and Winter White Hamsters are all members of the short-tailed dwarf hamster family, but the
Chinese Hamster belongs to the unrelated rat-like hamster family. The Chinese Hamster is the only hamster that is not legal in all 50 states, since they may be regarded as “pests” that pose a threat to agricultural crops. Campbell’s Hamsters are unique in that the males of the species help raise the young.

Enclosure: A House For a Mouse:

Since they’re smaller than the Syrian Hamster, dwarf
hamsters can be kept in enclosures designed for mice. A secure wire cage or a 10-20 gallon aquarium with a wire-mesh top is fine for a pair of dwarf hamsters. Plastic tubular hamster habitats are too big for dwarf hamsters, since they cannot maneuver themselves through the tunnels. However, dwarf hamsters do well in the newer and smaller mouse-friendly tubular enclosures. Plastic tubular habitats mimic the complex underground tunnel networks typically
constructed in the wild, offering the animals a more naturalistic environment. Position the enclosure well away from drafts, heaters and direct sunlight, and check it thoroughly for all possible means of escape.

Bedding : They Like To Burrow:

Like the larger Syrian Hamsters, dwarf hamsters do well with
bedding that’s deep enough to allow them to satisfy their natural burrowing instinct. Providing an inch or two of substrate throughout most of the enclosure, with a five or six
inch high bank at one end helps to create an interesting environment for these pets. The bedding should be absorbent and dust free - recommended materials include wood shavings, or a rodent substrate made from reclaimed wood pulp or pelleted paper. Never use cedar or pine based products, since they can cause severe respiratory problems. Some dwarf hamsters can be trained to use a litter box - if it becomes apparent that more droppings are being found in one part of the cage than anywhere else, a commercially available ‘hamster potty’ should be placed there, filled with hay or pelleted newspaper cat litter. Clay and clumping cat litters must never be used, since they can cause digestive or respiratory problems. For a reluctant potty trainer, placing a few of the animal’s own droppings inside the litter box should help it understand the box’s purpose. Clean out the litter box daily, and disinfect it weekly. If you use corn cob bedding change it often to protect against the build up of bacteria and mold. Also do not use corn cob bedding with a pet that may ingest bedding.

Nesting Material: Hamster Hideaway:

Naturally shy animals, dwarf hamsters need a comfortable place to hide away during the day. This is best provided by placing a nesting box with nesting material in the cage.
Shredded white paper, such as tissue or paper towels provide a good nesting material. The nesting box should be large enough for the hamster to turn around in, but not much bigger.

Exercise: They Need To Exercise:

Hamsters are naturally active creatures, but when confined in
a small cage they may be unable to get enough exercise. This can lead to a condition where the hamster becomes hunched over, unable to raise its head. The traditional hamster wheel is an ideal outlet for a hamster’s energy - a research study found that hamsters typically run five miles a night on their exercise wheels. Special smaller sized wheels are available for dwarf hamsters - solid wheels without open rungs are kindest to the feet. A hamster living in a tubular plastic habitat will get some exercise from running, jumping and climbing inside its home, but it will also need to run on a wheel. Hamsters can quickly chew their way through plastic toys or accessories. Check regularly for splinters or sharp edges caused by chewing. If a hamster habitually chews on a plastic accessory, remove it from the enclosure since it could become a choking hazard. Some dwarf hamsters will enjoy exploring the house in a plastic exercise ball, but great
care should be taken to avoid injuring the pet. An exercise ball should never be used in a room with another pet, such as a cat or dog. Nor should exercise balls be used in an area
where they could possibly roll down steps, since rolling down even a single step can prove fatal to a hamster. A pet’s time in an exercise ball should be restricted to no more than 10
minutes to avoid dehydration, exhaustion or injury.

Chewing: The Right Foods Are Essential:

Since dwarf hamster’s teeth are always growing, they must be kept from getting too long by frequent chewing on the right kinds of food. Providing chew toys is also very important. If a dwarf hamster has nothing to chew, it will eventually be unable to close its mouth, and will starve. Wooden chew toys are designed especially for rodents in a variety of shapes, sizes and aromas – some are even made in fun food shapes. They must be a staple feature of every Dwarf Hamster’s cage. Chew toys should be inspected on a daily basis, and replaced if they’re soiled or excessively worn.

Lighting: Hamsters have no special lighting requirements, other than a 12-hour on/12-hour off day/night cycle.

Temperature & Humidity: No Special Needs:

Hamsters are comfortable in temperatures between 60-90ºF. This means they’re usually very content at an average room temperature, needing no special heating or lighting other than a 12 hour day/night cycle. The average humidity level that should be obtained in an enclosure should be 30-50%.

Food & Diet: The Same Portion As Their Big Cousin: Although they’re smaller than Syrian Hamsters, Dwarf Hamsters should eat about the same amount, because they have a higher metabolism. On average, a Dwarf Hamster needs about a tablespoon of premixed hamster food a day, plus a small amount of fresh, washed and pesticide-free and vegetables, such as broccoli and zucchini. (Seeds should not make up the entire diet.) Uneaten vegetables should be removed before they spoil. Some hamsters will also enjoy timothy hay or alfalfa. Never keep premixed foods for longer than three months. Premixed foods can be given on a free feed basis, since most hamsters are not prone to excessive weight gain. If a hamster does gain weight, portions should be controlled. Hamsters will naturally hoard some of their food in their cages. For the animal’s sense of well-being, it should be allowed to keep its hoarded food for a few days. Every week, however, the hoarded food should be removed for sanitary reasons.
Water: Keep It Fresh, But Stay Dry: Hamsters need a constant supply of clean fresh chlorine-free water. Use a cage-mounted small animal drinking bottle rather than a dish, choosing one with a chew-proof metal tip. Change the water daily, and check for leakage - the water should only come out when the animal sips at the tube. It’s essential to keep the hamster’s cage dry to reduce the risk of Wet Tail and other diseases. Check also that the animal hasn’t caused a blockage by kicking substrate up the spout.
A Note About Water: All water given to this pet must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water, so check your system's specifications before using it to filter water for your pet.) We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water and never untreated tap water. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions.
Grooming: They're Clean Critters: Hamsters groom themselves regularly so they usually need
no grooming by their owner. Some hamsters like to take an occasional ‘dust bath’ in a shallow dish containing a layer of chinchilla dust an inch deep, but this is by no means
essential. Discard the dust and wash the dish after each use.
 

How to Handle A Dwarf Hamster:
Being smaller, Dwarf Hamsters are more delicate, more skittish and faster to escape than
their Syrian cousins. They must be handled very gently, under the supervision of an adult.
Most hamsters tend to be nervous when first picked up, and may bite or urinate. Even tame
hamsters sometimes nip if wakened from a sound sleep. However, when handled regularly
from an early age, many hamsters become quite tame – offering a sunflower seed at each
handling often helps the animal to bond with his owner.
Before even opening the enclosure, check that the room is safe for the hamster if it should
escape. Curious cats and dogs should be elsewhere in the house, electrical cords must be
picked up off the floor, and if possible the doors to the room should be closed. Never
handle a hamster over a hard surface – keep him close to the ground over a soft pillow, or
hold him above the enclosure.
A hamster will be less startled if approached from the sides with both hands rather than
from above. Scoop the animal up with cupped hands, bringing one hand underneath so he
is sitting on the palm. Bring the other hand up over his back. Do not squeeze, even if the
animal tries to squirm out - a hamster can often be hurt more by an instinctive sharp
squeeze than by a fall.
Always wash hands well before picking up a hamster - the smell of food on a hand
sometimes tempts the animal to take a nibble.
 

 

Dwarf Hamsters Around The House:
Hamsters are always on the lookout for a quick escape, and can scamper away under the
furniture in the blink of an eye. As already mentioned, the area must be hamster-proofed
before the enclosure is even opened, with cats and dogs elsewhere in the house, electrical
cords off the floor, and doors closed. Make sure to block off any nooks and crannies the
animal could wriggle into, and keep cleaning fluids and other hazardous materials out of
harm’s way. Above all, watch the animal closely at all times. Plastic hamster balls offer a
safer, more controllable way for the animal to explore his surroundings, but these too must
still be observed constantly. If a hamster should escape, close all doors, lay out a few
sunflower seeds as bait, and wait until the animal pops out to grab them.

Cleaning The Enclosure:
A hamster’s cage should be inspected daily. All uneaten food, droppings and soiled
bedding should be removed. The entire cage and all of its accessories should be cleaned,
and most of its bedding replaced every week. The cage can be wiped down, or if necessary
washed using hot, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and dry with paper towels before adding
new bedding.
Mixing some clean old bedding in with the replacement will give the hamster an added
sense of security. Hamsters empty stored food from their cheek pouches and hide it away
for later, so the enclosure should be checked thoroughly for these little hidden larders, so
they can be removed during the weekly cleaning.
Periodically disinfect the cage with a product designed for small animals, or a bleach
solution, following the guidelines found earlier in this manual. Hamsters should be placed
in a secure “holding” cage or tank while their cage is cleaned. Always wear rubber gloves
when cleaning a hamster’s cage, and wash your hands afterward.

 

Common Dwarf Hamster Ailments

Hamsters are very prone to stress-induced health problems, usually caused by waking the
animal from a deep sleep too frequently. Symptoms of ill health may include weight loss,
matted fur, dull or runny eyes, shaking, runny nose or diarrhea. Contact a veterinarian
promptly if a hamster seems ill. This is especially true for hamsters that have diarrhea; they
should be isolated immediately, and their enclosures should be disinfected with a small
animal safe product or bleach solution.

  • Wet Tail - This highly contagious disease can kill within 24 hours of the onset
    of its symptoms, which include diarrhea or wetness around the anus, listlessness
    and lack of appetite. Isolate the affected hamster immediately, and seek
    veterinary advice. Thoroughly disinfect the cage and all its contents
    immediately, and every two days thereafter. Sadly, once the symptoms are
    noticed it may be too late to save the animal. An outbreak of Wet Tail is usually
    a sign of unsanitary living conditions, and is highly preventable by good
    hygiene.
  • Tumors - Older hamsters sometimes develop odd lumps and bumps which are
    often benign, but can be cancerous. Seek veterinary attention to determine an
    appropriate course of treatment for your hamster. One place that hamsters get
    tumors is in the cheek pouches, so be sure to check that your hamster is
    emptying his check pouches and that there are no lumps or bumps left.
  • Respiratory Problems and Allergies – Breathing problems are usually caused
    by the type of bedding or disinfectant in use, or by a leaking water bottle
    causing mildew to form. Cedar and pine based bedding are notorious for
    causing respiratory problems. Unusually for most animal species, hamsters can
    also contract cold and flu viruses from humans, so persons with cold symptoms
    should avoid handling these animals.
  • Runny Eyes - This condition is usually caused either by an eye infection or by
    food becoming stuck inside one or both of the cheek pouches. A veterinarian
    can diagnose the exact cause, and if necessary flush the cheek pouches out with
    warm water.
  • Strokes – Older hamsters can be prone to strokes, some surviving multiple
    strokes with few ill effects so long as they are still able to eat and drink. If an
    animal is found to be paralyzed on one side, keep him warm and comfortable,
    and keep environmental stress to a minimum.
  • Diabetes – Though it can affect any species, Campbell’s Hamsters are
    particularly prone to this serious disease. Usually appearing at around 7-8
    months of age, the first symptoms include excessive drinking and urination. As
    the disease progresses, the animal may be seen to tremble, or even lapse into a
    coma. Seek immediate veterinary advice. If a hamster is diagnosed as diabetic,
    hamster treats containing molasses or corn syrup should not be given.


Recommended Dwarf Hamster Supplies:

  • A secure enclosure

  • Suitable substrate

  • Food bowl

  • Hamster food

  • Cage-mounted water bottle

  • Small exercise wheel

  • Plastic hamster ball

  • Chew toys

  • Hamster potty

  • A secure transport cage for use when going to the vet and during cage cleaning