General

Dwarf hamsters distinguish themselves from Syrian hamsters by their size. The Syrian hamster weighs 120 to 180 grams and the dwarf hamsters only about 40 to 80 grams. The dwarf hamsters are divided into four species; Campbell's, Chinese, Roborovski and Djungarian dwarf hamster, that each know their own coat colour mutations. The care, housing, food, reproduction and digestion are almost similar in these species, yet the animals each have a different place of origin and are different in their behaviour and handling. Because of that the last two points are described per species.

Care

With the right care dwarf hamsters can become 1,5 to 4 years old. The difference is big because the species differ in lifespan. The Roborovski dwarf hamster becomes 1,5 to 2 years and the Chinese dwarf hamster becomes 3 to 4 years old. The Djungarian and Campbell's dwarf hamster are in between those two and become 2 to 3 years old. In the first place a proper care requires a clean kept housing for the animals. To achieve this the cage, depending on the number of animals and size, needs to be cleaned weekly. Next to that fresh water and food should be supplied daily. When fresh foods that are prone to rot are given the leftovers of those foods should be cleaned out daily. Next to that the den has to be checked because the hamster tends to collect it's food there.

 Housing

The habitat of the hamster should have a ground surface of at least 40x30 cm at a height of 30 cm. This size is suitable for 2 to 4 animals. Because these animals don't jump a lid isn't always necessary. It is recommended to get a wire cage for these animals though because a closed environment doesn't provide enough ventilation. The cage may never be placed in direct sunlight and draft. Dwarf hamsters are very sensitive to draft and this will influence their health. Given those facts the dwarf hamsters should only be housed indoors. The optimum temperature is between 15 and 21 degrees Celcius. When the animals get into too low temperatures or get too little daylight they can go into hibernation. Djungarians and Roborovskis can best be kept solitary. The Campbell's can be kept solitary or in pairs. These animals are monogamous and when they form a couple they will have little interest in other group members. Do mind though that when placing two genders together litters will be born. To conclude the Chinese dwarf hamster has to be places alone. An ill hamster can be quarantined but this is not recommended unless it is absolutely necessary. The chance an ill animal isn't accepted after return is most definitely present. As bedding material several products can be used that are available from the pet store. 

Food

The rations of the dwarf hamster consists largely of a rodent food mixture or a specialised hamster food, both for sale at the pet store. The dwarf hamsters should be fed about 10 to 15 grams a day of this. Next to this it is important to feed vegetables and fruits. The best choice of are produce that contain little fluid. The animals should be fed a piece the size of a dice daily. In nature dwarf hamsters are also ingesting animal protein. Because of that it is recommended to give some animal protein in the form of some dog kibble or an insect. Because cat kibble contains on average more salt than dog kibble we advise the latter. During the pregnancy the quality of the food has to be optimal. Next to the food the dwarf hamsters should be given fresh water daily. The dwarf hamster drinks an average of 4 ml daily but it should be available in unlimited quantities. The best way to offer water is in a drinking bottle. 

Reproduction

The dwarf hamster is sexually mature at an age of 4 to 5 weeks. It is better though to wait with breeding till they are 3 months old however. The female is fertile once every 4 days and will then be willing to copulate. After the mating the male can stay with the female, in general pairs won't be aggressive towards each other. The female will begin building a den sometime after fertilization. This den will be bowl shaped and is usually made in the furthest corner from the cage door. The den is made from bedding and other nesting materials like hay. Exercise wheels and water bowls should be removed from the cage to prevent the pups from drowning or getting hurt by the wheel. The gestation period is about 18 to 21 days depending on species. The gestation period of Chinese and Roborovski dwarf hamsters is 21 days and Djungarian and Campbell's dwarf hamsters have a gestation period of 18 to 19 days. On average 4 to 6 pups are born, but it can be a considerable higher number at times. When the babies are born they should be left undisturbed. When stressed the parents can panic and devour the pups. Because of this one shouldn't clean the cage in the first period, perhaps only the corner in which the animals defecate. From the second week on the pups will start to explore their environment. The pups of the Roborovski are independent at 5 weeks. The other species reach independence at an age of 3 to 4 weeks. The pups should be removed from the parents when they reach independence because they will otherwise start to breed. 

Health

For these small rodents goes that if they fall ill they need to be helped quickly. When an animal this size is ill it can be dead within a day. Because of this reason illness prevention is crucial. The following diseases can occur in dwarf hamsters:

Pneumonia

Pneumonia and colds in dwarf hamsters are often caused by draft. Not only draft but also cold in combinations with humidity can cause a hamster to fall ill. When a hamsters has pneumonia or a cold it will sneeze and get a wet nose. When the illness deteriorates the hamsters breath will start rattling and secretion will come out of the nose. In this last case a visit to the vet is necessary. A vet will usually prescribe antibiotics.

Diarrhoea

Hamsters can get diarrhoea from different causes such a bad food, draft and humidity. In the most cases it is lethal. In the majority of cases diarrhoea is caused by to foods too rich in fluids. If a hamster has it then he should only be fed toast, cooked rice or knäckerbröd.  The drinking water can best be replaced by chamomile tea. The housing should be cleaned several times a week during the illness and preferably daily. When the diarrhoea has subsided the cage needs to be disinfected.

 Wet tail

Naturally hamsters have a small amount of E. coli bacteria in their digestive tract. When the animal becomes weak or stressed this bacteria can grow excessively. In many cases this will happen right after purchase. The animal is taken from it's usual environment and will travel to be places in a new and strange environment. This can be very stressful for hamsters. The symptoms give the disease it's name. The hamsters will have a wet tail and anus constantly. Next to the wet tail and nose the animals won't eat and are apathetic. Animals with this disease should be seen by a vet immediately to prevent them from dying within 48 hours.

Diabetes or kidney problems

Something that occurs in dwarf hamsters is diabetes or similar illnesses. The illness can be recognised by the animals drinking a lot, in most cases at least their own weight in liquids. When much liquid has been ingested much liquid needs to be secreted. These animals will therefore have big urine corners that smell strongly like ammonia. The animals will become very active or lethargic and usually gain weight. The hamsters can be tested for diabetes with Diastix, Keto-Diastix or Multistix from Bayer. When hamsters display these symptoms it's better not to breed with them any more because it might be a genetic issue. 

Skin Conditions

Hamsters can be bothered by several skin conditions. These conditions can be caused by parasites, mites or fungi. Only weak animals will in generally suffer from parasites like flea or lice. Because the animals are itchy they will scratch and get bald patches from which we can recognise the parasitic problems. Pet stores sell several drugs to cure this. If a hamster gets mites you have a bigger problem. These tiny animals cause scabs and eczema that can make your hamster's total skin affected within one month. Next to that mites are very contagious and other animals can get infected. Drugs against mite are also available from good pet stores and your vet. Fungi can also occur in hamsters and they can be recognised from skin scales on the ears or nose. Fungi aren't just contagious for animals but also for people. Luckily it can be easily treated with medicine available at the vet's.

 Campbell's dwarf hamster

Origin

The Campbell's dwarf hamster (Phodopus sungorus Campbelli) has its origin in North Mongolia and North China. Also it occurs in the republics of Manchuria (China), Altai and Tuva (Russia). This species was discovered by Mr. C.W. Campbell and named after him. This species was first described by Mr. Thomas. Because the Djungarian and Campbell dwarf hamster inhibit the same territory it was assumed at first they were the same species. In 1967 this was examined and it was concluded it were indeed one and the same species. However in 1982 a new research was done to the genetic differences of these species and as it turned out there were differences! The biggest difference is in the chromosomes. The shape of the Y chromosome is different in both species. In 1984 it was therefore concluded that they are different species and thus they both got a different name. This is how the Campbell's dwarf hamster got it's name Phodopus Sungorus Campbelli. In the 1970's the Campbell's dwarf hamster was first kept in England as a pet. Before that time they were mainly kept in laboratories. In 1983 they were first occurred in the Netherlands. 

Behaviour and handling

Campbell's dwarf hamsters are tolerant towards each other but dislike being taken out of the housing. They will respond defensive which means they bite. To take a Campbell's dwarf hamster from it's cage a little box can be used. The hamster can be captured with it if it happens quickly. Otherwise some treat can be placed in the box to lure the hamster into it. The Campbell's dwarf hamster is mainly active at dusk and dawn and sleeps during the day. Because of all these factors the Campbell's dwarf hamster is not really a "cuddle hamster" that likes to be picked up daily.

 Chinese dwarf hamster

Origin

The Chinese dwarf hamster (Cricetulus griseus) derives from the North of China. There the hamsters live in very diverse areas from dense forests to open plains. The first notes and descriptions of the Chinese dwarf hamster date from the 1900's. In those days the Chinese dwarf hamster was seen as the same species as the Daurian dwarf hamster which never became a popular pet species. 

Origins

The Syrian hamster (mesocricetus auratus) has it's origin in the desert areas of Syria. As far as is known the British zoologist George Waterhouse is the first who brought a living Syrian hamster to England. The animals we know today are descendants from the animals that were captured by professor I. Aharoni in 1930. He shipped these animals to the universities in England and the United States. Through these universities the Syrian hamster found it's way to the public and became greatly loved. The Syrian hamster was called by it's original color; the golden hamster. Now that the color golden is more rare because of many color mutations the hamster is called the Syrian hamster in reference to his country of origin.

Behaviour and handling

The Syrian hamster is an example of a hamster species that should be kept solo. They will only tolerate the presence of other animals when absolutely necessary, like when breeding or when a female has pups. Also littermates that have been together from day one won't tolerate each other any more at some point. Syrian hamsters have bad eyes and use their sense of smell to recognise one and other. The animals are primarily active during the evening, night and early morning and will show themselves as little as possible during the day. A Syrian hamster can become very tame and will almost never bite their caretakers, provided they have been handled from an early age on as elder animals won't cooperate in this process. But even the trust of elder animals can sometimes be wun.

Care

 With the right care Syrian hamsters can become two to three years of age. The animals wash their own coat so they don't require bathing. The cage of a Syrian hamster needs to be cleaned about once a week unless the animals have a litter of somewhat older pups that dirty their environment a lot, in which case the cage should be cleaned more often. The hamsters require fresh water daily and should have food available. When feeding the possibility that the hamster collects food should be taken into account and his hiding places should be checked for left overs regularly. The nails of a Syrian hamster can become somewhat long in some cases and it may be necessary to cut them. This can be done with a regular pair of nail scissors. 

Homing

To keep the Syrian hamster healthy it is essential that his home meets certain requirements. A Syrian hamster should be homed solitary (without any cage mates). During the mating a male can be homed with a female. The minimum cage surface should be 30 x 20 cm. The Syrian hamster have an optimal relative humidity of 40 to 55% with a temperature of 18 to 21 °C. Too warm, cold, dry or humid air can lead to a pneumonia which can in it's turn lead to death. A too dry or too moist environment can also lead to a range of other diseases. Also direct sunlight can be a problem for the Syrian hamster so it should have shelter from the full sun at all times. A Syrian hamster can not be kept in open air because of these requirements and will therefore need to be kept indoors. Syrian hamsters need to be kept draft free with enough ventilation. When a Syrian hamster falls ill it may be necessary to quarantine the animal. Because the Syrian hamster is a solitary animal it won't often be the case. One has to mind though that when quarantining the Syrian hamster one has to remove it totally from the room where other hamsters or rodents are placed. The Syrian hamster is a nocturnal animal that doesn't become active until the light stars to dim. Because of this the best feeding time is early evening. Food can be giving in a hard bowl, such as a ceramic one, which is gnaw proof. Also the food can be given spread out trough the enclosure. The hamster will collect all foods in it's den. To prevent the hamster from eating spoilt foods which it collected not too much food should be given. All foods will then be consumed right away and can't pile up in the hiding places. When vegetables or fruits are fed the remains have to be removed immediately. The water can best be given in a drinking bottle to ensure no littering of the drinking place or water spreading in the cage and to prevent the drowning of pups.  

Feeding

As a basic food a special Syrian hamster food is suitable. A good food for Syrian hamsters doesn't contain much pressed grass, sunflower seeds and peanuts. The pressed grass will often be left by Syrian hamsters and the peanuts and sunflower seeds it likes to much that he will eat to many of them. The hamster will eat an average of 10 to 20 gram daily. Variation is a must and hamsters need fruits and vegetables. Suitable vegetables and fruits that can be given in small amounts are:

  • Chicory
  • Endive
  • Carrot
  • Cauliflower
  • Bell Pepper
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Peach
  • Raspberry
  • Mellon
  • Banana

Lettuce and cabbage species are not a suitable food. To prevent the hamster from consuming rotting fruits or vegetables the excess that hasn't been eaten should be removed immediately after eating. Water has to be supplied in unlimited amounts and should be refreshed daily. When the hamster is pregnant or nursing she requires more energy rich foods and animal protein can be given in moderate amounts. Vitamins can be administered by adding them trough the water, food or in a a porridge made of oatmeal and water.

Reproduction

The Syrian hamster is homed solitary which automatically involves the separation of male and female. Once every four days the female is willing to be bred (in oestrous) in which case she can be placed with the male. In no case the male should be placed at the female because the female will defend her territory. Neutral territory will suit them both well. The intercourse will last about 15 to 30 minutes and afterwards male and female should be separated again. The pregnancy will last about 16 days. The pups will born inside the den which has been used as a sleeping place up until then. Extra nesting materials can be given in the form of kitchen tissue, fabric or hay. Synthetic materials such as hamster cotton balls should never be provided, the pups will choke in it. A Syrian hamster will get an average of 6 to 10 pups per litter but can vary from 1 to 15 pups. After 4 to 5 weeks the pups are sexually mature and should be separated by gender to prevent early pregnancy and inbreeding. Females shouldn't conceive before 4 to 6 months.

Health

When these rodents get ill they will need help quickly. When an animal this size gets ill it can be done with in a days time. Because of this preventing illness is important. The following illnesses can occur in hamsters:

Pneumonia

Pneumonia and colds in Syrian hamsters are often caused by draft. Not just draft but a combination of draft and high humidity can make a hamster ill. When a hamster has a cold or pneumonia the animal will sneeze and has a wet nose. When the illness progress it will get a rattling breath and a secretion from the nose. In that case a visit to the vet is necessary. A vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics.

Diarrhea

Hamsters can get diarrhea because of several circumstances. Wrong food, draft and humidity for example. In most cases with lethal consequences. The number one cause of diarrhea is food containing too much liquids. Should a hamster get diarrhea it should only be fed with toast, boiled rice or knackerbröd. The drinking water can best be replaced by camomile tea. The enclosure should be cleaned multiple times a week during the disease and preferably daily. After the diarrhea the cage should be disinfected

Wet Tail

Naturally hamsters have a small amount of E. coli bacteria in their digestive tract. When the animal becomes weak or stressed this bacteria can grow excessively. In many cases this will happen right after purchase. The animal is taken from it's usual environment and will travel to be places in a new and strange environment. This can be very stressful for hamsters. The symptoms give the disease it's name. The hamsters will have a wet tail and anus constantly. Next to the wet tail and nose the animals won't eat and are apathetic. Animals with this disease should be seen by a vet immediately to prevent them from dying within 48 hours.

Skin Conditions

Hamsters can be bothered by several skin conditions. These conditions can be caused by parasites, mites or fungi. Only weak animals will in generally suffer from parasites like flea or lice. Because the animals are itchy they will scratch and get bald patches from which we can recognise the parasitic problems. Pet stores sell several drugs to cure this. If a hamster gets mites you have a bigger problem. These tiny animals cause scabs and eczema that can make your hamster's total skin affected within one month. Next to that mites are very contagious and other animals can get infected. Drugs against mite are also available from good pet stores and your vet. Fungi can also occur in hamsters and they can be recognised from skin scales on the ears or nose. Fungi aren't just contagious for animals but also for people. Luckily it can be easily treated with medicine available at the vet's.

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