Dwarf Hamster Guide

dwarf hamsterA dwarf hamster makes a great pet for older kids and even adults. This page is a complete guide to dwarf hamsters and will tell you all about these furry little pets as well as how to choose one, how to prepare for your new dwarf hamster and how to take care of it.

Dwarf hamsters are super cute and about half the size of a regular Syrian hamster. They have cheek pouches where they stuff their food and you’ll often see them stuffing their cheeks full, giving the impression that their head is much larger than their body.

This page is divided into a few sections:

Types of Dwarf Hamster

There are three types of dwarf hamsters – the Roborovski dwarf hamster and the two Russian dwarf hamsters – Winter White dwarf hamster and Campbell’s dwarf hamster. It’s also possible for hybrids to be created from Winter Whites and Campbell’s. A fourth species, the Chinese dwarf hamster, is more rat-like and not related to the other three.

Roborovski Dwarf Hamster

robo dwarf hamster on a wheelThe Roborovski dwarf hamster or robo dwarf hamster is the smallest hamster species kept as pets. It measures less than 3 inches even in adulthood. In the wild, robo dwarf hamsters can be found in the deserts of Russia, Kazakhstan, and northern China. They eat grains, vegetables, fruit, as well as insects and meat in small amounts.

Robo dwarf hamsters are fast and very active. When you visit a pet shop with robos, you’ll often find them running on the wheel. In fact, they have been known to run as much as four human marathons on average every night. That’s more than a hundred miles!

A robo dwarf hamster is usually grayish-brown with a white underbelly. There is also a type that has a completely white face and is sometimes referred to as a Husky robo or a white-face robo. Unlike other dwarf hamsters, robos don’t have dorsal stripes.

The average lifespan of a robo dwarf hamster kept as a pet is 3 years, although they have been known to live up to 4.

Robo dwarf hamsters should be bred no earlier than four months for females and three months for males. The gestation period is 22 to 30 days and usually four to six pups are produced.

Russian Dwarf Hamster

Russian dwarf hamsters can refer to the Winter White or Campbell’s dwarf hamster. The two appear very similar and are often confused for each other. In fact, scientists have classified them as the same species for many years. The term “fancy Russian dwarf hamster” simply refers to Russian dwarf hamsters that are attractively colored.

winter white dwarf hamsterWinter white dwarf hamsters, also known as the Djungarian hamster, winter white hamster or Siberian hamster, are 3 to 4 inches long in adulthood. The name “winter white”, comes from the ability of these hamsters to change color from dark gray to white in the wild during winter. Pet winter whites do not usually turn white in the house due to artificial lighting/heat in the house.

Other than dark gray with dorsal stripes and a white belly, winter whites also come in pearl, sapphire, sapphire pearl, and marbled.

In the wild, the winter white dwarf hamster can be found in Siberia, Russia, and Central Asia. They can live for as little as one year in the wild, but the average lifespan of a pet winter white is usually one to three years.

Winter whites can be bred at 4 to 6 months old and have a gestation period of 18 to 25 days. Usually 4 to 8 pups are born although there have been instances where there are up to 14 pups in a litter.

campbell dwarf hamster

By Alexander theo redgrave (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are the other Russian dwarf hamster and are the most common dwarf hamsters found in pet stores. They are very similar to winter whites in appearance.

Campell’s dwarf hamsters can be found in the wild in Russia, China, and other parts of Central Asia. As pets, they can live for 2 to 2.5 years but have a shorter lifespan in the wild.

Campbell’s should be bred no earlier than three months and have a gestation period of 18 to 20 days. A Campbell dwarf hamster can have up to 10 pups in a litter.

Hybrid Dwarf Hamsters

Hybrid dwarf hamsters are bred from winter whites and Campbell’s dwarf hamsters. They are usually bred for their attractive colors such as orange, pudding, or brown but are prone to numerous health problems. Due to this and other ethical issues, crossbreeding the two Russian dwarf hamsters to produce hybrids is controversial.

Chinese Dwarf Hamsters

chinese hamsterThe correct term for this hamster would be the Chinese hamster although they are commonly mistaken for dwarf hamsters due to their size and possibly their black dorsal stripe. Chinese hamsters are not related to the other dwarf hamsters mentioned above. Unlike dwarf hamsters which have really small and flatter tails, Chinese “dwarf hamsters” also have longer and thinner tails.

How to choose a dwarf hamster

If you haven’t decided which species to get, I would recommend either a Winter White or a Campbell’s dwarf hamster as these are easier to tame and handle than roborovski dwarf hamsters. Also, a pure breed is preferable as hybrids are more prone to illnesses and disease.

Things to note when buying a hamster

  • Make sure your hamster is healthy. The dwarf hamster should have clear eyes and nose, and no bald patches or scabs on its skin.
  • Don’t buy from the same cage (or even store) if ANY hamster has wet tail. This is an infectious disease that is fatal to hamsters. If any of the hamsters in the cage has wet tail, the others are already at risk of getting it even if they look healthy for now.
  • Look for a younger hamster. Your dwarf hamster only lives an average of 2 – 2.5 years so you want a hamster that will be with you for a longer time
  • Determine the gender of your hamster. Many people pick a hamster at random and have trouble identifying its gender later when they’re trying to name it. Ask an employee at the store to determine the gender of your new pet so you don’t have to worry about it later. Note: This is not 100% foolproof, sometimes the hamster is too young for you to determine its gender immediately, or the employee might just get it wrong.

Preparing for Your Pet Dwarf Hamster

Before you bring your dwarf hamster home, you’ll need to ensure that you have a suitable location to place its new home. The location should be away from direct sunlight or draft as well as quiet and safe from potential predators (including other pets such as cats and dogs). Do note that your dwarf hamster is nocturnal and will be squeaking, scratching, or using the wheel a lot at night. If you’re a light sleeper, don’t put the cage in your bedroom!

Essential items to get

Cage or tank
You probably already know this but you’ll need to house your pet in a cage or a tank. Dwarf hamster cages come in many sizes but you should pick the largest one you can afford. If you are getting a cage, ensure the bars lining the cage aren’t too big for your dwarf hamster to squeeze through.

Super Pet CritterTrail One Level Habitat Pink EditionIf you don’t want the hassle of setting up your own tank, the Super Pet CritterTrail One Level Habitat Pink Edition is a good cage that comes with a food dish, water bottle and an exercise wheel. However, it’s actually pretty small although it is expandable. Hamster Hideout, a popular hamster forum, recommends at least 360 square inches of space for a cage so if you go with their recommendation, you’ll definitely have to get the expansions. Alternatively, you can get a glass tank or a plastic bin and fill it up with your own hamster accessories.

Water bottle

Lixit Aquarium Cage Water BottleYour dwarf hamster will need fresh and clean water so a water bottle is absolutely necessary. Bottles can be standing or hung from the cage. Don’t get a water dish because your hamster will most likely kick bedding into it.

If your cage doesn’t already come with a bottle, you can get the Lixit Aquarium Cage Water Bottle for either cages or tanks. This comes with an adjustable wire hanger that you can adjust to a suitable height for your dwarf hamster.The Lixit Aquarium Cage Water Bottle is chew-proof and climb-proof so you don’t have to worry about your pet gnawing it up or escaping by climbing on the bottle.

Exercise or running wheel
In the wild, dwarf hamsters can travel for miles every day. You’ll need a running wheel to keep your hamster healthy and happy. Make sure you get one without rungs as gaps in the wheel can result in broken limbs or injuries if your hamster falls through them.

Super Pet Silent Hamster WheelThe Super Pet Hamster Silent Spinner is a good choice if your tank or cage doesn’t come with a running wheel. This 6.5″ wheel is large enough for one or two dwarf hamsters and is designed to spin silently when your dwarf hamster runs on it. So if your hamster cage is in your bedroom or somewhere you don’t want a lot of noise, this wheel will ensure you have your peace when your pet is most active at night. The Super Pet Hamster Silent Spinner can be attached directly to a cage or placed on its stand in a tank.

Hamster ‘house’
Your new pet will need a hiding place. Many people get ceramic hamster hideouts for this purpose. You can also make them out of toilet rolls.

Small Animal Kingdom 2-Storey Hamster House

The Small Animal Kingdom 2-Storey Hamster House makes a good hiding spot for your dwarf hamster if you prefer something that’s more aesthetically-pleasing than a toilet roll. This two-storey hamster house has plenty of openings for your pet to explore, hide in, and stash his goodies.

It is important to choose a bedding that is non-toxic and comfortable for your new pet hamster.  Cedar and pine shavings are not recommended as they may cause your pet to develop respiratory problems such as asthma. If you are interested behind the science, this page provides good information.

Carefresh Ultra Pet Bedding for Dwarf HamsterThe Carefresh Ultra Pet Bedding is what I use for my pet robo dwarf hamster and I highly recommend it. The bedding is non-toxic, soft, highly absorbent and prevents odor for a longer time than normal bedding made from wood shavings.

It is a little more expensive than other types of bedding but for your pet’s health, this is a great investment. Also, because of its odor control and absorbent properties, you don’t have to change the bedding as much.

For other choices, check out our page on the best hamster bedding.

Dwarf hamster food
Buy a hamster food mix that contain a variety of different food so your dwarf hamster can get all the nutrients it needs. If you wish, you can supplement your hamster’s diet with some fresh food or give them a treat of other seeds, nuts, and even the occasional mealworm (!).

Oxbow Healthy Handfuls Hamster FoodFor a health dwarf hamster, Oxbow Healthy Handfuls Hamster and Gerbils Complete Stabilized Food is one of the best commercial hamster food you can get.  This food is optimally-balanced with the essential nutrients your pet needs. It does not contain seeds or high-sugar fruits or any artificial preservatives. Many hamster owners have reported that their pet loves this feed (i.e. does not reject it).

Other (optional) items

Chew blocks / toys
Non-toxic wooden toys for your hamster to file down its teeth. Alternatively, you could use card board tubes or popsicle sticks.

Super Pet Hamster Chew ToyIf you prefer a better-looking chew toy, the Super Pet Perfect Chews for Hamsters may be what you’re looking for. Colorful and attractive, this chew toy can be hung from any cage or tank. It’s also pretty entertaining to watch your hamster swing it around. If your dwarf hamster is biting its cage bars or chewing up other cage accessories, this might be a good product to stop it from doing that.

Hamster treats
These are special food to be given sparingly or used as a reward for your hammy. Check out our list of healthy hamster treats if you want to get some for your new pet.

Hamster ball
A hamster ball supposedly lets your dwarf hamster roam outside its cage in the safety of a bubble. Unfortunately at this point of time, I cannot find a hamster ball that is actually safe enough. It is important to monitor your hamster even if it’s in the ball. In many cases, this item is not necessary. If you need to put your pet outside, try putting it in a box or an enclosed area. If it’s for exercise, a running wheel placed in your pet’s cage is more than sufficient for this task.

Bathing sand and “bath house”
Hamsters keep themselves clean and should never be bathed in water. Some of them might enjoy sand baths though.

Super Pet Ceramic BathThe Super Pet Ceramic Small Gerbil Bath is not just for gerbils. Dwarf hamsters will fit perfectly into it too. You can also find out how to build your own DIY hamster bath house. Be sure to put only a few spoonfuls of sand in the bath each time, or your hamster will end up kicking the sand everywhere. If you need to get the bathing sand too, the Super Pet Critter Bath Sand is a pretty good choice.

Food dish
You can get a food dish for your hamster or just hide food around the cage and let it look for it. If your food dish is placed on the cage floor with bedding, your hamster is most likely going to kick bedding into it. I suggest placing the dish on a stand or a different level if you have a multistorey cage.

Living World Ergonomic DishThe Living World Ergonomic Dish is a low-cost and sturdy food dish. This is made from heavy ceramic dish so it won’t topple over easily when your hamster tries to get into it. I’ve used plastic ones and they almost always get tipped over. Not a problem with this. The Living World Ergonomic Dish comes in two sizes but for a dwarf hamster, the small one should suffice.

Have Fun with Your New Pet

Now that you know about the types of dwarf hamsters, how to pick one out, and what supplies you need, it’s time for you to go out and get a pet that’s most suitable for you and will provide many months of fun and love.

To help you take care of your new pet, we also have many other pages linked in our menu and sidebar that are useful for the new dwarf hamster owner.

If there is anything you need to ask about dwarf hamsters, please feel free to contact us or leave a comment.

Written by Sarah Yee