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Pocket Pets: Dwarf hamsters and Syrian hamsters
So you’ve decided, for whatever reason, that you want a pocket pet. Maybe you live in an apartment, maybe you don’t have a lot of extra time, or maybe you think pocket pets are cute. Whatever the reason, you’ve decided to be a good pet parent and do some research on your intended pet.
Why Pocket Pets?
There are lots of good things about pocket pets:
- Low odor
- Easily contained
- Low maintenance
- Relatively inexpensive
So what’s the perfect pocket pet for you?
This hub covers the different species of hamsters kept as pets. Another hub will cover fancy mice, rats, guinea pigs, and gerbils. There are five different species of hamsters kept as pets in the United States, and each of these species have similar care, but different looks and personalities. This hub is designed to give you some basic information about personality and care as well as some personal experience.
This hub is not a comprehensive guide to hamster care, breeding, or behavior. It is enough information to get you started without overwhelming you combined with my experience with hundreds of individual hamsters. Please make your choice carefully, as a pet is for life, even a little pocket pet!
Winter White Hamster
These guys have become more popular in recent years at petstores. Why not? They’re adorable with big eyes and stubby tails. There are four commonly available types of dwarf hamsters in stores and they each have their own quirks and habits. All dwarf hamsters are not created equal!
Chinese Dwarf Hamsters
--Chinese dwarf hamsters (Cricetulu griseus) is technically not a dwarf hamster and is more mouse-like than anything. They are very long and slender with a little tail and big, round eyes and ears. Like all hamsters, they are more active at night, and prefer to live solitarily, especially males. Chinese dwarfs are gray with a black stripe down their back or gray and white. Chinese dwarf hamsters generally live 1.5-2 years and require a good diet, clean cage, and a wheel to thrive.
**My experience with these guys is that they are pretty fast and slick, especially as babies, but almost never offer to bite. In fact, I can’t recall ever being bitten by a Chinese dwarf. Instead, they are fairly timid and jumpy and need to be handled slowly. However, with a little taming, Chinese accept handling and stop trying to suicide jump off your palm. I worked in a petstore for six years and Chinese dwarfs were a consistent staff favorite for their friendly nature but I would not recommend them for young children because they are fast and skittish.
Robo Dwarf Hamsters
--Roborovski hamsters or “Robo” dwarf hamsters (Phodopus robovskii) are the smallest hamster in captivity. Adults rarely top a few inches and babies are born under an inch. Robos are sandy colored with white “eyebrows” and chubby, round little bodies. Like all hamsters, Robos are nocturnal and prefer to live solitarily. However, it is possible to raise same sex hamsters together, especially if they are related. Robos love to dig and run and are very “busy” little hamsters. Robos live 1.5-2 years and are easy to care for as long as they have good food, a clean cage, and a wheel.
**My experience with robos is that they are extremely cute and little and fun to watch. However, that is what I would recommend them as: a watch pet. If you want something you can handle and cuddle, these are not the pets for you. They are extremely fast and hard to tame. On the positive side, like the Chinese dwarf hamsters, robos almost never bite. I do not recommend these hamsters for young children.
Campbell's Dwarf Hamsters
--Russian dwarf hamsters or Campbell’s dwarf hamster (Phodopus Campbelli) are probably the most common and popular dwarf hamster. Campbell's dwarfs come in a multitude of colors and patterns and are shaped like fuzzy bouncy balls with feet. Campbell’s dwarfs prefer to be housed together in same-sex groups, so long as they are introduced when they are young, and are much bolder than other types of dwarf hamsters. Campbell’s hamsters are easy to take care of and require good food, a clean cage, and a running wheel. Campbell’s live 2-3 years.
**My experience with Campbell’s hamster is that they have very strong, different personalities. Some of them are very sweet, some of them have attitude. Because they are very curious, they are fairly easy to tame. However, I have found that they are territorial about their cage; this is easy to avoid by scooping the hamster up with a plastic igloo or a hamster ball instead of your hand. Most of the time these guys will run right into them!
Russian Winter White Hamsters
--[Russian] Winter white hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) are very similar to Campbell’s hamsters and are often easily confused. However, they only come in a few colors: white, slate gray, and brown. If the dwarf hamster is spotted, black, or has red eyes, it is most likely a Campbell's hamster or a hybrid. Winter whites earned their name by turning from gray in the summer to white in the winter, although this is not common in captivity. Same-sex groups may work out if introduced when young, but most winter whites prefer to be solitary. Winter whites are easy to take care of and require good food, a clean cage, and a running wheel. Winter whites live 2-3 years.
**My experience with winter white hamsters is that they are the best dwarf hamster if you want one you can handle. They are my personal favorite hamster and rarely offer to bite. Like the Campbell’s they are not particularly timid or fast and tame very easily. I have had several customers come in and thank me for suggesting they purchase a winter white, as it turned into a really good pet for them.
Dwarf Hamster Care
Dwarf hamsters are very easy to take care of. Start up costs are the most expensive part of owning a hamster. Budget approximately $50 to purchase the cage, bedding, food, houses, a wheel, and any treats or toys.
Cages appropriate for dwarf hamsters:
- Aquariums with screen lids- aquariums are great for dwarfs for two reasons. One, there are no bars for them to squeeze out of. Two, there’s plenty of room to make the bedding 2-4” deep to provide tunneling space. A ten gallon is appropriate for one dwarf hamster. If you are interested in owning multiple hamsters, a twenty long would work.
- Crittertrails- the brightly colored plastic cages work well with Campbell’s and winter whites but are not recommended for Chinese or Robos (as they tend to escape). Bigger is better, so you may want to shell out a few more bucks for some more space for your hamster. These cages connect together with plastic tubes.
- Other wire cages- these cages should be fine for Campbell’s and winter whites but may be too easy for a Chinese or Robo to escape from. Look for cages that unlatch at the bottom for easy cleaning.
- Ovo Habitrail- this is a fine starter cage but tends to be on the small side. However, it is enclosed, so it is suitable for all dwarf hamsters. These cages connect together with plastic tubes.
- SAM Downunder cage- probably the cage I recommended to customers the most after an aquarium. It is enclosed and has space for digging like an aquarium, but it look cooler and has a built in wheel and water bottle. These cages connect together with plastic tubes.
Robo taking a dust bath
Food, treats, & bedding:
Dwarf have a tendency to get a
little… fat. The best food for dwarf hamsters is a block formula rather than a
seed mix. Kaytee makes a reasonable block but Mazuri or Ox Bow are better. The
reason for this is dwarf hamsters, like people, love salt and sugar. If
you give them a seed mix, they will pull out all their favorite bits and leave
the rest. Blocks are basically the seed mix ground up and put together so the
hamsters get a balanced diet. Blocks also help keep their teeth ground down.
Hamsters love treats. Fresh fruits and veggies in small amounts work great as a treat. Store bought treats are extremely high in sugar and are not recommended, as dwarf hamsters are prone to diabetes. A small bag of a seed mix makes a great treat. “Harry Hamster” or Sun Seed are good choices for a seed mix. A good set of chew sticks are also a good idea.
Bedding for dwarfs is a little trickier. Do NOT use pine or cedar. These are toxic to small animals and have been linked to cancer and respiratory infections. Aspen or a paper-based bedding is best. Many customers liked Carefresh and said that it worked really well for them. I prefer aspen, but only because I was taking care of many pocket pets at one time and aspen was less expensive (but less effective).
Consider a hamster dust bath. Dwarf
hamsters do really well if you give them dust baths once or twice a week. All you need it is a small container, like a small dish, and some "chinchilla dust." It
helps them stay clean and healthy and they really love to do it!
Dwarf hamsters are pretty healthy
little animals, but they are prone to diabetes and obesity. These problems are
easily avoided by feeding a good diet and providing an exercise wheel. They
also do not appreciate really warm temperatures and can have heat stroke, so be
sure to keep them out of direct sunlight and inside. In my personal experience, Chinese dwarfs seem to have eye problems. These problems are usually cleared up with a little bit of ointment from your pocket pet vet.
I highly, highly advise against mixing dwarf (or syrian for that matter) hamsters. These species are not compatible. They do not have the same aggression levels or communications or social codes. I have seen them mixed by disreputable petstores when young and I saw evidence on the hamsters of fight wounds and scabs. As hamsters get older and hit maturity, there is a good chance that you will have a hamster massacre on your hands (complete with half eaten heads and corpses-- which are really gross, believe me).
I can also tell you what will happen if you introduce a syrian to the dwarf... your dwarf will be killed and eaten, probably immediately. Syrian hamsters frequently eat smaller rodents, bugs, and reptiles in the wild as a source of protein and nutrients. It's not personal, just how they are programmed to survive.
Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), also known as teddy bear or golden hamsters, are the most popular pocket pet. They are bigger than dwarf hamsters but still stay small and quiet. Syrians come in short hair and long hair varieties and there is a plethora of patterns, such as “Panda” and “Honey Bear” and “Black bear.”
Syrians are usually very easy going hamsters and must be housed alone. Syrians get 6-8”, much bigger that people expect, and are very solid. Syrians have very large cheek pouches and love to stuff food in their cheeks to hide for later. My co-worker once wanted to see how many cheerios a hamster would stuff in her cheeks. The hamster was very happy to oblige and managed to stuff 30 cheerios in her mouth!
Syrians are also more appropriate for children than dwarf hamsters, simply because they are larger and sturdier and easier to tame. Syrians are easy to take care of and require the same care as dwarf hamsters: good food, a clean cage, and a running wheel. Syrians live 2-3 years.
**My experience with Syrian hamsters is mixed. Out of all the animals I was routinely bitten by, these guys were the number one offender. However, they mostly bit out of fear and were easy to tame after a few days, and while the bites hurt and bleed, they were easily bandaged up. Out of all the hamsters I personally adopted, my Panda hamster named “Chika” was my favorite, as she was very personable and sweet. She lived to be almost 3 years old.
This might be a little overkill..but you get the idea
Cages appropriate for Syrian hamsters:
- Aquariums- aquariums are great because they give a lot of floor space. I would say a minimum of a 20Long for an adult Syrian hamster.
- Crittertrails- honestly, I don’t recommend them. Syrians are geniuses at escaping and Crittertrails prove to be exceedingly easy for them. Plus, adult Syrians do not fit well in the tubes or wheel of the standard Crittertrail.
- Bin cages- bin cages are homemade cages made out of large, plastic storage containers and mesh. They are easy to make and modify and expand. The only drawback is a determined hamster could possibly chew out.
- All Living Things 24” wire cage- my personal recommendation. It’s metal, so they won’t chew out, and it has a large floor plan to be able to include a wheel, a house (or two), a potty, and some toys.
Foods and Treats
Food, treats, & bedding:
Syrian hamsters have a tendency to get a little… fat. The best food for dwarf hamsters is a block formula rather than a seed mix. Kaytee makes a reasonable block but Mazuri or Ox Bow are better. The reason for this is that hamsters, like people, love salt and sugar. If you give them a seed mix, they will pull out all their favorite bits and leave the rest. Blocks are basically the seed mix ground up and put together so the hamsters get a balanced diet.
Hamsters love treats. Fresh fruits and veggies in small amounts work great as a treat. Store bought treats are extremely high in sugar and fat and will quickly send your hamster into obesity. A small bag of a seed mix makes a great treat. “Harry Hamster” or Sun Seed are good choices for a seed mix. A good set of chew blocks are also a good idea.
Do NOT use pine or cedar. These are toxic to small animals and have been linked to cancer and respiratory infections. Aspen or a paper-based bedding is best. Many customers liked Carefresh and said that it worked really well for them. I prefer aspen, but only because I was taking care of many pocket pets at one time and aspen was less expensive (but less effective).
Consider a hamster potty. Hamsters are habitual critters and tend to go potty in the same spot. A potty trained hamster makes the cage easier to keep clean. Want to know how to potty train your hamster? This hub covers it all.
Syrian hamsters are pretty healthy little animals that don’t need supplements provided they have a good diet and healthy treats. A big health problem for Syrian hamsters is excessive diarrhea called “wet tail.” Wet tail is an intestinal bacterial infection that can actually kill a Syrian hamster through dehydration and prolapsed rectums. Hamsters with wet or poopy butts or loose stools need to be taken to a vet immediately for appropriate anti-biotics!
Some helpful link and hubs
- What You Should Know About Hamster Eating Habits
Here you'll learn about the typical eating habits of hamsters such as how they like to eat, where they like to eat, when they like to be fed, an how much they should be fed.
- Dwarf Hamsters: Introducing a New Dwarf to a Dwarf You Already Have
If you already have one dwarf hamster and are thinking about adding a friend to make things more cozy, you should first make sure you are prepared to have two separate cages. This is just in case the two...
- The Benefits Of Different Hamster Toys
Hamster toys do much more than provide hours of entertainment for your little guy. They also give your pet a much needed workout. Not all hamster toys provide the same type of exercise though. Much like...
- Hamster Club :: All the Hamster Information you need
On this hamster site, you will find all you need to know about Hamsters; the different types of hamsters, their food, breeding, housing and health. Also you will find different interesting articles that will cover many aspects about hamsters, hamster
- Hamsters - Hamster Care, Funny Stories, Training and more
Blog about hamsters
My Pocket Pet Hubs
- Pocket Pets: Product Review: SuperPets Clean Cage Safe Deodorizer
Animals can introduce a lot of joy, love, and fun into your life. They can also introduce responsibility and messes. Caged pets, like hamsters and ferrets, have a lot of advantages of dogs, such as they don't...