Dwarf hamsters are split into three different breeds: Russian, Chinese and Roborovski. They originated in parts of Europe and Asia.
Due to their small size, they are very fast and wriggly and so are more suited to older children and adults. If you want a hamster for younger children, it may be worth considering a Syrian hamster instead.
Russian and Roborovski hamsters prefer to live in groups or pairs. It’s best to keep the group to same sex pairings, as you run the risk of having unwanted litters if they are left alone in the same cage.
It is best to keep Chinese hamsters singularly, especially the females, as they are not very tolerable of each other and may fight.
Hamsters are very inquisitive and will like to explore every part of their cage, so it is important to give them a spacious home.
The cage will also need to be chew-proof, as hamsters will always look for a way out! They love burrowing, so ensure there is a deep base to the cage to allow for this, and ensure the cage is suitable for dwarf hamsters, as other cages might have gaps between bars that allow the hamster to escape.
In the wild, hamsters can run up to 10km a night, so give your hamster a wheel for them to run in. Make sure you buy one that is solid on the back and underfoot to prevent any injuries. Provide them with lots of wooden toys to gnaw on, and lots of other playthings to bite, hide in, and generally run around with! Another fun game is to hide treats around the cage for them to forage and find.
You will need to have a deep layer of wood shavings for burrowing and using one area of the cage for a toilet. Have a nest box with nesting material inside. Do not use hay or straw for hamsters as it can damage their cheek pouches. Hamsters tend to use one area of a cage for urinating, so this area will need to be cleaned frequently, preferably daily, and the whole cage will need to be cleaned once a week. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and draughts, and away from loud noises.
Hamsters can be easy to scare, and will often bite if they are, so you will need to earn their trust before handling them.
When you approach them, crouch down and speak very softly. Let them come to you – perhaps hold a treat in your hand for them to have, and be patient. They may not come to you the first time you try this. Once they are happy for you to have your hands near them, gently scoop the hamster into your hands and slowly lift them close to your chest or on your lap.
Russian hamsters like to be held but are sensitive to rough handling so must be treated gently. Chinese hamsters also like to be handled and are usually quite docile. They love to climb and will cling to your fingers. Roborovski hamsters are very active, quick and wriggle a lot and are difficult to catch and keep hold of.
NEVER wake your hamster up abruptly and pick it up as this could frighten them and they may react by biting you.
It is best to brush your hamster every day, especially if they are a long-haired breed. Not only will it help to keep them clean and healthy, but it will strengthen the bond between you and your hamster.
Neutering is not routinely performed in hamsters as any anaesthetic can prove risky for them. If you do not want your hamsters to have litters, then keep males and females in separate cages.
You should be feeding your hamster a good quality pelleted food. Ensure you choose a nugget food, rather than muesli-style as they pick out the muesli parts that they like and leave the parts that they don’t, meaning that they may not get all of their required nutrients. You can also give your hamster some fresh greens, but not too many! Try to choose foods that are low in fat, such as carrot and apple. Take care if you are thinking of changing foods, and always ensure you change foods gradually over a period of 10 days.
Common Health Problems
Dental Problems: Hamsters’ teeth grow continuously for their entire life, so it is important to give them the correct diet to ensure their teeth do not become overgrown. Typical symptoms of overgrown teeth are excessive drooling and loss of appetite. Providing wooden toys and treats to gnaw on can help to wear your pet’s teeth down.
Hibernation: Syrian hamsters can catch a cold so it is important to keep their cage away from draughts. Ensure that they are in a warm area, even in winter as if they become too cold they can enter a stage of hibernation. If your hamster is becoming inactive and feels cold to the touch when handled, then warm them up by holding them in your hands, and move their cage to a warmer area. It may also be a good idea to provide extra bedding in the winter.
Wet Tail: This is a condition that causes severe diarrhoea in hamsters. It can be caused by illness, inappropriate foods or stress, often brought on by moving house or rough handling. If your pet starts showing signs of wet tail, contact your vet immediately.