If you’re researching hamsters, and want to know more about the Dwarf types, let me help you. There are 3 main types of Dwarf hamsters, and they can be more than a bit confusing.
We’ll take a look at each Dwarf type, and how it’s different from all the rest, and then talk about general care and how to keep them happy.
An overview of Dwarf hamsters
Dwarf hamsters are 3 main types of hamster, actually. They all come from roughly the same area, which is northern China, southern Russia, Mongolia, Siberia and they are very well adapted to those lands.
Despite that, you will often find the 3 types named as Russian Dwarf, and that’s it. This can be both confusing and frustrating, especially when trying to figure out if they need anything specific, or even just what kind of hamster you’ve got.
Here’s the 3 main Dwarf hamster types:
- The Roborovski Dwarf, Also names Russian Dwarf, he is the tiniest and has a distinct appearance from the rest.
- The Campbell Dwarf, also sometimes called Russian Dwarf. Is often confused with the Djungarian.
- The Djungarian Dwarf, also named Winter White, or Siberian, or (again) Russian Dwarf. The only one who can adapt his fur to winter (turns white)
Each of the 3 types was discovered in different years, which I’ll cover in the section about each type. But all of them ended up as pets because of their cute and fuzzy faces, incredibly quick feet, and acceptance of living in groups.
Given their small size, agility, speed, and restlessness, these hamsters are best kept as observational pets. Trying to handle them is harder than with a Syrian, just because they’re so very small and won’t sit still at all.
Never give a Dwarf hamster to a child, since these hammies need a person with quick reflexes and lots of patience to be handled properly.
But why are they called Dwarf hamsters, though ? Well, because they were all discovered after the Syrian hamster. And were always measured against that little guy. This makes the Dwarf hamsters only half as big as a Syrian, hence the name Dwarf.
There are some very clear differences between the Dwarf types and the Syrian, you can read more about them here. If you’re not very sure which breed you have, or if you have a Dwarf, then check out this article for help.
About the Roborovski Dwarf hamster
The Roborovski (or Robo for short) is the tiniest of the bunch. He was first discovered in 1894 by a Russian expeditioner (Roborovski), and was first brought into the general public’s attention in 1960. That’s when they became regulars at the London Zoo, and have since become popular pets.
The Robo is a small (very small) hamster, reaching about 2 inches/5 cm and that’s it. From nose to tail, that’s the whole hamster. His fur (like all Dwarf types) is brown-ish on the back, with white on his belly. He does have a white spot above each eye, much like the spots above a Doberman or Rottweiler’s eyes.
The Roborovski hamster doesn’t have a stripe down his back, nor a patch on his head like the other Dwarf types. His feet are furry (unlike the Syrian) and he doesn’t have a distinct neck, looking more like a very stocky, hastily put-together furball.
Still, they’re incredibly fast and wriggly, and can live in bunches if you’ve got a cage large enough.
About the Djungarian/Siberian/Winter white hamster
This is the most confusing hamster type, mostly because everyone keeps calling him a different name. He is classified as Phodopus sungorus, which comes from the region in China this hamster was discovered in, which is Dzungaria. Phodopus is the general name given to all Dwarf types.
So the official name would be Djungarian Dwarf hamster, but many people still call him Winter White, or Siberian. He is also found in Siberia, and he does Change his fur when winter comes, to mostly white.
Usually the Djungarian is about 3 inches/7 cm long, and has a grey-ish brown color on his back. He does have a stripe going down his back, a dark, thick stripe of dark grey or black. His belly is white, and his feet are furry, and he has a dark patch on his head, where the stripe starts from.
As pets, the breeders have tried for several color patterns, and have come up with mostly white, grey, white with grey dustings.
Once winter comes and the days shorten – the lack of light is the trigger here – the Djungarian’s fur changes to mostly or completely white, so blend in with the snow. In captivity this doesn’t really happen, since the light cycles don’t have as much of an impact.
These hamsters also regulate their internal body temp in the winter in order to survive the cold.
About the Campbell Dwarf hamster
The Campbell is often mistaken with the Djungarian, simply because they look so much alike. However the difference is that Campbells have light grey on their bellies, instead of white like the Djungarians.
Their stripe down the back is less obvious and thinner, and there is no dark patch on their head. They don’t change their fur when winter comes, and in the wild they live a bit farther south than the Djugarians.
Djungarians and Campbells can breed together, but the offspring are born with health problems and less fertile. The hybrids can breed between themselves, but the resulting litters are smaller and smaller, and have more and more health problems.
This is only possible with a Djungarian male and a Campbell female. A Campbell male and Djungarian female will not result in a live birth.
About the Dwarf hamster’s body and health problems
Usually the Dwarf hamsters are around 3 inches/7 cm long, with short stocky bodies. Their fur (the hairs themselves) seem to be longer than the Syrians, only because the hamsters are so small. As such, the Dwarf types look extra fluffy, and the furred feet help with this appearance.
These hamsters are used to colder temperatures, although they still need a temp around 20-23 C/68-75 F. They can suffer common colds and have health issues like any other hamster. But they are prone to diabetes most of all, given their small size and how their bodies are built.
Given their small size, finding the hamster’s gender can be difficult, especially with babies. Unfortunately that’s the most important moment these hamsters need to be separated, otherwise unwanted litters can happen. Especially if you’re planning on bringing a pair home.
Spaying or neutering the hamster is dangerous, since they’re so very small and they most probably wouldn’t survive the surgery.
What do Dwarf hamsters eat ?
Dwarf hamsters are omnivores, meaning they will eat almost anything. There ares some unsafe foods for them, like spicy or acidic foods. For example citrus, onion, garlic, leek, spicy peppers and so on are not safe for hamsters.
They will often eat grains, and that’s the majority of their diet. They also eat fruits and vegetables, if they can find them. Nuts and seeds are another option, again if they can find them. As for protein, they are alright with eating a couple of insects or worms if they happen upon them
At home you can feed your Dwarf hamster a commercial food mix, since those are well thought-out and have the wild hamster’s diet in mind. Aside from that you can feed the hammy food from your fridge or pantry, although not all foods are safe. A safe and unsafe food list can be found here.
Do take care with Dwarf hamsters, whether they’re Robos, Campbells or Djungarians. They’re prone to diabetes so sweet foods, even those on the safe list, are to be avoided or only given in minimal amounts.
This includes most fruits (which should be given without seeds and peeled when possible), and carrots or sweet potatoes, or corn.
Bread, pasta and rice should be given sparingly or not at all, since they contribute greatly to the glucose levels in the hamster’s body. It’s not just the sugar that does that, but the carb-heavy foods as well.
Also make sure these little guys get plenty of exercise to delay(or even avoid) the onset of diabetes, or even just obesity since they are prone to that as well.
As for serving sizes, Dwarf hamsters only need a teaspoon per hamster, per day. That’s the dried food mix that comes in the box. Anything else you supplement alongside that should be checked with the safe foods list.
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What size cage does a Dwarf hamster need ?
For the most part Dwarf hamsters need a cage about half as large as a Syrian’s cage, which is 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall.
However I would recommend that measurement to be applied to a single Dwarf as well, seeing as the more space he has, the better he will feel.
That being said, you can keep two Dwarf hamsters in a Syrian-sized cage, expect occasional bickering. To a degree this is normal, and we’ll discuss that in the next part of the article.
Whenever you look for a cage for your Dwarf hamster, you should make sure it’s very well secured. Given how incredibly small these guys are, they can wedge themselves in some really odd places.
So if at all possible, something like a large aquarium would be good. A good potion would be the the Ikea Detolf. It’s basically one big standing shelf rack, you lay it on its side, and you lake the shelves out. Constructing a wire mesh is easy enough, tutorials are available in many places online.
But, the big downside is that it’s a big and heavy ‘cage’, and you’re going to keep it in one place. You’ve got to have the space necessary in your home. It can be more expensive, but it’s got enough space for two Dwarf hammies.
However if a Detolf or a very very big aquarium isn’t possible for you – it isn’t for most people – either because of budget or space you can try a regular cage. Most cages on the market are too small for hamsters, even for a Dwarf hamster.
So I recommend looking for as big a cage you can find, even if your hamster is just a Dwarf.
For example this one is large enough for even two Dwarf hamsters, although I recommend you only keep one. The space between the bars is small enough so the hamster won’t get out, and there are many sides to open the cage from.
There is an extra level, which is adjustable and you can put it wherever you like. Hammies prefer the ground floor the most, so try not to put the level up too high. They might burrow under the level though, so don’t be surprised if that happens.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and see for yourself.
Toys and cage objects Dwarf hamsters would like
Hamsters, Dwarf or not, need lots of things to do. They have a whole lot of energy and they are all over the place. This is especially true for the Dwarf hamsters out there, given how much more spazzy they are compared to the larger Syrian.
So, the number one way to make sure your Dwarf hamster spends all that extra energy is an exercise wheel. I say this because hamsters are pretty much born to run, and Dwarf types are the best runners. This is what they do most of the night.
A bored hamster, or one with too much energy and not much to do, will end up chewing the bars, or picking a fight with his cage mate, being nippy, and generally hard to handle. Best to give him plenty of opportunities to exercise and use his little hamster brain like for puzzles.
But first, the exercise. A Dwarf hamster can make do with a smaller wheel, yes. Even a 7 inch/18 cm one would be enough. But often enough the hamsters choose a large wheel to run in, in order to keep their backs at least straight, if not hunched like they always keep them on the ground.
This means a 9 inch/ 23 cm wheel will be great for their backs and will avoid lots of health problems in the future. For example this one is a heavy bottom wheel, and that means it won’t move around the cage when the hamsters run in it.
It’s also got a tail and foot guard, so the hamster doesn’t get himself caught in anything.
You can check the listing on Amazon here, and check the wheel for yourself.
Another thing to make sure your Dwarf hamster has is toys, lots and lots of toys. Many of them can be made at home, some need to be bought – more on that here.
But climbing toys, or cardboard tunnels, or hide and seek toys made of an egg carton with holes in it, they’re all great toys for hamsters.
Remember that hamsters are very curious, and they will stick their faces into every little thing that fits, and look for food. Or just explore. So you can make your little Dwarf happy with chew toys, tubes, climbing toys, puzzle toys, and so on.
For bedding I recommend using wood shavings, and sticking to aspen as the preferred wood. Stay away from cedar and pine, since their strong scent will suffocate the hamster. Paper bedding is an option too.
If you’re keeping more than one hamster, keep in mind that you’ll need two of each. Two hideouts/huts, two wheels, two food bowls, two water bottles, and so on. This reduces the reasons the Dwarf hamsters might fight, and generally give you happier hamsters.
Can Dwarf hamsters live together ?
Yes and no.
Yes, as in they are able to live with a same-sex sibling or two, as long as they’ve never been separated and have always shared something, from their first days as hamsters. And they have a very big cage, or the Detolf I mentioned earlier.
Even so, one hamster will be more dominant – this is normal – and will try to boss around the other one. Things can get out of hand when the bullied hamster becomes stressed, or the bully crosses the line. Fights can happen, and to a degree they’re normal.
Squeaking, chasing, standing on top of each other and so on is acceptable. But when the fights become frequent, you need to worry. If blood has been drawn, those two will need to be kept in separate cages.
I’d also say no, Dwarf hamsters can’t live together solely for the fact that the stress levels in a shared cage – no matter how big the cage – are just too high for hamsters.
Seeing as hamsters are terribly bad at managing stress, this often results in sickness or injuries. Loss of appetite, dehydration, loss of fur, irritability, depression, even actual bites and cuts and bruises.
Hamsters are indeed territorial creatures, and don’t share very easily. Deadly fights can happen between siblings, even if they’ve never shown any obvious sign of irritation before.
If you’re planning to keep a pair of hamsters, always keep them as a same-sex pair to avoid pregnancies. You can find info on determining the hamster’s gender here.
My personal advice would be to keep any and all hamsters – Dwarf or not – alone, one hamster per cage. If you want to keep them together, you can, and they will survive for the most part. It’s up to you and how much you think you can handle.
Average lifespan of Dwarf hamsters
The usual lifespan of hamsters is between 2 to 4 years, but this is only because the Roborovski Dwarf is raising the bar.
Roborovskies can live up to 4 years, the longest lifespan of any pet hamster. The Campbell live for about 2-2.5 years, while the Djungarians can reach 2-3 years.
When the hamsters reach their second birthday, they’re considered old, and you will see some health problems come up.
But, since the hamster is first born, it takes 3 months to reach adulthood. Babies can breed right after they’re weaned, which is about 4 weeks old. This is why separating them into same sex groups is mandatory.
Once they’ve become adults, and have mated, the gestation period is between 18 and 22 days, with the Robo having the longest (20-22). While Robo and Djungarian males should be kept away from the female after mating, the Campbells have been observed to help the female along. At least in the wild, and at least with the birthing process.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. I know us hamsters look very much alike, but we’re actually different types.
If you want to know more about us hamsters you should check out the related articles below. You’ll learn how to keep us safe and happy, and what we need for a good life.