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The Russian dwarf hamster is just one species of hamster that small pet lovers enjoy keeping. These small rodents may not have particularly long life spans but these cute critters are sociable and easy to care for making them the ideal pet! In this article we will cover everything you ever wanted to know about the Russian dwarf hamster from taxonomy, physical appearance and diet.
What is the Russian Dwarf Hamster?
There are a number of common names for the Russian dwarf hamster including Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster or Phodopus campbelli. The average lifespan of this small rodent is around one and a half to two years although this span can range depending upon a number of factors. The Russian Dwarf hamster when not kept in captivity is native to eastern and central Asia. This particular variety of hamster is not under any conservation threat at the current time.
Taxonomy of the Russian Dwarf Hamster
The Russian dwarf hamster is a member of the order Rodentia in the family Cricetidae and the subfamily Cricetinae. Within the subfamily Cricetinae this hamster falls in to the Phodopus genus and the species Phodopus campbelli.
The Order Rodentia
The order Rodentia is the order of animals that we most commonly refer to as rodents. All members of the order Rodentia are recognized by the presence of two incisors in the upper and lower jaws that grow continuously throughout the lifetime of the species. In order to keep these ever-growing incisors in check all rodents must have constant access to gnawing materials in order to grind down the length of their teeth. The most common item used by rodents for filing down teeth is wood as is seen in the beaver. There are a large number of creatures that fall in to the order Rodentia; these creatures can be found on all continents of the world with the exception of Antarctica. It is currently believed that some forty percent of all mammal species are members of the order Rodentia. The word “rodent” comes from the Latin term “rodens” which translates to “gnawing one” a behavior characteristic of all rodents.
There are over two thousand species of rodents that fall in to five suborders. The five suborders of the order Rodentia are: Sciuromorpha, Castorimorpha, Myomorpha, Anomaluromorpha and Hystricomorpha. The suborder Sciuromorpha includes a number of rodents that all share a tie to the squirrel family or Sciuridae. The Castorimorpha suborder includes beavers, pocket gophers, kangaroo rats and mice and beavers. The suborder Myomorpha contains all rodents that resemble mice including: voles, gerbils, rats, hamsters, mice and lemmings. The Anomaluromorpha suborder pulls together the anomalures with the springhare. The Hystricomorpha suborder includes any rodent that has a hystricomorphous zygomasseteric system.
The Myomorpha Suborder
The Myomorpha suborder is a suborder of the order Rodentia that is made up of over one thousand rodents that have mouse like characteristics. Most members of the Myomorpha suborder are nocturnal and feed on seeds and can be found worldwide with the exception of Antarctica. Animals within the Myomorpha suborder are categorized based upon their jaw and molar tooth structure.
The Cricetidae Family
The Cricetidae family of rodents includes many of the more commonly recognized pet rodents including hamsters, rats and mice. All members of the Cricetidae family are recognized for being particularly small in size. The smallest of all Cricetidae family members is the world pygmy mouse that measures between two to three inches long and weighs a quarter of an ounce. Most commonly species within this family are brown in color but while their color may be similar their diets are extremely varied. This family includes creatures of all dietary proclivities including: herbivores, insectivores and omnivores. Members of the Cricetidae family are well-known for their rapid population growth. When food is plentiful these small rodents are able to reproduce rapidly and their short gestation period combined with large litter sizes results in a population boom!
The Cricetinae Subfamily
The Cricetinae subfamily is one of the subfamilies of the Cricetidae family and contains some twenty-five species of hamsters. Hamsters are burrowing animals that prefer to stay underground during daylight hours in order to avoid becoming prey to predators; it is for this reason that these creatures are nocturnal. One of the most recognized characteristics about creatures in the Cricetinae subfamily is that they have cheek pouches. These pouches are actually considerably larger than many people think and extend from their cheeks to their shoulders. The purpose of these pouches is to store food so that it can be taken from one location back to the burrow to store or to feed other individuals within the colony. While hamsters thrive in the wild they are also known for being extremely easy to breed in captivity and as a result they are extremely popular choices as pets. Unfortunately the ease of being bred in captivity also makes the hamster a prime choice for captive breeding for use in laboratories as well.
The Genus Phodopus
Rodents that fall in to the Phodopus genus are recognized as being “dwarf hamsters” because they are particularly small in size. These small hamsters are surprisingly sociable in comparison to many other types of rodents; however, they continue to be overshadowed by Syrian hamsters when it comes to the pet world. There are three recognized species of Phodopus hamster: the Djungarian hamster, the Campbell’s dwarf hamster and the Roborovski hamster. These species have rather short tails in comparison to many other rodent species that tend only to grow to a maximum of half an inch in length. These species are native to a number of ecosystems including steppes, forests and semi-deserts in China, Mongolia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. There are a number of factors that play in to the lifespan of these particular rodents including the diet that they feed on, whether they are kept in the wild or in captivity, their species and the type of life that they lead. Generally members of the Phodopus genus live anywhere from one to three and a half years.
Phodopus Campbelli or the Russian Dwarf Hamster
The Russian dwarf hamster is most commonly found living in the steppes of central and eastern Asia where, like many other hamster species they live in burrows and are most active during nighttime hours. The Russian dwarf hamster will create a warm burrow that helps it to maintain and regulate its body temperature even during cold temperatures. Insulation of burrows is generally done by lining the burrow with any number of items including dry grass and sheep’s wool in order to keep a regular temperature of around 62 degrees Fahrenheit. These hamsters are particularly social creatures and they form small families in which the breeding pair will help each other in caring for their pups. In addition to forming family units the Campbell’s dwarf hamster will also commonly live in a colony with other hamsters however, harmonious living is not always guaranteed for the duration of the colony living situation.
The Appearance of the Russian Dwarf Hamster
The Russian dwarf hamster can have a variety of coat types; these include a normal coat, a wavy coat, a rex coat and a satin coat. A normal coated hamster has a coat that is short and flat. A wavy coated hamster has a coat that is mid-length and wavy. A rex coated hamster has a coat that is short and soft and is particularly curly in appearance. A satin coated hamster has a coat that is shiny and looks wet to the naked eye. All of these coats come in a variety of colors and every individual Russian dwarf hamster has a stripe that runs down the length of the hamster’s back. The color of the stripe varies from hamster to hamster depending upon the color of the coat. There are six basic colors for the coat of the Russian dwarf hamster, these include: agouti, black-eyed argente, argente, opal, black and albino. Each of these color variations can also feature markings that make the hamster unique in appearance. Marking types for the Russian Dwarf hamster include: platinum, mottled and ruby-eyed mottled.
Keeping a Pet Russian Dwarf Hamster
Russian dwarf hamsters are a popular choice as a pet for many people looking to keep a small pet with a high energy level. Not only are these small rodents particularly sociable but they have enough energy to keep up with members of the family who aren’t content to let their pet sleep every hour under the sun. The Russian dwarf hamster is a great pet idea for children ages ten and above who are looking for a pet that can be fun, is trainable and is curious. Like many rodents this hamster species is relatively easy to train when born in to captivity and exposed to human interaction fairly regularly throughout its lifetime.
Important Things to Know About Keeping a Russian Dwarf Hamster
Getting a Healthy Hamster
When purchasing a Russian dwarf hamster it is important to ensure that your hamster comes from a hamster pair that were raised and bred in captivity. This not only helps to ensure that you will be getting a healthy hamster but it also ensures that your new hamster will be used to being handled by humans. Just because your hamster is used to being handled however, does not mean that it is used to being handled by you. For this reason it is important that you do everything that you can to ensure that your new pet feels comfortable and safe and is given enough time to acclimate to his or her new surroundings.
Russian Dwarf Hamsters are Social Animals
When thinking about purchasing a Russian dwarf hamster it is important to remember that these are social animals and it is going to be easier for your hamster to adapt if you purchase a pair or a small group of hamsters. As with many animals you will want to ensure that you purchase a same-sex pair unless you are prepared for the possibility of them breeding. Rodents are prolific breeders and keeping a same-sex pair in a single habitat can result in extreme population growth at a very rapid rate. It is also important here to note that simply because they are social animals does not mean that all Russian dwarf hamsters are going to get along when placed in the same enclosure. If you are purchasing multiple individuals it is best to purchase them from the same habitat in order to ensure that they have experience living together and that there is no animosity between them. It is also important to understand that simply because two hamsters got along when you purchased them, does not mean that they will always live harmoniously and it may occur that you will have to separate your hamsters if they take a sudden disliking to each other.
Handling and Caring for your Russian Dwarf Hamster
When bringing a new pet in to your home your first instinct is always going to be to want to handle it constantly however, this is not healthy for your new Russian dwarf hamster. Your new pet is going to be scared and unsure of their new environment and it is important that you allow them adequate time to adjust to their new surroundings. If you do pick up your new hamster make sure that you use both hands to scoop it up gently and keep your hands cupped in order to provide a safe and secure place for them to hide in. Your new hamster will also have a lot of energy so it is helpful to keep your hands cupped in order to prevent them from running away or being dropped!
A good way to provide exercise for your hamster is to provide them with a wheel that can be used for running in their new home. Many hamster owners also choose to use exercise balls to allow their hamsters time outside of their cage for exercising.
Creating a Home for your Russian Dwarf Hamster
There are a large number of hamster suitable habitats on the market but cages are generally recommended in order to provide for adequate air flow through the habitat. Having a well ventilated home prevents build up of fumes that can come from urination and provides a much healthier habitat. The floor of your hamster’s cage should be lined with hamster appropriate bedding and scented wood based litter should be avoided all together since it promotes allergies. One of the most important things to remember when creating a new environment for your Russian dwarf hamster is that these creatures prefer to have a lot of room for exercising which means the bigger the cage the better. It is generally recommended that a hamster cage should have at least three square feet of room per hamster in the cage with one square foot additional room for every additional hamster. It is crucial that the minimum space requirements be met in any situation however; when multiple hamsters are being kept in a single enclosure it is even more crucial to avoid conflict.
It is important to provide a lot of stimulation for hamsters as well since these high energy rodents require exercise to avoid becoming bored and destructive. There are a number of specialized hamster toys that can be placed in a hamster habitat but may people also make use of toilet roll tubes and cages that have tunnels for hamsters to climb through. Keep in mind though that when using tubing in cages it should be wide enough for your hamster to comfortably pass through.
Feeding Your Russian Dwarf Hamster
Feeding a captive Russian dwarf hamster is something of an n easy task since fortified diets are available at all pet stores to ensure that your hamster receives adequate nutrition. There are also a large number of commercially produced hamster treats that can help reward hamsters and promote training. Some fresh foods can also be supplemented but it is crucial to only feed foods that are approved for hamster consumption in order to avoid illness. Some of the approved foods that your hamster may enjoy include: carrots, berries, sugar-free yogurt, tomatoes, oats, broccoli, apple, shredded cheese and bread and milk for pregnant females. Always avoid feeding your hamster junk food, too many greens, sticky foods or foods high in sugar that can cause diabetes.
Why Russian Dwarf Hamsters Make Great Pets
Russian dwarf hamsters make great pets for older children and adults for many reasons. These small, not to mention cute, rodents are capable of learning tricks and being tamed and are also extremely sociable once they adapt to being handled by their owner. Keeping a couple of Russian dwarf hamsters is not only a great way to introduce a pet in to the home but also a great way to entertain your family as you watch these critters playing with each other and making use of entertainment in their cage. Hamsters are often the first pet of choice for families with younger children and while the Russian dwarf is not recommended for young children, children ages ten and above often appreciate the level of companionship that these small rodents offer. With limited responsibility in terms of exercising their new pets, younger owners of Russian dwarves often go on to be hamster owners for life, unable to go without the small clowns of the hamster world. If you are considering bringing a Russian dwarf hamster in to your home but after reading this article you are still unsure about whether this is the right pet choice for you, contact your local breeder or pet store. Always ensure that you ask any questions you may have about any new pet before bringing it in to your home and make sure that you, your family and your new pet are going to be happy with your decision.
Video of Russian Dwarf Hamsters Running on a Wheel
Common Ailments to Watch For in Your Russian Dwarf Hamster
While hamsters in general are rather hardy pets, they are quite small which means that when illness does strike it can escalate very rapidly. For this reason it is important to keep an eye out for any signs of illness and as soon as those signs are seen, get your hamster to the vet as soon as possible. As with people there are a number of common symptoms to look out for when your hamster is ailing and these symptoms can have a number of causes. For this purpose we will look specifically at illnesses known to affect Russian dwarf hamsters.
Most animals at some point in their lifespan will experience diarrhea; however, since hamsters are so small dehydration becomes a significant concern. If a hamster exhibits diarrhea, it is important to ensure that it remains well hydrated and a veterinarian should be contacted. A veterinarian will be able to determine if there is an infection that is causing diarrhea or whether it has been caused by the hamster’s diet. In the case of an infection, a course of antibiotics should be prescribed. In the case of overfeeding fresh foods, these foods should be withheld for a couple of days until the diarrhea is no longer present. The biggest tip-off to knowing whether food is causing diarrhea or whether an infection is to blame is to monitor your hamster’s appetite. If food is causing diarrhea then the hamster will not have lost its appetite. If however, an infection is to blame then a lack of appetite and lethargy will most likely be noted.
Wet tail is a condition that has no certain cause but is most commonly seen in young hamsters that have recently been weaned. This disease is also called proliferative ileitis and regional enteritis and is extremely contagious. Symptoms of wet tail include a ruffled coat, diarrhea, not eating and overall lethargy. Some veterinarians believe that the bacteria Campylobacter are involved in hamsters developing this disease. It is believed that overcrowding, changes in diet and overall stress play a role in the development of wet tail. This disease can frequently cause death particularly because it affects such young hamsters.
As a rodent, the hamster’s incisor teeth continually grow so it is important for the hamster to have access to hard foods and toys which it can gnaw on. Without these things a hamster can experience overgrown teeth. Overgrown teeth can also result from a genetic problem or a hormonal imbalance as well. As teeth become far too large they can inhibit feeding resulting in starvation so it is important to monitor tooth growth. On average hamster owners are encouraged to check tooth growth at least once a month to ensure that teeth are not overgrown and that they are healthy and not breaking. If teeth are growing excessively a vet should be consulted so that the teeth can be clipped. Some owners choose to clip their hamster’s teeth at home, but generally it is best to seek veterinary advisement for the first tooth clipping in order to prevent injury.
Abscesses in hamsters are just the same as abscesses in humans, they are pockets of infection that must be treated and can be extremely painful. In Russian dwarf hamsters, abscesses can occur as the result of what looks like a very minor scrape or cut on the body. Unfortunately for hamsters, abscesses can also occur in the cheek pouches when food creates small scratches in the tissue. It is crucial that abscesses receive veterinary attention. Your vet will drain the abscess, flush it with a cleansing solution and treat it with antibiotics so that it can heal.
Hibernation is not so much of an illness as it is a process; however, many inexperienced hamster owners become concerned if their hamster goes in to hibernation believing that their new pet has died. Hamsters are very sensitive to temperature and if the temperature within a room drops significantly the hamster may enter in to a hibernation like state. In this case the hamster will not move, they will hold very still and breathe very slowly. In order to “reverse” this process the hamster and the room should slowly be warmed back up to room temperature. This can occur if a hamster’s cage is kept too close to a window during the colder months. It is important to always monitor the temperature close to your hamster’s cage.
Skin Infections, Pests, Mites and Allergies
Determining the cause of skin diseases in hamsters is important but it is something that should be done by a licensed veterinarian. The veterinarian will be able to do a skin scraping and look at the scraping under a microscope in order to determine the cause of any itching, flaking or lesioned skin. It is also common for hair loss to occur due to mites, infection, fungal infection or parasites. By identifying the cause of your hamster’s itching or skin condition, the veterinarian will be able to identify a course of treatment for the problem. The first sign to look for in a hamster with suspected skin diseases or allergies is excessive itching and scratching.
Diabetes is most commonly seen in Campbell’s dwarf hamster, diabetes is unfortunately a disease that can affect any species of hamster. It is believed that diabetes is a genetically inherited disease that can be triggered by a number of stimuli including excessive stress, diet or a dirty cage. A hamster that has diabetes may first exhibit signs such as excessive drinking of water and excessive urination (just like other species that suffer from diabetes). Other signs of possible diabetes include trembling, shaking and low body temperature. It is important to consult a veterinarian if diabetes is suspected in a Russian dwarf hamster so the correct course of treatment can be prescribed. This course may include a sugar-free diet and application of a rehydrating solution.