The name Russian dwarf is used for two different species of hamster: the Campbell's Russian dwarf (Phodopus campbelli) and the winter white Russian dwarf (P. sungorus). These two little hamsters grow to 3 or 4 inches long and are similar in appearance. Russian dwarfs are more sociable with their own kind than larger hamsters and prefer to live in groups, although they fight when introduced after they are 5 to 8 weeks old.
In the wild, a winter white hamster's coat turns white in response to shorter days and longer nights. Since the day length stays the same indoors, his coat keeps its gray color year-round in captivity. Campbell's hamsters have more variation in color, from pale gray to black. Single solid colors, primarily gray, are most common. You may find some with shading, markings or a dark strip down the center of the back.
Russian dwarf hamsters can squeeze between the wires of a metal cage and damage elaborate setups with plastic connecting tubes to the point where they may eventually escape. The most secure home for a Russian dwarf is a glass aquarium with a wire mesh lid. You'll also need a water bottle that can hang over the side of the aquarium, and a food dish. Aspen shavings make a safe and comfortable bedding. Hamsters appreciate a hiding place, and something as simple as a cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels will keep them happy. Wooden chew sticks and toys satisfy their need to chew and keep their teeth worn down so that they don't grow too long.
Commercially prepared hamster diets should contain 15 to 20 percent protein. Your hamster will enjoy a mix with seeds, pellets and dried fruits and vegetables, but if you find that he is picking out his favorite parts of the mix and leaving the rest, switch to pellets to make sure he has a balanced diet. Daily servings of fresh vegetables round out a hamster's diet. Your Russian dwarf will love an occasional bit of fresh or dried fruit, but overindulgence leads to obesity, so use fruit as an occasional treat. Avoid uncooked beans, unripe tomatoes, green potato skins, greasy or fried food and sweets.
Russian dwarf hamsters have a reputation for nippiness. You'll need more patience and persistence to hand-tame a Russian dwarf than the larger species, but they will eventually get used to you. Winter whites are easier to tame and less likely to bite than Campbell's hamsters. Russian dwarfs don't make good pets for very young children. Their tenancy to nip and their delicate nature can lead to injuries to both the hamster and the child. Like all hamsters, Russian dwarfs are nocturnal and most active when young children are asleep. Russian dwarfs are fascinating to watch, and there is no end to the things they can do to entertain you, from playing with toys to building structures within their habitat. Their delightful antics make them highly desirable pets for families and teenage children.
- Your Happy, Healthy Pet Hamster; Betsy Siino
- Remmi image by Sergio MartÃn Guerrero from Fotolia.com