Russian Dwarf hamsters are smaller than Syrian hamsters, so they do quite well with cages and equipment intended for mice. The cage should be lined with pine shavings, NEVER CEDAR! Many individuals are very sensitive to the oil of cedar, and it can cause their deaths. As they love to dig, wire-sided cages can pose a problem with shavings being scattered everywhere.
In general, Russian Dwarf Hamsters get along very well in family groups of one male and one or two females, or in same-sex groups. Such groups should be established early, however, as putting strange adults together can be very tricky and, if mismanaged, may result in one hamster injuring or killing the other. Their normal defensive action is to sit on their back legs and "box" an attacker -- or a hand -- with their front feet! When they are attacked despite the boxing, they generally flip on their backs where all four feet can kick and, of course, they can bite as well.
In the wild, Russian Dwarf Hamsters subsist on a diet similar to that of other hamsters. The bulk of this diet consists of seeds and other plant materials. The portion of the wild diet that includes insects and other animal matter is not fully known. In captivity, they do well on a diet of pellets intended for the feeding of rats and mice, such as Purina Rodent Chow. A seed-based diet is not recommended for the captive animal, as they will pick and choose the tastiest seeds and leave the rest. This self-selection leads to nutritional deficiencies and reduced lifespan. Seeds, or a premium-style seed/dried-vegetable mix, are much appreciated as a treat, however. They also enjoy fresh vegetables, but greens should be avoided or fed in VERY small quantities only, as they can cause severe digestive upsets. Carrots seem to be relished, as are potatoes.
The natural breeding season of the Russian Dwarf Hamster in the wild is from February through November, but in captivity they can and do breed throughout the year. Breeding age is 50 days. Gestation is 18 days. The average litter size is 3.2, with one report in the literature of a litter of 9. The young hamsters are born with teeth. They quickly grow dark pigment, then fur, then eyes. By the time the fur comes in, they will gnaw at any solid food they can find. One or two days before their eyes open, they will seek it out by smell. As soon as they have functional eyes, they will leave the nest in search of food.
Like mice and many other rodents, female hamsters go into estrous within 24 hours of giving birth, so they are often pregnant with one litter while nursing another. This is one of the reasons why rodents can survive the heavy predation they are subject to. The breeder, however, should closely monitor the health of the female, to ensure that she is not losing weight or showing other signs of debilitation due to this. The expectant mother hamster should be provided with a clean cage, a supply of tissue for nest-building, and peace and quiet. Do not disturb her until the babies' eyes are open. If it is absolutely necessary to change the cage bedding before that time, do it as follows:
- Remove the parents from the cage first and wash your hands thoroughly, making sure to rinse well to remove any trace of soap scent.
- Next, rub the soiled cage bedding all over your hands, to get the hamsters' scent on them. Then, scoop up the entire nest, including the surrounding pine shavings, and put it in a container separate from the parents -- a small box or a soup bowl work well.
- Clean the cage as usual. Return the nest to its original position. Put in the adults, and IMMEDIATELY sprinkle seeds and hamster treats into the cage. The hamsters will probably pick up the babies, especially if they're still pinkies, and carry them around the cage for a while. This is normal, and within an hour they should have all settled down again.
A severely stressed hamster will abandon or kill her babies, especially if it is her first litter.Unlike the situation with Syrian Hamsters, the male Russian Dwarf Hamster should not be removed from the cage before the babies are born. Not only does this make it difficult to re-introduce him, but he will usually take an active part in rearing the litter! Most males [again, this varies among individuals] keep the babies warm while the female is out of the nest, assist in nest building and maintenance, and many will also retrieve young who have crawled from the nest or been dragged out when the female leaves while they are nursing.
See: Phodopus Sungorus (Russian Dwarf Hamsters)
copyright: (c) 1993 by Jean McGuire