There are four main pet species of small or dwarf hamsters: Campbells, Winter Whites, Chinese, and Roborovskis. All are smaller than the normal syrian hamster, and all in this group except the Chinese hamster are considered dwarf hamsters. (The Chinese hamster is illegal in California and is thus not allowed at CHA shows or events.) All four species are social and can typically live in same sex or mixed sex pairs or groups.
Most dwarf hamsters sold in California are the Campbells. They come in the largest variety of colors and are available at most pet stores. They range from albino (snow white with red eyes) to black. The Campbells can interbreed with the Winter Whites, but such hybrid breeding is highly discouraged.
Even though dwarf hamsters are typically social, they should be put together when still young. Typically it is best to put a pair or group together when all are under 8 weeks of age (preferably even younger) so that they mature together. This ensures the greatest chance of them getting along. It’s best to purchase them together from the same cage. And once a dwarf hamster has lived alone, it is far more difficult to merge another hamster with him. Thus, if a mate dies, you must either immediately introduce a new young “friend” or allow him/her to live alone -- with you as the sole form of social interaction. If your hamster is over a year of age when the mate dies, it is usually best not to introduce a new “friend” but to instead let that hamster live alone.
Nevertheless, some dwarf hamsters become incompatible at some point in their lives – either when they are young or after they have lived together for a year or more. If this occurs, they must be separated and housed individually or in smaller groups. Signs of unhealthy stress in a pairing include: bloodshed, chronic chasing around the cage, squealing, unexplained weight loss, fear to come out and eat while the other is eating, unexplained jumpiness when touched, etc. Some of these signs can be symptoms of other problems, though, so you must carefully observe the interaction among your animals to properly diagnose the situation.
In their native habitat, dwarf hamsters would live in colonies with the male helping to raise the young. Domestic dwarf hamsters seem to do best in pairs, though, so that is the recommended method of keeping them.
Although dwarf hamsters are social, they must only play with cagemates. Dwarf hamsters cannot visit other dwarf hamsters, even in a space as large as a hamster-safe room. A squabble can turn deadly in the blink of an eye.
Dwarf hamsters cannot be housed with or allowed to play with hamsters of other species either, even other dwarf hamster species. Of course they must also be protected at all times from other pets.
And although dwarf hamsters are social and usually live with a cagemate, they still like to regularly come out and play with you!
This is a publication of the California Hamster Association and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes only.
This article originally appeared on our old website, www.CHAhamsters.org.