Overview of Chinese Striped Hamsters as Pets

Chinese hamster in hands
Chinese hamster in hands. Getty Images/100

Their Latin name is Cricetus griseus but they are more commonly known as striped hamsters, Chinese striped hamsters, or more simply, Chinese hamsters. Chinese hamsters are not true dwarf hamsters but they are of a similar size as other small hamsters. They are originally from China and Mongolia but found their way into the hearts and homes of hamster lovers. Chinese hamsters are not commonly bred, can be hard to find at pet stores, and are also restricted in some places, such as the state of California where a permit is required to keep them, but that doesn't stop them from being kept as pets.

Life Span of Chinese Hamsters

They are small in size and unfortunately so is their life span. Chinese hamsters, like other hamsters, only live about two and a half to three years.

Size of Chinese Hamsters

Chinese hamsters are small and slender hamsters that reach an adult size of about four inches (10 cm) long. This means that they are small enough to squeeze through the bars on many hamster cages so an aquarium may be a safer choice for housing these little rodents if you don't have a cage specifically designed for a dwarf hamster. They can also easily disappear while you are playing with them outside their cage so you must be extra careful and watch where their tiny bodies are at all times.

Chinese Hamster Personalities

Chinese hamsters are nocturnal (active at night) but they may also be active for short times during the day. They are somewhat timid but are generally good-natured and rarely nip. Because they are so small and quick they can be a real challenge to handle though, especially for kids. They are very active and require a large cage to prevent boredom otherwise they may resort to getting cranky, have a suppressed immune system, and chew everything and anything they can get their teeth on.

There is some disagreement among Chinese hamster experts and the social characteristics of Chinese hamsters. As they mature, Chinese hamsters, especially females, may become quite aggressive with others and may need to be separated. However, other owners have managed to keep them in pairs or groupings (only when they are introduced at a very young age) which requires a fair amount of space for these active little hamsters to live in. To be on the safe side, plan on housing Chinese hamsters separately, only keeping them together if they show no signs of aggression towards each other.

Appearance of Chinese Hamsters

The natural coloration of Chinese hamsters is agouti (hairs are banded with light and dark colors) with a dark brown color on their backs, a black dorsal line (along their spine), and ivory colored bellies (this is called the normal or wild type coloration). The only other patterns seen are a dominant spot (white coat with patches or spots of color) and a black eyed-white. Chinese hamsters have a tail that is about an inch long and hairless. Sometimes these are called rat-like or mouse-like hamsters due to their slender appearance and the fact that they have a noticeable tail.

Caring for Pet Chinese Hamsters

Basic care for pet Chinese hamsters is like that of other hamsters. As mentioned above, a wire hamster cage may not be escape proof for these little hamsters so an aquarium or other solid sided cage with a secure top is preferable and the larger the cage the better it is. Avoid cedar or pine wood shavings and keep their cage clean. Dirty cages accumulate urine which produces an ammonia build-up  since ventilation is diminished with solid sided housing (aquariums and other solid sided hamster enclosures need to be kept cleaner than a wire sided enclosure due to this lack of ventilation). Feed a good quality hamster food supplemented with small amounts of fresh foods including vegetables. Small treats like nuts, fruit, cereal, and crackers can be offered to help your little hamster become hand tamed.