Dwarf winter white Russian hamsters are small, cuddly, and can make great pets, especially for teens and adults. While they're similar to the larger Syrian hamsters and the Campbell's dwarf Russian hamsters, they have their own unique qualities. For example, these little hamsters are normally a dark gray color on their backs with a black dorsal stripe along the center of the back. The fur on the belly is white. However, in the winter, the fur can turn white to varying degrees (a change triggered by changes in day length). Selective breeding techniques have produced a few different coat colors and patterns. Winter white Russian hamsters also have furred feet.
Common Name: Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster
Scientific Name: Phodopus sungorus
Adult Size: 3.5 to 4 inches
Life Expectancy: 1.5 to 2 years
Difficulty of Care: Beginner
Behavior and Temperament
Dwarf winter white Russian hamsters are nocturnal but may be active for short times during the day too. They make good pets and are generally quite good-natured. Because they are small and quick they can be a challenge to handle, especially for younger children.
Unlike Syrian hamsters, dwarf winter white Russian hamsters are social with their own species and can be kept in same-sex pairs or groupings, but usually only if introduced at a young age. It is not a good idea to introduce adults or new hamsters to a group. Occasionally, hamsters that were raised together may even have to be separated.
These very small hamsters are little enough that they can squeeze between the bars of many hamster cages. That means that they are far safer when kept in an aquarium. While a minimum size is 24 inches long and 12 inches wide (about the size of a 20-gallon aquarium), a bigger tank is always preferred. Be sure that the top allows for ventilation, but check to be sure it is secure.
Cover the bottom of the tank with 2 to 3 inches of soft bedding. Bedding can include woods shavings, shredded paper, or a commercial brand of bedding but be sure to avoid aspen, cedar, or pine as hamsters can be allergic. Your new pet may enjoy burrowing down into the bedding to stay warm, especially during the winter.
Hamsters do need exercise, and exercise wheels are a great way to keep your pet fit and happy. You can also provide climbing structures and tubes, but be careful not to create a structure from which your hamster can take a significant fall. Tubes, while fun, can be tricky to clean; be sure to choose a type that provides ventilation.
Food and Water
Hamsters can get complete nutrition with pelleted food available at pet stores, but be sure the food you select is actually intended for hamsters as opposed to mice or rats. You can also feed your pet a wide range of fresh foods and treats including many fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereal, and pasta. Do check to be sure that the food you're offering is hamster-safe.
Foods that can pose health problems include:
- Raw beans
- Raw potatoes
- Citrus fruit
Be sure to provide your hamster with a ready supply of fresh, clean water. You can keep a ceramic dish of water in the cage or hang a bottle from the side of the cage. Either way, check and change the water regularly.
Common Health Problems
Hamsters are usually fairly hardy pets, but like any other animal, they can get sick or injured. When this happens, they will need to see an exotic vet, so it's best to locate the vet before health issues arise. Some common health problems include:
- Injuries from falling, from fights with cage-mates, or from sharp objects or foods
- Respiratory infections
- Wet tail (diarrhea)
- Skin issues (mites)
You will know if your pet is uncomfortable when you see one or more of these signs of injury or illness:
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of energy
- Unwillingness to socialize (hiding, etc.)
- Scratching and/or hair loss
- Sneezing, wheezing, or discharge from nose or eyes
- Diarrhea and/or wetness around the tail
If your hamster appears to be sick or injured, you can help by keeping them warm and offering their favorite treats. Meanwhile, get in touch with the vet who may be able to provide appropriate treatment such as antibiotics.
Purchasing Your Hamster
You can buy dwarf winter white Russian hamsters in pet stores, but you'll need to be careful if you're definitely in the market for that breed of hamster, because the very similar Campbell's Russian hamster is more commonly found in pet stores, and pet store workers often misidentify the two breeds. To be absolutely certain that you're buying a dwarf winter white Russian, you can go through a breeder—but be sure to do your homework to be sure the breeder is reputable.
If you're buying hamsters in person, be sure that the pet you purchase seems healthy and alert. Check the quality of the bedding to be sure it's clean, and be sure that your potential pet's cage-mates are in good health. Check to be sure your hamster or hamsters have:
- Bright eyes
- Shiny coat
- Dry tail area
- No nasal or eye discharge
- Lots of energy