Syrian & Russian Dwarf Hamsters
by Nancy Ferris
In 1931 the Syrian (or Golden) Hamster made its appearance in England. These animals came from a breeding program established in Jerusalem from specimens caught in Syria. Only one male and two females survived, and it is from these three that all domestic stock was produced. The Syrian Hamster arrived in the United States in 1938, but did not become popular until the late 40s and into the 50s.
The Syrian Hamster has a short, cobby, barrel shaped body measuring about 7–8 inches long. They come in many colors such as the original Golden, Cinnamon, Rust, Dark Grey, Light Grey, Yellow, Cream, Black, and even Tortoiseshell. They also come in a number of different coat types including Short Haired, Long Haired (also known as Teddy Bear), Rex, and Satin.
The Syrian Hamster is a solitary animal, and must be kept singly after age of 8–10 weeks. If kept together any longer than that, vicious fighting will break out resulting in either serious injury or death.
Russian Dwarf Hamsters
There are two types of Russian Dwarf Hamsters, the Campbell’s Russian Dwarf, Phodopus sungoris campbelli, and the Winter White Russian Dwarf, Phodopus sungoris sungoris. A third type of dwarf hamster, the Chinese Hamster, is currently illegal in California.
The Russian Dwarf Hamster has a bullet shaped body, about 3 inches in length, with the male being slightly larger than the female. They have short, broad heads with small round ears. Their tail is barely visible, and their feet are furred. Their fur is dense, with a thick undercoat, and the natural color is grayish-brown with a slate undercoat. They come in a number of colors including Normal, Albino, Argente, Opal, and Platinum. There are only two coat types, Normal and Satin.
Dwarf Hamsters are gregarious animals and can be kept in same sex pairs or groups. Dwarfs do squabble from time to time making annoying noises. In spite of all the noise, rarely is even a scratch seen on the animals. This seems to occur more often with females than males.
Hamsters As Pets
Hamsters are not just “kids pets.”; In fact, they are not necessarily ideal for kids. There are, however, enthusiasts all over the world who collect, breed, and show these little critters strictly because they are such wonderful animals.
As with all animals, it is always best to get a hamster from a breeder since these people
handle their animals and breed for good temperaments. Like puppies, small animals such as
hamsters sold in pet shops are mass produced without any thought to temperament or health.
A Home For Your Hamster
A wide selection of cages and cage types are available for hamsters. For Syrians, either a 10-gallon (or larger) aquarium with a screen lid makes a good home. Another alternative is the wire cage, many of which have multiple levels, with a plastic cat litter pan bottom for easy cleaning. For Dwarf Hamsters, the large plastic carrier-type cages are ideal, as are 10-gallon aquariums. Another type of cage that is better suited to the Dwarf Hamsters is the modular systems (i.e., Habitrail, S.A.M., etc.). These can get complicated and expensive with all the tubes and attachments, but the animals enjoy them. Remember, the more attachments, the more cleaning time is involved.
Think about where to place your hamster’s cage. Being nocturnal, hamsters are most active at night, while spending most of their days sleeping. It might be best to keep their cage in the den or living room rather than a bedroom where nighttime wheel running might become a nuisance.
Another product to avoid is any of the cotton or fiber type beddings sold as nesting material. Hamsters can get the fibers caught in their pouches or ingest them while eating. The fibers do not break down in the hamster’s system. A better alternative is plain white toilet paper.
When taking a hamster out of its cage, some precautions should be kept in mind. Hamsters can’t see very well, and they aren’t the most agile or sure-footed creatures. They can easily fall off tables and counters, possibly doing some serious damage or injury to themselves.
Hamsters should never be allowed to run loose on the floor, as they can easily be stepped on, or disappear behind furniture. Hamster balls are an option, but should be used with supervision.