Despite their name, Chinese dwarf hamsters, or Chinese hamsters, are not members of the dwarf hamster genus or Phodopus family.
These tiny rodents belong to the species Cricetulus or the ratlike hamsters as they are more commonly referred to because of their appearance – looking more like a mouse than a common hamster.
They are probably one of the coolest and mysterious pets one could ever have.
These cuties come in small packages and are quite special due to their rarity and somewhat odd and enigmatic origins and existence.
Types of Chinese Hamsters
There are two classes of Chinese hamsters: the Cricetulus griseus (Chinese hamsters) and the Cricetulus barabensis (Chinese striped hamsters).
Although most people consider them of the same species, there have been speculations as to which species is a subspecies of another – wherein, their scientific names can be identified as Cricetulus griseus Barabensis or as Cricetulus Barabensis Griseus. Yeah, boring!
Regardless of the somewhat confusing question of which is which, Chinese hamsters and Chinese striped hamsters both share virtually the same traits (both being considered as dwarf hamsters) and origins.
Originating in the northern parts of China and Mongolia, these hamsters grow from 82 – 127 mm, tails that grow from 20 – 33 mm in length, and can weigh between 30 and 45 grams as adults. Their bodies appear long and thin and have longer tails compared to other hamsters – hence the term ratlike.
For males, most have large scrotums roughly the same size as their heads. Because of this feature, their tails are buried in between, making them look like they have a second head at the other end!
Oddly, this is one of the reasons why scientists chose male Chinese hamsters for research and experimentations back in the day. Females, on the other hand, were mostly kept as pets because of their ideally common-looking bodies and features.
Chinese hamsters are found in three color mutations:
- The normal/wild
The normal type is what Chinese hamsters would typically look like in the wild. They have grey or brown top coats with dark stripes or spots on the spines, and white undercoats and bellies.
- Dominant spot
The dominant spot, on the other hand, are white Chinese hamsters with normal color spots that are beautifully scattered and seemingly patterned all over the body.
- Black-eyed white.
The black-eyed white, are pure white-coated Chinese dwarf hamsters that make the black eyes more pronounced. This type of color is quite rare among litters, especially with two dominant spotted parents.
2. Temperament and Behavior
Chinese hamsters are intelligent and curious but shy little creatures. As youngsters, they can be stubborn and challenging to tame, but once they get used to the company of their owners they can be very affectionate.
One of the ways they show love to their owners is by grasping on the fingers with all their four paws, looking like a mouse clinging on a straw. They can even climb up the arms up to the neck, then resting there as if to give their owners a big hug!
They are very playful, especially with their littermates, and are very agile and active little creatures.
They are considered social but tend to be more comfortable being kept with the same sex as introducing a hamster of the opposite sex can be challenging and quite violent. Even though non-dwarf hamsters won’t appreciate the company of another, Chinese dwarf hamsters can live together.
Chinese hamsters are nocturnal, meaning they are more active at night – more often during the darkest hours of the day at dawn or dusk. When deciding on owning one, owners should consider this behavior as it can be a factor when it comes to their maintenance and health.
Overall, they are quiet, smart, funny, and highly energetic little creatures that will suit everyone wanting to own one. Although they can be challenging to handle especially for kids, as long as they’re tamed and taken care of very well, they are great pets everyone in the family can enjoy.
Chinese hamsters, like most hamster breeds, have a short lifespan of about two and a half to three years, while some have been reported to age up to four years. Because of their short lifespan, the development is remarkably fast as they reach sexual maturity at about five to eight weeks of age.
At this stage, mature females can become pregnant. However, this process can be tough for breeders as female Chinese hamsters can be highly aggressive causing severe and sometimes fatal injuries to males. Because of this, it is best to introduce the opposite sex at an early stage to get them adapted to each other’s presence if you are planning to do a breeding program.
The gestation period of Chinese hamsters usually goes between 18 and 25 days. By this age, they can have a litter of around four to six pups. As stated, because they grow up fast, it is best to separate babies at the earliest possible time to avoid unplanned breeding.
When it comes to their overall health, two common issues Chinese hamsters experiences are wet tails and diabetes.
Wet tail (proliferative ileitis) is a condition acquired due to stress that most sellers and owners sometimes overlook on their pet hamsters. This condition usually occurs within seven days accompanied by symptoms where death usually follows immediately after.
Some of the symptoms that Chinese dwarf hamsters suffering from wet tails may show are tails covered in feces, diarrhea, odd smell, folded ears, and lack of energy and enthusiasm. It is critical to bring them to the vet for immediate treatment once these symptoms occur.
Diabetes, on the other hand, is very common among these creatures. Their diet in the wild does not include refined sugar, making it hard for them to process sweets if they are given one in captivity. Every one of them is born with this genetic susceptibility, leading them to become one of the most studied animals in the field of medical research.
Chinese Dwarf Hamster Price and Maintenance
Chinese hamsters are typically sold between $12.99 and $15.99.
While the price may not be an issue, the problem that interested buyers may face is that these little hammies are very rare and can only be found and bought at stores. They can also be quite troublesome to own as they require special permits and paperwork due to the restrictions the government imposes for this breed of hamster.
As much as any pets, maintenance and care are vital when it comes to owning one no matter the size and kind of the pet. For Chinese hamsters, one advantage an owner may see is that small size equals small maintenance. However, it shouldn’t be a reason to disregard getting them the quality care that they deserve.
1. Food and Nutrition
Chinese dwarf hamsters, like all other hamster breeds, are both meat and plant-eaters as they tend to eat shoots, grasses, and seeds, and sometimes small insects and worms in the wild. Owners can replicate this diet in captivity by mixing hamster mix with fresh cut green veggies and boiled tiny slices of chicken or insects like crickets.
For babies, moms, and elderly hamsters, porridge or milk formulas can be great alternatives to keep them healthy and well-nourished. Just make sure to give them small amounts of skim milk by using drops or letting them drink from a spoon.
Chinese hamsters, as mentioned earlier, have a high tendency to develop diabetes. So avoid giving them whole or flavored milk, especially chocolate milk, as they are high in sugar, and chocolate can be poisonous to hamsters.
Because of their susceptibility to developing diabetes, owners should also be careful in giving them treats. Avoid giving them sweets; even fruits such as strawberries and mangoes to keep them healthy and well-nourished.
High-quality hamster mixes specially formulated for dwarf and Chinese hamsters, are available online for around $16.95 per two pieces of the 2-pound bag up to $36.87 for a 25-pound bag. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label on the number of servings needed daily to keep them from being overfed.
Lastly, keep them hydrated by fitting an inverted drinking bottle with a straw in their cages to provide them easy access to fresh and clean water at all times.
Because they are highly energetic and tiny, they can easily squeeze through wire cages and escape. For that reason, they are required to be put in a large cage with small openings and tight lids like a 10 to 20-gallon aquarium to give them comfortable living space and to secure them from getting away.
The size of the gallon should be at least 30” x 12” x 12”, big and comfortable enough to suit their active behavior. Also, owners can buy a tank topper where a hamster cage is put on top of the aquarium to give them a wider and more comfortable living area.
Glass aquariums are available online for around $73.75 up to $149. For cheaper and more convenient options, some sellers provide tank toppers for prices between $32.99 and $37.49.
When it comes to equipping their cage, buying the best hamster wheel is a must for Chinese hamsters. Hamster wheels are a great way for them to exercise and tire out their seemingly unlimited energy! For Chinese hamsters, there should be 6” or 12” hamster wheels to choose from for around $17.99 to $44.99.
For the nesting material, wood shavings like aspen or timothy hay are the way to go for Chinese hamsters. Owners should avoid getting cedar or pine woods as these materials can cause respiratory problems.
Having pets, no matter how small or big, should be brought to the vet to give them the perfect care that they deserve.
As mentioned earlier, some health issues these creatures can develop are wet tails, diabetes, and respiratory problems. When going to the vet, consider these health issues to be checked to know how to prevent them from developing into a more serious condition.
A simple and much-needed checkup can cost around $30-$90, although these prices can vary depending on the location and the vet.
4. Grooming and Hygiene
Grooming can be quite easy and challenging at the same time. Because they are small, their coats can be easily brushed and rarely needs bathing.
For the brush, short and gentle strokes using a toothbrush can be enough to keep their furs clean and free from dirt. Just make sure to use unused toothbrushes to avoid their hairs and skin getting contaminated with toothpaste and other chemicals from used toothbrushes.
When it comes to dental health, Chinese hamsters’ teeth, like any other rodents, never stop growing. If left unchecked, their teeth can grow so long that they will have trouble closing their mouths. Also, it can hurt their gums and tongues causing cuts and bleeding that may also result in discomfort and other problems in the mouth.
One of the best ways of keeping their dental health in check is to let them gnaw. This activity will wear down the continuous growth of their teeth (incisors); keeping them healthy as they grow up.
Chew toys, among others, is probably one of the most useful toys Chinese hamsters should have. It allows them to gnaw keeping their teeth healthy and well-maintained.
There are a lot of chew toys to choose from online for prices ranging from $7.99 to $12.99. In choosing the perfect chew toys for them, owners should consider buying durable, non-toxic, and long-lasting materials.
Aside from hamster wheels, owners should also consider buying mini obstacle courses such as mini ladders and houses to keep them from getting bored and sickly.
Interesting Facts About the Chinese Dwarf Hamster
Little is known about Chinese dwarf hamsters. As mentioned earlier, these small but lovely hamsters are rare and won’t be frequently available at any pet stores near you. Although they may be uncommon, they are sought after by pet enthusiasts and are among of the main contributors in the field of medical research.
1. “Lab” rats
Back in the early 1900s, scientists and researchers have been using hamsters in medical and genetic development. Chinese hamsters were first introduced to experimentations in 1949 and were subjects of cell culturing and cell cloning by geneticists.
Chinese hamsters play a big role in the health industry and cell research as they are susceptible but resilient enough to infectious diseases – making them valuable for mutagenic and cancer studies, among many of their uses.
They also serve as a model for the research of diabetes mellitus as they strongly resemble developing this illness just like humans. Researchers and scientists believe that Chinese hamsters can help find a cure and help prevent the development of diabetes mellitus in humans.
2. Chinese Hamster Ovary Cells
Perhaps, one of the most notable contributions of the Chinese hamster in the medical industry is the development and culturing of the Chinese Hamster Ovary or CHO cells. It is a critical component of most pharmaceuticals and it is a medical marvel used by scientists and geneticists even today.
Chinese hamsters were brought to the US in 1948 by being smuggled from China, by a person named Robert Briggs Watson, who learned of their potential in the development of biotechnology. Throughout the history of being lab rats, CHO cells were not discovered until 1957 by a geneticist named Dr. Theodore T. Puck.
The bright Dr. Puck was an early pioneer of cell cloning and he and his team were also the ones who discovered that humans have 46 chromosomes and not 48 as previously thought. Because of his research and persistence, Dr. Puck learned to culture CHO cells by isolating the ovary of a female Chinese hamster.
And because of this discovery, CHO cells can be modified to produce anti-cancer drugs and hormones, which resulted in the mass production of therapeutic proteins from CHO that can help fight diseases in humans.
3. They May be Restricted in Some States
Although Chinese hamsters may be one of God’s greatest gifts to humans, they are unfortunately one of the most restricted and heavily regulated pets, especially in the US. Owning them may require interested owners to get special permits and other paperwork from the Department of Fish and Game to keep or transport them within the state they live in, especially in the Golden State.
They are restricted (sometimes referred to as illegal) due to the potential risks they pose in the environment if they were to escape into the wild. If an owner is caught owning a Chinese hamster, the local government may impose penalties and fines of up to $1,000 and jail time (yes, you can go to jail just by owning them) for a maximum of 6 months.
Is the Chinese Dwarf Hamster Right for You?
When deciding to own a Chinese hamster, every owner should know that they require a serious amount of effort and well-attended responsibilities despite their small packages. As a responsible owner, these factors should always be on top of your priority, as they can be sensitive when it comes to their health and you can be at risk of facing jail time and fines just for owning them.
To sum up everything you need to know about Chinese hamsters, here are the things you need to remember:
Chinese hamsters are delicate and should be handled carefully and securely. Do not squeeze too hard as they have a tendency to bite, but don’t loosen your grip as they can escape and run fast
- Maintenance and Health
Chinese hamsters’ diet needs to be supervised at all times to avoid the development of certain diseases such as diabetes, wet tail, and overgrown teeth.
- Behavior and Temperament
They are lovable and social creatures. However, be cautious in putting together two Chinese dwarf hamsters as they tend to be aggressive towards each other especially the opposite sex.
Chinese hamsters are very active creatures and should be provided with toys and equipment in their cages for exercise and enjoyment.
They should be kept in large and enclosed cages where they can play and run around and secured at the same time.