If you have a hamster or if you are thinking of bringing home a hamster as your pet, then this PetPonder post is for you. While providing some useful tips on how to care for Djungarian hamsters, it also provides information about their diet, breeding, health problems, and lifespan.
Did You Know?
Hamsters cannot be spayed or neutered. Separating the male from the female is the only way to stop pregnancy.
A Djungarian hamster looks like a Campbell’s dwarf hamster (Phodopus campbelli), but its coat is less woolly than that of the latter. The Djungarian dwarf hamster (Phodopus sungorus) is also known as the Siberian hamster or Siberian dwarf hamster. It is called ‘Russian winter white dwarf hamster’ because its grayish coat turns white in winters. Due to artificial lighting and heat (maintained temperature) in the house, this may not happen in case of captive pet hamsters. Djungarian hamsters are native to Siberia, Russia, and Central Asia. They are popular as pets in Europe and Northern America. They are sociable and can exist peacefully.
Djungarian Hamster Care
Size, Weight, and Color
➺ On an average, a Djungarian hamster is 3-5 inches long. The male is usually larger than the female. This hamster is about half the size of a Syrian hamster. It may weigh less in winter and more in summer.
➺ The weight of a male hamster can be 19 grams (0.67 oz) to 45 grams (1.6 oz), while that of a female can be from 19 grams (0.67 oz) to 36 grams (1.3 oz).
➺ The color of the coat can be light or dark gray, sapphire or golden yellow or rust orange (Sunfire Djungarian hamster with bright orange coloration), sapphire pearl, or normal pearl. A dark, dorsal stripe runs all over the body. Those in captivity exhibit greater variance in their coats than those found in the wild. Pet hamsters can be slightly heavier too.
Buying a Djungarian Hamster
➺ As the average lifespan of a Djungarian hamster as a pet is 1-3 years, choose a younger hamster. In the wild, they may live for one year only.
➺ Pick up a healthy hamster. Its eyes and nose should be clear and there shouldn’t be any bald patches on its skin. Wet tail is an infectious disease which can prove to be fatal for a hamster. If you notice a hamster with wet tail, do not buy it.
➺ First identify the gender of the hamster with the help of an employee in the shop and then buy it. (It is quite difficult to tell the gender of a very young hamster.)
➺ You can keep the hamsters in a cage or a tank. The bars of the cage should not be far apart. Otherwise, the hamsters would squeeze through easily. As hamsters are nocturnal animals, they will be squeaking, scratching, knocking, or utilizing the wheel a lot at night. So place the cage away from your bedroom. These small pets should be protected from cats, dogs and other potential predators. Do not place the cage in direct sunlight.
➺ Place a ‘cage water bottle’ (chew-proof and climb-proof ) filled with fresh and clean water. The bottle comes with an adjustable hanger.
➺ Instead of a plastic bowl, get an earthenware bowl and use it as a feeding dish. As they constantly need something to chew, they may chew the plastic, choke on it, or ingest it and die. Place the bowl and the bedding at different levels.
➺ If you want, you may buy a bath house and bathing sand for your pets. Hamsters should never be bathed with water. They might enjoy sand bath. Add only a small amount of sand in the bath house each time.
➺ As hamsters are energetic agile animals, you should buy a ‘running wheel’ (6.5″ wheel for one or two hamsters) for them. In the wild, hamsters travel a lot, they dig tunnels, wander in search of food and soft warm material for their burrows. In captivity, along with a good diet, exercise can keep them healthy and active. A solid wheel (without rungs) is recommended. It promotes easy movements and helps prevent injuries.
➺ You may buy run-about balls for the hamsters.
➺ You may carry a hamster in a cardboard box.
➺ Spread some wood shavings on the floor of the cage. Do not spread fine sawdust as it can irritate the eyes of the hamsters. Similarly, avoid using cedar or pine shavings as the aromatic oils in them can cause an allergic reaction and can irritate the hamsters. Non-toxic, soft, highly absorbent bedding is available in the market. It helps control odor too. Man-made bedding (made from fabric or other materials) should be avoided. Limbs of hamsters m
➺ Create some hiding places for your pets. They would be happy and would feel protected. You can use even a toilet paper roll for this purpose. A multistoried house (a cage with inter-connecting tubes and compartments) comes with a number of hiding places. They also like to store their food in such places.
➺ A well-balanced dry hamster food mix should be fed to them. It contains all the essential nutrients. As the hamsters are more active at night, you should also feed them at night.
➺ The teeth of hamsters grow continuously throughout their life. So, provide them chew sticks. Chewing non-toxic wooden toys, popsicle sticks, etc. helps file down the teeth.
➺ As a treat, you may feed them fruits, seeds, nuts, cereals, mealworms, vegetables, and bits of cooked poultry, etc., occasionally. Excessive treats can lead to diarrhea.
➺ Too much of lettuce in food can affect liver function.
➺ Change the bedding as and when required.
➺ Leftover, old food should be removed from the cage promptly.
➺ The cage should be cleaned weekly.
➺ If it is necessary to wash the cage, use a cleaner that is designed for cleaning small rodents’ cages.
➺ A female Djungarian hamster will breed willingly with a male, if they are raised together from a young age. These hamsters form close bonds between their mates. They prefer to form monogamous bonds. However, pregnant females treat the males viciously. The males may hide in the tubes.
➺ Siberian hamsters have a gestation period of 18 to 25 days.
➺ There is no specific breeding season as such. They breed all year round. Their population can increase significantly in a short period of time. However, a female is less likely to conceive in the presence of multiple males.
➺ Usually, a litter consists of 4-8 pups. But there can be 10-14 pups in a litter! The litter is weaned in 18 days. The young pups depend on parents for food and body heat.
➺ Father hamsters have hormonal fluctuations similar to the mother’s around the time of birth. The presence of the father plays an important role in survival of the pups. The male hamster should not be removed from the cage after the birth of pups. When the mother leaves the place, he keeps them warm. When the mother feeds them and takes care of them, he brings her food.
➺ Siberian hamsters can be bred at 4 to 6 months. As the hamster’s estrous cycle lasts for four days, the female is ‘in heat’ every four days, and is ready to accept the male for breeding again.
➺ After giving birth to several pups, the female can become pregnant on the same day.
➺ Young pups act aggressively with one another. You should remove the litter from the cage when the pups are 3 weeks old (or as soon as they are weaned from their mother). Otherwise the mother may cannibalize the litter.
➺ These hamsters can delay implantation or development of the embryo. If the pups in the existing litter are not growing at the desired rate, pregnancies can be developmentally delayed by 3 to 7 days.
➺ Shortened daylight periods can not only lead to a change in the fur color, but also to a temporarily reduced body temperature. Shortened daylight can result in a complete collapse of the reproductive capacities. Similarly, an increase in the environmental temperature and scarcity of water can affect their fertility.
Common Diseases and Medical Care
➺ As mentioned above, Siberian hamsters are allergic to oils in cedar and pine wood cuttings. The oil can cause respiratory and digestive problems.
➺ Sharp objects can damage the fragile inner linings of their cheek pouches.
➺ Consumption of fruits, nuts, and vegetables can lead to stomach upset. Let them drink plenty of water. Provide solid dry food-mix only. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration and even death.
➺ Other health problems include bite injuries, broken teeth, skin infection, constipation, misalignment of the teeth of the two dental arches, and ear problems.
➺ The breeding of hybrids can cause reproductive and health problems. Hybridizing (for example, interbreeding Campbell’s dwarf hamster and Djungarian hamster) can eventually threaten the existence of both pure species.
➺ Presence of fur mites can cause itching and irritation. You may use anti-mite sprays designed for small animals or birds. Regular cleaning and disinfection of the cage, bowl, toys, etc., can help keep diseases at bay.
➺ With proper hygiene, food, and care, hamsters should not have health problems. However, it has been found that like most other rodents, these hamsters are prone to tumors. Regular checkup by a vet can help avoid serious health issues.
Your pet hamster can get accustomed to your voice and may respond in various ways, when called by its name! The Djungarian hamster is suitable for both children and adults. However, toddlers should not be allowed to handle it, as it will nip quite readily if annoyed.