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Dwarf Hamster Care Sheet

Phodopus spp.
Developed with and approved by qualified veterinarians

Dwarf hamsters, including Djungarian, Chinese, Russian and Roborovski hamsters, have high energy levels. They are clean and captivating companion animals and can make great pets when they are socialized properly.

Dwarf Hamster Caresheet

Appearance and behavior 

  • Dwarf hamsters are very energetic
  • Dwarf hamsters play at the night and rest during the day (nocturnal), but can adjust to pet parents’ schedules
  • Because they may run in wheels at night, they might not be the best pet for light sleepers 
  • With daily gently handling, they can bond to pet parents and be cuddly companions
  • Dwarf hamsters are easy to handle but move quickly; some species, such as Chinese and Roborovski dwarf hamsters, are less likely to nip or bite. Children handling hamsters should always be supervised
  • They love to burrow in bedding and hide; provide nesting material or be sure habitat bedding is deep enough to allow this behavior
  • On their abdomens, male dwarf hamsters have scent glands that are raised, sometimes hairless and often produce a greasy to waxy yellow secretion that may be used for territorial marking; females also have scent glands, but they are less prominent, and the secretions are associated with the estrous cycle
  • Dwarf hamsters need to chew on objects to maintain their incisor teeth, which grow continuously; ensure they have plenty of wood chew sticks, edible chew toys or mineral chews to gnaw on
  • Dwarf hamsters have large, muscular outpouchings called check pouches inside their mouth on both sides of their face; they store food, bedding and other small objects in these pouches, which can become so filled that the cheek pouch swelling stretches from the sides of their face all the way back to their shoulders
  • Never surprise a sleeping hamster, as they may be startled and bite
  • Never squeeze the body of a hamster when holding them so you don’t inflict injury; hold your hamster over a soft surface in case they jump so they don’t get injured if they fall

Dwarf hamster characteristics

Care Difficulty Beginner
Average Life Span 2–3 years with proper care
Average Adult Size 2–4 inches long, depending on species
Diet Herbivorous
Minimum Habitat Size 24" L x 12" W x 12" H for single hamster; wire narrow enough to prevent from slipping through

Habitat 

Habitat size

Provide the largest habitat possible so your hamster can hide, burrow, exercise and play. Metal, wire-based habitats have better ventilation, but bars must be narrow enough to prevent tiny dwarf hamsters from slipping through. Glass or plastic habitats may be used but are harder to keep ventilated; bedding in tanks may require more frequent changing to prevent ammonia smell from droppings. All habitats should have a securely attached top to prevent escape.

Building your habitat

Hamsters acclimate well to average household temperatures, not to exceed 80°F; be cautious of extreme temperature changes. The habitat should never be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area and should be inaccessible to other pets, such as curious cats and dogs.

  • Bedding: Use 1–2” of high-quality, commercially available paper-based bedding or crumbled paper. Paper-based bedding is preferred over wood shavings of any kind because it is digestible if hamsters eat it, and it is less dusty (so less prone to irritate hamsters’ respiratory tracts); wood shavings can cause gastrointestinal (GI) tract obstruction if ingested. Nesting material provides additional enrichment, allowing hamsters to bury themselves and build nests
  • Décor 
    • Many hamsters enjoy a hiding place within their habitats. Commercially available wood- and hay-based habitats are available for them to hide in and chew on; hard plastic hideaways are easy to disinfect but should be removed if hamsters chew on them to prevent ingestion of plastic pieces
    • Provide an appropriately sized running wheel for exercise; be sure the wheel has smooth running surface to prevent hamsters from catching and injuring toes and feet

Cleaning your habitat

Spot clean the habitat and remove soiled bedding and discarded food daily. At least once a week, thoroughly clean and disinfect the habitat and its contents:

  • Replacing all bedding and washing all habitat contents with a small animal habitat cleaner or 3% bleach solution
  • Rinse off habitat cleaner or bleach residue thoroughly 
  • Allow the habitat and décor to dry completely before returning your hamster to the habitat

Feeding 

What to feed your dwarf hamster

A well-balanced dwarf hamster diet consists of:

  • High-quality hamster lab blocks or other commercially-available, nutritionally-complete pelleted food for hamsters and limited amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits, and Timothy or other grass hay
  • Clean, fresh water, changed daily, in a sipper bottle or a shallow bowl. Bowls should not be too deep as to allow hamsters to fall into them and get stuck. Sipper bottles should be checked regularly to ensure water flow is patent
  • Do not feed chocolate, caffeine or alcohol, as these are toxic to hamsters and can cause illness or death; avoid salty, sugar and fatty treats

Things to remember when feeding your dwarf hamster:

  • Always have fresh food and water available
  • Feed once a day in the evening; hamsters are generally more active at night
  • You can give small amounts of grains, vegetables, fruits and hay daily, but limit these to 10% of your hamster’s calories
  • Vegetables and fruits not eaten within 12 hours should be discarded

Dwarf hamster care

  • Hamsters stay clean and rarely need baths but can be spot cleaned with a damp washcloth or unscented baby wipes, if needed. Hamsters enjoy a weekly dust bath to help keep their fur clean, dry and less oily; provide a shallow dish of commercially available rodent dust for hamsters to roll around in
  • Consult with a veterinarian if your hamster‘s teeth seem too long

Where to buy 

Petco sells dwarf hamsters in select stores. Call your local location ahead of time to ensure availability.

Habitat mates 

Hamsters are solitary animals, but dwarf hamsters may be kept in same-sex pairs if they are raised together; otherwise, keep adult hamsters housed separately. Different types of small animals should not be housed together. Always monitor hamsters housed together for fighting and separate them if they fight.

Health 

Signs of a healthy dwarf hamster

  • Active, alert and sociable
  • Eats, drinks and passes droppings regularly
  • Healthy fur without patches of hair loss
  • Clear eyes and nose
  • Breathing is unlabored
  • Walks normally
  • Note: The enamel covering a hamster’s front teeth is normally yellow and does not need to be cleaned off

Red flags (if you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian)

  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal hair loss
  • Diarrhea, dirty bottom or lack of stool
  • Labored or open-mouth breathing
  • Lethargy
  • Ocular or nasal discharge
  • Skin lesions, bumps or scabs
  • Itchy skin
  • Overgrown teeth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing, sneezing or wheezing
  • Swollen cheek pouches that don’t empty in a few hours
  • Bloody droppings

Common dwarf hamster health issues

Health Issue Symptoms or Causes Suggested Action
Health Issue Diabetes Symptoms or Causes Frequent urination, weight loss, cloudy eyes (cataracts) and lethargy Suggested Action Consult your veterinarian
Health Issue Diarrhea Symptoms or Causes Loose stool; can be caused by poor diet, stress, GI parasites, bacterial or viral infection, unclean housing or other illness Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian to determine cause and treatment
Health Issue Dental problems Symptoms or Causes Overgrown teeth, difficulty chewing, drooling, swelling of jaw, weight loss Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian to have teeth trimmed regularly
Health Issue Skin infection Symptoms or Causes Hair loss and/or dry, flaky, itchy skin; can be caused by external parasites (such as mites), fungal infection (ringworm) or bacterial dermatitis Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian for treatment; ringworm and some species of mites are contagious to people
Health Issue Cheek pouch abscess Symptoms or Causes Swelling of side(s) of face that doesn’t resolve, foul mouth odor, discharge from mouth Suggested Action Consult a veterinarian for treatment

FAQs 

  • What can dwarf hamsters eat? Dwarf hamsters can eat a commercially available, nutritionally complete lab block or hamster pellet, with smaller amounts of vegetables, fruit, grains and grass hay
  • How big should a dwarf hamster cage be? The minimum habitat size for a single hamster is 24” L x 12” W x 12” H.
  • What fruits can dwarf hamsters eat? Hamsters can eat most fruits but should not eat fruit seeds or pits, citrus fruit or rhubarb.
  • What vegetables can dwarf hamsters eat? Hamsters can eat most vegetables except garlic, onions, unripe tomatoes and raw beans and potatoes.
  • Where can I buy a dwarf hamster? You can buy a dwarf hamster at Petco.
  • What is the lifespan of a dwarf hamster? A dwarf hamster can live 2–3 years with proper care and nutrition.

Additional care sheets

Notes and resources

Ask a Pet Care Center associate about Petco’s selection of products available for the care and happiness of your new pet. All products carry a 100% money-back guarantee.

Because all small animals are potential carriers of infectious diseases, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, bacteria that causes rat bite fever and Salmonella bacteria, always wash your hands before and after handling your small animal or habitat contents to help prevent the potential spread of disease.

Pregnant women, children under the age of 5, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems should contact their physicians before purchasing or caring for small animals and should consider having a pet other than a hamster.

Go to the Centers for Disease Control at cdc.gov/healthypets for more information about small animals and disease.

Note: The information in this care sheet is not a substitute for veterinary care. If you need additional information, please contact your veterinarian as appropriate.