There are four different types of dwarf hamster, most of which are usually available at your local pet shop. Below I will provide key facts, images and a description of the four different dwarf hamster species. It’s worth knowing that Campbell’s and Winter White dwarf hamsters can breed together to produce ‘hybrids’. These hybrids are a controversial topic in the pet industry but I won’t go into too much detail on that, you can read more about it here.
The other main species of hamster is the syrian, as this isn’t a dwarf it won’t be listed below. Here are the different types of dwarf hamster with pictures for each breed:
Campbell's Dwarf Hamster
Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are the most common dwarfs available in UK pet shops. They also have a vast range of colourations and can usually be identified by a solid, dark stripe that runs down their back. They are also commonly called ‘Russian dwarf hamsters’ however this term can be used to describe two different breeds of dwarf hamster, Campbell’s and Winter Whites.
Scientific name: Phodopus campbelli
Life expectancy: 1.5 - 2 years
Appearance: Grey/brown fur with a darker dorsal stripe along the center of the back. The fur changes to a creamy color on the sides and whiter on the belly. Selective breeding techniques have produced Campbell's hamsters in a much wider variety of coat colors and patterns.
Size: 10cm (length)
Temperament: Usually friendly and calm but Campbell’s are known to nip when feeling threatened
Sociable: Very sociable with their own kind
Behaviour: Energetic, excitable, lively, curious
Origin: Mongolia, Russia
Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are small bodied pets that are often confused with their russian cousins, the Winter White dwarf hamster. These two species are both very similar and can be hard for owners, and sometimes pet shops, to tell apart.
W.C. Campbell discovered these creatures in Russia in the early 1900s and brought them back to the United Kingdom, where it became all the rage to own this tiny pet. The lifespan of these small pets is only one and half to two years. If you’re looking for a Campbell’s hamster at a local pet shop, try to get a younger hamster. This will give you more time to develop a bond.
Campbell’s dwarfs can usually be tamed after some work, however they aren’t afraid to nibble if feeling threatened. This shouldn’t worry you too much. As long as you are calm and handle delicately, you shouldn’t have any problems.
After extensive breeding, over 40 different coat colourations are currently available in the pet trade. You may recognise a Campbell’s dwarf hamster by the fur covering its feet!
Being such small animals, these dwarf hamsters are extremely quick which can be an issue for taming. It’s fair to say that a Campbell’s dwarf isn’t always a good pet for children, simply due to their quick speed and the need for delicacy when handling.
Russian Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are usually quite friendly with each other. You shouldn’t have any trouble keeping a few of these guys in the same cage - unlike other small pets! Be sure to keep the males away from the females unless you’d like to breed them. Also, it’s always best to introduce Campbell’s dwarf hamsters together at a young age, adding a younger member to an older one may cause a few issues.
Basic care for these little guys is the same for most dwarf hamsters, just be sure to use a cage that these agile hamsters can’t squeeze out of! It’s also important to have a running wheel and other accessories to keep these fast runners fit and healthy.
Winter White Dwarf Hamster
The Winter White dwarf hamster is the second breed that’s commonly identified as a ‘Russian dwarf hamster’. They can be great little pets and are very sociable hamsters. Winter Whites are best kept as pairs or groups in captivity and originate from areas that become covered in snow during the winter - hence the name! You may hear some people refer to this breed as the Siberian hamster or the Siberian dwarf.
Scientific name: Phodopus sungorus
Life expectancy: 2 years
Appearance: Winter Whites have a very soft coat which is less wooly compared to the Campbell’s. They come in three main colourations: normal (black & grey), sapphire (Bluish grey) and pearl (mainly white). Other colourations usually come from a hybrid gene with the Campbell’s hamster, meaning these are not true Winter Whites.
Size: 10cm (length)
Temperament: Placid and easily tamed. More timid animals compared to their Campbell’s cousins.
Sociable: Winter Whites are very sociable animals and can do well in a large cage with their own kind. They can sometimes be kept happily alongside Campbell’s or hybrid breeds also.
Behaviour: Usually relaxed, sociable and curious although can become nervous if feeling threatened.
Origin: China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia
In the wild, Winter Whites only have a lifespan of around 12 months. Don’t let this worry you! When kept in captivity and provided with excellent care they can live for two years plus. Some hamster owners claim their Winter Whites have lived up to 4 years! If you want your pet hamsters to live a long life, provide them with the best possible nutrition, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
Interesting Fact - Winter White dwarf hamsters have the ability to change the color of their coat to being fully white as winter approaches. Winter Whites gained their name because the areas in which they live are covered in snow through winter. They change their coat to white to become camouflaged from predators.
Winter Whites can be noisy when living together. You’ll hear a lot of squeaking noises coming from their cage! Usually, this is communication. Winter Whites will establish who the boss is and squeak when being submissive. Sometimes it is just their way of saying “stop standing on me” or “I want that food”.
Winter Whites can usually be identified by their pointy nose or by their colourations. It isn’t easy to distinguish between Winter Whites, Campbell’s and hybrids so studying some different photos can help.
Breeders often say that Winter Whites are less prone to diabetes compared to the other breeds. It’s always best to supply your pets with a healthy diet and a large environment with plenty of opportunity for exercise. This will help stop fights breaking out! Purchasing multiple toys and food bowls can also help to stop territorial behaviours between hamsters.
Winter whites can be shy creatures, they will appreciate being housed in a quiet corner of your home. They are also nocturnal but they can adapt to sleep during the night if they receive treats and attention during the day.
It’s important to remember that taming these little guys can be accomplished but it’s not easy. Similar to Campbell’s, Russian dwarf hamsters are quick and agile. It’s best to take things slow when attempting to handle your pet. Let the hamster get used to you and your scent before attempting to touch.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamster
Roborovski dwarf hamsters are the smallest of the four breeds and also the quickest. If you ever get an escape artist Roborovski hamster, you’ll have a hard time trying to catch him! They are more commonly referred to as Robos. Robo dwarf hamsters are social creatures, groups of two or three are recommended although larger groups can be kept successfully.
Scientific name: Phodopus roborovskii
Life expectancy: 3 years
Appearance: Roborovski dwarf hamsters, also known as desert hamsters, are a sandy-brown color with a white belly and white marks over their eyes. Other color variations such as the white-faced Roborovski, are also available at most pet shops.
Size: 5 cm (length)
Temperament: Generally have good temperaments and will rarely ever nip or bite. They are, however, the hardest hamster to tame due to their small size and quick speed.
Sociable: Roborovski hamsters are social and are ideally kept in same sex pairs or groupings
Behaviour: Very good natured and friendly. When agitated these hamsters will prefer to run away and hide instead of seeking confrontation. Apart from being extremely fast and lively, they are also quite shy.
Origin: Russia, Kazakhstan, and northern China
Even among dwarf hamster standards, these animals are tiny! Though, what they lack in size they more than make up for in speed. As with all the other dwarf hamster types, you’ll find the Roborovski to be most active during night hours.
This particular species is noted for rising at dusk and keeping busy through the darkness of the night.
Basic care is like that of other hamsters. An aquarium or other solid sided cage with a ventilated top is best. Bar spacing on cages should be a top concern with this type of dwarf hamster - they can squeeze their way out of seemingly impossible spaces! Robos often enjoy the company of friends and should ideally be housed with other Roborovskis.
Robos are arguably the most well natured hamster breed. It is very rare that these dwarfs will nip you. It is worth noting that their unique speed & agility can cause handling to be daunting.
Remember, picking up these little guys will be even harder for small children and the last thing you want is a scared Robo running around the house!
Many suggest that you only handle Roborovskis over a large box. Others decide to avoid handling their pet altogether unless absolutely necessary. A roborovski is more susceptible to stress than other hamsters and they may seem skittish and nervous before gaining your trust.
The main attraction of Robos for many people (including me!) is that they can be very fun to watch, being such a quick and active pet. For me, this is the most entertaining dwarf hamster breed out there.
Chinese Dwarf Hamster
Chinese hamsters are not true dwarf hamsters but they are often grouped in with the dwarfs due to their similar size. Chinese hamsters are originally from China and Mongolia. They can be hard to find and may not be available at your local pet shop. That being said, Chinese dwarf hamsters make great pets and can be very entertaining to watch. They are also the only type of hamster to have a tail!
Scientific name: Cricetulus griseus
Life expectancy: 2-3 years
Appearance: Chinese dwarf hamsters usually have a dark brown color on their backs, a black dorsal line and ivory colored bellies. The other patterns available are the dominant spot (white coat with patches or spots of color) and the black eyed-white. They are also the only dwarf hamster to have a tail.
Size: 10cm (length)
Temperament: Chinese hamsters are very active and usually well natured. They do require a large cage to prevent boredom otherwise they may end up becoming agitated, develop a suppressed immune system, and resort to nipping anything that comes near them!
Sociable: This is a hotly debated topic. It can be best to house Chinese dwarfs separately as they are known to show aggression. That being said, it is possible to house these hamsters together in certain cases - every dwarf hamster has its own personality.
Behaviour: Energetic, curious and friendly
Origin: Northern China and Mongolia
The Chinese dwarf hamster has a distinctively long body, they look as if they have been stretched. They’re the limo of the hamster world!
Chinese dwarf hamsters are curious creatures who like to play, especially with cage mates. They can often be seen sprinting around their cage, burrowing in bedding and chewing just about everything!
Some hamster owners claim that female Chinese dwarfs are more aggressive than males and should not be kept together. This is sometimes because females generally play-fight and squeak more than males.
Social grooming can also easily be confused with fighting. If you are careful and do your research, it is possible to keep a pair of females together.
Just like Russian dwarfs, Chinese hamsters can be prone to diabetes. This means providing a healthy diet is a top priority. They are also great climbers, originating from mountainous regions.
Providing them with a climbing frame (or something similar) can be a great way to exercise your pet and watch their impressive climbing powers!
Chinese dwarfs can be easily sexed. This makes buying a same sex pair a lot easier. Why are they so easy to sex? Well, the reality is that male Chinese hamsters have large sexual organs that aren’t too hard to spot! This may be a reason why many pet shops decide against these hamsters, they’re worried that the appearance of the Chinese dwarf won’t be what people are looking for.
Overall Chinese hamsters are a very endearing species of hamster and are often overlooked by most people, mainly down to their rarity and mouse like appearance. If you’re looking for an interesting small pet that is a little different to what’s already out there, this is a great option. Many people have been able to tame their Chinese dwarfs to the point where they will happily sit still in their owner’s hand while watching tv!
Frequently Asked Questions
There are 19 different types of hamster in the world (this figure can vary depending on the classification method). Only the 4 dwarf hamsters detailed above and Syrian hamsters are kept in captivity.
It is possible for Campbell’s and Winter White hamsters to breed and create ‘hybrids’. These hamsters may contain characteristics of both the parent breeds and you may even find examples of these hybrids at your local pet store.
They can be hard to identify but there’s nothing wrong with owning a hybrid, they are usually healthy and live long lives. However there are some issues with owning a hybrid that you should be aware of, read this for more info.
To buy a dwarf hamster along with healthy food, a suitable cage and cage accessories, it will only cost around £50. Dwarf hamsters usually cost about £6 each. Good cages will often cost around £25-30 and some extra money will be needed for cage accessories such as food bowls and toys.
A typical female hamster can give birth to as many as 20 pups in a litter, though six to 12 is the average.
Most types of dwarf hamster are happy living in a cage with a friend, they often prefer having someone to socialise with. Same sex pairs or groups will be the safest option. Do keep in mind that every dwarf hamster has a different personality and separation may be required if fights break out.
Key Differences Between The Types Of Dwarf Hamster
Russian dwarf hamsters are great all-round pets thanks to their cute appearance, low difficulty to tame and socialness. I would recommend one of these guys for the beginner hamster owner.
Roborovskis are even smaller and faster pets. They can be extremely fun to watch and make very entertaining pets. They are also sociable with their own kind. If you’re looking for a dwarf hamster that’s extremely active and fun to watch, these are the hamsters for you. They are usually hard to handle, making them better for a more experienced pet owner and not for children.
Chinese dwarf hamsters make endearing pets that not many other people will own. They look different and can be very interesting to observe. If you’re looking for a different type of hamster, something that’s not common but still a great small pet to own, this is the perfect hamster for you.
Hopefully you’ve learned something new about the different dwarf hamster breeds! If you’re ready to bring home a new pet hamster, check out these essential items to make sure you’re prepared (we recommend this cage as a good starter home for the new dwarf hamster owner). Remember, every dwarf hamster has a different personality, no matter what the breed. It’s down to you to provide the hamster with a healthy home and lots to do! If you’d like more info on small pets, feel free to give the blog a visit.