The Roborovski Hamster is a very attractive, very tiny bundle of energy. They are the smallest species of hamster, and are best kept as a pet to watch rather than to handle. They rarely bite, and can be tamed, but are very wriggly. The sight of a group of Roborovski Hamsters racing around their toys is captivating.
The Roborovski Hamster originates in the deserts of Central Asia (Northern China, Mongolia, Northern Russia). They bear the name of Lt. Roborovsky who discovered these little animals in 1894.
In the wild these hamsters can create burrows 6 feet deep within semi-arid areas of sparse vegetation.
The Roborovski Hamsters available as pets in the British Isles today can trace their ancestry back to animals imported from Holland in 1990.
The Roborovski Hamster is a tiny creature measuring just 4.5-5 cm (2 inches) when fully grown. They weigh just 20-25g (1oz). They have longer legs than most dwarf hamster species.
They are highly adapted to desert conditions. They have very efficient kidneys and produce very little urine. In the wild this would help them to conserve water.
Roborovski Hamsters are highly active, very social creatures, and in captivity should be kept in pairs or groups.
The wild colour of the Roborovski Hamster is golden brown on the upper two thirds of the body with a white stomach, legs, nose and tail. The coat colour has grey roots. They have beautiful faces with very endearing white patches where their eyebrows are. Roborovski Hamsters lack the dorsal stripe found in other species of dwarf hamsters.
The Roborovski Hamster comes in one other recognised colour – the White-faced or Husky. This very pretty animal has a completely white face.
Although they are tiny Roborovski Hamsters are highly active. Their housing should reflect this and the fact that they are highly social creatures. Any housing needs to be big enough for a pair or group to race around or create burrows comfortably.
Roborovski Hamsters are able to wriggle through the tiniest of spaces (and are very difficult to catch if they escape). With this in mind I would recommend that Roborovski Hamsters are kept in glass aquariums or glass Perfecto tanks. Mouse cages are acceptable, but these don’t allow the Roborovski Hamster to create deep burrows which they adore doing. In a glass tank the owner can provide a deep layer of substrate which the hamsters can excavate to their heart’s content (and the contents of the tank don’t end up on the floor!).
Substrates that can be used include wood-shavings, Aspen bedding, paper bedding, and corn cob bedding. You can also keep Roborovski Hamsters in a Gerbilarium substrate which consists of a combination mixed in equal parts of compost, chopped hay or Aspen bedding, and sand.
Roborovski Hamsters also love a dust bath of Chinchilla sand. Place a container, such as a cat bowl, or the top of an egg box, filled with sand, in their tank, and watch them scrabble in it.
Roborovski hamsters love toys. They are highly active animals and need lots to keep them occupied. Toilet roll tubes are a favourite toy with these animals. Also relished are wheels, log rolls (check for any sharp bits in the wood), wooden houses to climb on, clay flower-pots, egg boxes and cardboard boxes.
Roborovski hamsters are omnivores. This means that they require both vegetable and meat elements within their diet. In the wild large caches of seeds and insects have been found in their burrows.
In captivity this diet can be replicated by providing a good quality hamster mix, small bird seeds, and some fresh vegetables. The meat element can be provided by adding a little cooked chicken or complete dry kitten food to the diet twice a week.
My Roborovski Hamsters relished the following which were mixed in equal measures:
- Good quality hamster mix (Beaphar, Harry Hamster, e.t.c)
- Budgie Tonic seed
- Pinhead Oatmeal
- Various millets (Red Millet, White Millet e.t.c)
- Hemp seed
- Spray millet
The fresh vegetables include:
Don’t feed too much fresh vegetable at once as the Roborovski Hamsters are adapted to desert conditions and, as such, their digestive systems are not designed to process food with a high moisture content. Too much at one time could give them diarrhoea.
Also, even though they are desert creatures with extremely efficient kidneys which conserve any water intake, Roborovski Hamsters need clean, fresh water available at all times.
Sexing Roborovski hamsters can be tricky as they are very small and very wriggly. However, as with other hamster species the way to tell the sexes apart is to look at the distances between the anus and the genitals. The distance between the male’s anus and genitals is double that of the female’s.
Roborovski Hamsters become sexually mature at about 5 weeks. Male and female pairs can be established as youngsters when they are about 5 weeks old, or introduced when the animals are older (the ideal age for a female to have a litter is about 4 months old).
If you are introducing older animals introduce them in a neutral space such as a cardboard box or travel container. If they accept each other (if they don’t fight) place them in a thoroughly cleaned tank with new bedding and toys so that they can consider themselves in a new territory which they will then scent mark as their own.
The pair can stay together when the female is pregnant or nursing pups, as the male is a very attentive father. However, Roborovski Hamsters can have 3-5 litters of up to 8 pups in succession. If you do not want a succession of litters remove the male before the birth of the first litter, as the female comes back into season within hours of having her litter. When the litter is weaned the mother can live with her daughters and the father with his sons.
In the wild Roborovski Hamsters seem to have a breeding season which runs roughly from April to September. Some breeders have found that the breeding cycle of their Roborovski Hamster pairs conform to this wild seasonal cycle, whereas others have found that their Roborovski Hamsters breed all year round.. The Roborovski Hamsters that breed all year round may be being influenced by artificial lighting and heating.
The female Roborovski Hamster will come into season every 4 days. After mating the female Roborovski Hamsters give birth to (on average) 4-6 naked, blind pups after a gestation period of 22-26 days. She has 8 mammae.
The pups mature very quickly, and by 14 days are miniatures of their parents. The male pups should be separated from their mother and sisters at 4 weeks old.
As with other hamster species Roborovski Hamsters can catch colds, and other maladies from their owners. If you have a cold or a stomach bug, wash your hands thoroughly before changing your hamster’s food and water, and do not attempt to handle the hamster until you are better.
One condition that the Roborovski Hamster has a tendency to is a neurological disorder that causes the animals to “spin” in circles. There is no cure for this, and the condition appears to worsen when the hamster is excited or under stress. Some cases can be extreme and can affect the hamster’s quality of life, but in other milder cases the hamster seems unconcerned about the condition and can live a normal life.
This condition seems to be most common in the “white-faced” or Husky Roborovski Hamster. It is not known as yet whether this tendency is a genetic fault linked to the colour.
Roborovski Hamsters can suffer wounds caused by fighting. Although they are very social creatures Roborovski Hamsters can fight amongst themselves. Sometimes these fights get out of hand and the group can gang up on one member of the group inflicting nasty wounds on the poor victim. However, although they can look gruesome, these wounds heal remarkably quickly.
I had a male Roborovski called “Lucky” (he was!). I checked the hamsters one evening to find that the other males in the tank had, for some unknown reason, attacked Lucky and left him with some dreadful wounds. I separated him from the others and bathed his wounds with a weak saline solution. I then treated him with Baytrill antibiotic and kept him warm in one of my hospital tanks. (If you ever have to treat your hamster with antibiotics try syringing the antibiotic on the fur over the hips, where the hamster will lick it off its fur. This saves struggling to administer a drop of antibiotic into the mouth of a tiny, wriggly hamster. When treating Lucky I had Baytrill antibiotic to hand and knew the correct dosage – if your hamster is injured please consult your vet who will give you advice on the appropriate treatment of your pet).
My hospital tanks, such as the one that Lucky used, are small glass tanks (18” x 10”x 10”) which have a small heat-pad (the ones used for reptiles) stuck to the outside of one end of the tank. This creates a warm area in the tank, but also retains a cooler area which the hamster can trundle into if it wants to. A heat pad stuck on the outside of a tank creates a warm, snug area in the tank for a hamster to snuggle up to and recover. Warmth can make a lot of difference to the speed of recovery, particularly in cases where the animal is in shock. When placing the heat-pad on the outside of the tank put a piece of bubble-wrap on the outside of the heat-pad to direct the heat back into the tank.
Lucky the battered Roborovski survived and lived to a grand old age.
On average Roborovski Hamsters live between 2 and 3 years, but they can live to 4 years old.
Article by Heather Carol for the Southern Hamster Club