Life span: Average 2 years, but 2½ years is not uncommon
Sexual maturity: Average 5 weeks
Gestation period: 18 days is the norm, but occasionally they can delay the pregnancy, thus gestation can be as much as 25 days
Average litter size: 4 babies, but they can potentially have up to 10 babies although in these larger litters not all may survive
Winter Whites as pets: Winter Whites originate from Kazakhstan & Siberia (hence why the species is occasionally referred to as the Siberian Hamster). In the wild Winter Whites live in family groups/colony’s, and indeed in captivity this species can cohabit with their own kind, however owners should be aware that squabbles can occur, as in the confinements of a cage the animals are unable to get away from any cage mate they fall out with. Where squabbles turn into serious fighting the hamsters will need to be separated before serious injuries occur.
Winter Whites can be vocal, omitting squawks and high pitch squeaks when either falling out with cage mates or when frightened when being retrieved from their cage.
I have heard these high pitch screams from my own Winter Whites, they sound like they are being murdered, but when you look in the cage you find its just a toilet roll tube that has attacked them!
Winter Whites can be “big babies”!
I personally have found males cohabit better than females.
Winter Whites gained their name as, in the wild, the areas they live are covered in snow in winter and so they moult to a white coat so as to be camouflaged from predators.
Winter Whites are available in three colours: Normal:- shaded black & grey with black eyes, this is the original/normal wild colouration. Sapphire:- smoky blue grey colour. Pearl:- white coated hamster with the ends of the hairs lightly “ticked” with colour, black eyes.
There is also a patterned mutation in Winter Whites. “Marbled” or “Merle” Winter Whites will have white patches/markings mixed in with their colour.
There are some other colour mutations sometimes seen in this species including: Mandarin, Orange, Brown & Mushroom,HOWEVER, these are NOT pure Winter Whites, but hybrid animals that are Winter White/Campbell crosses.
Cage Requirements: Large, chunky adults can live in standard hamster cages, but, baby, juvenile and small adult Winter Whites can potentially squeeze through the bars of a standard Syrian cage, therefore either a narrow bared “mouse cage” should be used (although these can be small in size) or plastic enclosed cages can be used: for example: Ferplast Duna’s or Savic Rody cages. Alternatively glass tanks can be used. The cage/tank size should reflect the number of hamsters housed in it. A cage can never be too big! But often too small.
Bedding: Shredded paper nesting material is available in pet shops. It is strongly recommended that you don’t use “cotton wool” type beddings as these can impact in the hamsters gut if accidentally swallowed.
Diet: Good quality dry hamster mix consisting of a variety of nuts & seeds. Hamsters are omnivores and therefore enjoy a varied diet. Small portions of fruit & vegetables can be fed including: carrot, cucumber, sweetcorn, apple& broccoli. As omnivores hamsters enjoy some meat in their diets, for example cooked chicken can be fed. A hard dog biscuit can be given, knawing on this will keep the hamsters continually growing teeth in trim, and they enjoy the taste too. Hamsters will also enjoy pasta, egg, potato& rice (all cooked).
Hamsters very much enjoy “milky” foods, for example: porridge made with cows milk or rice pudding.
Milky foods are practically good for nursing mums, weaning babies and older hamsters.
You must NOT feed your hamster anything sticky like human chocolate or toffee and please avoid strong tasting foods like onions, lemons, limes etc.
Handling: Hamsters purchased from a good reputable breeder should be fairly well hand tame when you purchase them, however they may still be a little fast to handle at first.
Commercially bred hamsters often have received little or no handling and therefore can take a little longer to become confident with their owner. I personally find the best way for your hamster of any species to become confident with you is to hand feed them tasty treats, they soon realise that you are someone good and they learn to trust you.
Your hamster may be nervous when you first retrieve it from the cage, always wait until your hamster is fully awake before picking them up.
The best way to pick up your hamster is to cup you hands underneath them.
Until your hamster is confident with you I would recommend you handle your hamster either over its cage, or sitting on the floor or on the settee for example, that way if your hamster leaps suddenly from your hands they only fall a short distance rather then plummeting to the floor.
Exercise: Hamsters of all species very much enjoy wheels, and Winter Whites are no exception.
Hamsters can run on their wheels for many hours each night, which is good exercise for these active creatures.
Toys: Dwarf hamsters very much enjoy having places to hide and explore in their cages.
A number of plastic toys are available in pet shops, but you can also provide many “free” toys, for example toilet roll tubes make good tunnels and tissue boxes or “cup a soup” boxes make good hiding places and can also be used as a sleeping box.
Health: Hamsters can suffer from many of the health conditions that we humans do. Occasionally an older hamster may suffer a stroke or a tumour.
Winter Whites, as all rodents have continually growing teeth, and these should be checked on a regular basis to make sure they don’t become overgrown, thus preventing the hamster from eating properly.
The nails on Dwarf hamster’s feet can grow very fast and these will need to be trimmed on a regular basis.
Important Note: Russian Dwarf Winter Whites are one of two very similar species, the other being the Russian Dwarf Campbell. To the novice owner these species can look so similar that they are unable to tell them apart, however it is very important that these two species are not cross species bred resulting in hybrid offspring whom can inherit health problems.
Article by Wendy Barry for the Southern Hamster Club