Hello all, it's been a few years since I posted. I wanted to share a story with you all.
I have two male and two female hybrid dwarf hamsters. One of them has more of a Campbell's face, and all the rest look very much on the winter white side; but all four of them are obviously hybrids. I have always read things like, "hybrids are sterile," and "hybrids have more [health] problems." Yet, here they are everywhere; they are pretty much all pet stores in my area carry for dwarfs these days.
I love these little guys to the moon and back. In my eyes, they are the cutest, softest, squishiest, prettiest, sweetest, most precious hamsters I've ever met - and I've met a lot of hamsters. Their names are Jo-Jo, Bo-Bo, Lou-Lou, and Alice. Alice is the one who looks more like a Campbell's, the first two are boys, and the latter two are girls.
The only other time I've had hamsters like these four is when I had an accidental litter of hybrid dwarfs back in 2008. The mother was a very high-strung Campbell's who was found in someone's garage, and the father was a laid back hybrid from the pet store. All three of the babies were boys, and I kept each of them. They lived as a group for almost their entire lives. As I recall, they all lived past the age of two and died with no obvious health problems.
My buddies (RIP)
Anyway, back to the present. I wasn't planning on getting dwarf hamsters, or letting them have babies. It just kind of happened...and all I had to do was say yes. Back in November, my sister-in-law came over because their dwarf hamsters had babies, and she wanted me to sex them in order to avoid more baby hamsters. All of the dwarfs were hybrids, the babies were one month old, and the colors consisted of blue, sapphire, and sapphire pearl.
Most of the babies were tolerant of handling, but two of them (both boys) stood out to me. My kids, being animal lovers too, just loved the hamsters. So I asked my SIL if she was rehoming them. She said yes...and that I could also have the two I liked. We hadn't had winter white/hybrids in a while, and they're my weakness, so of course I said I'll take them! We named the sapphire Jo-Jo and the pearl Bo-Bo.
Jo-Jo is my youngest daughter's favorite, and this little sapphire boy is a go-getter with a precocious face. He wants to do all the things, and he is fearless. He will lick you, nibble you, run up your arm, run to your shoulders, and try to run anywhere else he can get to! Try to keep this little "qi-hammy" in one spot!
Bo-Bo is a sapphire pearl. He's my little shy guy, and almost has a "boo-hoo" look on his face! He is super sweet, loves treats, and he will give me lots of licks if I'm patient; but he won't usually jump into my hand. He will sit in your hand, but being handled seems to freak him out a little. If we move too fast or be too loud, he'll startle and run away!
Even though I know hamsters appreciate a spacious cage, I went out and bought the simple wire cage that Walmart sells for $23. I wanted this to be for the older kids to start learning rodent care, and I also wanted to bond with these guys. It had to be easy to clean and fit in a specific spot in my small livingroom, and I wasn't about to make another big, elaborate hamster setup in a tank just to have hamsters who hide all the time. I learned my lesson with that one. Plus, sometimes it's good to start small - and necessary for little kids who can't haul or scoop big tanks.
The setup was simple; 2 inches of bedding, 1 level, 1 large item, 1 ladder, 1 small hide, 1 tube, 1 climbing rope. I think I left the wheel in that came with the cage. We talked to and held the hamsters every day, fed them lots of good food, and they became accustomed to us very quickly. They stopped fleeing when we walked by, they stopped running away from our hands, and they began to climb onto our hands so they could come out to play. They took treats from us, watched us, licked us and not bit us.
We later added a second level and another hidebox, and we also added two more hamsters. This was not planned, but I found it happening anyway. I was at the pet store with one of my daughters. Originally, we had come for a few mice. However, the hamster habitats kept beckoning. I saw that they had a lot of cute hamsters at the time...including some winter white/hybrids. "Sunfire" dwarfs or whatever. I wanted to see them, but I couldn't justify getting them. I always assume they are ill in health or temperament. Their dwarf hamsters are also $18 each, which is a considerable amount more than the mice we were going to get.
I ended up holding them anyway. They were SO SWEET. So beautiful. I connected. Connections like that don't always happen, and as animal lovers, I'm sure you guys know what I'm talking about. I've held a lot of hamsters, I've put a lot of hamsters back after holding them. I am not one to make impulse buys, I make a list and stick to it. Yet I could not bring myself to put them back. Both were coming with us. How could I decide? $36 and one car trip later, I introduced the two new girls to the family. We named them Lou-Lou and Alice.
Here's Alice. She's kind of my favorite (shhh, don't tell the others). She has such a pretty, rat-like face, and I just love her. I think she would be the classic "pudding" color. She is a very soft, creamy orange, and always seems to be in a good mood. Whenever she sees me, she always wants to jump in my hand and say "hello!"
Lou-Lou is our biggest dwarf, she's like a queen and has a face to match. She is a little shy, but she stands her ground and believes everyone should respect her - and give her attention. Unlike the others, she shed most of her orange and put on her winter coat this year. If she sees something, she HAS to check it out. "What's that? Let's go!"
"Let's go" Lou-Lou! (center)
We housed the girls with the boys in the wire "bonding cage," and that's exactly what happened. We all bonded. They all bonded with each other, we all bonded with them. I noticed differences in the hamsters' personalities. They all preferred different activities, and they even seemed to prefer a specific mate.
The two bold ones, Jo-Jo and Lou-Lou, preferred to run on the wheel, and so they did that together (taking turns). Jo-Jo especially likes to climb and explore, and Lou-Lou especially loves to eat. The two shy ones, Bo-Bo and Alice, preferred to hide in the nestbox and groom each other, and so they did that together. The difference between Bo-Bo and Alice is their feelings towards humans. Often I would find all four of them sleeping in a heap, but if they were ever paired off, that's usually who'd I'd see together.
Realizing that we'd most likely have baby hamsters eventually/soon, I started to think about how I was going to house everyone. My hamster knowledge on breeding winter white/hybrid dwarfs is limited, but most sources all say the same thing for all hamsters: house everyone separately.
However, there were a few things I could not get out of my mind. In a colony setting, dwarf hamsters have been known to care for young together, and these hamsters did seem to have relationships. I do know that hamsters are to some extent social beings in general, so I didn't want to rush to separate them once the females were pregnant. I also didn't want a bunch of cages to clean, though that was the least of my worries.
Mostly, I was worried about having babies in group housing. I didn't want to "tear apart families," so to speak, but I didn't want to leave them together if they didn't want to be together, either. Would the hamsters attack each other in order to protect their young? Would either male eat the other's babies? And same with the females? Would they establish separate nests? Or would they all have them together in one big nest and take care of them all together? Would cage size or cage design make a difference? How much of a chance should I take on this? The internet provided no answers to these questions. I also asked myself, if I did separate them, who should go with who?
Since no one seemed pregnant, and there didn't seem to be any problems, I decided with the wait-and-see approach. I put the four of them in a 10 gallon tank (comparable in size to the wire cage they were in), and set it up with the same things as the wire cage had, except no levels and deeper bedding. It was a very simple setup so I could observe them; I knew they would probably start to try and mate soon. I might add that there had been a little more squeaking than usual before the switch, so I was a little concerned.
Then, my predicament was answered. A few days into this setup, Alice was in heat. I had noticed Lou-Lou harassing her a little more in general (which explains the squeaking), but there had been no blood, and the harassment wasn't persistent. Now, there was blood. Alice was the only hamster who was harmed, and I wasn't sure who the attacker was since I didn't see it happen. (I only heard it happen.) I isolated Alice, cared for her, and gently treated her wounds. They were still fresh, so I had her sit in a small, clean box until they dried.
Based on the clues I had, I assumed the attacker was queen Lou-Lou. I wasn't sure exactly how I should split them up, especially since I wasn't 100% sure who attacked Alice. I settled on putting Jo-Jo with Alice and Bo-Bo with Lou-Lou. Then I observed them.
I was surprised to find that Alice got injured again. Except she wasn't attacked, per se. Since she was in heat, over-zealous little Jo-Jo was trying to mate with her, and he couldn't understand why she didn't want him. She was on her back, squeaking and slapping. He kept trying to grab her bottom with his teeth and flip her over in order to mate with her. In his frustration, he was making her bleed. No matter what she did, he would not back down. I immediately went in to save poor Alice, and she gratefully jumped onto my palm to get away.
I had a hunch that Alice probably wanted to be with Bo-Bo, so I switched the pairs. Immediately there was peace, and I saw Bo-Bo caring for Alice. Lou-Lou keeps Jo-Jo in his place, and Bo-Bo backs down easily to Alice. No more fighting. For the time being, I kept Jo-Jo and Lou-Lou in the wire cage, and the other two in the 10 gallon tank.
We saw each pair [willingly] mating around the middle of December. When it was time to clean their houses again, I decided to do 20 gallon tanks. Now they are in their happy little family homes, nesting away. Alice has such a beautiful little pregnant belly (you bet I kiss those baby bumps!), and we should be expecting little ones any day. Lou-Lou also appears to be pregnant, but no big baby bumps yet.
Here is Bo-Bo and Alice's setup.
Here is Jo-Jo and Lou-Lou's setup.
I'll keep you guys updated...I think there will soon be cute things all over these tanks. All I can hope for is a happy ending to this story!
Alice nomming her biscuits.
Alice's best rat impression.