Dwarf Roborovskis Hamster

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Roborovskis (Phodopus roborovskii) are the smallest of the hamster species commonly kept as pets and belong to the true dwarf hamster genus along with the Campbell’s Russian and Winter White Russian hamsters. They are also the newest species on the pet market. Discovered in 1894 by a Lt Roborovski (hence the name), they were kept in Moscow and London zoos during the 1970s. The first pet Roborovskis arrived in the UK in 1990 from a Dutch hamster breeder, and were not imported to the US until 1998.

They are typically 4-5cm long and weigh about 20-25g, are a uniform sandy brown/gold colour on their backs and pure white underneath. They do not have the darker dorsal stripe commonly seen in Campbell’s, and have characteristic white “eyebrow” markings. There is only one colour mutation currently known in Roborovskis, being the “white-faced” gene, where the white belly extends to cover the head region. They have a life expectancy of around 2-2½ years.

Roborovskis are not an ideal pet for children as they are so small, can move very fast and even jump several times their body length from standing. They are very agile and can be quite difficult to catch and handle, but rarely bite. They are a brilliant pet for watching, can be very entertaining and love to play. With patience it is possible to be able to safely handle individuals, but these hamsters should not be bought if you have a cuddly pet in mind.

They are social animals and should be kept in single-sex groups or pairs, preferably from the same litter. Sexing Roborovskis is the same as sexing other species, with the added difficulty of holding them still long enough! Placing them in a glass bowl may allow you to see underneath without having to scruff them, which can be very difficult if you are not experienced in handling small animals. The males have a quite distinct “button” where their penis is. As with any group animal, there is always the possibility that individuals prefer to be on their own, so you should always bear this in mind when purchasing Roborovskis and be prepared to separate them if necessary and provide extra housing.

As Roborovskis are so small, conventional hamster cages may have bars spaced so far apart that a wily Robo could escape. They should be kept in either plastic or glass aquarium type cages, or specially designed mouse/dwarf hamster cages that have narrower spaced bars. These cages as sold in pet shops are typically too small for a pair of the larger dwarf species, but are ideal for Roborovskis. They should be provided with plenty of things to play with – tubes, hidey holes, platforms, ladders, and a solid wheel. They are very active hamsters and will play for hours.

As with any hamster, food and water should always be available. Roborovskis can be fed ordinary commercial hamster mixes, but some keepers will mix a little budgie seed in with the hamster mix, as this provides some smaller seeds. Very small pieces of fresh food can be offered, but I have found that Robos are not as food-oriented as other species, and do not store food to the same extent, so make sure to remove uneaten fresh food every day.

As mentioned earlier Roborovskis can be quite difficult to handle, but you can interact with your pet in other ways. Setting up a “playpen” in a large box or even the bathtub (with the plug in!) gives them more room to play in (supervised of course), and you can handle them held low over this environment so that if they do jump or wriggle suddenly, they cannot escape. Handling like this is a great way to get your pet used to being held and build your confidence that you can handle them without them escaping too. Some Roborovskis will also happily run in the mini exercise balls available for dwarf hamsters, and it can be lovely to watch them running around your room exploring.

Roborovskis can be more difficult to breed than other species, usually only breeding in spring/summer and producing smaller litters (3-5 pups is usual). Breeding is basically a matter of leaving a mixed sex pair together to get on with it – both mother and father make good parents and a fertile pair may produce a litter every 3-4 weeks. Contrary to popular myth, brother/sister pairs can and will breed, so sexing hamsters from the same litter is still crucial. Another Robo breeding myth is that a pair will only breed once – again, this is not true, up to 10 litters from the same pair have been reported.


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