What is a Chinese hamster?
They are also known as striped hamsters or chinese striped hamsters,
Chinese hamsters (Cricetulus griseus) are one of five species of hamster that are commonly kept as a pet.
Like other hamsters, they are rodents and part of the family Cricetidae.
This is their taxonomic record which relates them to the animal kingdom.
The seven species are;
- Tibetan dwarf hamster – Cricetulus alticola
- Chinese dwarf hamster – Cricetulus barabensis
- Chinese hamster – Cricetulus griseus
- Kam dwarf hamster – Cricetulus kamensis
- Lama dwarf hamster – Cricetulus lama
- Long-tailed dwarf hamster – Cricetulus longicaudatus
- Grey dwarf hamster – Cricetulus migratorius
- Sokolov’s dwarf hamster – Cricetulus sokolovi
As you can see, there are two Chinese hamsters in the genus and is often why the Chinese hamster (Cricetulus griseus) is confused with the Chinese dwarf hamster (Cricetulus barabensis).
All species in the genus Cricetulus have a rat-like appearance and have common name which is ‘ratlike hamster’.
However, only Chinese hamsters (Cricetulus griseus) are kept as pets.
Where do they come from?
Chinese hamsters as pets
They first became pets in 1919 and were used as laboratory animals, however from the 1960s they increased in popularity as a pet.
They are among five species of hamster which are popularly kept as pets.
The other four are;
- Syrian Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)
- Dwarf Campbell Russian Hamsters (Phodopus campbelli)
- Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamsters (Phodopus sungorus)
- Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters (Phodopus roborovski)
US States that restrict ownership of Chinese hamsters
Today there are some states in the U.S. where only dwarf hamsters and Syrian hamsters are allowed to be kept as pets.
Chinese hamsters can be a restricted or illegal animal and therefore a permit is needed from the state’s department of fish and game to keep them.
However, these permits are only usually granted to research laboratories or licensed exhibitors
A list of states where the Chinese hamster is regarded as a pest, and as a result are either not permitted or require a special permit to own, breed or sell them, is as follows;
Chinese hamsters as laboratory animals.
Chinese hamsters have also been used solely for breeding and for research as laboratory animals.
They are used frequently in Asia for laboratory research. This is because they are easy to handle and have the ability to resist infection.
If they are given a comfortable cage and are treated well they can be quite docile and so are good for research.
Their cheek pouches make them valuable to researchers who are interested in studying circulation and hamsters are know to have more specific reaction to certain experiments.
They are used to research such things as cancer, diabetes, radiation, and vascular physiology studies.
What health issues do they have?
Chinese hamsters are prone to suffering from diabetes.
It is not as great a problem with them as it is with Campbell’s hamsters and they can live a normal life span.
However, it does mean you cannot feed foods with sugar to them as you would some other species of hamster.
They can be tested for diabetes using Diastix which are available from pharmacies.
To do this, collect some urine from your chinese hamster and dip the Diastix in it and follow instructions to see if they have the problem.
For further reading on the subject, check out hamsterific.com
Chinese hamsters are prone to catching colds from humans.
If you or a family member has a cold, then do stay out of their way until you have got better.
You may inadvertently pass it on to them.
As with colds, Chinese hamsters are prone to catching sickness bugs from humans.
Do stay away from them until you have recovered from your sickness bug.
Symptoms of a sick Chinese hamster
These are symptoms you need to keep watch on with our chinese hamster.
- Dull-looking eyes
- Matted fur
- Weight loss
- Runny nose
If you do notice any of these symptoms, consider veterinary attention as they will be suffering as a result.
What do Chinese hamsters eat?
Hamsters are omnivores which means that they get their energy and nutrients from a diet that consists of a variety of food sources.
These may include such foods as grasses, shoots, seeds and insects. This is because these are generally the types of food that would eat in the wild.
As omnivores they may also eat animal matter and fungi.
In captivity, they enjoy vegetables, seeds, bread, fruit and some insects because these foods will give them a good variety in their diet.
They will look to hoard food as they are survivors and naturally keep food back in case they need it.
In captivity, they need good quality hamster mix, followed by a small amount of fresh vegetables along with a few well-chosen insects.
As they are prone to diabetes, they need food that is low in sugar or has no sugar. In these cases, they are limited in what they eat compared to Syrian and Roborovski hamsters.
Treats that chinese hamsters can eat
Treats are not meant to be fed to chinese hamsters all the time, but occasionally they are a good thing to give to them. Typically good treats to feed to a chinese hamster include;
- Mixed dog treats
- Locust bean pods
- Meal worms
- Sunflower seeds
- Sugar free egg biscuit
- Dry or Cooked pasta
- Brussel Sprouts
- Runner beans
- French beans
- Cat biscuits
- Hemp seed
- Dog biscuits
- Monkey nuts (in the shell uncooked)
- Dry porridge oats
- Millet sprays
- Plain scrambled egg
- Puffed wheat
- Rice crackers (plain),
- Shelled nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
Foods that chinese hamsters cannot eat
Chinese Hamsters unfortunately can develop diabetes if they have too many foods that are high in sugar.
However, there is a possibility that this can be prevented with a diet of low sugar foods.
Here is a list of foods that they can’t eat because of the risk of increasing the risk of diabetes or the possibility of causing them to be sick.
- Tomatoes and tomato leaves
- Meat (that is high in fat)
- Chocolate (too sweet)
- Candies (too sweet)
- Chips (too high in fat)
- Crisps (too high in fat)
- Junk food (tend to be too high in fat and sugar)
- Garlic (too acidic)
- Hot Peppers (like jalapenos which are just too hot for them)
- Almonds (Too high in fat)
- Citrus fruits (They are too acidic)
- Fruits (that are high in sugar)
- Celery (too high in water content)
- Rhubarb and Rhubarb leaves
- Spicy foods
- Seasoned foods
What can Chinese hamsters drink?
Their main liquid drink that they can consume is water and they need plenty of it.
They can drink either tap water or bottled water, and it needs to be fresh and not dirty.
They have also been known to drink unpasteurized milk which does not have fat. Female hamsters who have just given birth or older chinese hamsters will benefit from this as it will give them energy, because of its nutritional qualities.
Chinese hamsters need to chew
Chinese hamsters are rodents and so their teeth are always growing. To combat this they need to grind them down by chewing. They will chew anything they can so need a constant supply of material to do this.
As a result, having items like empty toilet or kitchen rolls, cardboard, chew toys, hay and other such material is very beneficial for a chinese hamster.
How to sex a Chinese hamster?
When chinese hamsters are born, the way to tell a male and female apart is by assessing the distance between the two genital openings.
The distance between the anus and the genitals of a male chinese hamster is twice that of a female.
Males also have fur between their penis and anus.
Females have genitalia that are closer without any fur between them.
How big are they?
Chinese hamsters grow to a mature size of between 82 and 127 mm in total body length. Their tail will measure between 20-33 mm alone.
At birth, they will weigh around 1.7 grams and will grow to a weight of between 30 – 45 grams at maturity.
What do they look like?
Body proportions of the chinese hamster are longer and thinner than that of other species of pet hamster. Because of their long and narrow face shape, pointy snouts, lithe build, long tail, small ears and large eyes they are often mistaken for rats or mice. This is why they are often called ‘ratlike hamsters’
What color variations of Chinese hamster are there?
Three color mutations that are found in Chinese hamsters are as follows;
- Dominant spot: This variation looks like a white hamster that has a black dorsal stripe that runs down its spine. It then has differing amounts of black pigment in its fur coloring.
- Black-eyed white: This is a new mutation that is very rare. They cannot be found in pet stores and are only obtained from breeders of Black-eyed white chinese hamsters.
- Normal/wild type: Their natural wild coloring is brown with black and grey ticks, a white belly with a black stripe that runs down their spine. A known variation is the white-spotted chinese hamster who are grey-white in color with a dark stripe running down its spine (see above).
How long do they live?
Chinese hamsters tend to live between two to three years on average in captivity.
What characteristics do Chinese hamsters have?
- They are not known to be social hamsters
- Chinese hamsters are able to live successfully with their own kin with whom they have been bred with.
- They can be aggressive towards non-kin Chinese hamsters
- are good-natured towards humans
- Chinese hamsters are quite timid creatures
- They do not bite often.
- Chinese hamsters are nocturnal creatures and sleep in cycles and so can still be seen awake during the day. However, they are most active at night.
- They can be easily handled and tamed to be calm and gentle around their owners.
How to care for a Chinese hamster
Getting two Chinese hamsters
Whilst Chinese hamsters can be kept in pairs, there is no guarantee that they will get along. The best chance that they will get along without any issues, is if they were raised in the same litter and so share a similar scent. The other way of doing this well is to introduce them at a very young age. If they are introduced as mature adults then they are much more likely to fight.
If you do intend to introduce two hamsters together then do consider consulting a vet before hand and using the split-cage method to do so.
Putting a male and female hamster together is not a good idea as they will breed together. They breed very quickly and a hamster population can very easily get out of control.
Creating a home for a hamster
Chinese hamsters need to be kept in a home that is large enough that they can run around in and interesting enough to keep them stimulated and entertained throughout their lives.
Their home can be a cage or an aquarium. It needs to be lined with plenty of substrate so that they can dig easily and often, along with lots of bedding to keep them warm. Hamsters are burrow digging, nest building rodents and so need to be catered for in this respect.
Material that can be used as substrate and bedding include pelleted bedding, shredded paper, aspen shavings and timothy hay.
Avoid pine or cedar shavings as the fumes may harm your chinese hamster.
Where to put your hamsters cage
A good cage or aquarium can be purchased from a good pet store. Make sure it is well ventilated and able to keep them contained as well.
Make sure the cage is kept out of direct sunlight and away from drafty conditions.
Remember that they are nocturnal animals, so try to locate their cage away from where you sleep as you may not get much sleep due to the noise they make from their cage. Their scampering around and spinning wheel can make quite a bit of noise in a silent house.
Give them accessories to play with
A chinese hamster needs accessories to keep them occupied and stimulated. Accessories to purchase for them include;
- An exercise wheel
- A hidey home
- A hamster fort
- Empty toilet paper tubes
- An exercise ball
- Chew gnawers
Change the accessories regularly to keep their interest up and to stimulate them.
Give your chinese hamster exercise
Chinese hamsters need to run.
Because of this they need space or facilities to help to make that happen.
Such facilities like and exercise wheel or an exercise ball are great for hamsters.
Make sure that the exercise wheel is solid and does not have any holes that may catch its tail in.
Make sure they are well fed and watered
As mentioned earlier, chinese hamsters need fed often. Make sure they have a solid ceramic dish to retain their food in and a water bottle to keep fresh water in. Use an inverted water bottle that has a drinking tube and make sure that they water bottle’s tip does not touch the bedding. If it is touched, then water drips out.
Ensure they have a balanced diet suitable for their dietary needs.
Cleaning a hamsters cage
Make sure any uneaten food is removed after they have finished with it.
It’s important to clean their cage on a regular basis to help keep it a hamster happy and healthy.
Tasks to be done once a week;
- Take out the hamster, so that they get a good run outside.
- Give the cage a deep clean, this will rid it of any bad smells arising.
- Take out everything from their cage and clean the sides and bottom of the cage with hot and soapy water.
- Rinse and dry the cage, because it is imperative that all soap is removed from the cage.
- Put new bedding and substrate into the cage, so as to give them a comfortable place to sleep.
- Replace the accessories back into the cage.
- Put the hamster back.
Tasks be done each day;
- Take out and replace any bedding which is damp or soiled.
- Spot clean any droppings, removing them from the cage
- Take out old food.
How to handle your chinese hamster
Building up their confidence
A chinese hamster needs to be handled with real care.
To do it right needs patience before they have the confidence to let you hold them.
To build up this trust, let them sniff your hand and even have some treats for them to eat of your hand.
Once they feel they can trust you, they will allow you to pick them up. As a result, you can begin to build up trust with them.
Picking up your chinese hamster for the first time
The first time you pick up your chinese hamster, cup both your hands around it in a gentle way. This is because of their wariness of touch.
Be slow and considered with your movements and don’t be swift in grabbing them or you will scare them and they will run away.
Ensure they have some time outside the cage each day which is supervised. They need this time to give them the exercise they need and to ensure that they are stimulated as much as possible.
Time you spend with them can also be used to build up your relationship with your chinese hamster and let them get to know you.
Letting them run in a hamster ball or within an allocated pen which has been built to stop them running away from a specific area.
Another way to do this is to have a specific room in your home where you can do this, which does not have much furniture that they can hide under or behind. It must also be clear of hazards and things like electrical cords that they could possibly gnaw on.
What housing should I get for them?
There are many different types of housing that you can get for your chinese hamster, because of the availability of material and good design in this day and age.
They vary in size, shape, adaptability, and pricing and are available from good pet stores and also online stores such as amazon and ebay. Because of the availability of hamster housing, it is worth researching what at the benefits of each type of housing is.
Different types of hamster housing includes;
- Glass acquarium: This needs to have a close fitting lid that can be made from wood and mesh.
- Metal bar cage
- Plastic cage
- Mouse cage
- Modified storage tubs
- Rotostack-type accomodation
How do they breed?
Chinese hamsters become sexually mature at around five weeks old.
They breed from anytime beyond that age, and once the female has mated, her gestation period is between 18-21 days which is typical of a rodent of their size.
A female chinese hamster can become very aggressive to a male during their gestation period and so they are best kept apart.
If they male is kept in the cage, then there must be plenty of places for them to hide. They may also seek to mate with the female after the birth as the female will come into season just a few hours after giving birth.
Females will only show that they are pregnant up to a few days before they give birth when suddenly she will bulk out.
She will give birth to a litter of between 2-7 young pups. These pups will be hairless, blind, deaf and mute when they are born.
The young pups grow very quickly.
Their fur will start to grow, and they will gain their sight and hearing within a week. They will also start to squeak and squark.
After three to four weeks old, male pups should be separated from their litter and their mother.
Female pups are able to stay with their mothers until they are relocated to a new home.
Breeding a chinese hamster
There are ways of breeding chinese hamster. Due to the female becoming very aggressive this can be quite difficult.
However there are some things you can do to make it easier;
- Introduce them at five weeks old and let them grow up together. This helps them to get to know each other before they become mature and aggressive.
- Having an older male and a younger female will help bring some equilibrium to their relationship.
- The season of the female can be worked out as they have their season every four days and come into season immediately after their pups are born. This means that their season can be predicted.
- Introduce them in a different cage to what they are both used to, if that is not available then the males cage will suffice. Don’t introduce them in the female’s cage
Where to get a Chinese hamster?
Can be purchased from any good pet store.
A good pet store will have looked after them well, given them lots of food and water and made sure that they are happy. They will also ensure you are fully briefed when you purchase your hamster and be concerned as to the kind of home they will be going to.
However, there are also pet stores that should know better and treat hamsters and other animals in an undesirable. Because of this, look carefully at what you are buying, and do your research into the store and their reputation for good animal welfare.
Can be purchased from a Chinese hamster breeder
As with a pet store, a chinese hamster breeder will know the species well and will have looked after them with care.
Because of their knowledge of hamster care, good breeder will be concerned with the home they are going to and the hamster will appear contented and not jumpy.
Can be obtained an animal refuge or shelter.
Animal shelters and refuges both large and small are found all across the world. They have a very good selection of animals looking for new homes and you may have chinese hamsters available for adoption.
Indeed, thanks to the Shelter Pet Project, it’s become easier than ever to find shelters and rescue groups and as a result, connect owners with animals that need a home.
The humane society report that 6–8 million pets end up in shelters each year; half of those will probably not be adopted.
Most pets will end up homeless through no fault of their own, because owners giving them up. As a result, there are many shelters with hamsters and other animals that are in need of a good home.
Pets that are adopted from shelters and rescue groups typically cost less than pets purchased or even acquired for free, because the need is to find a good home or just cover their costs instead of making a profit.
Most shelters and rescue groups conduct thorough behavioral analysis of each pet to ensure that they are the right fit for your family. As a result, they can be sure that they are releasing the hamster into a good home.
Shelters and rescues can provide advice on making your relationship with your pet the best it can be for the rest of its life. As a result, this can benefit the quality of life your pet chinese hamster lives for the better.