The Chinese Hamster
The Chinese Hamster, which originated in northern China and Mongolia, belongs to the group of hamsters with rat-like characteristics. This breed was first reported and sold as a pet in Beijing in 1900. Used primarily as lab animals, they were later used at the Peking Union Medical College in 1919 and soon exported to other labs worldwide. Harvard Medical School received ten males and ten females in 1948. Eventually, Chinese Hamsters were introduced into the European pet market in the 1960s. Interest in Chinese Hamsters grew in the 1970s, as the Russian Hamster was also introduced to the pet market. Chinese Hamsters are not an endangered species, but they are rare, particularly in the United States, where many states do not allow them. If considering one of these animals as a pet, please check your local regulations to make sure it is allowed and no restrictions apply.
The Chinese Hamster is a very small and slender hamster, which has a longer body than other hamsters with a long tail like a rat. Although it is sometimes referred to as a Chinese Dwarf Hamster because it is so tiny, it is not officially classified as a dwarf hamster. This tiny creatures grows to about 4 inches in length for the males and slightly shorter for the females. Chinese Hamsters weigh approximately 2 to 3 ounces, and have a life expectancy of approximately 1.5 to 3 years. The tail is about an inch long (much longer than other hamsters, which generally only have a nub), and has no hair; thus the reason is is classified as a rat-like hamster, and less popular than other hamster breeds.
The natural coloration of a Chinese Hamster is an agouti pattern (shaded in specific areas with banding or striping) of dark brown fur on their backs, a darker colored stripe of fur which runs along their spine, and much lighter, tan colored fur on their belly. One other color mutation for Chinese Hamsters is a light or white fur coat with spots of color across its body.
Chinese Hamsters are difficult to tame because they are so shy and somewhat skittish. Generally kept singly, it is best to pair females together rather than a male and female as they females are the dominant of the species and will often kill weaker males. Despite their preference to being solitary and away from prying eyes a good bit of the time, these adorable creatures are fun to own. Not suitable at all for young children, teenagers and adults will find them fascinating and entertaining to watch. In some cases, a patient owner may even be able to socialize these normally timid and shy creatures into their hands for brief periods or even to hang onto their finger.
Extremely athletic and quite fast, you will want to be careful with your Chinese Hamster when out of its cage, as it can easily jump from your hands and will be very difficult to catch once loose. Sometimes reported to be an aggressive breed, this is a misconception, as they are usually just responding to being frightened and are simply defending themselves against something much larger.
CARE AND FEEDING
Solid cages, such as an aquarium or a plastic enclosure, will work best, as these tiny hamsters can easily wriggle between bars on a cage and jump to the floor effortlessly no matter how high they are from the floor. Since these small creatures are constantly chewing, it’s important to provide appropriate chew sticks for them to gnaw on so that they don’t begin to gnaw on their enclosure. This is important when placing food or water bowls in their habitat as they can chew on them. Cover the bottom of the hamster’s housing with shredded wood (a type that does not excrete natural oils, such as pine, as it may be toxic to your hamster), plain paper or standard hamster bedding. Make sure you provide a hiding place for your pet, as they love their privacy and a place to burrow and run in and out of.
Your Chinese Hamster will need plenty of water, so it’s best to use a water bottle rather than a bowl that he can easily drink from and not have to maneuver to climb into for a drink, and possibly drown. Keep the water bottle full and make sure the water is fresh daily. There will be days when he drinks more than others, but don’t let water stagnate and keep watch on his intake to make sure he is drinking ample amounts. If you are concerned he may become dehydrated because he is drinking less than normal, take him to your exotic veterinarian at once, as these tiny creatures are delicate.
Feeding will consist of a healthy mixture of dried fruits, seeds and some pellets. This diet is readily available at your local pet store. Occasionally, your hamster will enjoy a special treat like a small grasshopper or cricket. A ceramic food bowl will work best, as it’s heavy enough to not tip over when he climbs into it to eat, and it will also help keep food dry and fresh. The average lifespan of the Chinese Hamster is approximately 1.5 to 3 years, with good care and proper handling.
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