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All About The Chinese Hamster

Find out if this cute, small hamster would make a good pet for you or your family.

By Lorraine Hill
Posted: March 21, 2012, 10:35 p.m. EDT

see Hamsters table of contents

1. The Chinese hamster is not technically a dwarf hamster, but is often referred to as the Chinese dwarf hamster due to its small size.

2. It belongs to a group known as rat-like hamsters, because it has a long slender body, triangular-shaped head and short but noticeable tail. The short, less mouse- or rat-like head is favored by hamster breeders. The ideal shape is an equilateral triangle formed by the nose and ears.

3. Although the Chinese hamster has long been accepted as being Cricetulus griseus both within laboratories and within the hamster fancy, there is some debate as to whether the Chinese hamster is actually C. barabensis.

4. A Chinese hamster lives on average two to three years and is not particularly prone to any illness.

5. Chinese hamsters are 4 to 5 inches in length with a 1/2- to 1-inch tail.

6. Male Chinese hamsters are larger than the female Chinese hamsters. The males are easily identified by a large scrotal sac.

7. The longer tail and shorter fur of the Chinese hamster combine to make the tail more noticeable on this species than the other pet hamsters. The Chinese hamster uses its tail to balance when climbing and also to wrap around objects for extra grip.

8. Chinese hamsters have an amazing ability to grip using their feet, body and tail, often wrapping themselves around and clinging to their handlers’ fingers. The Chinese hamster owner would have to gently pry off the hamster to place it back into the cage.

9. The Chinese hamster is very timid and fast, often displaying short bursts of activity and speed, which can make it difficult to catch. The Chinese hamster’s timid nature also means that when it is handled, it tends to sit still. They are far more timid than the other hamster species and spend shorter periods out in the open while in the cage than the other hamster species, particularly at first. The Chinese hamster will quickly dart into the nearest hiding place when it hears a strange noise, whereas the other hamster species may be curious and inquisitive, although still on the alert for danger.

10. Chinese hamsters have an unfortunate tendency to empty their bladders while being handled — unless they are familiar and comfortable with the handler.

11. The normal coloring of the Chinese hamster is dark brown on the head and back with a black stripe running along the spine and tail, and an off-white belly. One pattern mutation, the dominant spot, produces a Chinese hamster with a pure-white belly and white patterning or spots across the back. Occasionally dominant spot hamsters occur where the hamster is completely white; these are rare and have a tendency to be small and weak.

12. In some U.S. states, such as California, only Syrian hamsters and the dwarf hamsters are allowed to be kept as pets. Unfortunately, the Chinese hamster does not belong to the genus Phodopus and is therefore a restricted animal or illegal. A permit is required from the state’s Department of Fish and Game to keep or transport Chinese hamsters within these states. Such permits are usually only granted to licensed exhibitors or research laboratories. Contact your state’s Department of Fish and Game to find out if the Chinese hamster is legal where you live.

Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.

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