The Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster – Everything You Need To Know

By Dawn | Filed under:  Hamster Species

Disclosure

Hamster Geek is supported by its readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Thank you.

Featured Image: Ultrasleeper2 / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

The Campbell’s Dwarf hamster (Phodophus Campbelli) is the second most popular hamster after the Syrian hamster and is also known as the striped hairy-footed hamster, the Djungarian hamster, the Original, the Western hamster or the Siberian hamster.

The Campbell’s hamster is similar in many ways to the Winter White hamster and the two are commonly confused due to some of the common names, such as the ‘Siberian hamster’ or the ‘Djungarian hamster’ which are also used to describe the Winter White hamster.

The Campbell’s hamster has a long history behind it before it arrived on the pet market, so in this guide, we’re going to delve a little deeper and find out a little bit about its origins, what they’re like in the wild, how they ended up as pets and also how to care for one.

Let’s have a look now at where they discovered and who actually discovered them.

When were Campbell hamsters discovered?

The Campbells’ hamster was named after W.C Campbell by Oldfield Thomas who discovered it in Mongolia in 1902.  Originally, it was classified as being part of the Phodopus Sungorus (Winter White) family by Corbet in the book The Mammals of the Palaearctic Region (1978) but it was officially regarded as a separate species by Palinov and Rossolimo in Systematics of Mammals of the USSR (1987).

Despite being classed as a separate species of hamster, some still class the hamster as being a sub-species of the Winter White, mainly because they share some of the same characteristics as each other such as arches on the sides of their fur, black dorsal stripes, thick dense fur, shortal tail and furry feet.

But despite the fact that they look similar, the natural coloring of the Campbell hamster is brownish grey which is lighter than the Winter White/  They also have a darker black stripe running down the centre of the back and arches running along each side.

They are also said to be differentiated in terms of their size (the Campbell is slightly larger than the Winter White, growing to about 4 inches) and in terms of their gut microflora and behavior.

Pet market

The Campbell hamster didn’t appear in the UK until 1963 and more stock arrived in 1969 but at this point, they were only used as lab animals.  It was only in the early 1970s did the Campbell’s hamster actually become available in pet shops.  But since that date, they have become a very popular pet.

The Campbell’s hamster arrived in the US at the same time as the Winter White in the early 1980s, but they were subjected to the same restrictions and some states forbid them as pets due to their anti-vermin laws.  

However, relatively recent changes in legislation mean that Campbell’s hamsters have become more popular in the US and are becoming more readily available.

Where do Campbell hamsters come from?

In short, Campbell hamsters are found in arid areas in central Asia, northern Russia, Mongolia and northern China.  Their natural habitat is dry, open, barren steppes and sand dunes.

The Campbell’s hamster in the wild

When the species was observed in the wild in Manchuria, China in the late 1930s, it was found to be living with Pikas and often shared their burrows, paths and tunnels with them, especially during the winter.

In the wild they are known to dig between four and six escape and ventilation tunnels that lead away from the entrances to the burrow.  

Females are known to dig a special nesting chamber in the burrow before giving birth and line it with whatever is cozy and available to them such as dried grasses and even sheep wool.

Campbell’s hamsters are nocturnal/crepuscular and awaken before dark to go foraging for food to take to their burrows.  Despite being omnivorous, they eat mostly grasses and other vegetation but also eat things like grasshoppers and insects for moisture and extra protein.

Due to the arid environment in which they live, they don’t need much water and are very efficient at concentrating their urine to conserve water in their bodies.

The Campbell’s hamster mark their trail with scents from glands behind their ears, on their lower abdomen and from feces, urine and vaginal secretions (females only).  This helps them to navigate their way around because they have poor eyesight and it also helps them to attract mates.

The hamsters groom themselves before leaving the burrow, rubbing their paws over their ears, around their eyes and they also roll around on the ground.  This helps to transfer scent to the paws so that a scent trail can be easily left so they can find their way back home.

Male Campbell’s hamsters move faster along the ground than females and therefore cover a much larger territory over the same period of time.

Interestingly, they are active for more hours of day and active for longer at night than the Winter White, so they tend to travel further away from their burrow.  As a result, they require more effort and energy to live in their colder, drier and more seasonal habitats.

Because of the additional effort required for their survival, this may indicate why both parents are involved in care for their young.

Finally, like the Winter White, they are not known to go into hibernation during the winter.  The color of their fur doesn’t change color either, unlike that of the Winter White.

How long do Campbell Russian Dwarf hamsters live?

Campbell’s dwarf hamsters live on average between 1.5 and 3 years in captivity in laboratory settings, but some have been known to live up to 4 years old, but this is rare.  Typically though, they live between 2 and 2.5 years.  Although diet and exercise plays a key part in a hamster’s longevity, genetics also plays a large part.

What do Campbell hamsters look like?

Campbell’s dwarf hamsters as the name suggests, are small hamsters, and measure between 3 ¼ and 4 ¾ inches nose to tail.  Males weigh about two ounces and are larger than females whilst females weigh around one ounce.

Campbell’s hamsters have a pronounced waist, pointy heads like the Winter White but their eyes are closer together and their ears are more pointed in comparison.

Their natural fur color is rather gray / brown, their belly is whitish and they also have a dark stripe on their backs.  They can be easily recognized by their ‘milk beards’ which are basically light spots around the mouth where the fur is a little longer.

Campbell hamster colors

In recent years, selective breeding has altered the original coloration of Campbell dwarf hamsters and come in a great variety of colors, in all shades from light to dark.  Many different coat-types have also become available.  This is where they differ greatly from the Winter White, which hardly shows any color mutation.

In total there are over forty color variations, but some of the newer colors are only available from specialist breeders.

Here are some examples:

In addition to the standard coat type, you can also get a satin coat (with a sheen that makes the hamster look slightly damp) and a rex coat, which is a slightly curly but very sparse coat.

What are Campbell’s hamsters like as pets?

The Campbell’s hamster is a sociable yet curious hamster, they’re more outgoing than the Chinese hamster and can be a joy to have as a pet.  They spend a lot of time exercising and exploring their cage and they’re fast on their feet like the Winter White, so they’re not really suited to very young children.

The Campbell’s hamster can be kept singly, in pairs or even in a colony especially if you put them together when the hamsters are young.  It is possible however for mature hamsters to squabble, so there’s always a chance that you may need to separate them.  

It’s also worth noting that if you go for mixed sex group or pair, litters should be expected every 18 days once the pair or the group starts breeding!

Campbell hamsters can be quite vocal and can fight despite being sociable animals.  If they do fight, you need to check the individuals for bites on their tummies.  If they’re not serious, then you may not need to separate them unless it becomes a regular occurrence.

In terms of temperament there is no difference between males and females though many owners consider males easier to keep together.  This is because females in any given group try to establish themselves as the matriarch of the colony which can lead to significant levels of squabbling.

Reproduction

Breeding season in the wild varies depending on location but in captivity, there is no fixed breeding season and they can breed all year round.

Campbell’s hamsters bear their young after a gestation period of 18-19 days and a litter size of eight is the average litter size.  So it’s safe to say, like other hamsters, they are reproducing machines!

Researcher Francis Ebling found that if Campbell’s hamsters were placed on a long day cycle (16 hours of light and 8 hours dark), females give birth again in 20 days.  In normal captive conditions, the usual time is 36 days.

This means that a female can mate successfully when her young are one day old.  The young also mature rapidly and reach sexual maturity at just four weeks old!

Unlike other hamster species, male Campbell’s play a substantial role in the survival of its young.  This was observed by researchers Jennifer Jones and Katherine Wynne-Edwards who published observations of male support in the birth and rearing of the young.

They found that the male hamster assists mechanically during delivery, licks and sniffs the young after birth and opens the pups airways by clearing their nostrils.

The male also continues to contribute to pup survival through the direct care of the young and even hops into the nest when the mother is absent.

As a result, the pups are very rarely left alone in the nest and aren’t subjected to cooling.  It is important in terms of survival that they are kept warm because when they’re born, they are too small to maintain their own body temperature.

How can you tell the difference between Campbell and winter white?

The best way to tell the difference is to compare the black dorsal stripe, which tends to be narrower in the Campbell’s hamster.  Another difference is to look at fur coloration on the sides of the hamster.  

If you look at the Campbell;s hamster, in between its white belly and its brown/grey body, there is creamy beige coloration, whereas in the Winter White hamster, there are darker lines in between its brown/grey body and white belly.

That’s not the only difference, so here are some additional differences to look out for:

Body

Ears

Eyes

Fur

Head/Face

Tail

Are Campbell hamsters hamsters friendly?

Yes, Campbell hamsters are friendly and like Winter Whites, they don’t mind being held and petted.  However they are very quick and can be challenging to hold, so they are more suited to older children and adults.

Campbell’s hamsters are also sociable animals, naturally inquisitive and despite being a bit skittish, they can be relatively easy to tame and can even be ‘trained’ to fall asleep on your lap!

How to tame a campbell dwarf hamster

Before taming your Campbell’s dwarf hamster, you need to give your hamster a few days of ‘settling in’ before handling.

Assuming you have come to the end of the settling in period, initially you can put your hand inside the cage and offer your hamster some treats.  Make sure that you do so slowly and without any sudden movements and always make sure that your hamster can see your hand approaching as you don’t want to startle your hamster in any way.

Once you’ve offered some treats, see if your hamster will voluntarily sit on your hand whilst eating the treat.  If so, great, you can then gently lift up your hamster whilst cupping the hamster with your other hand to prevent it from jumping or falling.

If you find that your hamster is biting or being aggressive in any way when you put your hand in the cage, your hamster may be cage territorial.  In this case, it’s a good idea to take a cup or a glass and allow it to climb inside.  You can then lift the cup out of the cage slowly and allow it to climb out onto your hands.

It’s important that you do this every day to build a bond and maintain that bond going forwards. It won’t take your hamster long to learn to trust you and it will soon realize that you aren’t a threat.  Your hamster will also stop nipping or biting you especially when it is rewarded with a treat for not doing so.

In addition to handling your hamster and offering treats, you should also talk to your hamster so that it gets used to hearing your voice and begins to associate the sound of your voice with treats and something that is friendly and non-predatory.

Do Campbell’s dwarf hamsters bite?

Yes Campbell’s dwarf hamsters can bite, but this is usually a nibble rather than a bite that pierces the skin and draws blood.  Dwarf hamsters don’t tend to bite unless they’re frightened, see you as a threat or mistake your finger for food.  Unlike Syrians, they’d rather run off than bite when frightened.  They can also nip you if they’re held for too long and want to go back inside their cage where it’s familiar.

How do you take care of a Campbell’s dwarf hamster?

Caring for Campbell’s dwarf hamsters isn’t difficult as long as you have the basics in place such as a sufficiently large cage, suitable substrate, nesting material and plenty of chews and chew toys that they can gnaw on.

That being said, there are some things to bear in mind whilst caring for your hamster (most of which is covered in my hamster care guide for beginners) and there are definitely some mistakes that you want to avoid.

Cage size

In terms of cage size, you need a minimum of 450 square inches of floor space.  However, if you have two Campbell’s dwarf hamsters, you need to double this amount of space.  You also may need to buy two cages in case your hamsters need to be separated in the future.

In the wild, Campbell’s hamsters cover quite large distances (even more so than the Winter White), so this needs to be reflected in the size of your hamster’s cage.  If you have more than one Campbell’s hamster, you’ll need 450 square inches per hamster, otherwise the hamsters will be more likely to squabble as they can be very territorial.

Cage type

In terms of the type of cage, I recommend going for an aquarium type cage that has a mesh top to provide plenty of ventilation.

Wire cages are okay, but the gaps between the bars tend to be too large for dwarf hamsters and so your hamster is more likely to escape.

Substrate

Substrate is the name given to the material that goes on the floor of your hamster’s cage.  Good materials to use include Aspen wood shavings (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or paper-based substrates such as Carefresh (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or Kaytee Clean and Cosy (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned)  You can even use natural substrates such as organic soil in small parts of your hamster’s cage for additional texture.

An important point is to make sure that the substrate is deep enough to allow them to dig tunnels and create burrows, like they would in the wild.  A substrate depth of 6 inches is recommended although more is better and you should add as much as your cage and budget will allow.

Nesting material

In terms of nesting material, I always recommend non-scented tissue paper because it’s warm and cosy for your hamster.  You will notice that your hamster will stuff their cheek pouches with nesting material when transporting it to their burrows.  Using tissue paper ensures that it won’t get stuck in their cheek pouches, won’t get tangled around their limbs and won’t pose any danger to your hamster if accidentally swallowed.

Enrichment

The word ‘enrichment’ basically means the stuff that you put into your cage beyond the basics such as wheels and houses etc.

Your hamster will first and foremost need things to gnaw on because their front incisors grow continuously throughout their life.  My favorites are apple or orange wood sticks as they’re natural but there are a ton of options out there.

Feel free to get creative here.  For example, if you want to go for a natural, more rustic look to your cage, consider adding small pebbles and things like Cork log (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or Grapevine wood (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) for your hamster to climb on.  This also has the added advantage of keeping your hamster’s claws in check.

Adding children’s toys, houses and toilet roll tubes will also provide your hamster with things to gnaw and hide in which will help them feel safe and secure.

Sand bath

Although Campbell’s hamsters like all hamsters are very good at cleaning themselves, they can benefit from rolling around in what is known as a ‘sand bath’.  A sand bath is nothing more than a bowl or a section of the cage that contains either Chinchilla sand (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) or children’s play sand.  

Either will do, but it’s a good idea if you’re using the play sand, that you cook it in your oven at 350 degrees to remove any pathogens.  It’s important that you don’t confuse Chinchilla sand with Chinchilla ‘dust’ because the dust that you can buy is too fine and can be detrimental to your hamster’s respiratory system.

Your hamster will not only enjoy rolling around in a sand bath but it will also keep their coat soft and clean and prevent it from becoming too greasy.

Wheels

Hamster wheels are very important, especially for Campbell’s hamsters that cover even larger distances than then Winter White in the wild.

Size is less of a concern than it is for Syrian hamsters, but nevertheless, you don’t want a wheel that is so small that it causes your hamster’s back to arch.

Like cage size, you can’t go too big here.  My favorite is this 12 inch wheel on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned).  Alternately, dwarf hamsters can also run around on these satellite dish type wheels like this on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned).

Make sure that you buy one wheel per hamster to prevent any squabbling.

Diet

Campbell’s hamsters are omnivores and in the wild, they feed mainly on grasses, plants and other vegetation.  In captivity they can feed on mealworms for their protein content, but for the main part of their diet, you should feed your hamster with a good quality hamster mix.

A good quality hamster mix has the correct blend of protein, fats and fibre and will provide your hamster with everything they need nutritionally.  

In addition, you can and should supplement their diet with fresh fruit and veg but this should be given in very small portions and only once or twice a week.  

In addition to the a good quality hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned), we give our hamster Richmond a sliver of apple, the occasional blueberry and even a little bit of chicken. 

Any new food that you give to your hamster should be given in very small portions as it can upset their stomachs.  You also need to observe your hamster to see how they react to new foods.

There are foods you should definitely not give to your hamster and most of them are listed here in this article.

How often do you feed a Campbell’s hamster?

You should ensure that your hamster has about two tablespoons of food in their food bowl each day.  But of course hamsters are foragers in the wild, so feel free to ditch their food bowl and scatter some food throughout their cage and let them find it for themselves.  This will prevent your hamster from getting too fat and will also help to alleviate boredom.

Water

Campbell’s hamsters like all hamsters need clean, fresh water every day.  Make sure that you rinse your hamster’s bottle through each day and make sure they can reach it without straining.

Although hamsters can drink out of a bowl, it’s best to use a bottle with dwarf hamsters for peace of mind because there is a small risk they can drown due to their small size.