A Complete Guide to Roborovski Hamsters
The Roborovski hamster originates from Russia. It is the smallest species of hamster, the most timid and often claimed as the cutest. These adorable little hamsters are most active at night and in the early morning and are very playful, curious and will have a go at just about anything. They enjoy having lots of toys.
These hamsters are available all over the world but are harder to come by than the typical Syrian hamster (golden hamster) or the Russian dwarf. These hamsters are not as suitable as a pet for most people and require an experienced, older, patient owner to bring them on. They are a lot less cuddly than most other hamster types and can be difficult to handle.
You can keep them alone, in pairs or small groups preferably of the same sex to prevent unwanted breeding and fighting.
Roborovski hamsters tend to live slightly longer on average than other species of hamster. Their average lifespan is 3–4 years, and they have been known to live even longer than that in some cases.
They are less prone to common hamster ailments than Syrian, Chinese and Russian dwarf hamsters get which can be a big relief to many pet owners. There are other illnesses which they are at a much higher risk of than other hamsters such as broken bones, crushing, mites or ticks, allergies, overgrown claws and teeth, rapid weight loss, seasonal itching, skin conditions, and prolapse of the eye (eye bulges, comes out entirely or bursts) due to the shallow setting of their eyeballs.
Who Is the Roborovski Suitable for?
Roborovski hamsters grow to be 2–3 inches in length as an adult. It is not uncommon for them to be slightly smaller or a little larger. They can take a long time to tame, can be difficult to handle and are very quick.
Due to their size, speed and risk of biting, the Roborovski hamster is not a suitable pet for a child even with supervision. They can very easily suffer from injuries, broken bones, eyes popping out, being crushed to death or dropped. A frightened Robo may bite. They do not give a nip like a Syrian—they bite and cling. They are also very timid and require a lot of quiet time, attention and patience and someone who is able to be patient with them as many do not entirely lose the skittish nature.
They are most suited to owners whom are teenagers or adults who have previous experience with hamsters and preferably mice. They are not a beginner pet, have special requirements and tend to live longer than the other species of hamsters. These hamsters do better in a quieter household with no predatory animals (e.g. cats).
Habitat and Housing
They can live in most standard hamster/mouse cages and have the same bedding without issues. Included is an image of the perfect type of Roborovski set-up cage.
Make sure the bars are the standard size or narrow size. If your Robo is especially small you could opt for a plastic or glass tank with a secure lid that has plenty of space for roaming around. Alternatively, you could build yourself a bin cage from a large clear plastic tub and make a mesh side or a mesh roof.
Always keep a lid and make sure whatever you choose has plenty of air and is fully secured to prevent escape. Most of the cages or tanks for hamsters and small rodents you see in the pet shop will be suitable, just make sure there are no large drops and the cage isn't too oversized for your tiny friend.
Like with any hamster, it is advised you avoid small, cramped or cages with lots of tubes, especially with males, as they are difficult to clean, hard to set-up and tend to build up fumes which can make your hamster very sick. They can also cause a lot of stress due to the complex, cramped or upsetting conditions.
Male Vs. Female
It can be hard to correctly identify the gender of a young or very small Roborovski especially when they are not tame. It is always good to consult charts, have a vet take a look at them or learn to hold them in the correct way to sex them without causing them any harm.
Female Roborovski hamsters: Smell less, are more dominant, may be slightly larger, do not have the yellow scent patch on their belly.
Male Roborovski: Have a stronger smell which is much like male mice/chlorinated, have a yellow patch on their belly which is a scent gland, are very active, submissive and may be slightly smaller than the female.
There is little difference between the temperament of the males and females so it is entirely your choice if you want a particular gender or not.
You can keep 2-3 males together or 2-3 females together without issue as long as they're introduced young. If you keep a male and female together they will breed, fight and the female will dominate, attack and possible even kill the male in some more extreme cases. Female hamsters are very dominant. It is a better idea to stick to a pair of the same sex but they can live happily alone.
Roborovski hamsters are perfectly capable of eating any decent quality mixed hamster food. Make sure it has plenty of variety such as dried banana, sunflower seeds, grain, hamster biscuits, other seeds, and mealworms are also okay.
Foods Roborovski Hamsters Can Eat
- Apple (no seeds)
- Pasta (small amounts raw or cooked)
- Completely plain dog biscuits
- Blackberry (small amounts)
- Thoroughly cooked lean chicken (small amounts)
- Thoroughly cooked boiled or scrambled eggs
Any extra vegetables or fruits should be given sparingly and as a treat. Make sure you only give them tiny pieces to prevent them getting stuck in their pouches and going soggy so they can't get it out, the food rotting in the cage, or an upset stomach from happening. Your hamster doesn't want vegetables or fruit the size of their head, it's far too much for their digestive system to handle so keep the pieces small and as treats only.
Your hamster can also have any other hamster or small animal treat from the pet shop as long as it is marked suitable for hamsters/mice. This includes chocolate drops, yoghurt drops, seed sticks, grain bars, etc.
Any fruit or vegetables given should be thoroughly washed before serving. Always remove uneaten soft food/meat after 12-24 hours and monitor your hamster's poop.
Breeding Roborovski hamsters should be left to very experienced owners or professionals as you could be left with a lot of unwanted babies you can't keep and that nobody else will take. There is not a high demand for them so you won't hit a goldmine breeding them for sale.
If your hamsters accidentally have babies they should be separated immediately. Although the males will usually help raise the young, the female will become fertile the moment the babies are born and they might mate again. This is not good for her health or productive when it comes to preventing unwanted litters. Please make sure you sex your hamsters as well as the person selling them to you as often people in pet shops are wrong or can't handle them very well.
Roborvoski hamsters can be surrendered as pinkies, this can be very stressful to the mother and the pinkies (newborns) will be used for reptile food. This is extremely cruel. The best option is to wait until they are old enough, separate the genders and surrender them to a rehoming shelter than can find forever homes if you are unable to do so. Please don't sell them off to just anyone as this could end in disaster.
Roborovski Hamster Breeding Facts
- A Roborovski pregnancy lasts for 3 weeks - 21 days on average.
- They can have anywhere from 1-8 babies at a time.
- Males and females can raise young together.
- They can be harder to mate than other hamsters as the male and female have to like each other and compliment one another.
- These hamsters can raise babies in colonies with lots of other hamsters.
- If raised in colonies some hamsters may try to steal babies of others.
- Breeding should be done only by two hamsters between 4-7 months old who are perfectly healthy and unrelated.
- Most Roborovski hamster's do not usually breed December-March and breed more during warmer months unless they are kept in a constant warm environment.
- Cannibalism does happen where the mothers eat the babies due to threats to the nest, human scent on them, too many to feed, predatory animals around such as cats, over crowding, not enough food, unable to produce milk, too few babies in the litter, too young to care for them, etc.
- Newborn hamsters with no fur are called pinkies.
- Pregnant females do not usually show any signs of pregnancy until very close to their due date and gain very little-no weight.
- By 21 days old the babies are able to live without the mother and father and should be separated by genders and kept together for another 2-3 weeks before going to new homes.
Like with any animal they can get ailments. Typically Roborvoski hamsters are quite healthy if cared for properly. Your largest risk with them are broken toes or skin problems such as mites, allergies, barbering or stress itching.
Roborvoski hamsters are at a much lower risk of an extremely serious condition called wet tail. It is caused by an overgrow of bad bacteria in the gut, usually caused by stress, sometimes caused by prolonged filthy conditions, stomach problems, poor diet, too much fibre and is especially common under 12 weeks of age. This does not mean they are immune, if your hamster starts to smell foul, has the runs, a dirty bottom and seems hunched with a mussed coat and is losing their appetite and drinking less you should go immediately to the vets as only antibiotics in the early stages can treat it. If untreated it will cause eventual death and severe dehydration.
Mites, ticks, fleas, etc are all very treatable with certain medicines you drop on the skin. You can get these from your vet or from most pet stores but seeing as they are so tiny you must carefully weigh your hamster before using anything to treat them with and thoroughly clean the cage afterwards.
Roborvoski's seem more prone to allergies and general itching than any other hamster type. Be warned that in pairs or groups the other hamster may pull out their fur or over groom them causing hair loss. Old age, stress and bedding allergies can all cause red, flaky skin and hair loss. Greasy fur means the bedding isn't being changed enough/your hamster is allergic.
They can also get: eye problems, brain injuries, broken bones, birthing difficulties, tumours, cysts, urinary tract infections, uterine problems, problems with the ears, overgrown teeth and claws, diarrhoea, dehydration, worms, general injuries, abscesses, and anything else other hamsters can have.
It is important to take your hamster to the vet if you notice any signs of illness or injury so it can be treated with optimum results.
- Do Roborovski hamsters have pouches? - yes they do but they are much smaller and often most mixed foods will not fit in unless they are small grains, sometimes seeds or the food has been broken into pieces. They tend to use their pouches less than other hamsters.
- My hamsters are fighting, what should I do? please make sure your hamsters are two of the same gender, it is very common for a male and female to fight even if they have mated. If they are two of the same gender you should keep an eye on them. Some scrapping is normal in the first few days which will consist of chasing, squeaking and slapping or pushing each other around. The moment you see one of them draw blood they should be separated immediately to prevent other issues.
- The pet shop sold me two saying they were both boys but they're a male and female. What should I do? there isn't a lot you can do as you have them and they are your pets. Most pet shops will not take returns and if they do the animal will likely be used for food if not for a lifetime of breeding. It is best to separate your hamsters immediately unless you want babies and fighting. Keep them in separate cages and they will be fine. You should also make a complaint to the pet shop and if you have the name of the person who sold them to you, report them for improper conduct.
- How old do you have to be to buy them? Legally in the UK you can buy an animal from 16 years old with ID, however, almost all pet shops will not sell a pet to anyone under the age of 18 regardless of parental consent. You must always take your personal photographic ID with you as proof of age or you won't be served. In most countries it is 18 years old. Please be aware that there are shops that will refuse to sell Roborovski or Chinese hamsters if they are for children.
- My hamsters have had babies. What do I do? It is up to you, you should separate the male and female immediately as the female become fertile the moment after she gives birth. Even though males will usually help out raising the young. Allow the female to raise them until they are old enough and surrender them to a rehoming shelter (best option) find them new homes (properly vet people before sale) or hand them in to a pet shop. The shop, however, may use them for breeding, for food or refuse to take them. Please make sure to correctly sex your hamsters and keep males and females separate if you do not wish to have babies.
- What should I do if my hamster keeps biting me? You should persevere with your pet, keep handling them gently and daily, allow them to get used to your smell, spend time talking to them. You should always leave your pet for at least 4-7 days before attempting to handle them and give them a chance to settle into their new home. Your hamster is biting because he/she feels threatened by you. Biting is more common in young hamsters.
- My hamster's teeth are too long, what can I do? you should always provide wooden toys or blocks from the pet shop for your hamster to chew on. These help with the teeth. Hard mixed food can also help and even bars can wear down teeth (although bar biting is not good for their teeth)
- I can no longer care for my hamsters. What should I do? You shouldn't have taken animals you cannot keep or afford in the first place. You should surrender them to an animal shelter that offers small animals, this is the best option as a pet shop may refuse to take them, put them down, use them for food or breed them to death. Selling them on won't generate much money and they could end up somewhere very cruel so unless you know someone willing to give them a permanent home, you should take them to the local shelter.
- What do I do if I think my hamster is sick? Take it to the vet for treatment. Only a vet can prescribe antibiotics, perform minor surgery, treat injuries or diagnose a medical condition properly unless you are extremely knowledgeable. A sick hamster needs help.
- My child wants a Roborovski but it says they are not suitable. Is there a better pet I can choose from? Rats are the best possible pet for a child along with Giant African Land snails, dogs and fish. Children need a hardier animal that is less afraid, poses low-no risk of biting and that they can handle. Those three do just that. The Roborovski is too fast, too tiny and too fragile/nervous for a child to handle.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.