Campbell's Russian Dwarf Hamster

Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Cricetinae
Genus: Phodopus
Species: P. campbelli
Binomial name
Phodopus campbelli
(Thomas, 1905)
Campbell's Russian dwarf hamster (Phodopus campbelli) is a species of dwarf hamster. It was discovered by W.C. Campbell in 1902 in Tuva, an area that has historically been geographically linked with both China and Russia. The Campbell's dwarf is also native to the steppes and semi-arid areas of Central Asia, the Altay mountains, and the provinces of Heilungkiang and Hebei in Northeastern China.

This hamster is sometimes called Djungarian (or Dzungarian), or simply Russian, and often it is mistakenly labeled as a Siberian or Winter white Russian dwarf hamster, a closely related species of dwarf hamster. (See Winter White/Campbell's Dwarf Hybrids below.) In Tuva the species is called Pouched in the Tuvan language, referring to the well-known physical characteristic of most hamsters. There has been some debate over the classification of Campbell's dwarf and its closely related cousin, the Winter White, but now the two species are usually classified as Phodopus campbelli and P. sungorus, respectively. It has been claimed that the Campbell's hamster is less friendly in temperament (to humans) than the winter white and is consequently more likely to bite or nip.



In the steppes of eastern and central Asia, the Campbell's dwarf enjoys digging burrows which may extend up to three feet underground. These burrows are commonly lined with scavenged sheep's wool and dry grasses; the burrows maintain an average temperature of 62 degrees Fahrenheit (16°C). Natural predators include various owls, foxes, falcons, and weasels.

In captivity as pets, the use of heavily scented wood-based cage litter such as cedar can lead to itching, sneezing and even severe allergic reaction and should never be used. Cat litter should never be used since it contains chemicals that will be deadly to hamsters. Paper-based beddings are encouraged, with aspen shavings usually now being regarded as the only safe wood-based choice.

Commercial "fluffy" beddings, usually made of cotton or similar material, have come under some controversy as possibly being damaging to stomach or intestines if swallowed. While paper-based or aspen bedding is used to give the hamster burrowing opportunities while providing odor control, plain toilet tissue is frequently recommended as a nesting material to be used in addition to the "ground cover" of bedding.

Multiple owners find that the use of bathing sand is helpful. Chinchilla bathing sand can be found in most pet stores, although chinchilla dust may cause sneezing and respiratory problems. Campbell's dwarves seem to particularily like cleaning themselves with sand, as the grains remove dirt and oil from the coat.

Cages should have at least 3 square feet of space per hamster, with one additional square foot per extra hamster. Wire, tube, and bin cages can be used. Campbell's hamsters may have difficulty climbing up big tubes due to their small size.


Breeding Dwarf Russian Hamsters is much simpler than breeding Syrian Hamsters as they will live together in mixed sex pairs or groups and breed naturally. Pairs or groups are best established at a young age as introducing older hamsters can often result in fighting. Males will naturally mate with the females if kept together and when in season the female will allow the male to mount her. He will thrust a few times before dismounting and washing himself and then often will remount and mate again. The male will usually mate with the female several times. Not all unproven males will get a female pregnant after the first mating and some males may need to mate several times before a successful pregnancy occurs. The actual mating may not always be observed.

The gestation period of Dwarf Russian Hamsters is 18-21 days and if mating was observed then the time of the expected arrival of the litter can be roughly calculated. If mating was not observed then it is often not possible to know tell when the litter is expected. Many females do not appear pregnant until a couple of days before the birth but an increased aggressiveness of the female towards her mate, colony hamsters or humans is often an indication of pregnancy. The female will often banish the male or other hamsters from the nest a couple of days before pregnancy and/or after the birth. Therefore as soon as it is noticed the female is pregnant, it is best to clean the cage.

Females usually give birth during the evening, night or early morning but sometimes give birth during the day. The female is active right up to the moment of birth. Before giving birth to each baby, she tightens her abdominal muscles two or three times, then sits up and crouches over as she gives birth to a single baby within a couple of minutes. A placenta, which looks like a small red blood sac, may be released after the birth of each baby and this is normally eaten by the mother as it is a good source of protein. Babies are born at approximately 10-minute intervals and the mother may be active between each birth. Therefore babies may be born around the cage but the mother will usually collect them all up and place them in the nest when birthing is complete. After the female has given birth, there are often spots of blood on the bedding or around the cage. This is caused by the passing of the placentas and is normal and nothing to be alarmed about. Severe bleeding from the female, though, should be cause for alarm. The pups are born naked, blind and deaf, weighing only 3 grams. If the hamsters are to be dark-eyed, the eyes can be seen under the skin but if they are to be red-eyed, the eyes cannot be seen at birth. They are born with teeth which allow them to suckle. Their skin is transparent and, when they are fed, the milk can be seen in the stomach.

Social Aspects

Unlike other hamster species, especially the Syrian hamsters, the male may play an active role in birth and rearing. He may assist the female in pulling pups from the birth canal, cleaning them, and ensuring the new mother has enough to eat. He may also guard them while the female is away from the nest. Since the pair is likely to mate again quickly, the male should be separated from the female before birth unless more pups are desired and the female is fit enough for a repeat pregnancy.

Like other hamsters, the Campbell's Russian dwarf will eat its young in certain emergency (or perceived emergency) situations, such as a protein deficiency in the mother or a threat toward the young. "Threat" may include anything from a predator (including a re-introduced father) to a habitat that the parent hamster does not believe will provide adequate size, covering, food, or water for its new inhabitants.

Unlike Syrian hamsters, Campbell's dwarfs are sociable and may be kept in colonies. If the hamsters are introduced at a young age, generally younger than eight weeks, they will often happily coexist in same- or mixed-sex groups. (Note that mixed-sex groups should be avoided as hamsters are lively breeders.) Contrary to some claims, the hamsters do not have to be related to live together peacefully. Some Campbell's dwarfs live together for long periods of time, such as over a year, only to eventually and unexpectedly end up fighting to the point of requiring separation. Pet owners should plan for the possibility of providing additional accommodations should this occur.

Campbell's dwarfs are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and at dusk.


Diabetes is becoming a common problem in Campbell's hamsters and is an inherited problem. Unless an individual hamster's ancestry is known to be free of the illness, a Campbell's dwarf should not be fed any sugary foods (including fruit, corn, peas, carrots, yogurt drops, and some mass-manufactured "treats.")

Like all hamsters, Campbell's dwarfs are rodents and therefore must gnaw regularly to keep the incisors from growing into the skin of the mouth and causing health problems. Some pet owners provide dog biscuits to assist with this. Wooden chew toys should be used with care as splinters may injure the hamster. Teeth should be examined regularly to ensure they are not growing unchecked.

In the wild, Campbell's dwarfs consume a variety of grains, seeds, and vegetables. For the pet hamster, commercial seed mixes and food pellets are available and should be augmented with occasional fresh vegetables. Care should be taken in selecting a seed mix that does not include harmful foods, some of which are suitable for other rodents (including other types of hamsters). The following items should be avoided:
  • kidney beans
  • onions
  • garlic
  • potato tops
  • raw potatoes
  • rhubarb
  • rhubarb leaves
  • tomato leaves
  • anything sweet unless diabetes has been ruled out
  • pork

Other Health Issues

Campbell's hamsters have extremely poor eyesight and even worse depth perception. Cataracts can be common in older hamsters. To compensate for this disability, the hamster has many scent glands, which are located on the face, behind the ears, on the cheek pouches, and on the belly near the rectum and genitals. Many pet owners observe that the hamster may groom itself when in an unfamiliar location. This is done to scent the feet, creating a trail which enables the hamster to find its way back to the burrow. This behavior may also be used to revisit a location with plentiful food. These scent trails may persist for up to eight days.

In addition to diabetes, hamsters can develop tumors (both benign and malignant), as well as glaucoma. It is possible to remove benign and malignant tumors with surgery. Glaucoma is possible to treat with eye drops containing Dorzolamide 2% or Travoprost ophthalmic solution.

The "starter pet" reputation of hamsters may cause some to dismiss the idea of veterinary care. Although many pet hamsters live their entire lives without needing to visit a veterinarian, prospective hamster owners should remember this possible expense when considering the dwarf hamster for a pet.

Colors and Markings

Campbell's hamsters are born with one of four coat types: normal, satin, wavy and rex. The normal coat is short and flat. The satin coat is shiny and gives the appearance of being wet or greasy and the gene enhances the fur's color and gives it lift. The wavy coat is slightly long and wavy; the whiskers are curly when young and, although the coat moults out to a normal coat, the curly whiskers remain through adulthood. The rex coat is a soft, short coat which is curled so as to be "lifted" from the body and the whiskers are curly. The rex coat is often sparse and remains curled even in adult hamsters.

Campbell's dwarfs are available in six basic colors plus many variations thereof. All are marked by a dark stripe down their back, the colour of which varies depending on the shade of their fur.

Basic colors include:

  • agouti (the normal grey brown wild color with white belly and black eyes)
  • argente (cinnamon or sandy with white belly and red eyes)
  • black eyed argente (dull brownish orange with white belly and black eyes)
  • albino (white with red eyes)
  • opal (blue grey with white belly and red eyes)
  • black (black all over with black eyes)

Marking types include:

  • mottled (irregular white patches or spots - also called banded, spotted, or collared, if the mottling is confined to the neck)
  • ruby-eyed mottled (mottled with ruby eyes which usually appear black)
  • platinum (white hairs mingled in the coat ranging from a few to almost total coverage - sometimes incorrectly called pearl)
Not all white hamsters with red/pink eyes are albino. Some are so heavily mottled or tinged with platinum that they will appear to be white. Hamsters carrying the black gene (almost half of all variations) are prone to "silvering"; in extreme cases the eventual result is an almost white hamster.

When two ruby-eyed mottled hamsters are bred, approximately 25% of the litter are born lacking teeth and eyes; these pups, called "eyeless toothless," generally do not live past weaning. Whether a mottled hamster has ruby eyes (which often appear black) can be difficult to determine; pointing a flashlight at the hamster in the dark may reveal the hint of ruby. Furthermore, some mottling may be too small to be noticed, or the mottling may be misidentified as platinum markings, and in these cases two ruby-eyed mottleds may accidentally be bred, resulting in the ill-fated pups.

Combining the different mutations has produced new colors, including blue, blue fawn, lilac fawn, beige, chocolate, champagne, dove, and others. Contrary to some claims, the different colors and markings of hamsters do not indicate personality differences. Most breeders attempt to predict personality by closely examining the bloodline and any neurological diseases the hamster's ancestors displayed.

Winter White/Campbell's Dwarf Hybrids

Of the five species of hamsters usually kept as pets, only the Winter White and Campbell's dwarfs are able to interbreed and produce live offspring (hybrids). Hybrids are most often unknowingly produced through incorrect identification of the two similar species of hamsters, such as mislabeling at a pet store.

Unfortunately, the number of hybrids is increasing, leading to a rise in health problems (such as the emergence of diabetes in the Winter White and glaucoma in the Campbell's Russian) and a decrease of pure species in captivity. Breeding of hybrids is discouraged, and the amount of accidental hybrid breeding and its repercussions underscores the cautions of casual breeding already expressed above.


  1. ^ Shar, S. & Lkhagvasuren, D. (2008). Phodopus campbelli. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 14 Jule 2009. Database entry includes a brief justification of why this species is of least concern.

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