What to think about before buying Russian dwarf hamsters
A couple of months ago, I decided to make the plunge and buy a pair of dwarf hamsters for me and my boyfriend to own together. Totally #couplegoals right (ha)? I *may* have been a little naive heading into this, assuming that because they're small and look pretty darn cute that they'd be fairly easy pets to keep. Plus, I've owned rabbits in the past, and my best friend's rats get along totally fine, so I was super excited to see my new little fluffies playing together in their cage. However this wasn't to last *insert dramatic Disney movie soundtrack here*.
I had SO much fun buying their cages and all the little hamster-sized accessories they would need - I was basically a little kid let loose in a pet store. These guys were my first 'real' pet as an adult, and not something my parents had bought. Naming them was fab too - mine is Hammy and my boyfriend's is Jeff (and yes, that is because of 22 Jump Street.
Once we got them home and their cage set up we had to leave them for a few hours before touching them to let them get a bit used to their cage. I was practically chomping at the bit at this point - I really just wanted to give them a cuddle! After this initial period, it is recommended that you do handle them frequently so that they become used to it at a young age. You really need to make sure you're around a lot in the first couple of weeks, as if they don't get handled frequently enough in that time period then they may never become 'tame' and it's likely that they will rarely allow human contact with themselves for the rest of their (fairly short) lives.
After two weeks of having Jeff and Hammy in the same cage, we started to notice a bit of a problem. Although young Russian dwarf hamsters do 'play' by nipping and chasing each other, and can occassionally squeak when doing so, one of ours was squeaking increasingly frequently. We also noticed that the 'playing' was very one-sided, and Jeff was always the one being chased. I popped back to the pet store to enquire about this (I was basically that mum that takes her kids to the doctors every time something tiny happens) and was told that everything was fine unless one of the hamsters had a visible wound. A few hours later, I was back in the store with Jeff as Hammy had bitten him so ferociously he was bleeding from the area near to the scent gland on his belly. Their fighting escalated in just a couple of hours to this, and I've heard so many horror stories from other owners about them not catching it quite in time, and coming home from work to find one hamster mostly eaten by the other (ew).
We were faced with two options: send one of them back to the pet store, or buy a whole second set of accessories and a new cage. I went for the latter because I just couldn't bear the thought of having to choose one to send back.
Now, even though they are completely separated from one another, if they get anywhere near each other's cages, Hammy will launch himself at the bars, and try to bite Jeff through them. He even jumped off my hand a few days ago in an attempt to get there! We also have to be really careful with our own limbs. If I touch Jeff and smell of him, and then attempt to stroke Hammy he will (and has) give me a nasty chomp. I've been nipped by a bunny before, but the ferocity of Hammy's aggression made this far more painful.
So, my advice is that although these creatures look super adorable, it may be best to just get one. But, if you want to get a couple, the best idea is to make sure you have two bottles, two food bowls and two houses for them to sleep in, as it makes them less territorial. Moreover, keep a very close eye on the for the first month or so that they are together - often they will play-fight as youngsters, but if you notice any injuries on the hammies you need to separate them straightaway as it can escalate very quickly, as I've shown!
Don't be put off entirely though! As with all pets, it takes time and effort to care for them, but the rewards are there (as you can see in how adorable these photos are!). Do you have hamsters? How do you find their behaviour?