Keeping Roborovski or “Robo” dwarf hamsters is much different than keeping other species of pet hamsters. Syrian hamsters, Russian dwarf, winter white and Chinese dwarf hamsters become quite affectionate with their human keepers, the Roborovski keeps as far away from people as possible. Because of this aversion to humans and their extremely small size, Robos are not recommended pets for children.
Roborovski hamsters are not very friendly with other Roborovski hamsters – unless they happen to be related to them. Although there has been some reported success keeping mated pairs or sisters from the same litter, many Robos will fight with other Robos. If you do keep more than one to a cage, make sure that there are two wheels and water bottles to avoid fights over these valuable commodities.
In the wild, Robos live in small family colonies in arid regions in Mongolia and Northern China. In these places, very little food is available. Any other hamster was a competitor for food. Lorraine Hill, writing for Hamsters (Bow Tie Press; 2008) notes if you want to keep a small family group, introduce each hamster before they reach 10 weeks of age. It’s best to only keep same-sex groups in order to avoid dealing with unwanted hamster babies.
Adult Roborovski hamsters are only about the size of a ping-pong ball (1.5 to 2 inches long.) They cannot live in cages or habitats made for larger species of hamsters or they will slip between the mesh or bars and escape. If you use an aquarium, make sure the aquarium is not in the path of direct sunlight or the Robos will overheat and die. Another alternative is a large storage container made of thick plastic with a wire-mesh lid.
Robos prefer thick bedding at least one inch dep because they love to dig. They also need a lot of space because they are so active. Two hamsters should be kept in no smaller than a 20 gallon aquarium. Overcrowding will lead to fights. Bored hamsters may also overact or over-groom. Both of these activities could lead to sickness and death. Keep plenty of tunnels, toys and a small wheel with a solid bottom so the hamsters can safely burn off energy and stay fit. Toys, ramps and hidey-holes sold for reptiles will also be suitable for Robos.
Do not bathe your Robo unless instructed to by your veterinarian. The stress may kill them. They also do not know how to swim. Roborovski hamsters in the wild keep themselves clean with dust baths. Place a shallow dish or bowl filled with dust sold for chinchillas so that your hamsters can clean themselves. They usually do not need their claws clipped, since they wear their claws down scrambling against the side of their tanks or running against the hard surfaces of toys. If the claws do grow outrageously, it is best to contact a vet for a trim.
A Robo hamster’s teeth continue to grow throughout its life of about three years. This is why they need to chew on hard foodstuffs – to keep their teeth from growing too long. Keep in mind that a hamster will chew on anything in its environment, so make sure anything that goes into their cage or aquarium is non-toxic and safe to eat.
Robos do not eat much but will always seem to be ravenous. They aren’t eating the food, but stashing it in different hiding places about their cages and toys. Commercially made food for other species of hamsters works for Robos. A dog biscuit makes a good treat. Feed as small a dog biscuit as you can only once or twice a month.
Foods to avoid feeding include human junk food (sweet or salty), fried foods, pickled foods, apple seeds; onions, garlic, chives, leeks, tomato leaves, uncooked beans, iceberg lettuce, almonds, celery and lemons. Almonds and peanuts also should never be fed to Robos, even though Robos will eat them. Both of these nuts contain chemicals toxic to hamsters.