Winter white hamsters are small nocturnal rodents belonging to the Phodopu genus of the Cricetinae family. They are much smaller than most other hamster species and have unusual markings. With their mellow temperaments and small size, they have become popular pets, but are also prone to several different medical conditions. This type of hamster is also known as the djungarian hamster, Russian winter white hamster, or dwarf hamster.
Hamsters in this genus are about half the size of other hamsters, just 3-1/2 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) long, and have the unique ability to change color during different seasons. Winter white hamsters are usually gray for most of the year with a black stripe down their backs and furry feet. While the standard gray type turns to white in winter, two mutations also exist. One variety, know as winter white pearl, stays white all year with a permanent black stripe, grey ears, and black eyes. The other is called sapphire, which has a light gray coat with a trace of blue.
A typical hamster cage is unacceptable for winter white hamsters; because they are so tiny, they can slip between the wires and escape. To ensure their safety, they should be kept in an aquarium. They are not the best pets for young children even though they are among the friendliest hamster varieties. With their very small size and quick movements, they can easily wiggle out of a small child’s hand.
These types of hamsters do not require a great deal of care, so they are a good first pet for older children. They can be fed seeds, vegetables, and grains in addition to commercial hamster food. Fresh water should always be available, and their bedding should be changed frequently to avoid odors. Cedar or pine wood shavings should never be used for bedding material because they can splinter and injure the hamsters' feet. Cedar also reacts with urine to create toxic fumes.
Like other hamster species, the female winter white hamster comes into heat every few days. After a very short gestation period of just 16 days, she usually give birth to at least eight pups. The female will mate again as soon as one day after giving birth.
Winter white hamsters can suffer from several different medical problems. Genetic disorders due to inbreeding and hybridizing present the biggest problems for these little rodents. They are also prone to poor eyesight, allergies, infections, and diabetes. Even healthy hamsters are short lived however, and usually survive no more than 2 to 3 years.