If you’ve ever considered adopting a hamster from a pet store or a rescue, you’ve almost definitely considered adopting a hybrid dwarf hamster, whether you were aware of it or not. The vast majority of Russian hamsters in captivity today are hybrids to some extent.
- What Are Hybrid Dwarf Hamsters?
- Why Are There Hybrid Hamsters?
- How to Spot a Hybrid Dwarf Hamster
- Problems with Hamster Hybridization
- How to Help with the Hybrid Dwarf Problem
- What to Do if You Already Have a Hybrid Hamster
- Hybridization in Hamsters is a Problem
Hybrid dwarf hamsters are not a natural species, but rather the result of breeding two different species of dwarf hamster together. As a result, there are a number of potential problems that can arise from owning one of these hybrid hamsters. In this blog post, we will discuss why you should think twice before getting a hybrid dwarf hamster.
What Are Hybrid Dwarf Hamsters?
Hybrid dwarf hamsters are a cross-species of Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamsters and “Winter White” (Djungarian) Russian dwarf hamsters.
These two species of hamster are very different and would never meet in nature, but they’re close enough genetically to interbreed. This results in offspring that are very often infertile, as well as many other issues. The effect is similar to the common practice of breeding a horse with a donkey, which results in an infertile mule.
Once a lineage of hamsters has a hybrid in it, the lineage can never become pure again. Even after generations of breeding with pure Winter White hamsters, for example, all of the offspring of that line will be hybridized. This means that all of the offspring of that line will forever have an increased possibility of complications, which we’ll describe below.
Why Are There Hybrid Hamsters?
The first hybrid hamsters may have been accidental. Inexpert hamster trappers and traders may have kept dwarf hamsters of all species together in the same enclosures. When the females became pregnant, they wouldn’t have been able to tell that they were pregnant by a hamster of a different species.
Another reason that hybrid dwarf hamsters continue to exist is financial. Unethical hamster breeders want to breed as many hamsters as possible to make a larger profit, and they often don’t take the proper precautions to keep species separate. They can also market their hybrids as unique “varieties” of dwarf hamsters that can sell well in large pet stores.
Hamster hybridization is an insidious problem because, as mentioned, once there’s a hybrid in a line of hamsters, that line can never be purely one species again. Even after generations of breeding with just a single species, there will still be traces of the other species in that line’s genes.
How to Spot a Hybrid Dwarf Hamster
Hybrid dwarf hamsters are often indistinguishable from pure-breed dwarf hamsters. Many of the hamsters you see in pet stores, even if they’re labeled as Campbell’s dwarf hamsters or Winter White hamsters, may be hybrids to some extent.
However, there are some traits you can look out for to identify a hybrid dwarf hamster:
- Labeled as sunfire or mandarin dwarf hamsters or sunfire/mandarin Djungarian hamsters
- Unique colors that aren’t common in that species
- Body and head shape of one species but the coloration of the other
- Larger ears than average
- Eyes that are closer together than average
- Smaller eyes than average
- Loose or surplus skin
- More pointed snout than normal
Problems with Hamster Hybridization
It’s a common misconception that different types of hamsters are simply different “breeds,” like there are different breeds of dogs. However, the five kinds of hamsters commonly kept in captivity are actually completely separate species.
It’s important to understand this when it comes to hybrid hamsters because it’s more complicated than breeding, for example, a chihuahua with a papillon. A chihuahua and a papillon are two breeds of the same species, so their genetics are biologically compatible.
A Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster and a Winter White Hamster, on the other hand, were never meant to meet and interbreed. Their genetics are similar enough that they can interbreed, but this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Here are the primary reasons that we don’t believe that the hybridization of dwarf hamsters is ethical, as well as the reasons you may want to think twice before purchasing one from a pet store.
These are also good points to be aware of if you’re adopting a dwarf hamster from a small pet rescue or if you already own a dwarf hamster who might be a hybrid.
Health issues and congenital defects
The main concern with hybrid dwarf hamsters is the health risks and congenital defects that often appear in these hamsters.
The health of both the mother and the offspring can be put in danger during the hamster’s pregnancy and during birth. A female Winter White hamster who is bred with a male Campbell’s hamster can have larger embryos than normal and an overdeveloped placenta. This makes giving birth to those offspring extremely risky for both the mother and the babies.
Hybrid hamsters are prone to diabetes and other genetic defects that can’t always be seen in their appearance. They’re also more prone to neurological disorders such as stargazing and repetitive behaviors.
Unfortunately, hybrid hamsters tend to have shorter lifespans than either species of pure-bred Russian hamster. While a Winter White or Campbell’s dwarf hamster might live two to three years, a hybrid may live just one to two years.
Low fertility and eventual extinction
Another important factor to note is that male hybrid hamsters are often sterile, and female hybrids tend to suffer from low fertility. This means that if cross-breeding continues at the rate it is today, we may reach a point where it’s very difficult to breed hamsters at all.
This could eventually lead to the die-out of the Winter White species of hamster, the Campbell’s hamster, or both. This would be devastating as each species is unique and beloved by hamster enthusiasts for its separate and distinct traits.
How to Help with the Hybrid Dwarf Problem
Now that we’ve covered what a hybrid dwarf hamster is and why breeding hybrid dwarf hamsters is not good for hamsters or their owners, let’s look at what you can do to help prevent further hybrid breeding.
Don’t purchase from chain pet stores
Even if you shop for a pure Winter White or Campbell’s dwarf hamster, you’re most likely to end up with a hybrid if you purchase a hamster from a pet store.
These hamsters are equally deserving of love, and it can be heartbreaking to know that they’re being kept in pet store conditions. However, purchasing a hamster from a large pet store ultimately funds the unethical hamster breeders who are supplying the store with their hamsters. This means they will keep breeding hybrid hamsters, which is incredibly harmful to the breeding hamsters and their offspring.
Adopt from a rescue
Rather than going to a pet store, one of your best options is to adopt a rescue hamster from a rescue in your area. You can also keep an eye on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and other reselling sites for people who are rehoming their pet hamsters. (Make certain you aren’t buying from a “backyard breeder” on these sites.)
Adopting a hamster from a rescue, you’re still likely to get a hybrid because these typically come from a pet store originally. But as mentioned, these hamsters are still deserving of love and care, and if you adopt from a rescue, you aren’t funding the unethical breeders who are producing hybrids.
Find a species-specific hamster breeder
If you want to help further the existence of one species of hamster or the other, you can search for a species-specific hamster breeder.
These breeders are often passionate about one breed of dwarf hamsters, and they are often show breeders. It’s important not to trust just any breeder if they tell you their hamsters are purebred.
If you’re in the United States, purebred breeders are even harder to come by. Happy Hamstery breeds pure Winter White hamsters, but finding a Campbell’s pure-pred may be more difficult.
What to Do if You Already Have a Hybrid Hamster
If you already have a dwarf hamster who you suspect is a hybrid, don’t panic. These hamsters can still live happy lives with the proper precautions. Not every hybrid hamster will suffer health repercussions as a result, although it is quite common that they do.
First, you should take your hamster to an exotic vet for a checkup. Let the vet know that you believe your hamster is a hybrid, and that you would like to check for health concerns associated with hybrid dwarf hamsters. It’s especially important to test your hamster for diabetes.
If your hamster does have diabetes, your vet will instruct you on how to treat them and adjust their diet.
Hybridization in Hamsters is a Problem
Unfortunately, hybridization isn’t good for hamsters or the people who love them, and it’s a problem that’s likely with us to stay. All we can do is educate ourselves and others about the problems with breeding and selling hybrid dwarf hamsters and avoid paying into the system that encourages hybrid dwarf breeding.
To learn more about how to care for your dwarf hamster, visit our hamster care guide here. We regularly update our care guide to make sure we’re providing the most accurate and up-to-date information.
- Hybrid Hamsters Overview. Crittery Exotics. https://crittery.co.uk/species-list/hamsters/hybrid-hamsters
- Brekke TD, Good JM. Parent-of-origin growth effects and the evolution of hybrid inviability in dwarf hamsters. Evolution. 2014 Nov;68(11):3134-48. doi: 10.1111/evo.12500. Epub 2014 Sep 10. PMID: 25130206; PMCID: PMC4437546. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25130206/
- Satoshi Ishishita, Yoichi Matsuda. Interspecific hybrids of dwarf hamsters and Phasianidae birds as animal models for studying the genetic and developmental basis of hybrid incompatibility. Genes & Genetic Systems, 2016, Volume 91, Issue 2, Pages 63-75, Released on J-STAGE October 13, 2016, Advance online publication September 15, 2016, Online ISSN 1880-5779, Print ISSN 1341-7568. https://doi.org/10.1266/ggs.16-00022, https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/ggs/91/2/91_16-00022/_article/-char/en
- Different Hamster Species. Ontario Hamster Club. https://ontariohamsters.ca/education/different-species.html