Different Hamster Types

By Sharon Naylor

March 20, 2013 7 min read

Thinking of getting a hamster? Here are some tips about the five most common types of hamsters found in pet stores to help you choose the best type for your family's pet wishes.

*Syrian Hamster

--Description. Called the golden hamster, this commonly seen hamster often has a natural gold-hued coat, but coloration may vary. It's also known as the standard hamster or the fancy hamster, and a long-haired Syrian may be called the teddy bear hamster. Females are much larger than males.

--Interaction style. Once a hamster gets used to being handled, after about a week of practice, it will often be gentle and playful with humans, although the experts at SmallAnimalChannel.com suggest that these hamsters are more observational than participatory. They're quite docile, but don't expect them to sit on your lap and watch television with you. SmallAnimalChannel.com says, "They play on you, not with you."

As with all hamsters, smell is a keen sense, so to help prevent getting nibbled, avoid scented creams or food smells on your hands and always wash them before touching the pet. When children are taught how to pick up this type of hamster carefully, it's a good choice for kids and for those who want to hold their hamster more often.

--One or more? As solitary creatures, they should live alone in a cage. They may become aggressive and injure another hamster.

--Cage needs. Give them at least 2 square feet of cage space for optimal exercise and comfort, and a sturdy floor wheel (as opposed to a metal wheel) at least 8 inches in diameter to allow them to run happily. They're strictly nocturnal and will run in their wheel a lot at night, so choose a quiet, non-squeaky wheel.

--Life expectancy. Two to three years.

Hamster-Club.com's experts say: "Dwarf hamsters are smaller than the Syrian hamsters. There are several species of pet dwarf hamsters to choose from, the most common being Campbell's, winter whites, Roborovskis and Chinese." When looking for hamsters for kids, Hamster-Club.com's experts say that dwarf hamsters are not the ideal choice for a child's pet due to their smaller size and quick movements.

*Dwarf Campbell's Russian Hamster

--Description. This critter is often small and comes in a wide range of colors, including brown, white and black.

--Interaction style. Outside of its cage, this hamster may be affectionate and gentle, but if you reach into its cage to pick it up, you may be bitten. SmallAnimalChannel.com suggests using a mug to scoop it up, respecting the animal's private space. Mostly nocturnal, this hamster may respond to attention during the day, coming out to play more often in daytime. When you feed or play with one, do so for all.

--One or more? SmallAnimalChannel.com's pros say that Campbell's hamsters are best kept in same-sex pairs or groups if they're reared together from a young age.

--Cage needs. This hamster needs a lot of exercise, so be sure it has a quality wheel and lots of space to run around in its cage. If you have two or three, a 2-foot cage is fine. If you have a larger number, get a larger cage with multiple wheels and water bottles. Important: Don't allow for any layout that would let a hamster get cornered by another. Always provide an escape route.

--Life expectancy. One to two years, occasionally longer.

*Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster

--Description. Also known as the Djungarian dwarf hamster, purebreds come in dark brown and gray, perhaps with a pearl pattern of white with scattered gray hairs.

--Interaction style. They are most active at night but can become accustomed to daytime interaction. Be aware that this type of hamster is startled easily, so don't approach it from behind or while it's sleeping. When you feed or treat one, feed or treat all.

--One or more? These are best kept in same-sex pairs or small groups reared together from a very young age.

--Cage needs. Two square feet is fine for one, but choose a larger cage for multiples.

--Life expectancy. One and a half to two years.

*Roborovksi Hamster

--Description. This short-tailed hamster is often yellow-brown in color, and is the smallest and fastest of the dwarf hamsters. You'll find them with either tan or white faces.

--Interaction style. They're extremely fast and, as such, are not ideal for handling. This is more of an observational pet than a holding one. Give treats to all when you treat one. They can be trained to accept hand-fed treats when you use a careful approach. They're most active at night.

--One or more? They're best kept in same-sex pairs or small groups reared together from a young age.

--Cage needs. These hamsters need a lot of exercise, so provide one or multiple solid and quiet wheels, choosing a larger wheel since groups of this hamster like to exercise together. A 10-gallon aquarium with a mesh cover is ideal for a group of hamsters.

--Life expectancy. Two to three years.

*Chinese Hamster

Note: Pet Chinese hamsters are illegal in some places, such as California, so check with your state's department of fish and game or your local hamster club before getting this hamster species.

--Description. The Chinese is a long-tailed dwarf hamster with short, dark brown fur. They also appear as a white spotted variety.

--Interaction style. A shy hamster, it will get used to handling, and with time and patience in training may be more likely to sit in your hand for petting, unlike other dwarf varieties. They wake earlier in the evening to get active, providing good observational fun.

--One or more? This type of hamster must live singly.

--Cage needs. Provide a sturdy, solid, quiet wheel for the exercise this type of hamster requires. Two square feet of space is often ideal for a hamster living singly. Provide climbing toys, as well.

--Life expectancy. Two to three years.

Use this advice as guidance, and further research the particular kind of hamster you choose, looking into their known health risks and signs of disease, so that you can quickly take your pet to a veterinarian specializing in small and exotic animals if trouble arises.

For all types of hamsters, stick with high-quality, pet-store-bought grain mixes, supplemented with tiny pieces of hamster-approved fruits and vegetables. Do not overfeed, and be sure to keep the water bottle filled and clean. When you provide an ideal environment, nourishment and water, you'll optimize your pet's life span.

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