Types of Hamsters

Types of Hamsters: Which One is Right For You?

There’s many different types of hamsters available. When choosing a hamster, always choose one with bright looking eyes and dry fur. If these aspects are not present, you could be buying a sick pet.

A healthy hamster will have bright eyes, smooth fur, and a robust body structure. Hamsters sleep most of the day, so the evening is a good time to shop for a hamster. Hamsters are very shy; so don’t be put off by timid ones. Eventually, hamsters can be tamed.

A hamster’s sense of smell is much keener than his eyesight. Wash your hands before you handle your pet so that you don’t have lingering food smells on your fingers. If you touch your hamster gently and speak softly while you clean his cage, he will soon recognize your voice and your scent. Hamsters groom themselves quite completely, but you can try brushing your hamster gently with a soft-bristle toothbrush daily if you like. This light grooming period can be a good time to get to know your hamster and to do a quick health check. Check to make sure your hamster’s eyes are clean and not cloudy, his ears are clear, and his coat dry and in good condition.

Eating is a favorite pastime for hamsters, as is collecting and stashing food of all sizes. It can be amusing to watch your hamster gather grains or crumbs strewn across a table. You can offer your hamster fresh dandelion greens or iceberg lettuce and watch him fold whole sheets of the food into his large cheek pouches. He is capable of carrying up to half his body weight in food in these pockets.

Your hamster will also stand up on his back legs to take a piece of food from your fingertips. You should not offer your hamster potato chips, salted nuts, chocolate, or citrus fruits. If you do invite your pet to the table, beware that hamsters have little instinctual fear of heights. A fall can seriously injure your pet.

Hamsters make great pets for both young and old. Use our list of hamsters to find the perfect small furry friend for you.

1. Golden Hamsters

Whether you think of your golden hamster as an Olympic endurance athlete or as a Sleeping Beauty of sorts, there are a few things you should know about his care and natural history to create the best possible living environment for your pet.

All domestic golden hamsters are descendants from a single litter discovered in Syria in 1930. A traveling zoologist unearthed the litter in its burrow and transported three of the hamsters to Europe in captivity. Their offspring were first brought to the United States in 1938 as laboratory research animals; soon they became popular pets. More than 1 million hamsters are now used in laboratory research each year, making them the third most popular experimental subjects following mice and rats.

The most common pet hamster is the Syrian or golden hamster. Syrian hamsters typically have reddish-gold hair that lies flat and smooth against their small compact bodies. You can find hamsters with a wide range of coat lengths and alternative colors ranging from albino to a deep black-brown.

2. Dwarf Hamsters

The dwarf Russian hamster is one the newer types of hamsters to make an appearance in the last few years — and is different in size and character from the familiar pets kept by millions.

The dwarf Russian is smaller than commonly kept golden or Syrian hamsters. Adult males grow only to 8 cm or 3 inches. The dwarf Russian is also a highly social species that lives in small family groups and large colonies in the wild. In captivity, however, they appear to live most happily in pairs or small groups of the same or different sexes.

They are also vocal little animals and spend quite a lot of time play-fighting. So do not panic if you hear lots of squeaking and fighting in the cage. This is normal for them. Do not interfere with this behavior or you may find that they will actually fight for real. It is only on rare occasions that dwarf hamsters fight seriously.

3. Chinese Hamsters

Popularity has been fleeting for Chinese hamsters, but they make wonderful pets and shouldn’t be forgotten.

Native to northern China and Mongolia, the Chinese hamster has been in the United States since at least 1919, but was not widely kept even in medical laboratories due to the difficulty in breeding. In the 1970s, after the first appearance of the Dwarf Russian hamster, Chinese hamsters came into vogue as “the other small hamster,” but they have fallen out of fashion in recent years.

The Chinese hamster is about 9 centimeters long. He is “mouselike” with a short, slightly prehensile tail, and his body and jaws are narrow. The female is smaller than the male. They can be timid, although they do well in pairs or small colonies. They do not become more aggressive or shorter-lived if kept on their own but they will be less often out and about. They can be easier to pair up as adults than other hamsters, but some females do take an intense dislike to some males and may kill them.

In general, Chinese hamsters are a grayish brown, with a conspicuous black dorsal stripe. The belly is whitish. Juveniles tend to be rather grayer than the adults. In the early 1980s, a mutation of these types of hamsters occurred in a university in the United Kingdom. This white-spotted variety has a normal background color, but is patched with various amounts of white over his back. So far this is the only mutation to have occurred.