All hamster species are cute, so how do you choose one? First, take a look at the types of hamsters commonly available and compare their personalities for pet potential. Once you narrow down your choices of hamster breeds, you can head to the pet store or a breeder and pick out your new furry pal.
Although only five hamster breeds are kept as pets, there are actually about 20 species of hamsters worldwide. European hamsters, Rumanian hamsters, and Turkish hamsters are often used in labs as test animals but are not kept as pets due to their temperament.
The Syrian hamster breed is the most popular with pet owners due to the docile personalities of these hammies and the array of coat types and colors available. These furry hamsters range from 4 to 7 inches long, and an adult will fill your entire palm. The average lifespan is about 2 years.
Syrians are more laid back than their dwarf relatives, so they are easier to pick up and hold. They are also less nippy, especially if they are handled and socialized when they're very young. They're nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and are most active at night.
Syrians are typically sold in pet shops under a variety of names that mainly pertain to their colors and patterns. These are not official variety names; they're just marketing tools used to make these little pets more appealing. Golden hamsters are the most common, but there are several other color types to be aware of, including:
- Teddy Bear Hamsters: Long-coated, fluffy hamsters in shades of white and cream, cinnamon, brown, different shades of gray and black; requires coat grooming.
- Fancy Hamsters: This term is generally used for any type of Syrian beyond the common golden.
- Panda Bear: These black and white hamsters have a color pattern similar to their namesake.
- Black Bear: They are either all black, or black with some white on their bellies and feet.
Syrian hamster coat types vary and include the following:
- Short: The fur is very fitted and plush.
- Long: The fur trails off the rump and males have longer, silkier coats than females.
- Rex: Not common in the United States, this coat stands on end, and the whiskers are curled.
- Satin: Satin coats have a beautiful sheen and can be long or short.
- Umbrous: This type has a dark gray wash over the ends of the fur.
The Chinese hamster is sometimes referred to as a Chinese dwarf hamster, but they are not a true dwarf variety. They are just small and grow to about 4 inches long. These hamsters are rather nervous about being handled at first, but they tame down nicely and actually seem to enjoy being held by their human companions. Many will cling to their owners' fingers once a bond is established. Their average lifespan is nearly 3 years, but some live longer if they're well cared for.
There are two coat types associated with the Chinese dwarf hamster. In a normal colored Chinese dwarf hamster, the color of the upper body is brown at the base with black tips. The cheeks, chest, and underside are white with a gray undercoat. A black stripe stretches from the animal's forehead to the base of its tail. In a dominant spot-colored hamster, the hamster's base coat is white with patches of normal coloring and a brown stripe that runs from the forehead to the base of the tail.
Campbell's Dwarf Hamsters
Campbell's dwarf hamsters, one of three Russian dwarf species, are one of the most commonly kept dwarf hamsters. Adults grow to about 4 inches in length. These adorable dwarfs have a lifespan of approximately 18 months to 2 years.
Unlike the nocturnal Syrian hamster, these dwarfs tend to be most active around dawn and dusk, which gives you more opportunity to observe and interact with them. They are very active and entertaining to watch.
Campbell's dwarf hamsters come in many colors and color combinations. The albino hamster is white with red eyes as most albinos tend to be. The agouti-colored hamster is a blend of gray and brown with a white underbelly. Black hamsters have black fur and black eyes. Cinnamon-colored hamsters, also referred to as argente, have cinnamon-brown fur with red eyes. Opal-colored hamsters are a blue-grey color with a white underbelly and red eyes.
Winter White Dwarf Hamsters
Winter whites are one of the other Russian dwarf hamster types, and they are so similar to the Campbell's dwarf that it's often difficult for non-experts to tell them apart when the winter white is in its non-winter coat color. They typically grow to about 3 to 4 inches long and live approximately 2 years.
These little cuties are also said to be a bit friendlier than their Russian counterparts. Winter whites are reasonably easy to tame if you approach them slowly, handle them carefully, and feed them favorite foods from your hand. While they may still nip from time to time, they are less likely to nip than other dwarf species.
Winter Whites get their name from the fact that they molt out to white during the winter ,so they blend in with the snow. However, they are available in three standard colors. There are a few more color mutations that may or may not be the result of crossbreeding. The standard colors include normal, sapphire, and pearl.
Normal winter white dwarf hamsters are a mixture of black and grey, similar to how they would be found in the wild. Sapphire colorations are a blue-grey color and pearl winter whites are white with dark tips.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters
Roborovski dwarf hamsters, affectionately referred to as "Robos," are the final member of the Russian dwarf hamster species. Measuring about 2 inches long, they are smaller than the other two species and tend to be a little quieter and timid overall. Their lifespan is generally 2 to 3 years.
Robos can be extremely active when they are awake, so you'll have plenty of time to watch and interact. They prefer a bit of shade over direct sunlight and prefer an environment that has a lot of objects that provide places for hiding and other activities. They love to have a good assortment of toys, huts and chews to keep them busy, so you can have fun shopping for them.
Robos are sandy brown with a white underside and legs. They also have white spots above their eyes and, unlike the other Russian species, lack the dark stripe on the back. There is also a white-faced variety, sometimes referred to as a Husky.
Red eyes can occur in different breeds of hamsters for various reasons. In some cases, a dark red, "garnet" color can be produced along with cream, cinnamon, mink, or fawn-colored coat by hamster breeders. On the other hand, you can have hamsters that have red eyes that are either a pink or bright red shade along with a pure white coat.
These hamsters are albinos, and this condition can occur with Hungarian and Syrian hamsters and is not a separate breed. Albino hamsters are rare and they are often more likely to develop various health conditions, such as skin diseases, cancer, and vision problems.
The Friendliest Hamster Breed
All breeds of hamsters can be friendly if you work to tame them and get them to enjoy spending time with you. In general, the Syrian hamster tends to be the most outgoing and friendly. They also have the advantage of being larger and slower than other breeds, which makes it easier to pick them up with less stress on the hamster.
Syrians also need to be kept individually, with a single hamster in an enclosure. This means they are more likely to seek attention from humans because they don't have any other social bonds. Syrians tend to be the best breed for children, as their larger size and general friendliness makes them more tolerant than their more timid and smaller cousins.
Whether a hamster enjoys being held depends on their species as well as their experiences with humans as they grow up. Some hamsters can learn to enjoy cuddling with people, while others will always find it stressful and prefer to interact with you in other ways. Working slowly with your hamster to get it used to being held and pairing that with some wonderful things like treats can help your hamster to find human contact rewarding.
Different Types of Hamsters
Deciding among all types of hamsters is bound to be difficult. The best thing you can do is spend time with the species that interest you the most to make sure you understand what to expect from them. One of the different kinds of hamsters is bound to feel like the right choice, but you can always get more than one type and house them separately as needed. That way you can have all the hamsters you truly feel you can care for.