Looking to get a hamster as a pet?
Before doing so, it would be wise to know the different types of hamsters first so that you can decide which type you want for a pet.
Take a look at this complete guide before heading to the pet store to buy your first hamster.
Hamsters are nocturnal or crepuscular creatures recognized as common pets and laboratory animals. They are small, furry animals that come in a variety of colors and sizes.
Although there are plenty of classifications, the three most common types of hamsters found in pet shops are Syrian hamsters, dwarf hamsters, and Chinese hamsters.
We’ll be looking at these types of hamsters in more detail, so keep on reading.
Different Types of Hamsters
There are 19 different species of hamsters classified under the subfamily Cricetinae and grouped into seven genera.
The most common types of pet hamsters include the Mesocritecus auratus or the Syrian hamster, the Phodopus or the dwarf hamsters, and the Crisetulus griseus or the Chinese hamsters.
Syrian hamsters, also known as golden hamsters, are famous for their variations in color, fluffy fur, and large size.
The golden hamster is the best-known house pet hamster species because its size makes it very easy to handle.
As early as 1942, the golden hamster has been bred and domesticated as pets in the United States.
Initially, these hamsters only had shades of golden brown, but they developed various colors and shades over years of domestication.
Dwarf hamsters or Phodopus are classified further into three sub-species: P. campbelli or Cambell’s hamster, P. sungorus or winter white hamster, and P. roborovskii or dwarf desert hamsters.
Phodopus are smaller than Syrian hamsters and are generally more agile and more difficult to tame.
These characteristics usually put off prospective pet owners.
One of the species known for having a small size is Campbell’s hamster.
The name comes from Charles William Campbell, who collected the very first specimen from Mongolia in 1902.
Campbell’s hamster typically has a dark stripe on its back.
Russian Dwarf Hamsters
P. sungorus are the Russian winter-white dwarf hamsters.
Though they resemble Cambell’s hamsters, Russian winter-white hamsters have larger ears, wider dorsal stripes, and dark gray fur on their crown.
Another characteristic of the Russian dwarf hamster is that its coat is replaced by pearly white fur during the shorter days and dark, cold winter months.
This is why they are called “winter-white hamsters.”
However, the change does not occur in animals bred in captivity because pets receive enough indoor artificial light that hinders the recognition of shorter winter days.
The Roborovski hamsters are the smallest of all the Phodopus.
Unlike all other Phodopus hamsters, the Roborovski hamsters do not have a dorsal stripe.
They are also distinguishable by the white, eyebrow-like spots on their bodies.
Since they are the smallest among the Phodopus, they usually are the fastest and, therefore, most difficult to handle.
You can quickly identify Cricetulus griseus or Chinese hamsters by their uncommonly long tail (all other hamster varieties have stubby tails).
Primarily active during night time, Chinese hamsters stay awake for short periods in between naps during the day.
Chinese hamsters belong to the group of rat-like hamsters because of their color and longer tails. In fact, they are usually mistaken for a mouse.
They are usually brown, have a dark stripe on their back, and have white bellies.
Sometimes regarded as a pest or an exotic animal, the Chinese hamster may require special permits to own, breed, or sell in some US states.
Hamsters live longer when cared for properly and spoiled by their owners in captivity.
Wild hamsters forage and fend off prey for themselves, so they usually live shorter lives.
Syrian and Chinese hamsters live as long as three years when cared for as pets.
Roborovski hamsters have the most extended lifespan of about three and a half years.
Its other dwarf Phodopus counterparts, the Campbell’s and the Russian winter-whites, live the shortest lives at about one and a half to two years.
Size and Habitat
Hailing from arid areas from Northern Syria to Southern Turkey, Syrian hamsters are the largest, growing up to eight inches long.
Chinese, Russian, and Campbell’s hamsters can grow up to a length of four inches.
As suggested by its common names, these three species come from desert regions in Northern China, Siberia and Kazakhstan, and Mongolia.
The smallest among all the common types is the Roborovski hamster, growing only up to about two inches.
Roborovski hamsters come from the deserts of Central Asia.
Hamster Behavior and Personality
Most hamsters are territorial and intolerant of each other, so they should be alone in their cages.
If housed in cages together, stress can build up and cause them to fight and kill one another.
Although there is no guarantee, the dwarf hamster species can tolerate same-gender companions if introduced together at an early age.
Of course, you have to make sure that they each have enough space to move around.
Female hamsters tend to be aggressive against males after mating, usually ending up with the male dying.
After giving birth, female hamsters get stressed enough to commit infanticide and cannibalism.
For this reason, separate the litter once you are sure they can feed and drink on their own.
Care and Maintenance
Keep your hamsters stress-free by putting enough nesting boxes for resting and scattering feeding and drinking spots to give them multiple food sources.
Along with plenty of chew toys, climbing ladders, and tubes, equip your hamster cage with an exercise wheel big enough for the hamster variety you have.
These additions keep the hamster physically fit and healthy.
Clean your hamster cages at least once a week but put some of the old bedding material back to have them recognize that the same cage is still their home.
A tiny sandbox positioned inside the cage is good to keep the hamsters clean.
The hamsters can unwittingly scrub the dirt off their coat in these sandboxes.
Food and Shelter
Hamsters are omnivorous animals, and their natural diet includes seeds, grass, and insects.
A combination of commercial hamster food, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts is ideal.
Avoid citrus fruits and other vegetables that can upset their stomach and innards, and always ensure that you feed them with the correct amount of food.
For shelter, make sure you have enough cage space, digging, burrowing, climbing spots, and many things to keep them active.
Hamsters run long distances during the night in their natural habitat, so give them enough moving space.
Position the cage in a calm, quiet place in your house to avoid loud, sudden noises that can cause your hamsters some stress.
What is the cutest type of hamster?
For many hamster lovers, the Syrian hamster is the cutest and the most manageable.
Also called the teddy bear hamster because of its fluffy fur, its size makes it appear like any normal-sized stuffed toy.
Which type of hamster is the friendliest?
The Syrian hamster is famous for being docile and inquisitive, and they are effortless to tame and handle.
Other varieties aside from the Roborovski species can be nippy. Still, they can become tame for easy handling after some time and effort.
Roborovski hamsters are small and very agile. Therefore, they are best left in their housing units as observational pets, like fish in a tank.
Hamsters are one of the best pets to take home with you.
However, unlike cats and dogs, they thrive in an enclosed space, which means they don’t end up leaving their wastes all over the place.
Whichever variety of hamster you choose, they are all cute little furballs that are fun to watch and easy to maintain.
Hamsters are always good pets for beginners, even for toddlers, as long as you help them understand the basics of caring and upkeep.