Hamsters are all so 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, you can head to the pet store or a breeder to meet a few hamsters in person and pick out your new furry pal.
Syrian hamsters are the most popular with pet owners due to their docile personalities and the array of coat types and colors available. Their size ranges from four to seven inches long, and an adult will fill your entire palm. The average lifespan is about two years.
Names and Coat Colors
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 many more, including:
- Teddy Bears: These are the long-coated hamsters. Colors run the gamut and include shades of white and cream, cinnamon, brown, different shades of gray, and black.
- Fancy: This term is generally used for any type of Syrian beyond the common golden.
- Panda Bears: These cuties carry a black and white color pattern similar to their namesake.
- Black Bears: These hamsters literally look like miniature black bears.
Coat types include:
- 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 in length.
- Umbrous: This type has a dark gray wash over the ends of the fur.
Pros and Cons
While Syrians make great pets, there also a few drawbacks to consider.
- 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 when they're very young.
- They're nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and are most active at night.
- They should also be housed alone because they will fight with each other to the death.
The Chinese hamster is sometimes referred to as a Chinese dwarf hamster, but it's not a true dwarf. It's just small and grows to about four 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. Their average lifespan is nearly three years, but some live longer if they're well cared for.
- Normal: This coloration on the upper body is brown at the base with black tips. The cheeks, chest and underside is white with a gray undercoat. A black stripe stretches from the animal's forehead to the base of its tail
- Dominant Spot: The hamster's base coat is white with patches of normal coloring and a brown stripe from that runs from the forehead to the base of the tail.
Pros and Cons
Chinese hamsters are fun to care for, but they do require a little more care than the hardy Syrians.
- They tame down easily and rarely nip once tamed.
- Many will cling to their owners' fingers once a bond is established.
- They are very intelligent and fun to observe as they scurry around their tanks.
- They're prone to diabetes, which can be controlled with a sugar-free diet and plenty of water.
- They can also pick up cold viruses from their humans, so wash your hands before handling one if you're sick. Better yet, avoid handling your pet until you're well.
- Some individuals can be kept together while others prefer to live alone. All you can do is give it a try to see how they get along and separate anyone who gets picked on.
- They're small enough to slip through the bars of the average hamster cage, so they must be kept in glass tanks with lids.
Campbell's Dwarf Hamsters
Campbell's dwarf hamsters, one of three Russian dwarf species, are one of the most commonly kept dwarf hamsters of all. Adults grow to about four inches in length. These adorable dwarfs have a lifespan of approximately 18 months to two years.
Campbell's dwarf hamsters come in many colors and color combinations including, but not limited to:
- Albino: This hamster is white with red eyes.
- Agouti: This is a blend of gray and brown with a white underbelly.
- Black: The hamster has black fur and black eyes.
- Cinnamon: Also referred to as argente, the fur is cinnamon brown and the hamster has red eyes. There is also a black-eyed variety with the same fur color.
- Opal: This is bluish-gray with a white underbelly and red eyes.
Pros and Cons
Lively little Campbell's hamsters are charming, but there are some challenges to keeping them, including health issues. Take a look at the pros and cons.
- Campbell's dwarfs can usually live together in same-gender colonies if they are introduced to each other at a very young age.
- Unlike the nocturnal Syrian hamster, these dwarfs tend 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.
- This type of hamster tends to have poor eyesight and is prone to developing cataracts.
- Like the Chinese hamster, the Campbell is also prone to diabetes.
- Campbell's also tend to be nippy, perhaps due to their poor eyesight and being startled easily.
- They can escape wire cages easily, so house them in a large glass tank or plastic tub with a secure, ventilated lid.
Winter White Dwarf Hamsters
Winter Whites are one of the other Russian dwarf hamster species, 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. These little cuties are also said to be a bit friendlier their Russian counterparts. The typically grow to about three to four inches long and live approximately two years.
Winter Whites get their name from the fact that they moult out to white during the winter so they blend in with the snow. However, they are available in three standard colors, although there are a few more color mutations that may or may not be the result of crossbreeding. The standard colors are:
- Normal: This is a blend of black and gray that's characteristic of these hamsters as they're found in the wild.
- Sapphire: This is a bluish-gray color.
- Pearl: This coat is white with darker colored tips.
Pros and Cons
- Winter Whites are reasonably easy to tame if you approach them slowly, handle them carefully, and feed them favorite foods from your hand.
- The color change keeps things interesting, although many won't go through the change since they live indoors.
- They are less likely to nip than other dwarf species.
- Like the Campbell's dwarf hamster, these hamsters are also active early and late in the day.
- Winter Whites are known to let out a high-pitched squeal when something disturbs them, and this can be quite startling for their owners.
- The average hamster cage found at pet supply stores usually has bar spacing that's too wide for these dwarfs.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters
Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters, affectionately referred to as "Robos," are the final member of the Russian dwarf hamster group. Measuring about two inches long, they are smaller than the other two species, and tend to be a little quieter and timid over all. The prefer a bit of shade over direct sunlight and prefer an environment that has a lot objects that provide places for for hiding and other activities. Their lifespan is generally two to three years.
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.
Pros and Cons
These little hamsters have a lot to offer, but there are some health issues potential owners need to be aware of.
- Robos can be extremely active when they are awake, so you'll have plenty to watch.
- They're awake part of the day, which makes it more convenient to interact with them.
- They love to have a good assortment of toys, huts, and chews to keep them busy, so you can have fun shopping for them.
- These are one of the most timid and easily startled hamsters of all, so handle them with great care.
- They cannot be housed in the average cage because they can slip through the bars easier than any of the other dwarf species.
- Robos can pick up common viruses from their owners, so it's best to limit contact with them and their environment when your sick. Be especially sure to wash your hands before refilling their food and water if you're ill.
- These hamsters are also prone to a neurological disorder that causes them to spin, especially if they feel stressed. Depending on the severity a particular individual is afflicted with, most of these hamsters can still live a decent life with this condition.
Choosing a Hamster
Deciding between these adorable 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 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.