Popular Pet Hamster Breeds Compared

Contributor: Mychelle Blake
White syrian hamster eating cheese

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.

Syrian Hamsters

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 four to seven inches long, and an adult will fill your entire palm. The average lifespan is about two years.

Names and Coat Colors of Syrian Hamsters

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:

Name Description
Teddy bear or Angora hamster
Teddy bear or Angora hamster
Long-coated, fluffy hamsters in shades of white and cream, cinnamon, brown, different shades of gray and black; requires coat grooming.
Fancy Hamster
This term is generally used for any type of Syrian beyond the common golden.
Panda hamster eating green pepper
Panda bear
These black and white hamsters have a color pattern similar to their namesake.
black bear hamster in a coffee cup
Black bear
They are either all black or black with some white on their bellies and feet.

Syrian Hamster Breed Coat Types

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.
  • Umbrous: This type has a dark gray wash over the ends of the fur.

Pros of Owning Syrians

Syrains make great pets because:

  • 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.

Cons of Owning Syrians

There are a few drawbacks to consider:

  • 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.

Chinese Hamsters

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.

Coat Colors of Chinese Hamsters

  • 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 of Chinese Hamsters

Chinese hamsters are fun to care for:

  • 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.

Cons of Chinese Hamsters

They do require a little more care than the hardy Syrians.

  • 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.

Coat Colors of Campbell's Dwarf Hamsters

Campbell's dwarf hamsters come in many colors and color combinations including, but not limited to:

  • Albino hamster: 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 of Campbell's Hamsters

Lively little Campbell's hamsters are charming.

  • 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 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.

Cons of Campbell's Hamsters

There are some challenges to keeping them, including health issues:

  • 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 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. These little cuties are also said to be a bit friendlier than their Russian counterparts. They typically grow to about three to four inches long and live approximately two years.

Coat Colors of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters

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 of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters

Just a few reasons to select this hamster include:

  • 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.

Cons of Winter White Dwarf Hamsters

A few reasons to avoid selecting a winter white dwarf hamster include:

  • 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 species. Measuring about two inches long, they are smaller than the other two species, and tend to be a little quieter and timid over all. 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. Their lifespan is generally two to three years.

Robo Coat Color

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 of Owning Robos

These little hamsters have a lot to offer:

  • 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.

Cons of Robo Hamsters

Some personality and health issues potential owners need to be aware of:

  • 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.

Red-Eyed Hamsters

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 a 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 get health conditions like skin diseases, cancer, and vision problems.

Red-Eye Hamster

Pink Eye and Hamsters

If you have a hamster that suddenly develops pink or reddish colored eyes, this is an indication that they are suffering from conjunctivitis, also known as "pink eye." You may also notice that their eyes appear swollen, wet and the eyelids may stick together or give the appearance that the hamster can't open his or her eyes. If the condition worsens, you may also see red, irritated skin around eyes. This is a condition that requires veterinary intervention right away.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hamsters

Since hamsters are a popular pet breed, many potential hamster owners have questions about the best breed for them and general hamster care.

What Is the Friendliest Hamster Breed?

All breeds of hamster 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 a single hamster, which 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.

How Many Species of Hamster Are There?

Although there are only five breeds that are kept as pets, there are actually about 25 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.

Do Hamsters Enjoy Handling?

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.

Common white hamster held in the hand

Do Hamsters Hate Certain Smells?

Hamsters have an excellent sense of smell to compensate for their poor vision. As a result there are definite common household odors that your hamster will not appreciate. Any type of strong chemical, such as a household cleaner, will bother your hamster, as well as scented air fresheners. They also do not like the smell of citrus, such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit.

Can You Potty Train a Hamster?

You actually can train a hamster to use one area of their cage to eliminate since this is a natural instinct for them. You can use either a small litter pan from a pet store or you can make your own using a small plastic container. You can purchase litter for your hamster's box at a pet store or use any cat clumping litter that does not have silica in it. Add some of your hamster's urine or feces collected from his cage to the litter box and then observe your hamster. You want to put him in the box each time after he wakes up and eventually he will associate the box with his going to the bathroom.

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.

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