Not all hamsters are the same
Did you know that there are five main types of hamster that are kept as pets in the UK? Each has their own distinct personality and, contrary to popular belief, not all hamsters hanker after solo living.
We take a closer look at these diminutive, intriguing animals to help you decide which type – from Chinese, Syrian, Dwarf Campbell Russian and Dwarf Winter White Russian to Roborovski – could make the most suitable hamster pal for you. Plus, check out the five golden rules of hamster care that every hamster-loving owner should stick to.
Long and slender with a short prehensile tail and large dark eyes, the Chinese Hamster possesses appealing mouse-like looks, minus the long tail. Their natural colouration is ‘agouti’ (hairs banded with light and dark colours) with a black dorsal line along their spine and an ivory coloured belly. Adults reach a size of around 4 inches.
While more timid than other hamster species, once tame, Chinese hamsters are happy to sit in your hand or climb up your sleeve. Keep a watchful eye on them when they’re outside their cage as they can display sudden, short bursts of activity and, if startled by a strange noise, will dart with lightning speed into the nearest hiding place. Because they are so small and zippy, they can be challenge to handle, particularly for children.
These hamsters are highly territorial and can be unpredictable towards their own kind. However, they can be kept in single sex pairs or small groups, providing their accommodation has plenty of room with a variety of different platforms and hidey holes for individuals to enjoy their own space.
Chinese hamsters have the charming ability to grip, using their feet, body and tail to wrap themselves around their handler’s fingers, rather like a harvest mouse.
Arguably the most popular pet hamster and definitely the largest, Syrians are traditionally a golden colour, but now come in a range of hamster hues including cream, cinnamon, sable, black, silver grey, tortoiseshell and roan. They have stubby tails, small eyes and roomy cheek pouches for hoarding food. Adults grow to around 6-7 inches long.
Easy to tame and handle and not known to nip, these hamsters have sweet personalities that thrive on lots of attention, often becoming very attached to their owner.
Syrian hamsters are solitary animals and must be housed on their own.
Female Syrians grow larger than males.
DWARF RUSSIAN CAMPBELLS
Their natural shading is brown with black eyes, but many other colour combinations can now be found including dove, beige, black, blue fawn and black-eyed white. Unsurprisingly given their name, they are very small creatures, reaching a maximum of just 4 inches as adults.
Dwarf Russians are not as responsive to handling as Syrians and may be inclined to nip if they feel nervous or threatened, so children will need close supervision when handling them.
These hamsters are social and can be kept in same sex pairs or small groups as long as they are from the same litter or are introduced at a young age. If introducing a new friend, house your hamsters singly but beside each other for a week or so. When you do put them together, watch them carefully to see how they get on with each other. You’ll need to provide a cage with lots of space and give them plenty of things to play with such as wheels, toys, clean hay and shredded paper.
Although nocturnal, Dwarf Campbell Russians are often awake for short periods during the day.
DWARF WINTER WHITE RUSSIAN
Winter Whites, which originate from Kazakhstan and Siberia, gained their name because the areas they live in are covered in snow in winter and wild hamsters gain a white coat to camouflage themselves against predators. Pet Winter Whites come in sapphire, pearl and sapphire-pearl colourations. They are very small and compact, reaching just 3-4 inches when fully grown.
Sweet and friendly, Winter Whites have less inclination to bite when nervous than the Dwarf Campbell Russians. However, their small size and quicksilver ways means they can be a challenge for young children to handle safely.
In the wild, Winter Whites live in family groups. In captivity, they can cohabit with same sex littermates in pairs or small groups. Squabbles can occur, but these can be minimised by providing spacious accommodation with lots of tunnels and nest boxes for individuals to take some time out when they need to.
Because of their tiny size, make sure you choose accommodation that’s specially designed for dwarf hamsters as these accomplished escape artists can squeeze through the tiniest of spaces.
The Roborovski Hamster originates in the deserts of Central Asia and bears the name of explorer Lt Roborovski, who reported on these little animals in 1894. The Roborovski is a tiny creature, measuring just 2 inches when fully grown, although they have longer legs than most dwarf hamster species. The natural colour of the Roborovski is golden brown with a white belly, legs, nose and tail. They have sweet little faces with endearing white patches where their eyebrows are.
The Roborovski is teeny, tiny bundle of energy. As the smallest species of hamster, they are generally best kept as a pet to watch, rather than to handle. They rarely bite, and can be tamed, but are very wriggly.
Roborovski Hamsters are highly active, social creatures, and should be kept in same sex pairs or small groups. Their housing needs to be big enough for a them to race around with each other and create burrows comfortably.
In the wild, these hamsters can create six-foot-deep burrows, so their accommodation needs to allow them to be able to dig down to their heart’s content. Roborovskis also love a dust bath. Place a container, such as the top of an egg box filled with chinchilla sand, in their tank, and watch them have fun in it.
5 HAMSTER GOLDEN RULES
1. Never, ever mix different hamster species.
2. While it’s lovely for children to enjoy the company of hamsters, these exotic pets have complex needs and require more looking after than a child can offer. An adult should always be responsible for ensuring hamsters are properly handled and cared for.
3. Hamsters are omnivores, so always feed yours with food that is specially created for them such as Burgess Hamster, a tasty mix of whole dried mealworms, wholesome grains, plump pumpkin seeds, yummy peanuts and scrumptious banana flakes, with the optimum balance of nutrients. There’s also a Dwarf Hamster variety.
4. Provide suitable, safe wooden and cardboard items for hamsters to gnaw on to keep their continually growing teeth in good condition.
5. When awake, hamsters are very active and it’s essential that their accommodation is as spacious as possible, with a solid wheel, plenty of toys and nest boxes. FIND OUT MORE about creating an ideal home for your hamster here
FIND MORE ADVICE on caring for your hamster here