Of all of the species of hamsters (Yes, there is a lot) only 5 are widely kept as pet in the USA. (What this basically means is PetCo and Petsmart only sell 5 species....And for good reason) These 5 species are Syrian hamsters, Djungarian dwarf hamsters, Roborovski dwarf hamsters, Campbells dwarf hamsters, and Chinese dwarf hamsters. Each is unique in their own way, just as people are.
- Are Crepuscular. This means that they are most active (though not limited to) in the mornings and evenings.
- Have teeth that never stop growing. So chewing materials must be supplied.
- Chew anything they can get their teeth on. Because of this, they need to be housed in a safe, sturdy, chew-proof habitat.
- Need to run. Make suren to provide them with a running wheel. They are avid exercisers.
- Can be tamed. When you first bring a hamster home they might not be too friendly, but with some tender loving care, even the wildest ham ham can become your new best friend.
- Cost money. The initial set up of owning a hamster does cost a bit (buying a cage, food bowl, water bottle, house, food, chews, treats, bedding, and the hamster itself) but owning a hamster can be relatively inexpensive. (Unless you spoil them the way I do!) But do keep in mind you never know what may happen and you may need to pay your local vet a visit, which is where it can get very expensive.
- Are best kept alone. Even though they get along while they are young, hamsters will often grow to become territorial and will fight cage mates. Because of this, only experienced hamster parents should even attempt to house more than one hamster in a single cage. If you do attempt to keep multiple hamsters in the same cage they should each have their own wheel, food bowl, water bottle, and house. (Example: for 3 hamsters=3 wheels) Hamsters housed together should be closely monitored though and an extra cage will be necessary in case they need to be separated. It is true that many dwarf hamsters enjoy and can be housed together, but there is always a chance they will fight which is why I stress that first time hamster parents should only get a single hamster. If hamsters are housed together they should be the same sex to prevent breeding. (FUN FACT: A hamster's gestation period ranges from 16 to 30 days depending on the species and and single litter can have up to 13 pups.) Hamsters multiply very fast and breeding should be left to experienced hamster parents. (Also hamsters of different species should NEVER be housed together.)
Scientific Name: Mesocricetus auratus
Alternative Names: Golden Hamster, Fancy Hamster, Teddybear Hamster, Standard Hamster
Native To: Syria
Adult Size: 5-6"
Life Span: 2-3 years
About: Syrian Hamsters are the widest kept hamsters in the US. They are the most known of hamsters and most available. Due to their larger size, and ease of taming, they make for excellent starter hamsters. Syrians are a more hardy species of hamster, and do not get sick easily. They are fairly easily handled by both adult and child hands. They come in many different colors and there is also a long haired species. Many pet shops offer unusually marked hamsters as "Fancy Hamsters" and sell them for nearly double the price of normal Syrian Hamsters. Syrian hamsters are solitary hamsters and should never be housed together. (Unless it is a male and female the owner intends on breeding.)
Dwarf Russian Djungarian Hamster
Scientific Name: Phodopus sungorus
Alternative Names: Winter White Hamster, Siberian Hamster
Native To: Asia
Adult Size: 3-5"
Life Span: 1-2 years
About: Djungarian hamsters are thought to be one of the most naturally friendly species of hamster, making taming them rather simple. However, at nearly half the size of Syrian hamsters, they are much harder to handle for children. Their smaller size makes them faster and more active, as well as more vulnerable to clumsy hands. Winter Whites can sometimes coexist with others, but may need to be separated one day.
Scientific Name: Phodopus roborovskii
Alternative Names: Robos, Robs, Dessert Hamsters
Native To: Asia
Adult Size: 1.5-3"
Life Span: 2-3 years
About: Roborovski Hamsters are the smallest and fastest of all hamsters. This makes them a challenge to tame and handle. They are not recommended for starter hamsters or for young children. They have been said to run the equivalent of four human marathons per night on average, so, you guessed it, if one gets loose your going to have a field day trying to catch it! Robos are great little things to sit and observe. Most Robo hamsters enjoy living in groups of 2 to 5, but due to the chance of fighting parents of multiple hamsters must be prepared to separate and house them separately.
Dwarf Campbells Russian Hamster
Scientific Name: Phodopus campbelli
Native To: Asia, China
Adult Size: 2-3"
Life Span: 2-3 years
About: Campbell Hamsters are closely related to Djungarian Hamsters, and the two species are very often confused with one another. They are relatively easy to tame, though not quite as easy as their close cousins, the Djungarian hamsters. These hamsters are not easily handled by small, clumsy hands, and may feel threatened. There small size makes them fast and active. Some pet stores, such as PetCo, do not have them listed as Campbells, but just Dwarf Hamsters. This makes them seem more rare than they actually are. Many Campbells can happily coexist in pairs or groups of three, but are not exempt from the possibility of fights.
Dwarf Chinese Hamster
Scientific Name: Cricetulus griseus
Alternative Names: Chin
Native To: Asia, China
Adult Size: 4"
Life Span: 3-5 years
About: When young, Chinese Dwarf Hamsters are quite nervous but grow to be very gentle and calm. Compared with other hamsters they have a long, thin build and a relatively long tail. Because of this, some people may confuse them with mice. Their small size makes them quick, and harder for children to hold. They are great for watching. Some US states such as California, regard Chinese Hamsters as pests and a special permit is required to own, breed and sell them. In other states such as New Jersey they are classed as exotic animals and a permit is also required to own them. Many Chinese dwarfs can live together in small groups.
With That Said....
I will break hamsters down into two categories. Syrian and Dwarf. (Syrian and....The rest)
- Syrian hamsters: These larger, easily tamed hamsters make for great starter hamsters. They are cute, little things that are relatively easy to care for. They are solitary creatures and will not need a roommate. If you have a child I would highly suggest a Syrian hamster due to their ease of handling and taming. Once a Syrian is tamed, it will stay tamed for the remainder of it's life.
- Dwarf hamsters: These smaller, faster hamsters can be a bit more of a challenge to handle and tame and are not recommended for children. Especially Robos and Chinese dwarfs, which are best kept in large, glass tanks and observed. However, dwarf hamsters are cute, active, and can be a lot of fun to care for. Dwarf hamsters may be housed in same sex pairs or small groups but must be monitored and hamsters parents should have another cage in case separation is necessary. Dwarf hamsters, if ignored or neglected, can become wild again.
With THAT Said....
All hamsters are different and everyone has their own opinion. You may have a bad experience with one species of hamster, but a wonderful one with a different species. Only by watching, researching, and interacting with these adorable balls of fluff can you decide which one is right for you!
Also....DO NOT choose a hamster based only on HOW CUTE IT IS!
I can't tell you how many people adopt hamsters based only on their looks and end up with a bad tempered one, or a species they can not properly care for. Roborovski hamsters are a good example of this. They are tiny, adorable, and you just want to cuddle them, but they are fast and hard to tame. Many people adopt Robos and find out that they are quite a handful and end up neglecting the poor little things.
I wish everyone good luck in their hamster hunt! Until next time, guys!