Welcome to our complete guide to hamster breeds!
In this article, we will introduce you to the top five most popular pet hamsters on the hamster breeds list.
So, if you’re wondering which hamster will suit your family, you’re in the right place.
You will learn what each hamster breed needs, how long each lives and their unique personality traits. Not to mention plenty of fun hamster facts along the way.
If you want to skip ahead to the breed that interests you most, just click on one of these links:
- Syrian Hamsters
- Campbell Russian Hamsters
- Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamsters
- Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters
- Chinese Hamsters
Did you know there are more than 20 distinct hamster species in the world today?
Although they are often referred to as hamster breeds by pet owners, technically these are separate species!
Some different hamster breeds look quite similar to each other.
On the other hand, some breeds of hamsters can vary greatly in size, temperament, and care needs.
While various hamster breeds hail from around the globe, their common name was a gift from the Germans.
The German word “hamstern” means “to hoard,”. Hamsters love to hoard nuts, seeds and other delicacies in the ample space in their cheek pouches. Thus, this tiny, furry hoarder became known as a “hamster.”
Speaking of which, here is a fun fact to marvel at: the hamster is able to carry half the amount of its own body weight in those same cheek pouches. That would be the equivalent of you stuffing several whole chickens into your cheeks!
The Syrian hamster, Mesocricetus auratus, is also commonly called either the teddy bear hamster or the golden hamster.
These are easily the most popular pet hamsters of all. They most likely owe their popularity to their early introduction into the United States in 1942. At that time they were used as laboratory animals.
As it turns out, even those early scientists were not immune to the charms of hamsters as pets! It wasn’t long before Syrian hamsters were released from their lab duties. From there they traveled home to meet the researchers’ spouses and children.
Today, Syrian hamsters are widely considered to be the friendliest hamster breed. Not only that they’re also considered the best breed of hamster for families with children.
They are the most popular of the big hamster breeds. The main reason for this is because they almost never nip and are very easy to handle. Their sweet personalities will quickly convince you that the Syrian hamster is the nicest hamster breed of all.
Important Syrian Hamster Facts
However, there are some important things to know about the Syrian hamster before you considering bringing one home to be a family pet.
Syrian hamsters MUST be kept alone. If they are kept with another Syrian hamster, prepare for bloodshed!
Syrian hamsters are the largest hamster breed. They can grow to be seven inches long!
These hamsters’ relatively large size also means that Syrian hamsters need larger hamster wheels and bigger cages so they can move about and exercise.
Syrian hamsters can be short haired or long haired. The teddy bear hamster is one of the long haired hamster breeds, and males will have longer coats than females.
Syrian Hamster Health and Care
If you buy a Syrian hamster with long hair, you will need to groom him or clip the ends of his fur to prevent matting.
Female Syrian hamsters tend to be more active than males. While Syrian hamsters are nocturnal, females are more apt to rouse themselves during the daytime than males.
In terms of coloration, most but not all Syrian hamsters have golden coats. But some Syrian hamsters can also sport coats of chocolate brown, white, gray or even black.
Syrian hamsters can live up to 4 years.
If all of this sounds appealing, then maybe a Syrian hamster is the right hamster breed for you. But there are plenty more to choose from!
Syrian Hamster Breeds
Your Syrian Hamster might not have a golden coat, or any of the coat colors we’ve mentioned so far.
Don’t worry. Since humans domesticated Syrian hamsters, we’ve introduced a whole host of coat colors. No matter the coat color, there is just one Syrian hamster breed. You can learn more about hamster coat colors here.
Every Syrian hamster can trace its lineage back to Aleppo in Syria in 1829, if not further! This was the year that British zoologist George Waterhouse came across these charming little furballs.
Dwarf Campbell Russian Hamster
There are two popular breeds of dwarf hamsters. Both are considered to be small hamster breeds. The first type is Phodopus campbelli, or the dwarf Campbell Russian hamster.
Not surprisingly, the Russian dwarf hamster originally hails from Russia. You may have noticed this hamster has several names! This hamster is named after where it is from and also after the person who first captured this hamster in the wild. That man was W.C. Campbell.
For this reason, it is sometimes also called the Campbell’s dwarf hamster.
These hamsters are mini compared to their large Syrian cousins – they won’t ever grow more than four inches long.
They will live about two years and can be happy living with a same-gender adult or in a group, so long as they lived in a group when they were a baby hamster. Otherwise, it is best to keep an adult dwarf Campbell Russian hamster by itself.
Important Campbell’s Russian Dwarf Hamster Facts
There are a few important facts about the Campbell’s dwarf hamster you should know.
They are more high-strung than other hamster breeds. This hamster breed is known to nip when startled or frightened.
They are still sweet natured, but you will need to supervise any interactions between your Campbell’s dwarf hamster and young children.
They are truly nocturnal.
Because of their small size and (apparently) overall deliciousness, these hamsters evolved to live in underground burrows. This meant they became more active at night when their natural predators were snoozing. However, sometimes a captive dwarf Campbell Russian hamster will wake for a bit during the day.
Campbell’s Russian Dwarf Hamster Health and Care
You will need to take care when choosing a habitat.
These teensy hamsters can slip between wider cage bars, or worse, get stuck. So be sure you choose a habitat with suitably close-set bars for your hamster’s safety.
Campbell’s dwarf hamsters have a natural coat color. This is usually a grey-brown coloration on the back that is darkest along the spine and a white under-belly.
Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamsters
Biologists once thought that the dwarf winter white Russian hamster was a subspecies of the dwarf Campbell Russian hamster. Geneticists have since worked out that the two breeds are sufficiently different. So, this hamster has its own separate classification as a dwarf Winter White Russian hamster.
Like its counterpart, the dwarf Winter White Russian hamster also has several names. These include: the Djungarian hamster (after a region in Mongolia where it lives) and the Siberian hamster (after a region in Russia where it lives).
However, this doesn’t prevent the two breeds from getting easily confused. After all, they have a lot in common: Both are dwarf hamster breeds that hail from the same general region in northern Asia. In addition, they both have the same natural coloration and nocturnal habits.
It is only if you look very closely that you will observe the more stout and compact configuration of the Winter White dwarf hamster. This is contrast to sleeker and mouse-like facial features of the Campbell’s dwarf hamster. However, if you don’t see this, don’t worry. Sometimes even professional breeders still get the two hamster breeds confused!
Right now, it is still more common to see a Campbell’s dwarf hamster in a pet shop than a Winter White dwarf hamster. But that, too, is starting to change.
Important Winter White Dwarf Hamster Facts
Here are a few handy facts to know about the dwarf Winter White hamster.
The safest habitat is an aquarium. These tiny little hamsters rarely grow more than three inches long. Because they are so small, a habitat with cage bars is not advisable for safety. A glass or plastic aquarium is a much safer choice.
These hamsters love to work out. If you need motivation to get in shape, your new Winter White dwarf hamster can help you. They love to exercise and will absolutely need a running wheel and several climbing areas in their habitat.
As one of the nicest breed of hamster, they will also happily welcome a workout partner/cage-mate of their own kind.
If you are allergic to animal fur, you may not want to pick this hamster. More allergies have been reported by dwarf Winter White hamster owners than by owners of any other hamster breed.
They are mellow and sweet. If visions of a teensy furball sitting in your palm as you pet it sends you into cuteness overload, this is definitely the hamster for you! They love to be held and are easy to tame.
The Winter White dwarf hamster’s coat actually isn’t pure white. It comes in three colorations: pearl, sapphire and pearl-sapphire. The only time a Winter White dwarf hamster will turn fully white is if it is exposed to true winter conditions. This is not recommended in captivity.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters
Phodopus roborovski, or the Roborovski hamster, is both the smallest hamster breed and undoubtedly the fastest. These incredibly petite dwarf hamsters grow to just 2 and a half inches long.
Yet some have been clocked by their owners running more than 100 miles (about four marathon’s worth of distance) on their wheels in a single night!
Due to its incredibly tiny size, the Robo hamster is considered by many to be the cutest hamster breed of all.
Important Robo Hamster Facts
Here are some helpful facts about the Robo hamster.
You won’t be able to handle them much. The reason for this is not because they can’t be tamed, but because they are really difficult to hold onto!
The instinct of any Roborovski dwarf hamster, when restrained, is to escape – and they are very good at it.
So unless you want to spend all your time looking for your pint-sized pet in closets and under furniture, you will probably do best to leave your hamster in its habitat.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters Health and Care
They outlive other hamster breeds. Except for perhaps the occasional Syrian hamster, the Robo dwarf hamster wins the grand prize for longest lifespan at four years and counting.
They are very social. So long as they lived in groups as a youngster, the Robo hamster will do well with a same-gender cage mate or even a group of Robo hamsters.
The Chinese hamster, or Cricetulus griseus, is sometimes also called the striped hamster because of the darker stripe running down the spine. Size-wise, they can grow as long as four inches.
Like the Robo hamster, the Chinese hamster is unlikely to be happy to be handled for any period of time. Choosing instead to run as quickly as he can in the direction of his enclosure!
To some, the Chinese hamster looks more like a mouse than a hamster. This is because of its long, lean body and mouse-like facial features.
Important Chinese Hamster Facts
Here are some interesting facts about the Chinese hamster.
They are best housed alone. While this hamster is timid and docile around people, they can get more aggressive when around other Chinese hamsters.
They need lots of toys and space. A bored Chinese hamster can quickly turn into a grumpy, aggressive, nip-happy Chinese hamster. They love to play and will need a large habitat with lots of toys. Digging is another big favorite activity, and they will love to hide in tunnels and burrow under their bedding.
Chinese Hamster Health and Care
They aren’t suitable pets for young children. The Chinese hamster is fragile, agile and quick. So, all interactions between this hamster breed and young children must be supervised.
An aquarium is the best cage choice. Cages with bars may look like a challenge to these petite and flexible hamsters. They are at risk of getting caught between the bars.
Chinese hamsters can live as long as three years.
Friendliest Hamster Breed
It may be difficult to find out which is definitely the friendliest hamster breed. Each breed has their own fanbase. It may be the case that some breeds are friendlier because of the environment they live in.
Also, hamsters are individuals that, like humans or other companion animals, have individual traits. A lot of their temperament might have to do with how they were raised before you got them.
That being said, it is often claimed that Syrian hamsters are the easiest to tame, and who are more likely to be sociable with humans.
This may be because we humans have been breeding Syrians for so long and they’re not very scared of us.
As with all companion animals, socialization is key!
Best Hamster Breed for Kids
Hamster have for some time being a feature of many classrooms. Adored by teachers and children alike, these furry amigos have brightened up many a school day!
But what if you want to bring a hamster home? Are some breeds more suited to energetic kids?
It may be the case that dwarf breeds are more fragile than larger breeds but all pets require care and consideration.
Certainly, Syrian hamsters are a popular choice as companions. However, this doesn’t mean that this breed is automatically going to warm to human friends.
One expert recommends involving children in the process of preparing the hamster’s habitat before he arrives. This is a good way of making sure everyone in the family knows how to be a responsible pet owner.
Caring For Your Hamster
Whether you own a hamster or don’t own one yet, we have lots of article that you might find useful:
The Best Hamster Breed
Now you know about the five most popular hamster breeds. Can you can make your choice about which one is the best pet for your situation and family?
We don’t expect it to be easy!
After all, they are all hamsters. As such, their beguiling cuteness transcends any breed differences!
You might also be wondering if there are other kinds of hamster. We’ve got you covered. Here’s our article about wild hamsters.
So, we wish you the best of luck in narrowing your choice down to a single breed. We’d love to hear about your new pet hamster in the comments section!
This article has been extensively revised in 2019.
Further Reading and Resources
Foran, J., “Caring for Your Hamster,” Weigl Publishers, 2003.
Bradford, A., “Hamster Facts: Diet, Habits & Types of Hamsters,” Live Science, 2014.
Banks, R.E., DVM, “Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry,” Wiley Online Library, 2016.
Stern, L., “Super weird hamster facts that you may not know about your cuddly pet,” Mashable, 2016.
Bond, C.R., “The Golden Hamster (Cricetus Auratus) Care, Breeding and Growth,” Physiological and Biochemical Journal, 1945.
Sikoro Siino, B, ‘Hamster’ 2007, Wiley
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