The Syrian hamster is a popular small pet. They come in a variety of colors, and live up to 3 years old.
Syrian hamsters are best kept on their own, rather than in pairs or groups. They need plenty of space, and handling from a young age.
These little pets are nocturnal. So, they are most likely to be awake and running around at night. You’re unlikely to hear them moving around in the day.
They are also known as golden hamsters.
Syrian Hamster FAQs
Our readers’ most popular and frequently asked questions about the Syrian hamster.
- Are Syrian hamsters good pets?
- Where do golden hamsters come from?
- How long do Syrian hamsters live?
- Are Syrian hamsters healthy?
Let’s take a look at everything we will cover in this guide.
What’s in this Guide to the Syrian Hamster?
- Where does the Syrian hamster come from?
- Golden hamster appearance
- Syrian temperament
- Syrian hamster health and care
- Golden hamster Lifespan
- Syrian hamster care
- Similar breeds to the Syrian hamster
- Is a fancy bear hamster right for me?
Let’s start by taking a look at what the Syrian hamster actually is.
What is a Syrian Hamster?
The Syrian hamster is one of the largest and most common breeds of domestic hamster.
They actually have many names. So, you could see a Syrian hamster referred to as any of the following:
- Teddy bear hamster
- Golden hamster
- Fancy bear hamster
Where Does the Syrian Hamster Come From
So, where did teddy bear hamsters first come from? These little creatures originated in Syria.
The golden hamster was first captured by a Jewish biologist called Israel Aharoni in 1930. Aharoni used two of the wild hamsters he had captured to breed hamsters like we know them today.
Although he initially intended them to be used as laboratory animals.
It was 6 more years until these little hamsters were brought across to America, and they quickly became popular.
Syrian Hamster Appearance
Even though they’re one of the biggest of the hamster breeds, teddy bear hamsters are still small pets!
They have small tulip-shaped ears, round black eyes, and a twitching little nose.
Golden hamsters have pouches in their cheeks that they can fill up with food, so don’t be surprised if you see them strolling around with bulging sides.
Plus, they have wonderful soft fur, and tiny paws. They will have a very short tail.
Syrian Hamster Size Facts
- Teddy bear hamsters are popular first pets, because they don’t take up much room at all.
- Fancy bear hamsters will grow to be between 4 and 6 inches long.
- In fact, Syrians grow to be almost double the size of dwarf hamsters!
- In most animal species, males are bigger than females. But, in hamsters, the opposite is true! Female hamsters often grow bigger than males.
Syrian Hamster Colors
These hamsters may sometimes be called golden hamsters, but they actually come in a huge variety of colors and patterns.
Some of them may be solid colored, but others can have all sorts of interesting markings.
The most commonly available colors are:
Golden Hamster Patterns
As well as colors, the Syrian hamster comes in a large variety of patterns. Some of these include:
- Banded: This hamster has a white band of fur around its middle, but its body is any other color.
- Dominant Spot: Even patches of color on top of a white base.
- Tortoiseshell: Various patches of color mixed with patches of black.
- Tortoiseshell and White: Same as above but with white patches too.
- Roan: Flecked pattern caused by white hairs among the other colored hairs
Types of fur
Fancy bear hamsters can have many different colors and patterns. But on top of this, they can also have different types of fur.
So each one really is unique.
The shorthaired Syrian has short, soft fur all over. This is the most common type that you will see when you search for this type of pet.
The longhaired Syrian hamster has much longer fur. Males often grow longer fur than females, who just look fluffier. Male longhaired Syrian hamster coats can grow over 4 inches long.
Satin Syrians have a glossy sheen over their coat. They have beautiful shiny fur caused by hollow strands of hair. But breeding Satins together can result in bald hamsters!
Finally, the Rex hamster. This type of Syrian has crimped fur and whiskers!
Syrian Hamster Fun Facts
The original Arabic name for golden hamsters roughly translates to “Mister Saddlebags”! Which is just as cute as our hamsters themselves.
Even though they’re one of the most popular small pets, wild teddy bear hamsters are actually in the ‘endangered’ category.
Syrian Hamster Temperament
Fancy bear hamsters are popular children’s pets. But what about their temperament makes them so great?
Syrian hamsters will love having lots of attention and affection. They can actually get quite attached to their owners. So, make sure to interact with these little pets a lot.
They need lots of toys and areas to explore, otherwise they can easily become bored. They especially love toys that they can chew – as they constantly need to grind down their teeth!
Although golden hamsters can be really friendly and affectionate, they can’t be housed together. Keeping two Syrians together can result in some nasty fights and aggression.
These hamsters can be kept together until they are around 8 weeks old. But, after this, they may begin to fight and hurt one another.
This is also seen in the wild. In fact, female hamsters will attack male hamsters on sight. They will only interact briefly to mate.
These are very territorial little animals!
So, fancy bear hamsters can be aggressive to other hamsters, but what about to people?
Do Syrian Hamsters Bite?
Like all animals, Syrian hamsters may bite or nibble you when they are picked up. They don’t necessarily mean to hurt you.
If you feed your hamster anything by hand, it may mistake your fingers for food at times!
They can bite if you have picked them up in a way that hurts them, or even if they are scared or shocked. It will take a while for your hamster to get used to you, and especially to get used to being handled.
Golden hamsters are very friendly and are a safe pet for young children and adults alike. But they will need time to adjust to being picked up and petted.
Let’s find out the best way to help a teddy bear hamster adjust to being picked up.
Taming Syrian Hamsters
Taming Syrians is quite easy, so don’t despair if you are desperate to pick up your golden and give it a cuddle!
You need to gradually get your hamster used to being picked up, from the time you bring it home.
A great way to start is by putting your hand near your hamster and keeping very still. This lets your hamster come and explore you at its own pace. It may nibble your hand, but try not to make any shocking, sudden movements!
Once your hamster is used to your scent and touch, you can start picking it up. Try to handle your hamster for a little bit of time every single day, from a young age.
Doing this will help you bond with your hamster, and will help it to become braver when being picked up.
Syrian Hamster Exercise
It’s worth noting here, that Syrian hamsters do need a lot of exercise. Obviously, this is quite hard when they’re in a cage.
But, there are some ways around this.
You can get a hamster wheel, or flying saucer toy. These allow your hamster to run long distances while they’re in their cage, giving them the exercise they need.
You can also create hamster-safe zones out of their cage inside your home. You can get a large box, or cordon off an area with nothing unsafe that your hamster could ingest, or any gaps he could escape through.
Fill these zones with fun toys and obstacles for your hamster to explore, helping fulfil his natural curiosity, and also his exercise needs.
Syrian Hamster Health
Like any pet, there are health problems that you should know about in Syrian hamsters.
Let’s take a brief look at some health and care issues you should be aware of if you’re choosing to bring a golden hamster home.
Hamster teeth are constantly growing. So, they need something to help them grind their teeth down.
It’s really important that hamsters have something safe to chew on. They need access to these things at all times!
Hamster safe wooden block chews are available at most pet stores. These are a great choice because they will grind down your hamster’s teeth, but he will also enjoy chewing them and moving them around his little home.
You can use things such as toilet roll tubes from your own house. Your hamster will love playing in these as much as chewing them up!
If your hamster’s teeth start to grow too long, it can cause dental issues such as ulcers and abscesses. So, take them to the vet if their teeth are abnormally long, or they are struggling to close their mouth comfortably.
Cheek Pouch Disease
Teddy bear hamsters will fill their cheeks with things such as food and bedding. But sometimes, these things get stuck in their pouches.
Things stuck in your hamster’s pouches can causes abscesses and swellings in your hamster’s mouth
If you notice any discomfort or swellings in your hamster’s cheeks, take them to your vet for a check up.
Wet tail is a common problem that Syrian hamsters can suffer from. This is an infectious disease, and hamsters are most susceptible to it when they are stressed, or following big life changes, such as coming to a new home.
Signs of wet tail include:
- Loss of appetite
Bad hygiene can also contribute to wet tail. So, it’s important to make sure your hamster’s cage is always clean.
This problem can be fatal, so if you suspect anything is wrong with your hamster, take them to your vet straight away.
Cancers and Tumors
Cancers and tumors can develop spontaneously in hamsters, especially older ones.
Not every tumor is dangerous, and many are benign. But, if you notice any abnormalities in your hamster’s body and behavior, take them to the vet for a check.
Of course there are other problems hamsters can suffer from. Here are some other issues you should keep an eye out for.
- Dermatological problems
Importance of Check Ups
These are only a few of the major problems Syrian hamsters can face. But the best way to keep on top of your hamster’s health is to attend regular vet check ups.
As well as regular vet checks, you should examine your hamster for any signs of illness when you handle him each day.
Some signs to look out for include:
- Loss of appetite
- Sitting in a hunched-up position
- sunken, dull eyes
- Excess thirst
- Discharge from eyes and nose
- Sneezing or coughing
- Difficulty walking or limping
- Excessive, persistent scratching
- Swollen, firm stomach
- Any abnormal lumps
Syrian Hamster Lifespan
Part of the reason these little hamsters make such great pets is the Syrian hamster lifespan. Although they don’t live as long as bigger pets, like dogs or cats, they are with you for long enough to become a true part of the family!
In the wild, golden hamsters live for 1 to 2 years, on average.
But, domesticated Syrian hamsters can live up to 3 or even 4 years old! The longest living teddy bear hamster reached an impressive 4.5 years old!
Do Syrian Hamsters Smell?
All hamsters have a natural scent, and actually communicate with one another using smells. But, this can become overpowering at times.
Their cage should never be left for so long that it becomes overly smelly.
Cleaning your hamster’s cage once a week, and his bedding more frequently, should prevent smells from becoming too much.
Syrian Hamster Care
As we’ve mentioned, an important part of golden hamster care is cleaning their cage regularly.
Your hamster’s cage needs a nesting box of some sort, so your hamster can burrow and keep warm when asleep.
Your Syrian hamster cage should be as big as possible. Golden hamsters need lots of space to explore and exercise.
As a guide, the National Hamster Council recommends a cage with 1000cm squared of floor space that is at least 19cm high as a minimum amount of space. Make sure to fill his cage with lots of interesting toys to keep your hamster busy.
Do not use a wooden cage. Your hamster will simply gnaw its way through the sides and escape!
Syrian Hamster Diet
Another important part of caring for a fancy bear hamster is their diet.
Your hamster needs constant access to water, preferably in a sipper tube.
Commercial hamster foods are specially made to include all of the nutrients that your hamster needs. You can also top this up with the occasional fresh treat, but check to make sure it is hamster-safe first.
Serve food either in a bowl, or scatter it across the floor of your hamster’s cage to encourage natural food gathering skills. Your hamster is likely to hoard food in his nesting area.
This is why it is important to clean your hamsters bedding material regularly. You should always make sure to remove any uneaten fresh treats to prevent mold growing in your hamster’s cage.
Don’t change your hamster’s diet suddenly, as this can lead to stomach upsets.
Keeping Syrians Together
You might see teddy bear hamsters kept together in pet stores, and want to take both of them home so they have company.
But, it is really important that Syrian hamsters live alone. If you keep two or more fancy bears together, they will start to fight, and could really hurt one another.
Syrians can be kept together up until around 8 weeks of age. But after this point, they can begin to bicker and fight.
These hamsters are very territorial. If you want to get several hamsters to live together, you can consider a smaller breed, like the Russian Dwarf Hamster.
Caring for a Baby Syrian Hamster
Hamster pups are born hairless and blind. They are pretty much helpless as babies. But, it’s important not to disturb them over the first two weeks.
Doing so can lead to aggression from the mother, and could even result in her harming the babies. You should change their food and water as normal, and you will soon see the pups develop.
At two weeks old, they will be trying the food and water that your Syrian has, and exploring their new home. You may even see your mother golden trying to drag them all back to the same place!
You shouldn’t worry if this happens, even if the pups are squeaking in protest. This is normal behavior, and the pups aren’t getting hurt.
At two weeks old, you can start handling the pups. But, you should remove the mother from the cage first to prevent any aggression.
Pups will feel safer in your hands if you smell like them. So, you can replicate their scent by touching or rubbing their bedding.
Don’t hold them too high up. They aren’t used to being handled yet, so might try to jump out of your hand. Keep your palms close to their bedding so they have a soft landing if they try to escape.
Return the mother when you have finished handling the pups, and repeat this daily to get the baby hamsters used to being handled.
Rescuing a Syrian Hamster
It is possible to rescue fancy bear hamsters! And this is a great way to give a Syrian a second chance at a loving home.
You may find golden hamster specific rescues in your area, or you might have to look at a general hamster rescue center.
As the most popular type of domesticated hamster, it is very likely that you’ll be able to find one of these beautiful pets needing a loving home.
Rescuing a hamster is also a great way to learn a little more about your pet’s personality before you bring him home.
People love teddy bear hamsters for many reasons. They’re small, easy to care for, and great fun to handle and play with.
If you love these characteristics, here are some other great pets you might want to take a look at.
Comparing the Syrian Hamster with Other Pets
It can be tough to know exactly which hamster breed will suit your family and home the best. But, luckily, we have a great guide that compares all of the different hamster breeds.
Take a look at it here to help you decide which type of hamster is the best.
Syrian Hamster Products and Accessories
Is a Syrian Hamster Right for Me?
Syrian hamsters are great pets for anyone that wants a small, social, happy pet. If you handle them daily, you can form a really strong bond with a Syrian.
However, you do need to be dedicated to cleaning their cage regularly, checking them for health issues, and grooming them if they have longer fur.
This isn’t an animal that will be awake and willing to play during the day. So, if this is the only time you will be around to interact, you should consider a different type of pet.
But we would definitely recommend the Syrian to families who are looking for a first time pet!
Do you have a Syrian Hamster?
Do you have a golden hamster? living at home with you? We’d love to hear all about them in the comments below!
References And Resources
- Gatterman, R. (et al), ‘Golden Hamsters are Nocturnal in Captivity but Diurnal in Nature’, Animal Behavior (2008)
- Dunn, R. ‘The Untold Story of the Hamster, A.K.A. Mr Saddlebags’, Smithsonian (2011)
- National Hamster Council
- Howard, B. ‘Golden Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus)’, Companion Animal Care and Welfare (2018)
- Pellett, S. & Mancinelli, E. ‘Veterinary Care of Hamsters’, Companion Animal (2017)
- Banks, R. (et al), ‘Hamsters’, Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry (2016)
- ‘How to Take Care of Your Hamster’, RSPCA
- ‘Oldest Hamster Ever’, Guiness World Records