Hamster 101 – Everything you Need to Know About Hamster’s!

Hamster 101

A hamster is one of the most common rodents that are kept as pets around the world. They are easily recognized by their large cheeks, despite sharing many characteristics with other rodents. If this is an animal you are considering keeping as a pet, it is important to learn a little more about hamsters, the different breeds available, their life expectancy, and what they are like to keep as pets. This is an overview of the things you should know about hamsters.

What Does a Hamster Look Like?

A hamster is a small, furry rodent with a stout body and a tail that is shorter than the length of its body. They have short legs with wide feet and small furry ears. The length of a hamster depends on its breed, but the smallest measure just over two inches and the largest measure 13.4 inches. Their most distinctive facial features are their large cheeks and long incisors.

Breeds and Types of Hamster

There are seven types of hamster to which the different breeds are categorized. These are:

  • Allocricetulus
  • Cansumys
  • Cricetulus
  • Cricetus
  • Mesocrietus
  • Phodopus
  • Tscherskia

Within these seven categories, there are 25 recognized hamster breeds. However, not all are commonly kept as pets. Some of the hamster breeds include:

  • Golden- Also known as the Syrian hamster, this is the most common hamster breed kept as pets. They are also one the larger of all the breeds, measuring between six and seven inches in length. As its name suggests, these hamsters are golden in color. These are a solitary breed and prefer living alone. The long-haired variety of this breed is sometimes referred to as the teddy bear hamster.
  • Djungarian- This is also known as the winter white hamster. Surprisingly, these hamsters are brown or gray. They are called the winter white hamsters because, in the wild, they turn white in the spring if they have been exposed to the long nights and short days in the winter. This is a dwarf breed and measures between three and four inches. They like company, so keep them in same-sex pairs or small groups. This is a timid breed that is easily startled.
  • Campbell’s- These hamsters are a dwarf breed and measure between four and five inches. They come in a variety of colors. Campbell’s hamsters are very sociable and prefer to live in either a small group or a same-sex pair.
  • Chinese- This breed has a thin body that makes them look like a mouse or a small rat. They measure between four and five inches in length and have dark fur with a strip down their back and a white tummy. They are initially shy, but easy to handle once they have become accustomed to their owner.
  • European- The European hamster is also known as the common hamster, the Eurasian hamster, or the black-bellied fieldhamster. It is brown with white patches and has a black belly and chest. They measure between eight and 14 inches, so they are one of the largest hamster breeds kept as pets.
  • Roborovski- The name of this breed is often shortened to ‘Robo hamster’. It is another dwarf breed and is even smaller than the Campbell’s hamster as it measures less than two inches long. The like to live in same-sex pairs or small groups and they are known for their speed. This breed is tan and white.
  • Greater long-tailed- Also known as the Korean hamster, it is native to Northern China, where it is widely considered a pest. It is known for making a screaming noise and for standing up on its hind legs.
  • Long-tailed dwarf- These are gray or brown and their bodies measure between three and five inches. Their tails are around a third of the length of their body.
  • Other breeds- Mongolian, Eversmann’s, Gansu, Tibetan dwarf, Chinese striped, Kam dwarf, Sokolov’s dwarf, Armenian hamster, Turkish, Romanian, and Ciscaucasian.

Common Characteristics

It is possible to distinguish a hamster from other small rodents because of their distinctive characteristics. Some of these include:

  • Teeth- Hamsters are known for their distinctive upper-front teeth, called the incisors. These are long and protrude from the mouth. A hamster’s teeth are ever-growing, which means they continue to grow throughout the life of a hamster. Therefore, a hamster must gnaw to wear down its teeth and to prevent overgrowing.
  • Cheeks- A prominent characteristic of a hamster is its cheeks. They have elongated cheek pouches that stretch to their shoulders. A hamster uses its cheek pouches to carry food back to its burrow.
  • Fur- Hamsters have fur which is made of hair. The length and color of their fur varies between breeds.
  • Tails- Most hamsters have very short tails that are barely noticeable. These are usually around one-sixth of the total length of their bodies. The exceptions to this are the long-tailed breeds of hamsters.
  • Length- The length of a hamster varies from one breed to the next. While some measure just over two inches, some are longer than 13 inches.

Lifespan of Hamsters

The lifespan of a hamster depends on many factors, including its general health and its breed. It is also worth noting that hamsters generally live longer when kept as pets than they do in the wild. This is because they have many predators in their natural environment. A healthy domestic hamster will generally live for between two and four years.

Hamsters as Pets

The golden hamster, also known as the Syrian hamster, is the most common domesticated breed of hamster. This breed was first scientifically documented in 1839 by George Robert Waterhouse. However, it wasn’t until 1939, a full decade later, that researchers were able to domesticate and breed hamsters. They began trying to do this in 1930 with a litter of hamsters imported from Syria to Jerusalem. It was many years later that hamsters were exported to other countries, such as the United States. Since then, the hamster has become one of the most popular small pets in many countries across the globe.

Why Choose Hamsters as Pets?

Hamsters have many great attributes that make them fantastic pets. Just some of the reasons you should consider keeping a hamster as a pet include:

  • Cute appearance- Hamsters are adorable and have distinctive features that appeal to many people.
  • Low cost- Compared to many other pets, hamsters are a low-cost option in terms of both initial outlay and caring for your hamster at home.
  • Space- Hamsters do not take up a lot of space in your home. If you live in a small house or an apartment, a hamster is a good choice as they are a small animal that needs a smaller cage than many other rodents.
  • Mobility- For animal lovers who have mobility issues and cannot exercise a pet, such as a dog, then a hamster is a good option. If they have a wheel and things with which they can play in their cage, they will exercise themselves with no effort on the part of their owners.
  • Easy care- Hamsters are a low-maintenance pet, so they are ideal for people with a busy schedule and lots of responsibilities.

Hamsters can make fantastic pets as they are small, low-cost, and easy to care for in most domestic settings. There are many different breeds from which you can choose, and some prefer living alone while others are better in same-sex pairs or small groups. Learning as much about the breed you are buying is important if you decide to keep a hamster as a pet.

About the author


Liz Flynn is a mum of four with a background in education. An animal lover, she has owned everything from dogs to tarantulas and animals of all sizes in between and loves to write about them.

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