Skip to main content

By Vanessa Voltolina

There may be endless sources of information for pet owners looking to invest in their next furry friend—assuming, of course, it’s a dog or cat. But what about hamsters? It may be difficult to discern if your potential hamster is a good fit for the kids, gets along well with other hamsters or will do well with your family’s cat or dog. As a veterinarian that specializes in exotic and zoo animals, Adam Denish, VMD, of Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital, advises that prospective pet owners do their homework.

“You need to assess who the pet is for, why do you want it, do you have the time for it, do you have the money for it initially and long term, do you have a plan for where to house it and how will it affect your other animals,” he said. It’s just as important to do this with exotic animals as it is with companion animals (read: dogs and cats), and potential hamster owners should understand a hamster breed’s different personality traits before bringing one home.

Learn more about the different types of hamsters, and what makes them unique from each other, below.

Syrian Hamster

Syrian hamsters are the proverbial poster-children of what many of us think of when they hear hamster. They can grow five to six inches long, according to Denish, and are the largest of all the hamster species. Golden brown with white bellies, these are also known as teddy bear type hamsters, and are the most common pets. They tend to be friendly towards people, Denish said, however they are not very social with other hamsters, so consider them as “only children.” They are also completely nocturnal, so expect minimal activity during the daytime and most at night.

Russian Dwarf Hamster

Social, though they can be nippy, these very small furry friends can exist with members of the same sex and breed as long as they are introduced to each other early in life. There are two types of Russian dwarf hamsters, the Campbell’s Russian dwarf and the winter white Russian dwarf. A third type of dwarf hamster, the Chinese hamster, can also be kept as a pet.

Winter White Hamster

Also called the Siberian hamster, the winter white is a dwarf type and can grow to be around four inches long, Denish said. Due to their extremely small size, these hamsters aren’t the best bet for very young children to handle or to be around other pets, he added. However, these hamsters are social and exemplify good behavior overall, he said. They enjoy living with hamsters of the same sex and breed as long as they are introduced to each other early in life.

Chinese Hamster

These mid-sized hamsters, with a length of four to five inches, are also known as striped, gray, or rat-tailed hamsters. And their monikers say it all, as the breed often comes in dark gray with a dark stripe down their backs and a longer tail than other hamsters. “They are medium in size, but very fast, nocturnal and not great with other hamsters,” Denish said. Similar to Syrians, they often prefer to be “only child” pets.

Roborovski Hamster

Similar to the Russian dwarf, these hamsters are small and are actually the smallest type of hamster. On the plus side, these little guys are social and friendly, often living in pairs or as family groups. However, according to Denish, they are very jumpy and quick, so they are not likely the best option for young children to handle or to be around other pets.

While the above are general traits of certain hamster types, personality can have a lot more to do with genetics and socialization than the actual breed, Denish said. Of course, “any animal can change when taken out of their environment,” he said, “but your first impression goes a long way.”

Image: fantom_rd via Shutterstock

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?