Hamster Breeds – Behavioural Traits and Tips for Caring

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Hamsters are categorized as rodents. They are in the same category as mice, rats, chinchillas, chipmunks, gerbils, and guinea pigs. Rodents are divided into three main categories – Scuiriomorpha (squirrel-like rodents) Caviamorpha, (guinea pig-like rodents), and Myomorpha (mouse-like rodents). Hamsters are in the Myomorpha category.

Hamsters are native to Asia and Europe, and each species bears the name of the country of origin. There are 19 breeds of hamster in total, but only a handful are domesticated. Each hamster breed has different personalities and needs. Understanding the different types of breeds will help narrow down your choice of hamster. Let’s discuss the five most domesticated hamster breeds.

1.   Syrian Hamster

Common names: Golden hamster, Syrian hamster

Scientific name: Mesocricetus auratus

Adult size: Adult Syrian hamsters are between five to nine inches long and weigh around five ounces

Life expectancy: 2-4 years

About Syrian Hamster

The Syrian hamster is one of the most domesticated small pets as it’s easy to tame, fairly low maintenance, and fun to watch. These attributes make them an ideal pet for beginners.

Naturally, the hamster from Syria and Southern Turkey has golden-brown fur and a lighter belly. However, selective breeding has led to the emergence of hamsters with variations of colours, hair length, and patterns.

Their popularity as pets means that there’s no shortage of diets specially formulated for Syrian hamsters. You can find Syrian hamsters in most pet stores, and their care sheets are plenty online.

Behaviour and Temperament

Syrian hamsters like to lead solitary lives and are pretty territorial when you invade their space. That means you shouldn’t keep them in the same cage with another Syrian hamster or with another pet. Sometimes young hamsters can coexist with other pets, but they become aggressive as they mature and can even fight to death. That’s why it’s always best to keep them alone in the cage.

Make sure to handle them with care and frequently to get used to being content around people. Failure to handle them will make them aggressive.

Syrian hamsters are active at night – they sleep during the day. Therefore, make sure its cage is far from your bedroom as it can wake you up. Avoid handling your hamster during sleeping hours as it may bite you. The ideal time to interact with your Syrian hamster is mainly in the evening or during early morning hours.

These pets don’t form a close bond with their owners, but you’ll find them coming to the side of their cage if you are around and will often lounge in your hands.

Dedicate a few hours every week to clean its cage, change its water, and remove uneaten food. Also, allocate some time every day to handle your pet to keep it tamed.

Housing and Care

At a minimum, a Syrian hamster cage should measure 1 X 2 X 1 feet. If you can get a larger enclosure, the better as the Syrian hamster uses its space for exercise. There are different types of enclosures you can find in the market – make sure to choose the right one.

Also, ensure to include lots of hamster toys to stimulate your hamster mentally and physically. An exercise wheel is an ideal toy. Other options include tunnels with hiding and climbing zones as well as chewing blocks.

Feed your hamster a diet of grains, nuts, and seeds supplemented with vegetables and fruits such as apples, pears, cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli.

Also, offer occasional feeder insects or hardboiled eggs to give them a protein boost. If you’re feeding your hamster commercial food blends, limit the supplemental foods. Make sure to discard uneaten food every 24 hours as your hamster will start stashing it in its hideouts for later.

Common Health Problems

Syrian hamsters tend to be hardy, but this does not mean they don’t get infections. The most common is a gastrointestinal infection caused by stress and bacteria build up in the gut. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include lack of appetite, diarrhoea, lethargy, and wetness around the tail. If you suspect an infection, make sure to seek vet services immediately.

Other issues to look out for include fur and ear mites as well overgrown teeth.

2.   The Chinese Hamster

Scientific name: Cricetus griseus

Common names: Chinese striped hamster, Chinese hamster, Chinese dwarf hamster

Adult size: Can grow to between 3-5 inches in length and weigh 1-2 ounces

Life expectancy: 2-3 years

Wild colour: Greyish brown with a whitish belly and black stripe down

About the Chinese Hamster

The Chinese hamster originates from Mongolia and northern China. These tiny rodents are technically not in the dwarf hamster category, but they are still small compared to other common pet hamsters such as the Syrian hamster. They tend to have longer tails than most other hamsters and are pretty easy to care for.

Due to their docile nature, the Chinese hamster is easy to tame, although some tend to nip when handled.

Behaviour and Temperament

The Chinese hamsters are nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and are active at night. Therefore, avoid handling them when they are sleepy, as they can bite you.

They are comfortable being held as pets, but you have to handle them to consistently get used to human touch. Due to their tiny bodies and quick nature, they can be challenging to handle, which is why you should hold them near the floor to avoid causing severe injuries.

Chinese hamsters coexist well with their species and thus can be kept in pairs or small groups. Do not mix them with other pets in the house as they might injure these fragile rodents.

Housing and Care

When it comes to housing, the larger it is, the better, as these hamsters will need space to play and exercise. At a minimum, the cage should be two feet long, one foot high, and one foot wide. Cage options are those with a wire top and plastic base or a plastic or glass aquarium. Ensure the bar spacing is narrow enough to keep your hamster from squeezing through them.

In terms of food, you can opt for commercial hamster food and occasionally supplement with fresh fruits and vegetables such as apples and carrots.

3.   Dwarf Roborovski Hamster

Scientific name: Phodopus roborovskii

Common name: Robo dwarf hamsters

Lifespan: 3 – 3.5 years

Colour: Brown with white fur on their stomach

Adult Size: 5cm

About Dwarf Roborovski Hamster 

The Dwarf Roborovski is the smallest hamster species and also the fastest of the dwarf breeds. Often called Robo dwarf hamsters, these little pets are pretty hardy and rarely get ill.

They are generally curious and hard to handle due to their fast nature. Their way of socializing is entertaining you from the cage as you watch. You should keep same-sex pairs or groupings in the same cage, especially when young.

In the wild, their natural colouration is sandy brown with a white belly and distinctive white eyes. The colour helps them blend with their semi-arid surroundings. However, due to selective breeding, you’ll find the Robo having different colour patterns.

Behaviour and Temperament

The Robo dwarf hamsters are nocturnal and thus will be active at night. Although they rarely nip, their fast and agile nature makes handling them quite tricky. It’s advisable to handle them in an area they can get away from, such as over a large box. If you want to handle your hamster often, train it to take treats from the hand.

Housing and Care

Roborovski hamsters are hyperactive, and thus their cage should be as large as possible to allow them to play and exercise. A 2 X 2 X 1 feet cage is the bare minimum for this hamster. Ensure that the cage doesn’t have big spaces where the hamster can escape.

Include an exercise wheel with no bars in its enclosure for your pet to run on. Also, provide a variety of mineral chews and chew sticks in the enclosure. Also, add a sleeping hut or small nest for your hamster to hide in when it wants to sleep or feel secure.

In terms of food, Robos are like other hamsters and thus can eat a mix of low-fat seeds, fresh fruits such as oranges and apples, as well as vegetables such as lettuce. They can also eat small amounts of insects or meat.

4.   Dwarf Campbell Russian

Scientific name: Phodopus campbelli

Common name: Campbell’s dwarf Russian hamster

Adult size: Length of between two to four inches and weight of between 1.5 and 2

Natural colour: Greyish-brown body fur and white belly fur

Life expectancy: 2 years

About the Campbell’s Russian Dwarf

The dwarf Campbell’s Russian is one of the two species of the Russian dwarf hamsters and one of the most common small pets you’ll find in pet stores. Named after Charles William Campbell, who first caught it in Mongolia in 1904, these hamsters are tiny and round-bodied.

They’re one of the fastest hamsters, which makes them difficult to hold. In addition, they need a lot of socializing to get used to being handled without nipping.

In the wild, this species likes to burrow deep and form a nest using wool and grasses, where they reside in winter. Selective breeding has led to the production of Campbell’s hamsters with different colour patterns.

Behaviour and Temperament

Like other hamsters, the Campbell’s dwarf Russian hamsters are nocturnal, but they can be active for short times during the day. If frightened, they may nip, but this is not to mean they aren’t good pets. They have a friendly nature and don’t mind being held with care.

Unlike the Syrian hamsters, the Campbell’s hamsters can coexist with their species, and thus you can keep them in the same-sex groupings.

Housing and Care

Due to the small size, you shouldn’t keep the Campbell’s dwarf Russian hamster in a wire cage as they may escape. A solid-sided cage with ventilation or an aquarium with a secure top is a preferable cage. Also, ensure to have a hamster hut in its cage where it can turn it to feel safe or for sleep.

Make sure to keep the cage clean to prevent the buildup of odor. You can also keep tubes and compartments in the cage for your hamster to explore. Also, provide your pet with an exercise wheel and chewable toys.

In terms of food, go for high-quality hamster pellets and serve them as instructed. Limit the treats and supplementary foods if your hamster is on pre-packaged foods. Do not feed hamster raw beans, avocado, and almonds as these can be harmful or toxic. Also, avoid honey treats and high-sugar fruits as dwarf hamsters are prone to diabetes.

Common Health Problems

As we’ve mentioned, Campbell’s dwarf hamsters are prone to diabetes, but this can be prevented by feeding your pet a low-sugar diet. Signs of diabetes include excessive urination and urge to drink water, lethargy, negative behaviours, and shivering.

Diarrhea is also another common condition in small rodents, and it tends to be highly contagious. If spotted, treat it with antibiotics.

5.   Dwarf Winter White Russian

Scientific name: Phodopus sungorus

Common names: Siberian hamster, Dwarf winter white Russian hamster

Adult size: Can grow up to lengths of four inches

Life expectation: 1-3 years

About Dwarf Winter White Russian

The Dwarf Winter White Russian, also known as the Siberian hamster, are small and cuddly pets and thus make great pets for teens and adults.

While they are pretty similar to Campbell’s dwarf Russian hamster, this species is more docile.

Behaviour and Temperament

Dwarf Winter White Russian hamsters make excellent pets because they’re generally good-nurtured, tolerate handling more than other types of hamsters, and are less likely to nip.

Also, the Siberian hamster can be kept in same-sex pairs, unlike the Syrian hamsters, but this should be done when both are young. Do not expose these hamsters to other pets as they can stress them out.

Housing and Care

These tiny rodents can squeeze between bars of many wire cages, which is why you should go for an aquarium-type tank. A bigger tank is preferable to give room for your pet to play and exercise. Make sure the top is ventilated. Keep substrate in the cage to act as beddings. You should change the substrate often to prevent the build of odor and urine. In addition, keep a hamster wheel in the tank to give your pet a place to exercise. 


Regardless of the hamster breed you decide to purchase, ensure to provide a big cage, solid diet, and time for bonding. Also, keep in mind that these small rodents are escape pros, and thus you’ll need to ensure the enclosure doesn’t have big spaces where your hamster can squeeze through.

Also, make sure to give your hamster toys such as an exercise wheel and tubes to keep them busy and healthy.