Which type of hamster is right for you
Pictures of various types of hamster
The hamster types and suitability and requirements
There are several different types of hamster, the most common is the standard Syrian hamster which is what we would think of automatically when someone mentions the word hamster. The Russian hamster, much fluffier and smaller. Roborovski hamster, the tiniest hamster similar to the standard Russian and the Chinese hamster one of the rarer breeds of hamster.
Before getting a pet you should always consider if you have:
A. The time to care for it.
B. The funds to pay for food, bedding, treats, toys, a cage, the pet itself and vet care for when it gets sick.
C. A safe place to keep it for example on a dresser in your bedroom, a table in the living room etc where NO other pets can reach it.
D. How many people live in your house and how quiet it can be during the day/if you have lots of children or other pets.
Hamsters do however make excellent first pets for all people of all ages. I will go on to talk about each breed in turn, the life span, the suitability and the requirements for each pet. The pet rating and things to consider.
The Syrian hamster: This hamster obviously originates from Syria, they are desert animals which means they sleep most of the day and come out at night or the morning. Syrian hamsters are the largest of all hamster types personally I have two and the largest sort of Syrian you can get are the long hairs which can grow to three quarters of the size of a small guinea pig. Short haired ones usually do not grow so large. (Hint, long fur hamsters typically do not make the best pet for a young child as the fur can become sticky, dirty, caught etc and they do not like this one bit mine is very prissy about his beautiful fur) Syrian hamsters can live between 2-4 years but usually up to 3 depending on care and health, they can be bought in pretty much any pet store and come in a very wide variety of colours e.g. brown, black, mixed, spotted etc. They will NOT be tame in the pet shop as they are babies themselves and need to be given a good few weeks before they warm up to you. Syrians should ALWAYS BE KEPT ALONE as they are insanely territorial and vicious towards other hamsters regardless of sex and age. They require a large cage (see RSPCA guidelines for help) and should be kept in a standard bar cage rather than a tank as they love to climb 80x50x50 is plenty enough space and the Savic hamster heaven cage is the 'perfect' cage for a hamster. AVOID all Crittertrail, Rotastak as these are nicknamed the deadly cages, they look fun and exciting but they are prone to breaking, far too small, badly over prices, poorly made and they build up toxic fumes which could hurt your animal, also Syrians grow far too large and will get stuck in the silly tubes. Syrians require around 12g of food per day and will store it in their pouches. They become easy to handle and tame quite nicely they are an ideal pet for everyone including sensible children (ALWAYS have a responsible adult supervising the handling and do not leave a pet alone with a child) they are animals they have feelings and they are fragile but they are more robust than other forms of hamster so please be careful. They can grow up to the age of 8 months old. They do not smell. There is little difference between male or female so they have the widest range of choice for you.
Roborovski hamster: From largest to the tiniest, my Robo's measure little over two centimetres in length and do not grow much past four of five as adults. They are extremely quick, faster than mice, tiny and they are very intelligent. They live around 2 years and stop growing at around 5-6 months of age. These are less common in pet stores but can be found in larger chain shops e.g. petsathome. They are incredibly tiny and I want to stress this, they are naturally quite timid and very quick making them completely unsuitable for children they are a mature teen and adults pet. They are best kept in a good tank however a smaller barred STURDY hamster cage (the bars do not bend and it does not have flimsy thin plastic) so they cannot escape. They can get out easily and slip through small gaps but I keep two in a pico hamster cage with no problems if the bars are strong they cannot bend them. These hamsters are best kept in PAIRS but occasionally may fight a little when they get older. Be sure you know that they are sexed well before you bring them home. They are not like male mice however they do have that odour of them making them smellier than a Syrian too but they are very unique with their dual or tri toned coat, very large dark eyes, tiny tails and small mains of fur around their faces. They require up to 12g of food per day (always see your food bag as they differ) and will store food in their tiny pouches. These are NOT a children's pet or suitable for anyone who doesn't take the time or patience to handle them. They are not aggressive and are incredibly sweet and tiny.
Russian hamster: They are smaller than a Syrian but larger than a Roborovski. Best kept alone and in a sturdy bar car with slim gaps and no chewable plastic. These hamsters are slightly more likely to nip you and are very quick. Fed around 12g of food per day (again check your food bag) and live for 2-3 years. They are distinctive with their large eyes and fluffy coats with natural tones much like the Roborovski, physically they resemble these much more only they are larger. These hamsters are more suited to teens or adults but a mature, sensible OLDER child could have one supervised, not for smaller children as they can nip and they are very fast and quite small so they could be hurt or bite someone by accident and the risk isn't worth it. Can be bought mainly in larger chain pet stores. These are much more unique pets.
Winter white: These are the same as the above only they are very unusual and quite rare. They are usually pure snowy white but sometimes have flecks of other colours and resemble the fluffy Russian hamster (as that is what they are) same requirements as the above. These are difficult to get a hold of. Rare.
Chinese hamster: Fast and live 2-4 years, these are smaller hamsters that look slightly more like a mouse with a tail extended beyond the normal size of a hamster tail (although still not considered long or full) they come in a fairly small variety of colours and can be bought from large chain pet stores. They are quite rare to find in most places and are more suited to teenagers and adults rather than younger children as they are fast, nip and are slightly unsociable at times. Same cage requirements, a tank or strong and fine bars. Often people refer to these as the more 'difficult' breed of hamster. Rare, unique but not the perfect pet.
Please keep in mind that every hamster varies, all hamsters have a different personality and size and health conditions vary by genetics, hamster type and care. Long fur Syrians grow larger than short hair in most cases and really short haired ones grow wider and flatter than most other ones. Russian hamsters are natural colours they do not have the patches or anything that the Syrian's do and are all very similar the same with Roborovski and Chinese are usually flat simple colours.
Be absolutely certain you can care for an animal and have the funds to pay for such a pet, be sure you can afford to buy the food, the care, you have space for a cage and you can give the little guy or girl plenty of time and energy. Do not buy a pet and then realise within days or weeks you cannot afford/keep it so you will have to get rid of it this isn't fair on you and especially so on the animal.
Tips and notes for bringing a new pet home:
- The pet stores usually put a pet inside a cardboard carry box but bigger chains will put the pet inside a box which goes inside a larger card box to keep it extra safe and warmer with a small amount of bedding. Have a deep plastic box like a storage one wiped round and clean to open the box into when you get home, getting them out of that cramped, terrifying card box is the best thing for them whilst you set up their cage if it hasn't been set up already.
- If the pet store gave you a little bedding from their tank there sprinkle it around the bottom bedding of their cage so they have their scent in there, this will help them relax.
- Do NOT try to handle or play with your pets for at least 3-4 days after they came home apart from putting them in their cage which is perfectly fine, they need time to settle, you CANNOT buy tame pets unless they are naturally calm around humans which in the vast majority of cases does not happy.
- Do not expect an animal to be something because you can be completely mistaken but the general view will be the same.
- Check the water bottle every day to be sure it isn't leaking, broken, hazardous and to be sure water is coming out.
- AVOID pine, cedar or scented bedding e.g. bedding scented of lemons or lavender because these are HIGHLY toxic and dangerous to your pet.
- Hay is a good and much cheaper alternative (provided it isn't really dusty) than those fluffy beddings because it is great for their digestion and their teeth too.
- Do not bathe your hamster and handle with care. Do not keep it near a cool window or especially cool room/in a draught and do not keep it by a warm radiator as they can hibernate and they can become sick from things the same as humans can.
- If your hamster seems sick go straight to your vets as they can become extremely ill extremely quickly.
- Buy a care guide online or from your local pet store in book form so you always have something to refer to and it will help give you useful tips on caring for your new pet (especially good for children or first time pet owners)
Think carefully about the pet you want and if it really is right for you. You must legally be 16 to buy a pet in the UK and many other countries however some stores will not sell to anyone under the age of 18 without a parent or guardian present to sign and pay for it.
Enjoy life with your new pet!!