Hamster Species

By kleo

Posted in

There are 5 different hamster species that are commonly kept as pets:

  • Syrian (“Teddy Bear”)
  • Winter White
  • Campbell’s Dwarf (“Russian”)
  • Chinese
  • Roborovski

Winter White and Campbell’s hamsters are closely related and can breed to create hybrids. There are 25 total species in the wild, so the species kept as pets are only a small subset of all hamster species.

The main differences between the different species are their appearances and whether or not they can live with another hamster (sociability). There are slight behavior differences between the different species, but for the most part personalities can vary just as much within one species as between the different species.

Hamster Species Comparison

This chart gives a quick comparison between the different species. The species are really all quite similar, so the differences between them are slight and can only be applied on average. For example, even though the Syrian is listed as the “tamest”, that is only on average and you can easily find an example of a Robo that is more tame than a Syrian. It all depends on the individual.

 

Species Syrian Winter White Campbell’s Chinese Roborovski
Size Biggest
(5-7 in.)
Average
(3-5 in.)
Average
(3-5 in.)
Average
(3-5 in.)
Smallest
(2-3 in.)
Live in Pairs? Never Sometimes Sometimes Not Recommended Sometimes
Lifespan 2 years 2 years 2 years 2 years 3 years
Health Concerns Wet Tail, Pyometra Diabetes Diabetes Diabetes None
Personality Trends Tamest Average Average Average Least Tame

Hamster Species Pictures

Below are some pictures to show you examples of what the hamster species typically look like.

Syrian Hamster Pictures

Syrian hamsters can have a wide variety of colors and patterns. They can have long hair or short hair. Below are just a few examples.

Syrian hamster

Syrian Hamster “Watson”
Color: Golden
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

Syrian Hamster Miss Maple Color: Patterned Cream, Red Eyes Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

Syrian Hamster “Miss Maple”
Color: Patterned Cream, Red Eyes
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

Winter White Hamster Pictures

Winter White hamsters have only a few color varieties. They are usually either gray or white, as shown below.

Winter White Hamster Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

Winter White Hamster “Poirot”
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

Winter White Hamster Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

Winter White Hamster “Colonel Mustard”
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

Chinese Hamster Pictures

Chinese hamsters are said to be the most mouse-like out of all the species of hamsters. They are typically a brownish color with a white belly.

Chinese Hamster Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

Chinese Hamster “Miss Scarlet”
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

Chinese Hamster Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

Chinese Hamster “Dangermouse”
Photo by Jess at http://www.doggenetics.co.uk

 

 

 

Which Hamster Species Should I Get?

This is a common question for people looking to get a new pet hamster. The truth is that all hamster species are really quite similar and that it’s best to look for an individual hamster that has the traits you are looking for, rather than look for a particular species, because there is so much variability within a species.

For that reason, it’s best to look into rescues in your area to see what kind of hamsters currently need rescue. The rescue will be able to tell you the personality of the individual hamster so that you can know what to expect. That will be a much better predictor of the hamster’s personality that the species.

That being said, there are differences you should expect if you own different species, so here are some of the considerations you should think about.

Do you want hamsters that live in pairs?

Some people prefer to have just one hamster so that they can devote all of their attention to one animal, while other people enjoy watching two hamsters live together and interact. If this is important to you, this will help you narrow down what species you want, because only some hamster species can live together.

The downside to getting hamsters in pairs is that it doesn’t always work out. No matter what the species, it is possible that the hamsters will start fighting one day, even if they’ve lived together for a long time before. Hamsters change over time, and fights can break out for any number of reasons. If you decide to get a pair of hamsters and house them together, you will need to be prepared to separate them and keep them in separate cages if they do end up fighting some day. That means twice the expense for two times the number of cages and supplies. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s always a possibility.

For hamsters that live in pairs, you will need to buy two of every item in the cage. This will discourage fighting, because the hamsters won’t need to share and won’t feel as territorial over the items in the cage. They can each have their own space to get a break if they need it. That means two wheels, two water bottles, two hiding huts, and two of anything else in the cage.

Remember that for any hamsters that are kept in pairs, it should be same-sex pairs. Hamsters are very prolific breeders and if you keep a male and a female together, you will have many litters very quickly!

Now that you’ve thought about whether or not you would want to keep a pair of hamsters or a solitary hamster, here are the species that fit into each category:

  • Hamsters that should always live alone: Syrian
    • Syrians are very aggressive towards other hamsters, and they will fight to the death if housed together with another hamster. For that reason, if you get a Syrian hamster, it should never interact with any other hamsters.
  • Hamsters that should almost always live alone (some exceptions): Chinese
    • In most cases, Chinese hamsters should live alone. There have been some strains of Chinese hamsters that have been bred to live in pairs, and so you may occasionally see Chinese hamsters living together. However, to be safe, it’s best to keep them living solitary.
  • Hamsters that can live in pairs: Campbell’s, Winter Whites, Roborovskis
    • All of these species can do great living in pairs, but there is no guarantee that they will always get along, so you should still be prepared to separate them if it becomes necessary.

Do you want a hamster that is easy to handle?

Typically, Syrian hamsters are easier to handle, if only for their size. Because they are bigger, they are much easier to pick up and hold, and it’s harder for them to escape or hide. For this reason, Syrians are often recommended as the best species for the first time owner. It’s also a great species for children (over 10 years old) because they are a bit easier to handle.

On average, Roborovski hamsters are the most difficult to handle, again if only for their size. Because they are much smaller than the other species, they are  more difficult to pick up and hold. They dart around very quickly and can hide easily. For this reason, it is often the species that is most difficult to tame, and some may never become tame. Some Roborovskis become more of a pet to watch than one to hold and cuddle.

The other dwarf species (Campbell’s, Winter Whites, Chinese) tend to be somewhere in between Syrians and Roborovskis in terms of handleability and tameness.

Again, it can depend a lot on the individual, but these are the trends that are often seen due to the size of each species.

Are you willing to watch out for health concerns?

A very common health concern with Campbell’s, Winter Whites, and Chinese is diabetes. If you choose one of these species, you will need to carefully monitor their health to see if they develop diabetes. If they do develop diabetes, you will need to manage their diets to avoid sugary foods. It is very manageable with a careful diet and the prognosis is good, but it is an extra thing to consider.

Syrians are prone to wet tail when they become over-stressed. Wet tail is when a hamster has diarrhea and becomes dehydrated. Hamsters can die from wet tail, but it if it’s caught early it is possible to re-hydrate them and nurse them back to health. Typically a hamster will only get wet tail in the first few days of adjusting to a new home when stress levels are high. After the initial adjustment period, it is rarely a concern. Female Syrians are also prone to pyometra, which is when the uterus becomes infected. Sometimes pyometra can be cured with antibiotics or surgery, but sometimes it is fatal. For this reason, the lifespan of female Syrians is less than male Syrians.

There are no health concerns that are particular to Roborovkis so typically there is less to worry about health-wise with this species. That doesn’t mean that they can’t become ill, just that they don’t have any diseases that they are particularly prone to when compared to the other species.

Conclusion

Now that you’ve read through some of the differences to expect between the species, I’ll reiterate once more that all species of hamster are absolutely great! You will find people who advocate for one species over another and everyone has their own favorites, but in the end it comes down to the individual hamster. So once again, check out your local rescue to see what species are available for adoption!

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