Dec 292009

When it comes to hamsters sold as pets, there is one “large” type hamster and four “small” or dwarf-type hamsters. These five types of hamsters include:

  • Syrian/Golden
  • Dwarf Winter White Russian
  • Dwarf Campbell’s Russian
  • Roborovski
  • Chinese

Hamsters are part of the rodent family, along with mice and rats. But hamsters are the most popular for keeping as pets.

Let’s consider the key characteristics of each type.


Syrian / Golden Hamster
This type hamster is usually called a Golden Hamster, probably because the original ones were a golden brown coloring. Today, however, Syrians are available in many different colors.

There is a long-haired Syrian variety called the Teddy Bear because people think it looks like a toy teddy bear. There is also a dark, long-haired version called the Black Bear hamster.

All varieties have hairless feet with four toes up front and five in the back.

Adult Syrians usually measure from 5 to 7 inches (13 to 18 cm). They can live from 2 to 3 years.

Main rule for keeping Syrian Hamsters: 1 per cage! After about 6 weeks of age, they prefer to live alone. If you put another hamster in with them, they will very likely get into a fight and you will have some very injured hamsters. They can live in cages with metal bars, plastic cages, or aquariums. See the article Types of Hamster Cages: Aquarium, Plastic, Metal Bars. [link]

Because of its size, The Golden Hamster can usually be handled well by children.

Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster

Winter White Russian Hamster
This is one of the two species of Russian hamsters. It’s called Winter White because its coat, which is normally light to dark grey, gets lighter in the winter. In fact, many of these hamsters’ coats will turn completely white. In the Russian and Siberian winters, when the ground is often covered with snow, this white coat helps the hamster protect itself.

The Winter Whites usually reach a length of 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) and usually live about 1 ½ to 2 years.

These dwarf hamsters can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. But remember, because they are small, they can squeeze through the metal bars of some cages. Think about using a plastic cage or aquarium to house them.

They are usually good natured, but because of their small size, small children may have some trouble handling them.

Dwarf Campbell’s Russian Hamster

Campbells Russian Hamster
The more common type of Dwarf Russian Hamster, the Campbells Russian Hamster can be found in many pet shops. In some shops they are called Siberian Hamsters or Djungarian Hamsters.

The color of these dwarf hamsters is often gray-brown to light gray on the back, ivory on their sides, and white on the belly. They have a thin dark stripe down their back.

As adults, they can grow to about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. Their average life is about 1 ½ to 2 years.

The Dwarf Campbells Russian Hamster is sociable. Like the Winter Whites, they can live in groups (preferably of the same sex) if you put them together when they are young. Plastic or glass aquariums are best for housing them as they can squeeze through metal bars.

Because of their small size and reputation for nipping, they may not be suited for handling by small children.

The Campbells’ and Winter White Russian Hamsters are two different subspecies. Therefore, avoid cross-breeding or buying a hybrid hamster.

Roborovski Hamster

Roborovski Hamster
The smallest of the dwarf hamsters are the Roborovski Hamsters, also called Robos, for short. They originated in Mongolia and Northern China. Their original colors were sandy-gold backs with a white belly. They also have what look like “eyebrows,” which gives them a distinct look.

Adult robos are about 2 inches (4 to 5 cm) long and can live for 3 to 3 ½ years.

You can put a pair or a few robos of the same sex together in the same cage. And definitely no metal bar cages for these dwarfs or they will be gone!

They are known or being active and fast which means they are great for watching, especially if you have a cage that is full of tubes and toys. See the article Inside Hamster Cages. On the other hand, because of their size and speed, they are not recommended for handling by small children.

For information about taking care of dwarf hamsters Click Here!

Chinese Hamster

Chinese Hamster
Although called a dwarf hamster, the Chinese Hamster really belongs to a group known as rat-like hamsters. Originating in Mongolia and Northern China, they are probably the most uncommon hamster you are likely to find in a pet store. Additionally, some states either prohibit their purchase or require you to have a permit to own them.

This hamster has a mouse-like body about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) long. It can live about 2 ½ to 3 years. Its typical color is a dark brown back with a dark stripe along its spine and a belly that is off-white.

Its most distinguishing feature is the tail which is about a half-inch long. Pet the Chinese Hamster along its back and the tail will probably curl around your finger.

Although fearful of people, they do have a good disposition. Like the Roborovski Hamster, they are very fast moving which means they are fun to watch, but difficult to hold.

Some people report keeping them in pairs, but most recommend giving the active Chinese Hamster its own cage filled with tubes and toys.


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