Of all the rodents, hamsters are one of the most popular, particularly for young children. They are popular because of their cuteness, cleanliness and they are good value. The way that they carry food in their cheek pouches is one of their unique attributes. Sometime they will carry their young there. They are ideal for children to keep in their rooms. They have a lifespan of between one and three years so an ideal lifespan for children who, as they become older teenagers, may become less interested. It does however mean that the animal will die which could be the first personal loss that they come up against. In fact, this may be an ideal learning for them. The male hamster lives on average a little more than the female.
So how does one choose the right hamster for you and your family among the multitude of different types? There are basically two types of hamster, with variations in each group.
The most common type of hamster kept as a pet is the Syrian breed. The Syrian is also known as the teddy bear hamster, golden hamster and fancy bear hamster. They are the typical large hamster that one thinks of, growing to about 4-6inches. They come both in long and short haired versions, as well as in a wide range of different colors. An advantage or disadvantage is that they should be kept one to a cage as they are territorial and will be highly likely to fight. So it’s ideal if you just want one hamster. If you want a pair in a cage, the answer is NO. Being larger, they are easier to hold for longer periods. You may see the Syrian hamster in a cage with others in the pet shop. This is misleading – it is OK until they reach breeding age at about 6-8 weeks, but no longer. The typical hamster image is that of the one we use in our logo above for London Pet Sitting.
However the other alternative hamster type are the dwarf hamsters. As their name suggests, these are smaller than the Syrian Hamsters and grow to 3 – 4 inches. They are normally more sociable and will live in small groups, but they do need sufficient space. The most common species of dwarf hamster are the Russian Campbell dwarf hamster. They are named after W.C.Campbell who found them in Mongolia at the start of the 20th Century. Sometimes they are simply known as Russian dwarf hamsters or the Djungarian hamster, after the area of Mongolia they inhabit. They have a short tail and furry feet.
Similar to the Russian dwarf hamster are the Siberian hamsters, sometimes known as the winter white Russian hamster. The winter white name is because, during winter, their fur turns this colour. They were originally thought to be the same species, but are now clearly agreed as separate species.
An increasingly more common type of hamster is the Roborovkii hamster. They are the pygmy of the dwarf hamsters at only about two inches long when fully grown. Their natural color is sandy brown on their head and back and pure white below. Whilst they are naturally docile, they are very fast. Whilst rarely biting, they wriggle and if they escape are very difficult to catch. As always, plenty of attention and handling early on will calm them down. They are an interesting choice for those wanting to watch an interesting and active pet.
There is a rat-like hamster called the Chinese hamster which originated from the deserts of Southern China and Mongolia. They are rat-like because of their longer and thinner bodies, combined with a relatively long tail.
So where to buy the hamster? I would advise looking on the web for a nearby breeder and visiting them for far more advice than we can give here. The alternative is to buy from a pet shop, but buy young, particularly if in a group as you want one, not a whole family by buying a pregnant female. If buying two to be together, make sure they can sex them so you have two of the same sex because hamsters breed rapidly.
Chris (of Dulwich Pet Sitters) was friendly, helpful and responsible and we had no hesitation entrusting our two cats into his care. Getting reassuring text messages from the pet sitter while you are away is a real plus!
Mr B.T and Misha and Kuzya of West Norwood