It seems like, at some point, every parent gets stuck facing the inevitable: Get the kid a hamster or ignore the request. Why? Well, a lot of kids end up wanting a hamster because another friend already has one — and that hamster had babies. We can just hear our kids’ cries now: “We don’t even have to pay for it! It’s free!” And, in theory, that’s true. Of course, hamsters still require those escape-proof habitats, toys, exercise wheels, and food. Hamster clothes are even a thing. A pet of any kind is never free, but kids don’t always understand that. So, you’re left with an adorable heathen just begging nonstop for a new rodent friend and a search history full of things like “types of hamsters” and “how to make sure you aren’t buying a pregnant hamster.”
Mama, while this may not be fantastically helpful to hear, know that it could be worse. Your child could be trying to sell you on a pet chicken by promising you a bounty of “free” eggs. (Much more work.) Or your kiddo might have just watched Ratatouille, so they’re dying for a rat or an “adorable mouse.” Even worse for your wallet, your mini-me might have gotten hip to some expensive, rare animal they want, instead. In the grand scheme of things, honestly, hamsters are pretty cheap and relatively easy as far as care goes. Promise.
Still, if you’re headed to the pet store to buy one of these furry fellas, you probably feel a bit lost. For many of us, a hamster is a hamster, but to animal scientists and pet stores everywhere, several hamster varieties exist. At the typical American pet store, you’ll most likely find four common types. Here’s a quick deep dive into each of those varieties, so you can know what you’re getting yourself (and Junior) into when you take the hamster plunge.
Types of Hamsters
This might be the kind of hamster you’re most familiar with seeing. Golden hamsters are little round furry balls with somewhat large, wide feet, pretty sharp claws, and cute stubby tails. They also have giant cheek pouches and, if they’ve recently had babies and feel threatened, are likely to store their babes in those pouches — which can be a pretty terrifying sight if you aren’t expecting it (and really, who ever is?).
They’ve actually traveled quite a long way to make it to PetSmart, as the golden hamster’s native habitat is in Northwestern Syria! Be forewarned: Golden hamsters are naturally nocturnal, so you might hear a bored hamster on his squeaky wheel all night. That said, they typically live two to three years in captivity, meaning a golden hamster won’t be a huge, long-term commitment for your wildlings. Worth mentioning? Adult golden hamsters tend to fight when living together. Since this can cause undue stress and ultimately shorten their lifespan, they’re better off living alone.
Winter White Dwarf Hamster
Winter white dwarf hamsters are also nocturnal, which means they could be a pretty dull pet for kiddos looking for something “fun.” They are, however, supposedly the calmest and most laidback of hamster breeds, making them good, safe pets for kids who are going to want to hold their hamster a lot. Like golden hamsters, this variety does best when housed alone — unless you start them off in a pair as a baby — and they typically live between one and three years in captivity.
A quick word of caution regarding your hamster’s living arrangements: Hamsters mate like rabbits! If you choose to keep two hamsters of different genders together, you’re likely to end up with a ton of teeny, tiny hamsters. We promise you don’t want that.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamster
These guys — often called “desert hamsters” or “robo hamsters” — are some of the smallest hamsters you’ll find at the pet store. While that’s cute in the store terrarium, keep in mind that that smallness will make it difficult to find them should they escape or get dropped. These little guys are the most active hamster on our list, which adds a ton of entertainment for kiddos. However, while robo hamsters aren’t typically aggressive, they’re pretty wild, squirmy, and iffy about being held. They, too, have a two- to three-year lifespan in captivity.
Surprise, surprise! The Chinese hamster originates in China and Mongolia. Having a Chinese hamster as a pet can work well, as long as you know its upbringing. It seems silly, right? Here’s the thing: Chinese hamsters raised in environments where they’re picked up and held often typically turn out pretty calm and happy being held. However, if they lived in an aquarium or cage without much interaction, they’re more likely to be skittish and bite/nip at handlers. As such, they may not make good pets unless you know what their life was like before you came along. They tend to have the longest life expectancy out of the hamster types discussed here, though they still top out at around three years.
Other Hamster Types
Still not sure about life as a hamster-owner? Here are a few other varieties:
- Campbell’s dwarf hamster
- European hamster
- Grey dwarf hamster
- Gansu hamster
- Chinese striped hamster
- Greater long-tailed hamster
- Mesocricetus hamster
- Allocricetus hamster
- Cricetulus hamster
As is always imperative when you’re considering adding a pet to your family, be extremely comprehensive when doing your research — including learning as much as possible about all of the hamsters mentioned in this article (keeping in mind that information about some of the rarer varieties might be harder to find).
Rare Hamster Types
Hamsters may seem like a dime a dozen, but rare ones aren’t always found in the pet store:
- Golden Hamsters: These hamsters are also known as Syrian hamsters or teddy bear hamsters.
- Romanian Hamsters: Unfortunately, Romanian hamsters are an endangered species. They are native to Bulgaria and Romania.
- Brandt’s Hamsters: These hamsters live in the mountains of southeastern Europe and the middle east.
How to Take Care of Hamsters
Hamsters aren’t especially high-maintenance animals, but they do require specific care.
- Put your hamster’s cage in a somewhat busy part of your home. Don’t put it in the way where it could be knocked down, but in a space your family spends time regularly so it can get used to the sounds of your home. And keep it away from the window, so it never gets too hot or cold.
- Avoid picking up your furry friend right away. Hamsters need a chance to get to know you, and after a few days of feeding them, they’ll like you a bit more.
- When cleaning your hamster’s cage, throw out the bedding. Hamsters love to hoard food, so refill it with fresh bedding each time you clean it. Before putting in the new bedding, wash the bottom of the cage with soap and water. You could use stronger cleaning agents like bleach but remember to rinse it out thoroughly before putting the bedding and hamster back inside.