Hamsters – A Brief Description


Hamsters belong to the rodent family. They have very sharp large incisors that grow continually throughout their lives. As a result they need to “file” them down by gnawing on something hard. If the incisors become too long the hamster will find it difficult to close its mouth or chew properly. They should therefore always have small pieces of wood available to chew on to keep the incisors the right length (not pine or cedar that are toxic to hamsters).

Cheek pouches

Hamsters have expandable cheek pouches formed by hard dry skin that they use to collect food and carry it to their dens. There is no saliva present in the pouches so that the food remains dry and fresh and does not deteriorate. Hamsters use their forelegs to empty their cheek pouches


The Hamster’s body is covered with thick soft hair that is usually darker on the back and lighter on belly. Unlike mice, hamsters normally have very short tails, except for Chinese hamsters that can have tails up to 2 cms long.


The forelegs of hamsters have four fingers with robust nails that they use to dig tunnels. Hamsters have quite prehensile fingers with which they are able to keep a firm hold on seeds while they nibble them. Hamsters also use their forelegs to groom themselves. They are first licked to dampen them and are then passed over the fur to clean and smooth it. The rear legs are longer and more robust and have 5 fingers. The ears, are rather large, and externally are covered by light body hairs, while inside they are hairless; while sleeping hamsters curl up to protect them.

Hamsters are mammals and to feed their babies (pups) they have 7 to 11 pairs of nipples that are only really visible when the hamster is newly born and hairless.

Sexing  hamsters

To distinguish between male and female hamsters we must look at the shape of the body (more rounded in females) and the distance between the genital organs and anus, which are closer together in the female than in the male.