The Golden, or Syrian, is the hamster most commonly kept as a pet. When most people talk about hamsters, it is usually the Golden they are thinking about. As you may have guessed, Golden hamsters are gold in colour on their backs with a white belly. However, once these animals became popular, people began selectively breeding them to produce many other colours. They are now available in colours, such as cream, cinnamon, silver, white, black and others. There are also a lot of different coat patterns to choose from. It is unlikely that these colours or patterns would be seen in the wild as the hamster would become more noticeable to the animals that prey on them and would not live long enough to pass its genes on.
Longhaired hamsters or those with short, silky coats are not to be found in the wild either. However, these Teddy-bear hamsters have become quite popular. There are also longhaired and shorthaired Rex hamsters with wavy coats. There are even completely bald hamsters available.
Some breeders believe and are probably correct that the most genetically sound hamster is the original golden. This is because often, to fix certain characteristics, breeders will inbreed their stock, i.e. brother to sister, father to daughter, mother to son, etc. In the long term, this leads to genetic diseases becoming more commonplace and will eventually destroy the animals’ immune systems or even make them sterile.
As already mentioned, the golden, or Syrian hamster, is the one people normally think about when they talk about hamsters. However, a relatively new pet is taking the hamster world by storm. These are dwarf hamsters, cute little critters whose popularity is growing by the day.
Dwarf hamsters can be anything from 2 to 4 inches in length. They have tiny delicate feet and have a compact ball-like physique. Unlike Golden hamsters, dwarfs actually like to live with others like themselves. On the downside, some owners have reported that dwarfs are more likely to nip you than Goldens. Others have said that while they may be more challenging to tame, they like the fact that they enjoy being with their own kind and are more entertaining to watch. Whether your hamster bites you or not is probably more down to how the animal has been socialised than what type it is. The more positive the hamster’s association has been with humans, the less likely it is to try to take a chunk out of you.
In the early 1900s W.C. Campbell discovered a small hamster species which bears his name today. Nowadays, the Campbell’s dwarf is the most popular of the dwarf hamsters on the market. This hamster is also called the Russian, although it can also be found in China and Mongolia. Russian dwarfs have a soft coat and a dorsal stripe that runs down their backs. It is small and round and is available in many colour variations. It usually has a sleek shiny coat like the Golden hamster.
As well as Mr Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster, there is also one known as the Siberian dwarf. This type is smaller and is also called a winter white, as its grey coat will turn pure white if it is kept in a cool environment. Siberians are more friendly and relatively easy to tame.
THE ROBOROVSKI DWARF
Another popular dwarf hamster is the Roborovski dwarf. These are the smallest of the dwarfs, and if there were an Olympics for hamsters, they would be in the sprint events as they are the fastest hamsters out there. If you decide to spend time with your Roborovski outside its cage, you will need to be extra careful and ensure it has no easy means of escape. Unlike the Russian, they do not have a stripe on their backs, but they do have cute white eyebrows.
THE CHINESE DWARF
Chinese dwarfs sort of look like mice. The main reason for this is their tails. They usually come in two colour variations, white with brown patches or brown with a white dorsal stripe. Their bodies are long and thin. Chinese hamsters are not renowned for their friendliness, so you will never know what you are going to end up with. It very much depends on how they were tamed when they were young. It is important to find a breeder who has taken the time to hand tame their youngsters with this type. This has become easier as Chinese dwarf hamsters are growing in popularity amongst the hamster keeping public.