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5 Types of Hamsters Kept as Pets: Pictures, History & Facts

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By Nicole Cosgrove

syrian hamster peeking out of its cage

Although there are more than 20 species of hamsters in the world, only a small number of these are generally considered suitable for keeping as pets. Some owners do look for and keep some of the rarer breeds, but the Syrian, Dwarf Winter White, Campbell’s Dwarf Russian, Roborovski, and Chinese Hamsters are the breeds that are kept as house pets.

Below, we look at these five types of hamsters as pets to help you choose the one that is best for your home.


The 5 Types of Hamsters Kept as Pets

1. Syrian Hamster

syrian hamster in portable cage
Image Credit: Sergey Bezgodov, Shutterstock

The Syrian hamster is the most popular pet species of hamster. It is the largest of the pet hamster breeds, measuring around 6 inches which means it is more tolerant of handling, and their friendliness is another reason for their popularity, especially with children.

They don’t usually bite, although bites are always a possibility when handling small animals, especially if they aren’t used to being picked up and handled. Syrians usually live around 3 years but usually need to be kept alone because they will attack other Syrian hamsters.

2. Dwarf Winter White Hamster

winter white dwarf hamster eating a mealworm
Image Credit: HASPhotos, Shutterstock

The Dwarf Winter White hamster, or Winter White hamster, is very similar in appearance to the Campbell’s Dwarf Russian hamster, except it is quite unique among hamsters because its coat color changes according to the time of year.

In winter, the Dwarf Winter White hamster’s coat turns white from the brown coat it has during the rest of the year. They can take well to handling and grow much smaller than the likes of the Syrian hamster, so they do need extra careful handling.

3. Campbell’s Dwarf Russian Hamster

Campbell’s Russian Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus campbelli) on wooden ramp
Image Credit: Vinicius R. Souza, Shutterstock

The Campbell’s Dwarf hamster, or Russian Dwarf hamster, looks similar to the white-coated winter guise of the Dwarf Winter White Hamster. It is small and has a brown coat.

It is slower than some other breeds which makes it easier to handle, and it is possible to keep two Campbell’s hamsters together as long as you introduce them when they are young, so they have time to get used to one another. This species has a relatively short lifespan of up to 2 years, with many only lasting around 18 months.

4. Roborovski Hamster

cute Roborovski hamster standing side ways
Image Credit: Nynke van Holten, Shutterstock

While the Campbell’s Dwarf Russian hamster only lives 18 months to 2 years, the Roborovski hamster can live as long as 3.5 years. It only grows to around 2 inches, so it is a small species. It is also very fast and quite timid, which makes it arguably the hardest of the species to handle.

The Roborovski is a social animal and does best when kept in pairs or small groups with other Roborovskis of the same gender.

5. Chinese Hamster

Chinese hamster
Image Credit: alexvey, Shutterstock

The Chinese hamster offers a compromise when it comes to sociability. They can live with other Chinese hamsters, but they also do well when kept alone. If you are going to keep a pair or more together, they should be of roughly a similar age and be introduced to the cage at the same time, ideally when they are both young.

Although they don’t get as big as Syrian hamsters, they tend to outgrow the dwarf breeds above.


Do Hamsters Make Good Pets?

Hamsters can make excellent pets for the right owners. They aren’t as high maintenance as cats and dogs and with regular handling from a young age, they will tolerate handling. They do require regular cleaning, however, and they aren’t the best pets for small children. They are small and can be easily squashed if not handled properly.

Most species of hamsters are not very sociable and do better when kept as a solitary hamster without other hamsters. However, some breeds, like the Roborovski hamster, can do well when kept in pairs or small groups.

Pearl coloured winter white dwarf hamster sitting on pet owner's shoulder and playing
Image Credit: HASPhotos, Shutterstock

Which Is the Friendliest Hamster?

The Syrian hamster is generally regarded as the friendliest of the hamster species, which is why it is the most popular pet species. It will tolerate handling but, as with any species, it is important that you handle them from a young age and on a regular basis.

What Is the Most Aggressive Hamster Breed?

Although it does depend on the individual hamster, it is generally accepted that Chinese hamsters tend to be some of the most aggressive of the popular breeds. Many owners keep them as pets for observing rather than interacting with them.

Male hamsters tend to be friendlier and less aggressive than females. They are considered better for young children than female hamsters, which can be more prone to biting if they are startled.



Hamsters can make good pets for the right owners, but they do need regular care and, if you want a friendly hamster, you will need to handle it regularly from a young age. You should also choose a breed that is considered friendly, such as the Syrian hamster, and avoid the likes of the Chinese hamster which is often thought of as being the most aggressive of the species.

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Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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