If you’re looking to get a hamster and want to figure out which type is for you, read on. I have a Syrian male, his name is Teddy, and I think he’s the cutest furball ever. You might think the same about your hammy when you get yours.
But let’s see what the main differences are between the Syrian hamster, and the Dwarf types. There’s more than one kind of hamster, and I’ll walk you through the differences.
So what is the main difference between Syrian and Dwarf hamsters ?
Syrian hamsters are much larger than the Dwarf types. Syrian hamsters ca grow up to 8 inches/20 cm in length, and are much bulkier than Dwarf types.
Dwarf hamsters are about 2 inches/5 cm in size, with the Chinese Dwarf reaching a maximum of 10 cm/4 inches.
Keeping hamsters together is alright for Dwarf types, except for the Chinese. The Chinese dwarf, along with the Syrian, is solitary and must be kept alone. If not, they will fight to the death for the cage.
Alright, those are the main differences, and the most obvious ones. There’s a few more, let me give you a quick list of what’s left:
- There is a difference in temperament
- The cage size is different
- The minimum wheel size is different
- Syrians are the easiest to tame
- There are wildly different color options and markings
- Some are prone to a disease, some to other illnesses
- You can’t feed them quite the same, there are a few differences
- You can tell the gender of a Syrian easier
Some of these might be important to you, maybe they’re not. But you have to be aware of them when you’re picking out what kind of hamster you want. Hamsters are hamsters, and they will generally behave the same. But there are some differences between the 2 main types – Syrian or Dwarf – which can give you a slightly different pet.
So let’s talk a bit about what kind of hamsters there are available for you to choose, and which ones they are.
A brief rundown on all hamster types available in pet stores
There’s 2 main types of hamster available. There is the Syrian hamster, which is the largest and most common hamster you will find.
And there are the Dwarf types, 4 usually available in pet stores, and they’re all much smaller and look very different from a Syrian. All Dwarf types hail from Northern Asia, albeit from different regions, like Siberia, Mongolia, China, Russia.
I’ve grouped together the Dwarf types for the purpose of this article. But I will tell you a bit about each type available below.
The most common kind of hamster kept as a pet. They’re the ones you usually think of when you think of hamsters.
These hamsters come from Syria, and southern Turkey, and they’re the largest kind of hamster. Usually they’re orange/golden, and there are variations that have come through breeding. Like all black, white, spotted, and so on.
My Teddy is a golden Syrian hammy, and when I got him I thought I was getting a very special kind of hamster. I thought I got the most unique, cutest hamster, that will stand out from all the rest. Turns out golden variations are the most common, but he’s still what I wanted.
You can find the Syrian hamster in short hair and long hair, of which the males have the longest. They can live 2-3 years.
These are one of the most common Dwarf types, and the absolute smallest. There’s no real point in trying to hold them, since they’re so small and wriggly. You’ll also find their names shortened to Robo often.
They’re grow up only to about 2 inches/5 cm, and will escape through most cage bars. Actually for dwarf types it’s better to get a glass tank. That way you’re sure they can’t go anywhere.
Another very common type of Dwarf hamster, the Campbell dwarf is just as small as the Robo, and is very easy to scare. Again, this kind of dwarf doesn’t really like being touched and will not sit still.
A glass tank is the best options for this kind of dwarf as well.
This is a larger Dwarf type, growing up to 10 cm/4 inches long. Chinese dwarves aren’t very social, and unlike other Dwarf types do no like being kept with other hamsters. Even if they were raised together in the same litter, they will still fight to the death.
The male Chinese Dwarf also has a scent gland on its abdomen, which isn’t present on other hamster types.
Siberian/Djungarian/Winter White Dwarf
The rarest kind of Dwarf hamster, it’s almost completely white. It’s just as small as the other 2 Russian Dwarves (Robo and Campbell), and this one actually is easier to tame than other Dwarf types.
Still, he is hyper and need to run and climb a lot, since there’s so much energy in such a small creature.
Now let’s get into the clear differences between the larger, Syrian hamster, and the cute Dwaf types.
Syrian hamsters are the largest
Syrian hamsters can grow much longer and larger than Dwarf types.
Syrians can get up to 8 inches/20 cm long, and are much more elongated than the Dwarf types. The Dwarves reach a maximum of 2 inches/5 cm, with only the Chinese Dwarf managing 4 inches/10 cm.
The Dwarves are more stout, and they kind of look like they have no neck at first. Their fur is much fluffier and longer compared to the Syrian’s.
This means that there are large differences between cage and wheel sizes for these 2 types of hamsters. But I’ll get into that in a couple of paragraphs.
Dwarf types are hyper and faster than Syrians
The smaller they are, the faster and more agile they are. Syrians do run a lot, and jump, and need a whole lot of exercising and space.
But Dwarf types take the cake here. They need the most exercise, and are actually kind of hard to actually touch. They keep moving, there is always something going on and they need to investigate.
You’d think that given their size the Dwarf types would be slower, but they actually seem to move faster than the Syrian. This is only because they’re so small, but both types can run between 3-6 miles per hour. That’s 5-10 km per hour !
Syrians will stop and stare into the distance every now and then, but not as much as the Dwarves. Those tiny creatures take breaks from their running wheel often, and they’re always very short.
If you want to know more about hamsters and their running routine, along with how much exercise they need, you should check out this helpful article here.
Syrian hamsters need bigger cages
Given their larger size, Syrian hamsters need a much larger cage. A large enough cage for a Syrian hamster is 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall.
While Dwarf hamsters can do with about half that size, it’s recommended that you give them a large enough space as well. Always go for a bigger cage if you have the space and budget for this.
A cramped up hamster is a nippy, irritated hamster, and you risk your hammies fighting eachother just because they don’t have enough space.
This roundup of the best hamster cages touches on hamster type, cage safety, and escape-proof rating as well.
Remember that for Dwarf hamsters, if you’ve got 2, their cage will need to be as large as a lone Syrian’s ! And if you have just one Chinese Dwarf, better get him a Syrian sized cage, just to be sure that he has enough space since he is larger than other Dwarf types.
If you want to know more about hamster cages, and choosing the best kind for your hamster here is a helpful and clear article on the 3 main kinds of hamster cages. But in short, Dwarf hamsters do better in glass tanks since they have no chance of getting stuck between the cage bars.
The minimum wheel size is smaller for Dwarf hamsters
Again, the Syrian hamster will need a much larger wheel size than Dwarves. 7 inches/18 cm are the minimum for an exercise wheel for a Syrian hamster. While 5 inches/13 cm are enough for a Dwarf, but that’s only the minimum.
All hamsters go for a larger wheel if given the option. So like with the cage, get your hamster a large wheel. The largest you can find, even if it might seem like too much for a small hamster. They are all more comfortable in a larger wheel.
If you want to know more about how to get a good exercise wheel for your hamster, you should read this article. You’ll find out what to look out for when picking your hammy’s wheel, along with a clear example.
And if you’re looking for a roundup of the best hamster wheels, according to their breed, there it is.
Dwarf hamsters are harder to tame
This is only true because of how hyperactive and restless Dwarf types are. That, and the fact that they have a shorter memory than Syrian hamsters.
In order to tame a hamster, you need to play with it, touch it, talk to it, make yourself available to it. There are days when you can’t, and Dwarf hamsters forget things and people and interactions fast.
A Syrian will remember his owner even a week later, and will allow you to kind of touch him. A Dwarf will need you to talk to him daily, and touch and play with him.
Dwarf hamsters do not sit still, and need to run around and play and jump and dig and do everything at one, all day. Syrians are a bit more mellow, and will give your more opportunities to touch him, so you can tame him easier.
Dwarf hamsters can be kept in same-sex pairs
This is true for Campbell, Robo, and Siberian hamsters. If they were raised together with litter mates of the same sex, they can be kept together in the same cage. Again, if you’ve got more than one hamster, double or triple the cage size.
Keeping your Dwarf hammies together will only work if they are from the same litter, or were introduced when they were still babies and became ‘siblings’.
If you’ve got an adult Dwarf, and want to introduce a baby dwarf, even if they’re of the same kind, it will not work. Neither will two separate adults. You can only do this with baby hamsters.And only if those babies were raised together.
If not, they will act like Syrian and Chinese hamsters. That means they will be very territorial and fight anything and anyone that comes into their cage, male or female.
It’s never a good idea to keep a Syrian or Chinese hamster with another hamster, of any kind. They are only solitary, and will be very aggressive. They won’t miss the company, don’t worry. You’re hurting them more by bringing them a cage mate than you’re helping.
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Syrian hamsters come in more color patterns
Syrians have a wider range of color patterns. Originally they were golden/orange, with some white on their bellies and chins, and a bit of grey on their ears. But natural variations were possible, and breeders took advantage of that.
So you can get almost any kind of color choice for your Syrian hamster. They can be golden like mine, they can be all in one color, they can be spotted, or maybe have a white sock, even a ringed hamster is possible.
Somehow, a long-haired variation was made possible through selective breeding, and you can now find the same range of colors, now with long hair.
Dwarf types have some variations as well, but they mostly have the same colors as the original hamsters they were bred from.
Winter Whites are mostly white all over. Chinese hamsters are sandy brown on their back, with a dark stripe running down their back, and a white belly.
The Robos have a color scheme much like the Chinese, with sandy brown on the back and white on the bellies, but they are much smaller and don’t have a stripe down their back.
Finally Campbell’s are darker than the other types, with a more grey-brown color scheme on their backs, and just a bit of white on their bellies. They look like they went through a pile of ash most of the time.
There are different illnesses the 2 types are prone to
All hamsters can develop a number of diseased and illnesses. But in general, the Dwarf types develop diabetes much easier than the Syrian. This is because of their small size, and because they can’t process too well the sugars on some foods.
Which is why there are certain food exceptions for Dwarf hamsters, that Syrians can eat, but Dwarves should stay away from, or eat very little.
The Syrian, on the other hand, has higher chances of getting a disease called wet-tail. This can happen mostly when they hamster is young and was just weaned from its mother. It’s mostly stress-based. But if it’s caught in its early stages (less than 24h) it can be treated. Otherwise it is fatal.
Hamsters do not get sick often, and aren’t sickly animals. But they don’t have a human’s stamina, so they will wilt fast if not given medical care as soon as you notice there is a problem.
Some feeding exceptions are necessary for Dwarf types
As mentioned before, Dwarf hamsters can’t process very sweet food. That can mean even simple things like a piece of carrot can be a bit too sweet for them.
So that means that fruits, and carrots, and sweet potato should be give sparingly, and in very small quantities to your Dwarf hamster.
Syrians on the other hand don’t have many restrictions. Yes, there are foods that are unsafe for any hamster, but Syrians are a bit easier to feed.
You can see a helpful list of safe and unsafe foods for hammies here, along with some treats that hamsters can safely nibble on.
Easier to find a Syrian hamster’s gender
Finding your hamster’s gender can be a hassle. But if you’ve got Dwarf hamsters that you want to keep together, this is crucial. Otherwise you’re going to get yourself a whole new litter in about 3 weeks.
For more info on exactly how to figure out your hamster’s gender, you need to check this out. You’ll find alternatives for hard to handle hamsters as well.
But a Syrian hamster will be easier to figure out because they are larger, even as babies. And the fur on Syrians is shorter and not as ruffled and all over the place as a Dwarf’s. Not to mention that trying to hold a baby Dwarf is nearly impossible.
Before you get any kind of hamster
A hamster will change your life, just like any other pet. But there are a few things you should think about. Like whether you’ll be able to properly care for him, from food to cage to attention and health.
Will you have the time to play with and tame your hamster ? Hamsters are mostly nocturnal and will come out when you’re ready for bed, so take into account your lifestyle, sleeping pattern, and how much time you can dedicate for the animal.
Do you have the budget for it ? Hamsters aren’t very expensive. They’re actually cheap, aside from the initial expenses. Actually you can check this cost of buying a hamster article, to get an estimate on how expensive or cheap it is to own a hamster.
Can you accommodate a hamster in your home ? His cage will take up some space, and he will need a certain temperature to be comfortable. Hamsters also scare easily, and do things that will look and sound odd.
Do you have a cat in your home ? A hamster and a cat are pretty much the worst idea ever, since they’re very different animals.
You might want to read the 15 essential steps on taking care of your hamster before you get one, in the first place.
A word from Teddy
I hope you’re clear on the differences between us hammies now. I know my Dwarf cousins can be confusing, and look the same for someone who’s never met them before. But they’re all a personality of their own, and they can make you just as happy as one of my kind.
If you want t know more about us hammies, you can check out the articles below.