When I first got my Teddy I didn’t know he was a Syrian hamster. I only knew I wanted an orange and white hammy, and I looked around until I found him. But there are 5 distinct hamster breeds, and they can be a bit confusing.
I’m here to help you figure out what kind of hamster you’ve got, so you have all the info you possibly can to take care of your hammy.
So how do you know what hamster breed/type you have ?
The main things to look for when determining your hamster’s breed or type is the size of the hamster, and the color/markings. There are very distinct differences between the hamsters available for purchase.
We’ll get into the different size and color options for all the hamster types in the rest of this article. There are 5 types or breeds or hamster available, and they are:
- Syrian – the largest, most common hamster
- Chinese Dwarf – not really a Dwarf type, but still often called that; the only one with a longer tail
- Roborovski Dwarf – the tiniest, fastest hamster, almost impossible to hold
- Campbell Dwarf – a bit larger than the Roborovski, often confused with the next breed
- Siberian/Winter white/Djungarian Dwarf – the only one that changes its coat color according to temperature
Now these 5 types are the ones you will usually find in a pet shop, and they might come under different names or nicknames. It’s important that you know each type so you don’t get fooled at the shop for an overpriced hammy just because it’s called “fancy hamster”. Yes, some people have found hamsters labeled that in a pet shop.
Now let’s find out more about each hamster type, and how to differentiate between them.
All about the Syrian hamster
The Syrian hamster is the most common hamster you will find in a pet shop. It’s also the kind of hamster I have. They’re the largest and most diverse-looking hamster breed out there.
An adult Syrian hammy is somewhere between 5-8 inches in length, which is 13-20 cm. Some can grow a bit larger, but not by much. The size is what you will notice first.
A baby Syrian hamster is about the size of an adult Dwarf type (Robo, Campbell, or Siberian). Even as babies, the males have very large testicles, that will make their rear-ends bulge noticeably.
As for the color options and fur markings, there are plenty. Honestly Syrian hamsters are about as colorful as cats and dogs, except they never have stripes like a cat. Aside from that, they can be a single color, black and white mixes, spotted, ringed, just one spot on the eye, sooty, and so many more colors.
The fur itself can be short/normal, longhaired, or curlyhaired. These as well can have any of the color options you can imagine.
When I got my Teddy I knew next to nothing about hamsters. So I thought an orange hammy with a bit of white on the belly is going to be so unique, and rare.
Well, it turns out that is the most common color you can get a Syrian hammy. Those are called Golden hamster and they’re the classic coloration, the one they have in the wild.
This hammy comes from Syria, and southern Turkey in the wild. At some point, a few managed to populate and thrive in parts of Israel.
All about the Chinese Dwarf hamster
The Chinese hammy is not really a Dwarf type, although most everyone calls him that. Actually all hamster types except Syrian are called Dwarf, by comparison.
But the Chinese is not a Dwarf, he is somewhere in between. As an adult he can reach up to 3-5 inches/8-13 cm, plus the longer tails. Chinese hamsters have a much longer tail compared to any other hamster types, which can grow to be about an inch long/2-3 cm.
Aside from that, the body if a Chinese hammy is longer than the Dwarf types, and more slender than the Syrian hammy. So that, plus the long tail can make the Chinese look more like a mouse than anything else.
There are few color types you can find for the Chinese. The most common one is the wild variety, with a sort of brown down the back, and a dark stripe running down the spine, plus a white belly. You can find a few specks of grey and black here and there on the hammy’s backside.
The other two options are mostly white, with the dark stripe down the back, and very rarely can be all white with a dark spot.
This hammy comes all the way from China and Mongolia.
All about the Roborovski Dwarf hamster
Can also be found under the nickname Robo – short for Roborovski, the scientist who discovered the species. This hamster is the smallest kind of hamster you can ever find. As an adult he won’t grow past 2 inches/5 cm, which makes him incredibly easy to lose, drop, or just barely handle.
This hamster, like the other Dwarf types (except the Chinese) is stout-bodied, and looks like it has no neck. The truth is that the neck is very short, and the ears are the only point you can figure out where the body stops and the head of the hamster starts.
A Robo hammy is usually soft brown on its back, with no stripe down its back. It does still have the white belly like the Chinese, but its feet are furrier. He will usually have a large white spot right above his eyes, where an eyebrow would be. Much like the eyebrow spot of a Rottweiler or Doberman.
You can find all-white Robos, or white with a bit of grey mask, even a nice color combination between white and cream on the back. The breeding process over time gave us a lot of coat options, so you can’t use coat alone to figure out the breed. Still, the Robo is the absolute smallest of the Dwarf hammies.
You can tell a baby white Robo from a Siberian (also often white) by the size. Upon birth Robos are barely an inch/2 cm, white the Siberians are larger.
The Roborovski hamster comes from parts of Russia, and you can sometimes find him as Russian Dwarf. Although all Dwarf types are russian, so there’s that.
All about the Campbell Dwarf hamster
This hamster is larger than the Robo, and reaches about 3-4 inches/ 8-11 cm. He is very easy to confuse with the Siberian Dwarf, but I’m going to help you distinguish between them.
The Campbell hamster is colored much like the Chinese and the Robo, as in he has the brownish coat on his back, and does have a dark, very narrow stripe running down his back. The belly however is grey, not white, and he has tufts of fur on his feet as well.
There are not many color options or variations for the Campbell hamster. However the cheek pouches of the Campbell reach all the way to his hind legs, and are part of his mouth, not separate.
His coat does not change color from winter to summer, and he is again common throughout Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.
All about the Siberian/ Winter white Dwarf hamster
Just as large as the Campbell hamster, these two can and often are confused. The Siberian has many names, like the Winter White – turning white in winter, in the wild. Or the Djungarian hamster, because of the region in China it usually lives in.
As for size, the Siberian is about 3-4 inches/ 8-11 cm, which makes it again very similar to the Campbell hammy. However the color is more grayish on its back, with a dark stripe on its back and a darker spot on its head. This hammy has a white belly, and has more color variations than the Campbell.
A Siberian can also be found in all white, or white with a faint grey line down the back, or all grey with darker fur on the back, and all the way to the wild coloring I mentioned above.
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Which hamster breeds can be kept together
Of all these many kinds of hamsters, not all can be kept together. It’s always a bad idea to mix hamster types, since they have different temperaments.
So it’s the Dwarf types that can be kept together, only under certain circumstances. The Syrian and Chinese hammies will fight everything and everyone you out in their cage, so it’s best to leave them alone.
If you really would like to know which if your hammies can live together, and how to introduce two hamsters to live together – you should read this article on why hamsters fight. You’ll find out more about the social lives of hamsters in general, and what to do if your hamsters start fighting.
The main differences between the hamster breeds
Aside from what I just talked about before, there are a few other differences. There’s temperament, and ease of handling as well. There are also some feeding exceptions to be sure of, so it’s best to read this list of foods you can safely give to your hamster.
The biggest differences are between the types of hamster – the large Syrian, and the smaller Dwarf types. You can find an in-depth article on the differences between a Syrian and Dwarf type right here, so you can find out which would be the best hammy for you.
There is also the matter of cage sizes. The Syrian, being the largest, requires the most space in his cage. For a Syrian the minimum is a cage of 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall. A dwarf type can live in half that space, but since they are often housed in pairs will require a cage just as large as a Syrian.
If you want to know more about housing hamsters, and what to look for in a cage, you should check out this article. You’ll find the pros and cons of the 3 most common cage types, and how to care for your hamster’s cage.
Which hamster type makes the best pet
When it comes to which hamster is the best pet, this one is really up to you. All I can give you is the info on these 5 hamster types, and you can decide for yourself which you’d like best.
All hamsters can make good pets – if you like a quiet pet, and have a certain amount of patience to tame them. They’re not expensive, aside from the initial purchases like cage, wheel, ball, and so on.
But it really depends on you. All these 5 types of hamster are nocturnal, so if you got o bed early you will miss them. The Syrian is a bit easier to handle and tame, given his size.
The Roborovski shouldn’t even be handled in the first place, since he is so small it’s easy for him to slip through your fingers. They’re best kept to look at, and they do a lot of tricks when they have a cage mate. So do the other Dwarf types, but they’re larger and can be handled a bit easier.
It’s not a good idea to give a hamster to any child. Hamsters need a lot of care and a quick hand to catch them, which kids don’t really have. And hamsters in general need a quiet, calm space to live in. So a very lively home, with small children, and a few other pets that can roam the house freely, is not a good home for a quiet creature like a hamster.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found out a lot about each of us hammies, I know we can be a bit confusing at times. I’m easy to spot, since I’m a big orange hammy running around the house, but my friends are so much smaller.
Whichever kind of hamser you get, remember that all of us can be tamed and like your attention. And if you want to know more about us hammies, you can read he articles below for useful information.