Want to know everything there is to know about the Syrian hamster ? I know I did when I first got my Teddy home. Especially if you’re a first-time hamster owner, you will need to know how your new pet stands out from the rest.
So I’m going to help you with everything I know about Syrian hamsters, including how to care for him and what you can expect from this fluffy, sweet guy.
About the Syrian hamster – short overview
The Syrian hamster has many names. He’s the most common hamster type (there’s 5 out there) and the one you’ve probably got in your home right now.
You’ll find the Syrian under names such as :
- Teddy bear hamster – their faces look a bit like a teddy bear face
- Fancy hamster/fancy bear – especially the longhaired ones
- Variations on coat pattern names, like Panda hamsters (white and black), Golden hamsters (the traditional pattern), Black hamsters (all black), and so on
- Syrian hamster
- Big hamster
Syrian hamsters are the largest of the hamster types, and they are solitary. They can never share their home with another hamster, or else bloody and lethal fights ensue.
Males have a particularly large rear-end, since their testicles are very large for their bodies and form a permanent bulge around their very small tail. Their scent glands are on their hips, so you might notice big black dots there.
Syrian hamsters are the slowest hamsters – still fast though, they’re hamsters – and they’re easier to tame and train than the Dwarf types. As such, they’re great starter pets for people who have never had a hamster before.
They don’t bite as much or as often as Dwarf hamsters, and they’re easier to hold onto, since they’re larger.
My own little Teddy is a Syrian hamster (hence his terribly inspired name), and he’s a Golden one, with orange and white and dustings of grey.
How the Syrian hamster became a pet
Originally the Syrian hamster was discovered by 1839 in Syria (hence the name). A mother with a litter of babies was brought to Jerusalem for study in 1930, and most (if not all) Syrian hamsters available for sale today are descendants of that mother and her babies. A few of them escaped from the lab in Jerusalem and have settled as wild hamsters there.
For the most part Syrian hamsters were used as lab subjects for observations, and later put on display in London’s famous zoo.
This is discussed in much more detail in the origin story of hamsters, how they came to be pets and where each of them comes from. The Syrian hamster comes from Syria and southern Turkey.
He is used to deserts and sand, but not high temperatures. He only comes out at dusk and dawn in the wild, when the temperature is bearable and his predators don’t see very well. He doesn’t see very well either, and relies mostly on smell and hearing to navigate his surroundings.
Syrian hamster size and body shape
The Syrian hamster is the largest hamster available as a pet. He can grow to be 13-18 cm/5-7 inch long, though some hamsters have grown bigger than that. They’re also the heaviest hamster, ranging between 100-200 gr/3.5 -7 oz, some of them going a bit over that.
As opposed to the Dwarf types, Syrians have a distinct neck and their hind legs don’t have that elongated look. They’re more diggers than runners, you might say.
Their faces aren’t as narrow and pointy as the Dwarf hamster’s, and they look ridiculous with their cheeks stuffed. Given their rounder, fuzzier face, Syrians have also been known as teddy bear hamsters. They do look a bit like that, I guess.
The Syrian’s tail is short, thin, and a fleshy pink. It’s got no fur, and it’s not often noticeable. If you’ve got a dark haired hamster though, you might see it easier.
They’ve got no fur on their paws either, unlike the Dwarf types. This helps them grip and grab easier in the sands and in their tunnels.
Syrian hamster coat pattern
Traditionally you will find Syrian hamster with the golden pattern, like my teddy shown above. Granted, my Teddy’s colors fade into each other, while other Golden variation have a stark difference between each color. Some look more like color splotches.
The Golden variation is the orange on the back, white on the belly, and a few dark grey markings on their back, forehead and neck. Their ears are also grey.
When the hamster is still a baby, he will look mostly orange with some white. The grey appears and becomes definitive only when the hamster becomes an adult, around the 3 month mark.
This color pattern helped the Syrian hamster camouflage himself in the sands and escape his predators. It’s the usual color you’ll find wild hamsters. Any odd variations will stand out against the sand and they become easy prey.
Breeders have focused on changing and enhancing the color patterns of captive hamsters. We now have a wide variety of hamsters colors to choose from. For example when I picked up Teddy he was in a cage with a light brown hammy, a couple of black ones, and a few randomly spotted hamsters.
Imagine the Syrian hamster’s available color patterns like you would a cat’s myriad of colors. Except stripes. Hamsters haven’t developed stripes like the cats, but aside from that the colors come in rings, bands, patches, spots, mottles, full color, dustings, anything you can imagine.
In time, as the hamster becomes a senior, your will see the fur get lighter overall, but no distinct silver hairs as you would in old dogs for example.
Syrian hamster health and lifespan
The Syrian hamster is the second-longest lived hamster, right after the Roborovski Dwarf. The Syrian can live up to 3 years in captivity, and some have been known to live past that.
Genetics, as well as the care and stress levels play a big role in how long and how well your hamster lives. This means that some hamsters, although not suffering from any terrible illness, can wither away by their first year. Or, some can live to be 3.5 years old.
Babies become adults by the time they reach the 12th week of age, and can breed as soon as they’re weaned.
But generally, Syrian hamsters live up to 3 years, and are considered old when they reach their second birthday. My Teddy is currently a year and a half old (born in July 2017), and there are some changes happening to him.
He’s lost a large part of his energy, doesn’t eat as much, and sleeps most of the time. This is normal for hamsters going into old age.
You’ll notice the hamster is definitely old and frail when his fur starts getting sparse, and he develops a sort of bald spot starting from his rear end and back legs. This is the usual pattern, and there is nothing we as owners can do to help or change that.
Aside from that sign, the hamster’s skin will become very loose, wrinkly, and he will have a bony/skinny appearance, although he seems to be eating. Unfortunately this means his end is very near, and you will have to keep a close watch on him.
When it comes to Syrian hamsters, wet-tail is the most notorious and dangerous disease they can contract. This is a form of diarrhea, which if often lethal if left untreated, or discovered too late. You can find out more about wet-tail here, and how to notice it and treat it.
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Syrian hamster pregnancy and breeding
Breeding is, like with other hamsters, kind of violent and the female will half mate, half fight with the male during their breeding window. The female comes into heat every few days, for 4 days straight, at night. That is when the male can be introduced to her, and the mating can begin.
Sometimes the female is too violent and just want to pick a fight, so the male needs to be removed. Once the female accepts the male and the mating is successful, she will fall pregnant. The male will need to be kept away from the female, since she will attack him after becoming pregnant.
The usual gestation period for Syrian hamsters is 16-18 days, after which the female will give birth to a litter between 3 and 15 baby hamsters.
She should not be disturbed at all during the birthing process, and 2 weeks afterwards. Only provide her with food and water through the bars. Anything that scares, stresses, or annoys her can lead her to eat her young, especially if it’s her first litter.
Another reason the male should be kept away from the female is because she can fall pregnant immediately after giving birth, which will be difficult both on her and all her babies.
And also because the male will kill the newborns to get her full attention. So make sure you keep the male and female separated at all times, except when trying for a litter.
Once the hamsters are born, they are blind and hairless. They will suckle from their mother until they are 4 weeks old, which is when she will wean them. The babies can now be introduced to solid food.
They also need to be separated into all male and all female groups, to avoid surprise pregnancies. However keeping the hamsters together past week 8-10 of age is not recommended, since that is when they become territorial.
It will not matter if it’s their mother or brother or sister with them, they will start fighting and it often is deadly. Always keep a Syrian hamster alone, in one cage.
Syrian hamster housing and cages
Of all the hamsters, Syrians have the largest minimum needs when it comes to cages and housing them. The minimum cage is 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall.
Of course, the bigger the cage the better. All hamsters, no matter their breed, will opt for a bigger cage, a bigger running wheel, and more space to run if they can. But, not everyone has the possibility of keeping a big cage for their hamster, mostly due to cost and space in their home.
The best idea would be an Ikea Detolf. That’s a simple standing shelf, with the shelves removed, and put on its side. Construction a wire mesh for it is fairly easy, many tutorials are available online.
Detolfs are expensive and big, so wherever you put them, that’s where they’re going to stay. Cleaning them is a bit different from an ordinary cage as well, but they give your hamster much more space to run around and play.
What about commercial hamster cages ? Are they big enough for Syrians ?
Well, sadly, no. For the most part commercial cages are too small for a Syrian. Not all, but most of them. Looking for a cage big enough is a bit of a hassle, but they can be found.
Hamsters don’t use all the levels in their cage, so just one level is enough. They prefer the ground level anyway, and might build the nest under that level.
That being said, this cage provides both airflow, and containment. The spacing between the wires is less than half an inch, so the Syrian hamster won’t be able to squeeze himself through those wires.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
As for the bedding, your hammy will need either wood shavings, or paper bedding. If you get wood shavings, make sure you get aspen, and stay away from cedar or pine as they can suffocate a hamster.
Syrian hamster diet and food
Syrian hamsters eat mostly grains, with a few vegetable and fruits added in. Nuts and seeds are welcome too, as is a bit of protein. Things like cooked, plain chicken and boiled egg white are good sources of protein, as well as mealworms and small insects.
However commercial food mixes are more than enough, with a well studied composition and covering their dietary needs. So, giving your hamster a good food mix will go a long way.
You can always supplement the hamster’s diet with foods you already have in your pantry or fridge. A safe foods list is here, and most of them are easily available across the world.
The Syrian hamster will need 2 teaspoons of dry food mix per day, and he will hide most of it in his nest. Overfeeding him won’t make him stop hiding the food, since this is a natural instinct of his. It will only result in more hidden food, and a fat hamster, which can lead to diabetes and joint problems.
Syrian hamster toys and cage objects
The first thing about a hamster, any hamster, is that he loves to run. all night, every night. He will get lazier as he ages, but until then he will run as far as his little feet will take him
A Syrian hamster is no different, so he will need an exercise wheel. The thing is, he will need a larger wheel than the other hamsters, since he is so large.
The hamster’s back should not be arched when he runs, since this can create back problems. This is why the wheel itself must be very wide, to keep his back straight.
For example a wheel like this one is large enough for any kind of hamster, but especially a Syrian. Syrians are the largest, and if yours happens to grow past 18 cm/7 inches long, then a wheel as big as this one will still fit him.
It’s got a heavy bottom, so you’re sure it won’t move about the cage. And it’s got a tail and foot guard, so he doesn’t catch onto something.
Best of all, it’s silent and won’t keep you up at night with squeaks and grinding metal.
You can find the listing on Amazon here, and check it out for yourself.
Aside from the exercise wheel, the Syrian will need some objects in his cage (aside from the food bowl and the water bottle). Like a wooden hideout for him to build a nest in, a chew toy, a few cardboard tunnels made from paper towel rolls.
Climbing toys are welcome to, and so are hide and seek toys. Most of these can be either bought from a store or online, or even made at home from wood or cardboard. You can find out more about that here.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. I know us hammies can seem very confusing with all our cousins, but you’ll learn about each of us in time. Us Syrians are the biggest, and the friendliest by far.
If you want to know more about us hamsters you should check out the related articles below. You’ll learn how to keep us safe and happy, and what we need for a good life.