These adorable little rodents are very popular pets, especially in households with small children. Male hamsters tend to be more laid-back and docile than females, who tend to be more energetic, so you may want to remember this when choosing your pet.
Hamsters are clever little animals that are nocturnal (most active during the evening and through the night). Hamsters generally have a life expectancy of one to three years.
The different breeds of hamster all have slightly different characteristics and some are more receptive to handling than others. Breeds include:
This is the breed you’re probably most likely to imagine when you think about hamsters. This is the largest breed of hamster, which is available in a variety of colours. Syrian hamsters make fantastic pets but they are solitary animals and need to be kept alone or they will fight.
This breed of hamster is sociable and will live in pairs or groups of the same sex. They are smaller than the Syrian hamster and grow to be around 8cm long. The Campbell's Russian Dwarf hamster comes in a variety of colours.
This hamster grows to be a similar length to the Campbell's Russian Dwarf (around 8cm) and the two are often confused. The Winter White is grey with a black stripe down their back. In the winter months they can moult their coat turning white (used for camouflage in the wild).
These hamsters have a more slender appearance than the Russian and have a longer tail, making them good climbers. They are very quick so are not the easiest breed of hamster to handle. Pairs of males will live happily together but females can be less tolerant of each other and may need to live alone. They come in a variety of colours from brown to grey.
This hamster is the smallest and quickest of the dwarf hamsters, growing to be just 7cm long. Their tail is almost non-existent. They are good-natured, sociable and are usually happy to live in same-sex groups (although it can be different to determine their sex so it may be more practical to have just one). They are generally a sandy colour with a white stomach.
The smaller dwarf breeds of hamster such as the Roborovski are small, fast and timid — they should be watched rather than handled. The larger Syrian, Winter White and Chinese breeds are quite comfortable with being handled if socialised carefully. It's important that you consider what you want from your hamster before buying one.
The breed of hamster you choose will also determine how many you keep. Some breeds are happy to be kept in same-sex groups or pairs, whereas the Syrian hamster must be kept alone as once they are adults they will fight.
Hamsters are nocturnal, so are asleep during the day and active during the late evening and at night. They can come out and be handled at other times if they are awake, but it's best not to wake them up to handle them as this will disturb their natural sleep pattern.
A Syrian hamster can travel up to five or six miles a night in the wild so they need a big space to run around, which is full of enrichment items to keep him entertained.
Hamsters don't require vaccinations or any major veterinary checks but you should have money available or insurance in place should your hamster need veterinary assistance. You should also allow money for buying a suitable cage, which can cost up to £100, food, bedding and for any new enrichment items that you will need to buy regularly in order to keep him stimulated.