Hamsters are small rodents that belong to the subfamily Cricetinae. Hamsters are originally indigenous to the Middle East, China and Southeastern Europe. As they breed well in captivity and are easy to look after, hamsters make good family pets.
The most common type of hamster is the Syrian hamster (sometimes called a golden hamster). These hamsters are larger than the other varieties and are most commonly kept as pets. All pet Syrian hamsters were bred from a single captive pair.
Hamsters as Pets
Since hamsters are naturally nocturnal, domestic hamsters are most active at night. They need to chew to keep their teeth shortened, so should be provided with hard objects such as sticks and wooden blocks to gnaw. Paper tubes such as toilet rolls will provide a toy initially, at least until they become chewed up, at which point they should be replaced.
Hamsters need a cage, wood shavings or shredded paper bedding, a food dish, a water bottle and a wheel to run on or other form of exercise.
Hamsters will hoard food, so it is not unusual for them to take food from their dish and hide it elsewhere in the cage. They may often become distressed when the cage is cleaned, since all the hoarded food is gone, but they return to a calm state when they find that the food dish has been replenished. Hamsters like treats such as small pieces of fruit and some green vegetables.
Other types of hamster kept as pets are commonly known as "dwarf" hamsters due to being smaller than Syrian hamsters. Campbell's hamsters (Russian dwarf hamsters) are the most common and are a gray color with a darker stripe down the spine.
Roborovski hamsters (known as "robos"), although being very small and fast and requiring cages with smaller gaps between the bars, are gaining in popularity as pet hamsters with families more interested in observing their pet rather than handling it. Roborovski hamsters lack the stripe on the back and often have a lighter colored face. They are also the most long lived of the species and can be very amusing to observe as they are naturally inquisitive and enjoy climbing.
Also popular is the Chinese hamster. This hamster is a brown color with darker stripe down its back and is the only type of hamster with a prehensile tail - other types of hamster have a short stubby tail which is of little practical use.