One thing you might not realize is that there are actually five distinct hamster breeds. It might seem that taking care of one species is probably the same as taking care of another but some of the hamsters have very specific requirements and needs.
Campbell’s Dwarf Hamsters (Phodopus cambellii) are one of the more popular hamster breeds that you might come across. These hamsters are so similar to the Winter Whites or young Syrian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) that even some pet store associates have trouble telling them apart. Campbell’s have a head that is a bit more triangular and they have a smaller nose than the Syrian. The Syrians also have coats that change colors with the seasons. In the summer their coats are gray and in the winter they turn white.
Campbell’s tend to grow to about 9-11 centimeters while the Winter Whites grow to 8½ -10 centimeters. These little hamsters are all very social so it is acceptable to have them in cages with others. However, it is best to raise them from a young age together and to not bring adults into the mix.
The Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters (Phodopus roborovskii) are the tiniest and the fastest of all the dwarf hamsters. They only grow to about 5 ½ to 7 ½ centimeters. Because of their very small size, they can sometimes escape from wire cages, much like the Chinese Dwarf Hamsters that are very thin.
The Roborovski Hamsters have gray backs and white undersides. They love to groom themselves and spend every waking minute being very active. These little guys are usually too busy for cuddling and handling so they are probably not best for children. They are more fun to watch as they tunnel, burrow, hoard, and groom as fast as they can.
The Chinese Dwarf Hamsters (Cricetulus griseus) are from deserts in China and Northern Mongolia. These are the only dwarf hamsters that have a tail so they sometimes get confused with actual mice or rats. In the males, they tend to have very large scrotums making them pretty easy to identify. The Chinese hamsters are not as common as the other hamster breeds. Usually experienced handlers only own them.
Lastly there are the Syrian Hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), which are the largest and most common of the hamster breeds growing up to 7 inches long. Due to this, they prefer the larger running wheels that are 35 cm in diameter as opposed to the smaller 23 cm style. The Syrians come in a very wide variety of color variations making them very popular in pet stores where they can be sold with designer labels such as honey bears and panda bears. The most important thing to know about the Syrians is that they must always be housed alone in their cages.
No matter which type of hamster you decide to purchase, keep in mind that the ASPCA (the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) suggests children under 10 should not have any of the hamster types as pets. Also the Humane Society of the United States says that there is no size cage that is considered too large for a hamster. All of the hamster breeds are energetic and inquisitive so they need as much room to roam as possible.