What type of hamster should you get for your child?
We have many friends who are considering getting a hamster as their first family pet and I often get asked the same question… What breed of hamster is best for a child?
Syrian hamsters are the best hamster breed for kids and make the perfect first pet. Happy, friendly and larger in size, they are easier to handle and train. Docile in nature, they tend not to nip so can be held by small or less experienced children.
Hamsters really do make the best first pet. They are relatively low maintenance for small children to look after, are great fun to play with, easy to train and highly entertaining. So, providing your child is ready to take on the responsibility of having a hamster, I would strongly encourage welcoming a Syrian (otherwise known as a golden or Teddy Bear hamster), into your home. For more information on knowing when the right time may be to add a furball to your family, read my blog “Is a hamster a good pet for a child?”.
Below I will explain the differences between hamster breeds and the general character traits you can expect to experience (although obviously each hamster will be different).
Which breed of hamster is the friendliest?
Although hamsters were first discovered in Syria and have since been discovered living all across the globe, the word hamster originates from Germany. “Hamstern” means “to hoard” in German and as hamsters like to fill their cheek pouches with nuts, fruit and bedding materials, it stands to reason that these furry hoarders should be known as hamsters.
There are around 20 different, known hamster breeds, but only a handful are kept as pets. Whilst some looks very similar, others vary in size, temperament and care requirements. If you have kids (especially youngsters) and would like to get a hamster, we would thoroughly recommend a Syrian hamster, as these are incredibly friendly and are best suited to beginners.
Top 5 hamsters that are good for kids?
The five most common breeds of hamster that are kept as pets are:
- Syrian Hamster – Syrian hamsters were introduced to America in 1936 and have since become a family favorite pet. And its little wonder, as these cute balls of fluff come in a variety of different colors, are super sweet and are generally good-natured. But whilst they are friendly to people, they do not enjoy the company of other hamsters, so should always live alone. A well-loved and cared for Syrian hamster can grow between 5-7 inches and has a lifespan of around 3 years – however, the world oldest Syrian hamster managed to survive to the grand old age of 4.5years! We would recommend getting a young Syrian hamster so that you can tame them to recognize your scent, voice and touch whilst building up your child’s handling confidence.
- Dwarf Campbell Russian Hamster – There are two popular breeds of dwarf hamsters. The Russian Dwarf originates from Russia (no surprises there!) and was first captured in the wild by a man called W.C Campbell. Tiny in comparison to their Syrian cousins, they tend to grow between 3-4 inches and can lead a carefree life for around 2 years. Happy to live in same-sex groups, as long as they are introduced at an early age, they are sweet-natured but harder to tame and hold due to their size. Dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters do get spooked easily and can nip when startled, so we would recommend that you supervise any interactions between your hamster and any young children.
- Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster – Although they sound and look like they should be related to the Dwarf Campbell Russian Hamster, the Winter Whites are a breed of their own. They do, however, share a number of similar traits. Both come from northern Asia and have comparable coloration and habits. Only growing to 3 inches they are best suited to being kept in a tank as they are well adept at squeezing through cage bars. Mellow in nature they enjoy fellow company and whilst they are friendly and sweet, due to their size, they can be tricky to tame. We would recommend a Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster to owners who are more experienced.
- Roborovski Dwarf Hamster – Small but incredibly speedy, a Roborovski hamster could give Usain Bolt a run for his money. Perhaps the most adorable species to look at, they are very small which makes them tricky to tame and as a result they are often expert escape artists. Roborovski hamsters can be kept in same-sex groups and despite their size can live between 3-4 years – providing they haven’t got lost or dropped in the meantime. Roborovski hamsters rarely grow to more than 2 inches in size, which means they need to be handled with care and are not recommended for tiny, clumsy hands.
- Chinese Hamster – The Chinese hamster, or Striped hamster as it is also known, has a distinct dark line running down its back. Mouse-like in its features, they love to play and hide, although they are not particularly keen on being handled for long periods of time. Able to live for up to 3 years, they prefer residing in solitude and be aggressive towards other hamsters. Although Chinese hamsters make great pets, they aren’t suitable for young children as they are fragile, fast and flexible. This makes them difficult to handle for any length of time.
Should I get a male or female hamster?
Sexing a hamster is difficult when they are very young, but they do display different characteristics that can aid identification. It is also good to know in advance if you are taking on a male or female hamster as their behavior does differ, although it is important to note that all hamsters are unique.
Taming a hamster also has nothing to do with the gender. We believe that it comes down to the amount of time, patience and care that you put into your pet that will determine how easy they are to handle in the long term.
Male hamsters – Typically, male hamsters tend to be calmer and more relaxed than females. Male hamsters tend to be stockier, which makes them easier to hold and boys also tend to be smellier, but not necessarily in a stinky way. For males their scent glands are more prominent, and they tend to create more pheromones than females, releasing a musky scent into the air around their cage.
Other things male hamsters are more renowned for doing than their lady counterparts, are being more mellow, less inclined to put energy into playing in a ball or wheel and being quite content to sleep, eat and chill out. This is particularly true of our pet hammy Oscar, who loves catching z’s and cuddles much more than any sort of active playtime.
Female hamsters – Whilst male hamsters tend to be more lethargic, a woman’s work is never done, with the female of the species being more energetic and likely to rouse themselves – even in the day. Thinner in appearance, they are more skittish are often slightly harder to handle. Much more enjoyable to watch, however, they are quick and nimble, speeding around their cages, spinning on their wheels and making multiple beds in the space of a night. Female hamsters also tend to be more vocal, letting you know if they like or dislike something with a series of squeaks.
There is a lot to consider when purchasing a hamster for the very first time and understanding how it will fit in with your family dynamics and pet experience is really important. For us, our male Syrian hamster Oscar has proven to be the perfect first pet, as he requires little maintenance, adores attention at any time of day and is sweet natured enough to tolerate rough little hands holding him.
For more information on firsthand hamster care, please check out our other blogs.