9 Amazing Hamster Facts You Never Knew That You Needed

Did you know that there are 26 species of wild hamsters roaming free in Europe, the Middle East, and in Asia? In this article, we will cover how the hamster came to be domesticated as a pet, and caring for and bonding with your hamster.

Helping You Understand Your Pet Hamster and Where They Come From

Fact #1: The Syrian Hamster Was First Mentioned In 1797, But Was Only Scientifically Named In 1839.

Syrian Hamster also known as Golden Hamster

The first mention of the Syrian Hamster was in a publication called The Natural History of Aleppo, 1797, when Alexander Russell, a physician, came across these golden rodents in the wild.

However, it would only be in 1839 that this rodent would be scientifically named as the golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) by George Robert Waterhouse, the curator of the London Zoological Society.

Waterhouse describe the golden hamster as an animal with soft fur, and a silk-like gloss, with white feet, and a tail and body colors of yellow and lead gray, with black and white whiskers. This matches our current understanding of what a golden hamster looks like. There are all sorts of colorations now in hamsters, and its preferred name is the Syrian hamster.

If The Syrian Hamster Was From Syria, How Did It Become Popular Across The World?

Israel Aharoni, a Jewish biologist, is to be credited with the first collection of a Syrian hamster nest. In 1930, Aharoni set out to catch a rare golden mammal whose Arabic name translated roughly to “Mister Saddlebags”. He found what he sought in a wheat field, 8 feet down – a female golden hamster and 11 young.

Aharoni did not only want to study them, but to also breed them so that they could be used as laboratory animals. He placed the mother and her pups in a box to transport, and due to the disturbance, the mother hamster started to attack her babies. The mother was separated and killed so that she would not eat any more of her young. However, this left the infants alone, unable to feed themselves.

Tiny baby hamsters in an enclosure with bedding

From the 11 that were found, 9 made it back to Aharoni’s lab. They were then fed with an eye-dropper, and looked like they were thriving. However, one night, 5 of the 9 hamsters chewed their way out of their wooden cage, never to be found again.

Out of the 4 hamsters left, one of the male hamsters ate a female and there were only 2 females and 1 large male left. The scientists, determined to beat the odds, separated the hamsters and made a special chamber for them to breed in. A single female was put in the chamber and once she was comfortable, the scientists introduced her only surviving brother. What happened next was credited to be a miracle – the brother and sister hamsters mated.

That single mating gave rise to 150 offspring, and those offspring gave birth to even more hamsters. Hamsters were then sent to different universities and institutions; in the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, they had become pets in both the United Kingdom and United States of America.

Fact #2: Popular Species of Hamsters

The most well-known species of hamster is the Syrian hamster. However, there are also other species of hamsters that are commonly kept as pets. Some of these are in the category of dwarf hamsters. Dwarf hamsters are typically smaller than the Syrian hamster, and as such can be suitable for young children to raise and play with, provided they are tame.

The popular types of dwarf hamsters are: the Campbell’s dwarf hamster, the winter white or Russian dwarf hamster, and the Roborovski dwarf hamster.

Dwarf hamsters are fleet of foot, and due to their size can sometimes squeeze out of their cages if not careful. When first bringing a hamster into your home, be sure to be patient with them, and allow them to settle in to their enclosure or cage for a few days before attempting to handle them.

Hamsters generally urinate or defecate when scared, rather than try to bite you. However, they do sometimes go for a little nip if you startle them! When first handling your hamster, be sure to cover yourself with a towel.

Hamsters housed indoors and get artificial illumination during Fall and Winter are also more likely to breed all year round, whereas in the wild, hamsters would typically only breed in Spring and Summer. Keep this in mind if you decide to put males and females together in the same enclosure.

Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster

Phodopus campbelli is the scientific name for Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster. It looks similar to the winter white hamster, but has smaller ears and a narrower dorsal stripe down its back, and gray fur on the stomach.

Campbell's Dwarf Hamster

If you are looking to breed this type of hamster in captivity, you should note that females are usually sexually mature at 2 months old, and there is no fixed breeding season, which means they can bread frequently throughout the year. The gestation period is usually 4-5 days. If you are not wanting to have multiple litters of baby hamsters, it would be best to keep males and females separate.

Winter White Hamster

Its scientific name is Phodopus sungorus. However, the Winter White is also commonly known as the Russian Dwarf hamster, Djungarian hamster, striped dwarf hamster, Siberian hamster, or Siberian dwarf hamster.

Winter White Hamster

The Winter White hamster typically has a thicker and darker grey dorsal stripe on its back. It also has furry feet. There are other color variations of the Winter White hamster, ranging from pearl, sapphire, or even marbled.

An interesting fact about wild Winter White hamsters is that when winter approaches, its fur will turn white – hence the name. This change is often due to the shorter day length. Note that in captivity this does not usually happen as pet hamsters would be typically housed indoors, with limited exposure to the change of shorter winter days.

Roborovski Dwarf Hamster

The Roborovski Dwarf Hamster (Phodopus roborovskii) is also known as the desert hamster, or more commonly as a Robo-hamster. The Robo-hamster is the smallest of dwarf hamsters. It is found in the Central Asian deserts.

Roborovski hamster

Being so small means that it can easily squeeze through seemingly-impossible spaces, such as in between bars of a cage. Robo-hamsters are best housed in a solid-sided enclosure such as an aquarium.

Robo-hamsters are mild-tempered and can get along other Roborovskis – in fact they do enjoy each others’ company! As they move very quickly, it’s best to handle them over a large box so that they will not zoom away from you if you accidentally let them go.

Chinese Hamster

The Chinese hamster is a rodent but of the genus Cricetulus part of the subfamily Cricetidae. If you have noticed, the previous hamsters we mentioned are part of the Phodopus subfamily instead. They were found in the deserts of northern China and in Mongolia.

Chinese Hamsters with Wild Markings
Image Source: Wikipedia

These little critters have an unusually long tail compared to the stubby tails of other hamsters. Chinese hamsters were commonly used as laboratory animals, before being replaced by the common mouse and rat which were easier to breed and keep.

Males have a fairly large scrotum compared to their body size; when compared to other hamsters, Chinese hamsters appear long and thin. In the wild, they are brown with a black dorsal stripe down the spine, and have a whitish belly. With these markings and characteristics, and due to their rarity as a pet, people often tend to mistake them for mice.

Being solitary animals by nature, Chinese hamsters can be aggressive if kept in overly-small enclosures, or if they have to co-habitat with other hamsters in the same enclosure. They can be nippy, but quickly become tame. Once you have successfully tamed them, they are easily handled, and can display a gentle and calm character.

Facts That Make You The Best Pet Hamster Owner

Fact #3: A Well-Balanced Diet

A well-balanced diet for a hamster includes the following:

  • Constant access to fresh water
  • Between 16% and 24% protein
  • Between 60% and 65% carbohydrates
  • Between 5% and 7% fat
Chart for Food Intake for Hamsters

Most hamsters are omnivores, and can eat both meat and vegetables. Those that live in the wild typically eat seeds, grass, and insects. Domesticated hamsters can survive on an exclusive diet of commercial hamster food, but should be fed fresh vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts from time to time.

Keep in mind the following tips when figuring out food for your pet hamster:

  • Fruits that do not have a lot of citrus in them, and most green and leafy vegetables are better for hamsters
  • Hamsters should not be fed junk food like potato chips, or chocolate, garlic, or any salty/sugary like salted peanuts and lollies/sweets.
  • While hamsters love peanut butter, it is important to feed it to them with care and in small portions. Peanut butter is sticky and can get stuck in their cheek pouches.

Hamsters, being hindgut fermenters, tend to eat their own feces to recover nutrients. So do not be alarmed if you see them doing this.

Fact #4: Grooming And Care


If your hamster is constantly licking a spot on its body, it may have a spot that is dirty. If they are unable to clean it themselves after a few hours of observation, it is best to use a washcloth dampened with clean lukewarm water to clean that particular area. For stuck on dirt, try making a solution of water and white vinegar with a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part white vinegar.

Keep in mind: as hamsters are so much smaller than us, they are more sensitive to temperature changes. Always use lukewarm water (never hot!), and do not use a fan or even a hair dryer to dry them.

Dwarf hamsters can also benefit from dust or sand baths! To allow your hamster access to this, put down a small shallow dish of small-animal dust or sand in their enclosure for them to roll around in on their own.

A dust bath will help your hamster remove oils and moisture from their fur in a natural way. Don’t leave the dust bath in their habitat for longer than 12 hours at a time. Dust baths also are a type of enrichment and can give your hamster a fun activity.

If your hamsters aren’t keen on using the dust bath that you’ve provided, you can scoop them up and hold them over a box in one hand, and then gently scrub sand over them. Be sure to avoid their eyes and ears!

Note that you should always buy small-animal dust or sand from a reputable seller. Using sand from playgrounds can be dangerous as there can be tiny shards of glass that can injure your pets.

Besides the occasional dust bath, you should also perform the following grooming on your pet hamster:

GroomingDescription / Tip
BrushingWhile most hamsters are short-furred, Syrian hamsters are long-haired and will benefit from weekly brushings to get food, dirt, or their litter out of their coat. It will also help to detangle and de-matt their coat. Use a small-animal comb that you can get from a pet store, or a soft and fine-bristled toothbrush.
Nail ChecksMost hamsters do not need to have their nails trimmed; however if your hamster is causing scratches to itself when self-grooming, or if you notice their nails have started to curl against themselves, speak with your vet immediately.
Teeth ChecksBeing a rodent, your hamster’s teeth will be constantly growing. You will need to check their teeth at least weekly to see if they have overgrown, broken, or gotten chipped. If any of this happens, see your vet immediately. At the end of  this article, we have some tips for your hamster’s teeth.
Skin CareThis applies more for baby to very young hamsters. Hair helps to retain the skin’s natural oils, and as baby hamsters are born without hair, you will need to apply a tiny amount of either coconut oil or unscented baby oil to their skin to prevent dryness. This can be done by scooping them up very carefully in your hand, and using a finger to very gently rub the oil into their skin.


Did you know that hamsters – the Syrian hamster was the most common breed used – were once bred to be laboratory animals? They were thought to be like humans in terms of anatomy.

Hamsters, like most rodents, are prone to tumours. Hamsters can also receive injury in the cheek pouch by sharp objects puncturing or scratching its fragile inner lining.

Other common health problems include bite wounds (if they have cagemates), broken teeth, constipation, dehydration, and diarrhea.

Hamsters are also prone to diabetes so you should always watch their sugar intake. Avoid ‘sugary’ foods such as corn, cherries, bananas, and grapes in large amounts. Hamsters should be fed a mix of dry food, fruits, and vegetables. Make sure to balance out fruit and vegetables.

No sweet treats

How do you tell if your hamster is sick? Sick hamsters often isolate themselves from others, and may show signs of weight loss, a hunched posture, lethargy, or labored breathing. They may also choose to stay in a corner or in their enclosure rather than explore the area around them. If you suspect your hamster is sick, you can also check their urine and feces – early signs of illness involve changes in the color, consistency, smell, and amount of urine and feces. If you have multiple hamsters in a single enclosure, you should check the sick hamster for bite wounds in their fur or on their skin, or any other form of trauma such as bruises. Their ears should be checked for any discharge or redness (inflammation) and their eyes checked for discharge or conjunctivitis. If you suspect any issues with your pet hamster at all, bring it to your vet to get it checked out.

Fact #5: Cages or Enclosures?

You may have commonly seen hamsters housed in cages, as opposed to solid-sided enclosures such as aquariums. We have a great article on how to convert an aquarium to an enclosure here; while the article is for rats, it can also be adapted for hamsters.

If you do choose to house your pet hamster in a cage, make sure that the bars of the cage are close enough to each other that your hamster cannot squeeze through them to escape. Dwarf hamsters are masters of escape and can squeeze through what may seem like impossible spaces; as such, it may be better to keep dwarf hamsters in solid-sided aquariums like the one below.

Solid-sided enclosure

Alternatively, you can keep your pet hamsters in a hybrid enclosure like this one from Kaytee. As this is a cage topper, with an empty bottom, you have to be careful when removing the cage topper lest you accidentally drop it on your hamster, or you accidentally drop your hamster.

If you have questions on how to clean out your hamster’s bedding, or what kind of bedding to use, or even how often to change your hamster’s bedding, we have an excellent article that answers these questions here.

Fact #6: Bonding With Your Pet Hamster

When you first get your pet hamster, make sure to give it some space! It can take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks for your pet hamster to adjust to its new space, and to you.

When you bring hamsters (or any pet) into your home, they will be a little frightened and anxious. They will want to hide for the first 24 hours at least; they might then become bolder and establish their ‘home’ in the enclosure.

You can make your pet hamster a bit more comfortable by hand-feeding them fresh fruit and vegetables. Don’t feed them through the bars of their cage, but instead physically place food in their food bowl, or put your hand into the cage and let them come to you to feed.

Hamster Eating

After the first couple of days, you could try to leave the cage door open. When you do this, make sure that there is an enclosure around you as hamsters are swift little critters and can disappear in a blink. Coax them out of their cage by placing your hand with some food in it into the cage. Let your pet hamster crawl around your hand and get used to your scent and being outside of the cage, if it does come out.

Always be gentle when handling your hamster – support their rear end by cupping it, and always lift them slowly without squeezing them too hard.

After the first couple of weeks, your hamster should be less jumpy around you, and more interested when you come near its enclosure. You can then take it out to play with it – it may be best to play with your hamster in an enclosed area so that it doesn’t run and hide.

Other Quirky Facts

Fact #7: Hamsters Are Illegal?

Did you know that hamsters are illegal in 5 places on Earth? That’s right! These cute cuddly rodents are banned from these places.

Generally, they are banned as they can pose a threat to the local ecosystem. When exotic animals are introduced to an area, they can impact the native fauna and flora. This is the main reason the following countries or areas have banned the hamster.

  • Australia
    • Australia lists hamsters as invasive pests. In the past, Australia has dealt with many different types of exotic wildlife imported from overseas, such as cane toads, foxes, and rodents. These wildlife have caused massive environmental, agricultural, and economic damage; they have also threatened to wipe out native species of animals.
    • Like rabbits, wild hamsters pose a risk to crops and agriculture; there are also not a large enough number of natural predators to manage a rapid-growing population of hamsters should they be introduced to Australia.
  • Queensland, Australia
    • While we have covered Australia above, Queensland has specifically banned all imported mammals as pets. This includes foxes, rabbits, gerbils, monkeys, and hamsters.
    • There are exceptions to this such as cats, dogs, horses, and goats, etc.
    • Imported animals carry the risk of disease harmful to both wildlife and humans, and can negatively impact the local wildlife and environment.
  • New Zealand
    • New Zealand takes pride in protecting native fauna and flora; hamsters and their risks to the environment have not yet been investigated, and hence are considered pests.
    • To import a pet into New Zealand requires a variety of permits, and your pet will be quarantined for 10 days upon arrival in New Zealand.
    • One thing of special note is that New Zealand does not have snakes, so to have hamsters escape and breed in New Zealand would pose a serious risk as there would be no natural predators to keep the numbers low.
  • Hawaii
    • Hawaii, being a group of islands, is very sensitive to exotic wildlife and plants.
    • Hamsters are banned in Hawaii as they can breed very quickly and create colonies that can negatively impact native agriculture and environment.
    • Other rodents such as gerbils are also banned from being imported into Hawaii.
  • California
    • Similar to all the reasons listed above, California has banned some breeds of hamsters due to it being classed as an invasive animal. Local flora and fauna can be negatively impacted by large colonies of hamsters if set free.
    • There are 2 species of hamsters that you can legally own in California: the Syrian golden hamster, and the Chinese hamster. You can also own chinchillas and guinea pigs. However, you will have to buy or adopt them from registered breeders and pet stores.

Fact #8: Take Care Of Their Teeth 

Hamsters, as part of the rodent family, have constantly growing teeth, commonly known as incisors. It is important that they constantly gnaw on something to wear their teeth down. If they are not able to gnaw, hamsters can develop overgrown incisors.

The incisors of a hamster (or any rodent) need to be constantly worn down. Picture showing a hamster's incisors.

When a hamster’s incisors are too long, it can prevent the hamster from closing its mouth properly to eat, or it can cut into its fragile cheek lining. If both top and bottom incisors are overgrown, they can hit each other and chip, or break off. The broken edge can cause cuts in its mouth. Keep in mind that broken incisors may not grow back at all, which can be a source of discomfort to your pet hamster at the very least.

To lessen the chance of your pet hamster having overgrown incisors, you can give it small, soft wood blocks or other appropriate wooden chew toys made for small rodents. This will allow your pet hamster to gnaw and wear down their teeth, instead of chewing on the bars of its cage.

Your pet hamster could also gnaw or chew on the bars of its cage due to boredom – hamsters are quite intelligent and love being active. You can provide them cardboard boxes in which to hide, exercise wheels in which to run in, or paper to shred. Make sure to supplement any fresh fruit and vegetables with high quality rodent pellets to help them develop strong teeth.

Fact #9: Hamsters Can Do Tricks Too!

While it’s more common to hear or see rats and mice do tricks, you can also train your pet hamster to do tricks as well. Hamsters can stand on their hind legs, roll over on themselves, and even understand the word “come”.

Hamsters with shopping cart

Training a pet takes time, patience, and trust. Without bonding with your hamster, it will be very difficult for it to trust you, and for you to train it.

In our article “How To Train Pet Mice, Rats, And Hamsters To Do Tricks”, we cover the basics of how to train your pet, what materials to prepare, and what tricks your pet can do. Keep in mind that as hamsters have short, stubby tails, any tricks that require a tail will not work with hamsters.

We hope that you’ve enjoyed learning more about hamsters! Which was your favourite fact? Tell us in the comments below.

Lee Cameron

When I was younger, I had guinea pigs and hamsters as pets. There was limited information back then as to how to take care of rodents, and indeed information on the various types of rodents that could be kept as pets. In this website, I hope to make it an easy, one-stop information portal on raising rodents!

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