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There are five main breeds of hamster commonly kept as pets in the UK, each with their own unique care requirements and temperaments. Here is a basic guide to the top five hamster breeds that you are most likely to come across in the search for your perfect pet, in order to help you make a decision as to the type most suitable for you.
The Chinese hamster (or to give it its Latin name, Cricetulus Griseus) is sometimes known as the striped hamster, or Chinese striped hamster. The most common coat colour is called 'agouti' which means that the fur contains pigmentation in both light and dark colours, with black tips to the hair. Agouti hamsters have a darker line of hair along the spine, and paler coloured stomachs. The other coat colour which occurs in Chinese hamsters is called 'dominant spot,' and consists of a white base coat with spots of a darker colour. Chinese hamsters are not considered to be sociable with other hamsters, and are generally best housed individually, although some owners have success in keeping them in small groups. While they can be territorial and aggressive to other hamsters, they are generally thought of as being good with people, and with careful regular handling become friendly if rather timid and rarely nip or bite. Chinese hamsters grow to around four inches long when mature and are sometimes mistakenly considered to be dwarf hamsters, although this is not the case. They have bodies rather more slender than other varieties of hamster, more similar to mice and small rats in that respect than the usual tubby hamster variants. Their average life span is one and a half to two years, although it is not unheard of for them to live considerably longer. They are nocturnal, although sometimes active for short periods of time during daylight hours.
The Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus Auratus) is also sometimes known as the golden hamster, the black bear hamster or the teddy bear hamster. Syrian hamsters as possibly the best know and most commonly kept variety in the UK, and are a popular choice for older children. While hamsters generally like company, the Syrian hamster can be aggressive in same sex groups, and so they are often best kept alone. Syrian hamsters are nocturnal, and generally like to snuggle up and sleep the daylight hours away. The Syrian hamster is one of the largest varieties of hamster, with adults growing up to seven inches long. The females are generally significantly larger than the males. They have short tails, small eyes and large cheek pouches for hoarding food. Syrian hamsters live on average for between two and two and a half years, although it is not unheard of for them to live up to four years old in captivity.
Dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters (Phodopus Campbelli) are well known to be among the more social hamster breeds, and generally live happily in pairs and groups. Groups and pairings should be formed while they are still young, as hamsters do not usually tolerate the introduction of later additions. Although they do tame up relatively well with regular careful handling, they are not considered to be as personable as the Syrian hamster, and may nip or bite if frightened or handled roughly. The dwarf Campbell Russian hamster, like the Syrian hamster, is nocturnal, although they are sometimes active for short periods of time during the day. As the name implies, this dwarf variety of hamster is very small, only growing to a maximum size of approximately four inches. The most common colour found in the wild and in most captive bred dwarf Campbell Russian hamsters is brownish grey, with a darker line of colour running along the spine. Selective breeding programmes mean that nowadays the dwarf Campbell Russian hamster can also be found in other colour variants too. This variety of hamster lives on average for up to two years.
The dwarf winter white Russian hamster (Phodopus Sungorus) is closely related to the dwarf Campbell Russian hamster, and shares many of the same behaviour traits. They are also likely to be active for short periods during the day, and live happily in pairs or same sex groups. When tame, they are generally personable and friendly, although they have developed a bit of a reputation for nipping when nervous, and so should not be handled by younger children. They are also very fast moving, which combined with their small size can make them a handful to keep hold of! Dwarf winter white Russian hamsters are even smaller than the Campbell variant, reaching an adult size of only three and a half to four inches long. It is not normally advised to house the dwarf winter white Russian hamster in a cage, as they are so small that they may be able to fit through the bars! Their average lifespan is around the two year mark. Dwarf winter white Russian hamsters actually come in three colours, not just white- being pearl, sapphire and sapphire-pearl. The pearl shade has a white colour base, the sapphire shade a deep purplish grey colour, and the sapphire-pearl a combination of the two.
The Roborovski hamster (Phodopus Roborovski) is another dwarf breed, reaching only one and a half to two inches long when mature. Keeping them in a cage rather than a tank is again not recommended, for the same reason as the dwarf winter white Russian hamster mentioned above. They have a longer lifespan than most other breeds of hamster, coming in at around three to three and a half years. They live happily in pairs or same sex groups, as long as introduced to living together at a young age. They have gentle temperaments and when tame, will rarely bite, although because of their small size they can be hard to handle and may not be the best choice for a pet that will be regularly played with. The Roborovski hamster is nocturnal and not generally active at all during the day. They have sandy coloured bodies with white patches over the eyes, or occasionally white faces.
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