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Introduction to Hamsters

By Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian) ; Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM, Associate Director, Division of Comparative Medicine, Washington University

Hamsters are rodents (members of the biological order Rodentia) and are distant relatives of mice and rats. Hamsters are small, almost tailless, relatively clean, affordable, easy to care for, and popular as pets.

Different types of hamsters include the Syrian (golden), Chinese, and Russian dwarf.

The most common variety is the Syrian hamster, which is also known as the Golden hamster (see Table: Hamster Breeds Commonly Kept as Pets). This name comes from the coloring of the animal in its original wild home. Today, pet owners can find Syrian hamsters in many color and coat varieties. Other varieties kept as pets include the Russian dwarf hamster, Chinese hamster, and the European hamster (which is uncommon in the United States).

Hamster Breeds Commonly Kept as Pets



Weight (grams)

Life Span (months)


Golden originally, now bred in many colors

90 to 120

18 to 24


Dark brown

40 to 60

30 to 36

Russian dwarf


35 to 50

18 to 24

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