Syrian Hamsters

Golden hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) in pot with plant, studio shot
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The Syrian, or golden, is one of the most popular hamster pets, because of their docile temperament. They are easy to tame and quite comfortable being handled, even by children. They have a reputation for being nippy, but that is usually because of a lack of handling, or because someone is trying to handle them during the day when they would rather be sleeping.

Social Characteristics

Syrian hamsters are solitary and territorial. They should always be housed alone. They may tolerate other hamsters when they are young, but by the time they reach 8 to 10 weeks old, they become territorial and fighting is not uncommon. Some of those battles may be to the death.


The natural coloration of Syrian hamsters is golden brown, technically agouti, meaning the hairs are banded with darker and lighter colors, with a lighter belly. They also have a dark marking on their cheeks, extending from their jaw up toward their ears. Through selective breeding, your Syrian hampster may sport any of a number of variations in colors and patterns.

Your Syrian's Origins

The Syrian hamster's native origins are in northern Syria and southern Turkey. They ranged in the area of Aleppo at will until the 1930s, when European doctors began breeding them for use as animal test subjects.

Preferred Habitat

Your hamster prefers his own cage, and for a Syrian, which wants to run and play, bigger is better. The cage you pick to contain your pet, who can grow to 6 or 7 inches, should be a minimum of 24 inches by 12 inches, and at least 12 inches tall. You want to have plenty of room for his toys, too.

Food and Drink

Your Syrian hamster is happy with a diet of nuts, grains, and seeds. You can supplement his diet with fruits and vegetables, such as apples, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and pears. He'll carry his food in his cheeks, and often will continue eating even if his cheeks are full. Make sure he has plenty of water.

Other Names

While the Syrian hamster is well known by that name, he's also called the golden hamster, and if he has longer hair, he's often referred to as the teddy bear hamster, black bear hamster, European black bear hamster, and the fancy hamster. Short haired versions of the Syrian hamster are often referred to as the standard hamster, and the hairless variety is sometimes called the alien hamster. No matter what name you use, scientists call it the Mesocricetus auratus

Expected Lifespan

In the wild, your Syrian hamster can be expected to live 2 1/2 to 3 years, but as a pet, that lifespan is extended. You can expect your pet to live 3 to 4 years, or even longer.