The Syrian hamster, also known as the golden hamster, is among the most popular choices for small pets. It's generally easy to tame, fun to watch, and fairly low-maintenance, making it a good pet for beginners. These hamsters come from arid regions of northern Syria and southern Turkey. Most are golden brown with a lighter belly. But selective breeding has given rise to several variations in color, pattern, and hair length. Thanks to their popularity as pets, diets specially formulated for Syrian hamsters can be found in most pet stores. Plus, their housing doesn't take up that much space and is pretty simple to set up and maintain.
Common Names: Syrian hamster, golden hamster
Scientific Name: Mesocricetus auratus
Adult Size: 5 to 9 inches long, weighing roughly 5 ounces
Lifespan: 2 to 4 years
Syrian Hamster Behavior and Temperament
Syrian hamsters sleep during the day and are active at night. And while they are generally quiet pets, their nighttime activity might keep you awake if you have their enclosure in your bedroom.
Certain hamsters can somewhat adapt to their humans’ schedule, but you should never try to pick up a sleeping hamster. Some hamsters might bite when startled or handled improperly. Thus, the early morning or evening hours are a good time to interact with your hamster. And as long as you don't squeeze or jostle your hamster as you hold it, it should learn to be content with people handling it.
These hamsters are one of the most solitary animals in the wild, making them equally territorial. That means they should always be housed alone as pets. Sometimes young hamsters tolerate cage mates for a little while. But as they mature, there's a good chance they'll become aggressive, even fighting to the death. It's also best to keep any other household pets away from your hamster, as they could hurt each other.
As pets, Syrian hamsters don't necessarily form a close bond with their owners. But they often will come up to the side of their enclosure if you're there, and many will enjoy lounging in your hands or on your shoulder. Expect to spend a few hours per week on feedings and maintaining your hamster's habitat. After that, just make sure you're allotting some time each day to handle your hamster to keep it tame.
Syrian hamsters reach around 5 to 9 inches long on average, and they weigh roughly 5 ounces. They'll reach maturity within two months.
As large of an enclosure as you can accommodate for a Syrian hamster is best, as this will be its primary space for exercise. At a minimum, the cage should be 1 foot by 2 feet and at least a foot tall. The two general cage options are one that has wire on top with a plastic base or a standard glass or plastic aquarium with a tightly fitting mesh top. The wire cages allow for better airflow, though they offer less protection against drafts.
In the enclosure, include plenty of hamster toys for enrichment. An exercise wheel that has a solid surface (not bars) is ideal, as this minimizes the risk of injuries. Other options include tunnels and bridges for hiding and climbing, as well as wooden chew blocks for dental hygiene. Also, add a nest or sleeping hut (pet shops typically have several options) in a corner of the enclosure.
Specific Substrate Needs
Line the bottom of the enclosure with a couple of inches of bedding. Paper or aspen products are recommended. Don’t use cedar or pine bedding, as the strong smell can be harmful to a hamster. Scoop out any wet spots in the bedding daily. And change all the bedding weekly as you scrub down the entire enclosure with soap and water.
What Do Syrian Hamsters Eat & Drink?
Feed your Syrian hamster a diet of nuts, grains, and seeds (typically what's in the commercial food blends) supplemented with fruits and vegetables, such as apples, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, and pears. And because Syrian hamsters are omnivores (they eat plants and animals), offer the occasional hardboiled egg or feeder insect for an extra protein shot. If you use a commercial food blend, the supplemental foods generally shouldn't make up more than 10 percent of the hamster's overall diet. But consult your veterinarian for the best quantity and variety to feed, as this can vary based on age and size.
Always keep a bowl of dry food in the enclosure, and discard uneaten food after 24 hours. Hamsters typically like to graze, storing food in their cheek pouches and stashing it somewhere for later. Your hamster might even wake up a few times a day to eat and then go back to sleep. Whenever you're feeding fresh foods, it's often best to offer them in a separate dish in the evening when your hamster is waking up from its slumber and ready to eat. Remove uneaten fresh food after a few hours, so it doesn't spoil.
Moreover, always provide a clean source of water for your hamster that you refresh daily. Many people prefer to use water bottles because they are easy to keep sanitary. But you also can use a shallow dish for water until your hamster learns to drink from the bottle.
Common Health Problems
Syrian hamsters are generally hardy animals. However, there are a few health conditions to watch out for. Wet tail—a gastrointestinal infection usually associated with stress and bacteria proliferation—is one of the most common health issues affecting this hamster. Symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and wetness around the tail area. If you suspect an infection, take your hamster to the vet immediately. This issue can have a fatal outcome if allowed to fester, but antibiotics can effectively treat it.
Hamsters can also contract fur and ear mites, especially from unsanitary conditions. If your hamster has mites, you might notice itching and loss of fur in patches. If so, contact your vet as soon as possible for treatment.
Furthermore, some hamsters can develop overgrown teeth that make eating difficult. You might notice your hamster's teeth look a little longer than normal and that it's losing weight. A vet can trim the teeth and then recommend ways to maintain the hamster's dental health, such as adding more chewable materials to the enclosure.
Training Your Syrian Hamster
Hand-taming is the primary training most people do with their hamsters. It's ideal to begin when the hamster is still young, so it learns to be comfortable around people. Sit on the floor in a secure space when handling your hamster, as even a drop from a few feet can harm it. It can help to hold a favorite treat to make the hamster's experience sitting in your hands more enjoyable. If it starts to get stressed, put it back in its enclosure.
Between having a sufficiently large enclosure to roam about and an exercise wheel, your hamster should be able to remain fit. Exercise is important to prevent obesity and other health issues. You also can put your hamster in an exercise ball when it's out of the enclosure for it to roll safely around your floor. Always monitor your hamster when it's out of the enclosure.
Hamsters are fairly clean animals that self-groom. They do not need water for baths. If they do get some dirt or debris stuck in their fur, you can help them get it out by gently rubbing the area with a damp cloth.
From month to month, your main costs for a hamster will be its food and bedding. Expect to spend around $20 to $40, depending on the type of bedding (plus the size of enclosure) and diet you choose. Beyond that, you'll occasionally have to replace chew blocks, nests, and other items in the enclosure. And you should budget for an annual veterinary checkup plus emergency medical costs.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Syrian Hamster as a Pet
Syrian hamsters are generally low-maintenance, quiet, and interesting pets. They're fun to watch and can be tamed to hold. However, they are fragile small animals that need a gentle touch. And they are typically asleep for most of the day, so you might not get to see them at their most active.
Similar Hamsters to the Syrian Hamster
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Purchasing or Adopting Your Syrian Hamster
You can buy a Syrian hamster from a pet shop, but a reputable breeder or rescue group is the preferred option. Good breeders and rescues tend to provide superior care for their animals, and they should be able to give you thorough information on an animal's origin and health history. Expect to pay around $20, though this can vary depending on factors such as the animal's age and coloring.
A local exotic veterinarian might be able to recommend a good breeder or rescue organization for hamsters. You'll likely be able to find younger animals via a breeder, though small animal-specific rescues often have good variety as well.
When choosing a hamster, it's ideal to observe the seller's animals while they're awake. So ask the seller when the best time to visit with them would be. The seller also might be able to wake their hamsters for you to pick one by offering a desirable treat. A healthy hamster will be active and curious. Its fur should look clean, its droppings should be well-formed, and its eyes should be clear and bright. Red flags include labored breathing and a dirty bottom.
If you'll be taking more than one hamster home, make sure to have separate housing for them ready. This will prevent fighting, as well as you accidentally becoming a breeder yourself.
Does the Syrian hamster make a good pet for kids?
Syrian hamsters can make good pets for older children who are able to handle them gently and carefully.
Are Syrian hamsters hard to take care of?
Hamsters are generally low-maintenance pets, with their main needs being daily feedings and regular cage cleanings.
Does the Syrian hamster like to be held?
Syrian hamsters can learn to be comfortable with gentle handling. However, they also like to explore and might not want to be held for long.