What Is a Good Starter Hamster?

By Melissa Schindler

Hamster image by anna karwowska from Fotolia.com

If you're thinking about adding a fluffy member to your family, hamsters are a great option. Undeniably adorable, they don't require a lot of space and are relatively inexpensive. If you've never owned a hamster before, consider adopting a Syrian or “golden” hamster. Not only are they the most common breed, they're arguably the easiest to keep.

Syrian Hamsters

Sometimes called golden or teddy bear hamsters, Syrians are the largest of the hamster breeds. Full-grown he'll be between 5 and 6 inches long. He's slower-moving than some of the smaller varieties, so he'll be easier to catch and handle than a tiny dwarf breed. He'll tame quickly, in a about a week, forming a lasting bond with you. He'll live between 2 and 3 years. Keep in mind that he is nocturnal, so he'll spend his nights running on his wheel. Be careful if you wake him up during the day, since this is one of the few times your docile buddy might bite. Syrians are suitable pets for children over 6 years old as long as they're supervised or have a firm understanding of safe hamster handling.

Housing

Your Syrian shouldn't live with other hamsters. While he was housed with his littermates in the store, cohabitation is out after about 8 weeks old. After this age, two Syrians will fight with each other. Most dwarf breeds can be kept with other hamsters, with some exceptions. Since your Syrian is a loner, he'll require less work than keeping up with the needs of multiple fuzzies and the squabbles that might erupt. He should have a larger cage -- a 10-gallon aquarium with a secure wire mesh lid is a great option. If you want a wire cage, make sure the wires are close enough together that he can't pull a Houdini. His cage will require weekly cleaning. Use paper or straw bedding and give him a wheel for exercise.

Diet

Syrians are omnivores, like us, meaning he eats both meat and veggies. A quality hamster mix is good base for Hammie. Supplement his diet with fresh treats. Broccoli, cucumbers and carrots will be snatched up quickly by your little guy. Avoid any kind of citrus since the acid in the fruit isn't good for him. He'll need something to gnaw on to keep his front teeth in check. Untreated and unpainted wood chew toys make a great option, but he'll also appreciate a dog biscuit from time to time.

Varieties

Syrians are available in a wide variety of colors and coats. He can be golden brown, black, gray, white or tortoiseshell. He can also have a smooth short coat, a long fluffy coat – the teddy bear coat – or a crimped rex coat. The short hair golden coloration and the fluffy teddy bear are the most common varieties. If you have your heart set on a fluffy hamster, keep in mind he'll require a little extra care. He'll need to have his long coat brushed with a toothbrush a couple of times a week. Your teddy bear shouldn't have a wheel, since his long coat could become tangled in it.

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