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Hamster Care Information

Hamsters are common household pets. They are inexpensive, friendly, and fairly easy to care for. Hamsters are rodents, often referred to as "pocket pets" because of their small size. The name they go by today is derived from the German word “hamstern,” which means “hoard”—because that is exactly what they do with any extra food they might find.

Hamsters are somewhat peculiar for rodents with large cheek pouches and short, stubby tails. They have gained popularity as pets and research animals since the 1930s. The Syrian hamster's (Golden Hamster) wild habitat extends through the Middle East and southeastern Europe. Hamsters were living in relative obscurity until just 70 years ago, when a zoologist discovered a family of these rodents in the Syrian desert. In the 1930’s, a litter of eight baby hamsters was taken to Israel and raised as research animals. Virtually all domesticated hamsters sold as pets today are descendants of three survivors of this litter. Hamsters were first introduced to the United States in 1938.

Since their domestication, several color and hair coat varieties of Syrian hamsters have become common due to selective breeding. The three basic groups that now exist and are popular as pets include: the Golden hamster, the colored, shorthaired Fancy hamster, and the longhaired Teddy Bear hamster. Occasionally, other species of hamsters may be encountered, but they are much less common than the Syrian hamster. Two dwarf varieties are gaining in popularity -- the Chinese Dwarf, and the Dwarf Russian (either Winter White or Campbell's Russian), but the overall favorite remains the Syrian.

Hamsters are small, soft animals with a fair temperament. They tend to be active at night and like to sleep during the day. They can be cranky when abruptly awakened, so caution is advised when handling them at this time. Hamsters love to dig, burrow, and chew.