Hamsters are amazing animals and whilst researching this article I found many interesting things about hamsters that I didn’t know myself. Some of these are surprising and some of them are very informative and may help you if you decide to bring one home. So without further ado here are 38 facts about hamsters that you might not know.
Table of Contents
Hamsters are rodents
Hamsters are rodents and belong to the subfamily Cricetinae. They are commonly kept as pets and are very popular amongst owners, young and old. Hamsters are scrupulously clean, don’t have any exotic dietary requirements and are generally very low maintenance animals to look after.
There are 26 species and subspecies of hamsters
These range from the smallest which is the Roborovski Dwarf Russian hamster through to the largest which is the European hamster which is about the size of a guinea pig. There are however only five domesticated hamsters. These are the Syrian and the Dwarf hamsters which include the Chinese, the Roborovski, the Winter White and the Campbell.
The Syrian hamster was named in 1839
Back then it was known as the Golden Hamster and was classified by George Waterhouse and brought into the US in 1938. The Syrian hamster is also called the Teddy Bear hamster, the Short Hair hamster or the Fancy hamster.
Hamsters have cheek pouches
A hamster’s cheek pouches are used to temporarily store food and to transport their bedding. They are incredibly spacious and extend to the sides of their hips. Syrian hamsters even can fit an entire shelled peanut into one of their pouches!
The word hamster comes from german word “hamstern”
The word “hamstern” means to hoard. Hoarding is a characteristic of all hamsters no matter whether they are captive or wild and is basically a reflection of the diet and the environment in which the hamster originated from.
When the weather is cold or there are long periods of drought then hoarding food is necessary in order to survive as an individual or as a colony.
Hamsters are excellent diggers
Hamsters are excellent diggers and in the wild hamsters create barrows as deep as three feet under the ground. They even create different chambers within their burrows like we have rooms in our houses. So they might have a chamber that they use as a bedroom, one for their food, and one for a bathroom.
Hamsters have 16 teeth
Hamsters have 16 teeth in total. Four of these teeth are incisors at the front which are designed to rub against each other when they are nibbling on something. The remaining 12 teeth are molars.
Hamsters teeth grow continuously
Hamsters teeth grow continuously throughout their whole life and therefore need to continuously gnaw on things in order to keep their teeth trim. It is therefore very important that your hamster has sufficient chews and chew toys available in their cage.
Hamsters teeth should be yellow or orange
Hamsters teeth should be a yellow or orange colour and definitely not white. If your hamster’s teeth are white then this could be a sign of stress or malnutrition.
Hamsters are omnivores
Hamsters can eat a wide variety of foods such as seeds, greens, fruit and vegetables and animal protein such as lean cooked meat and insects such as mealworms or crickets.
We supply our hamster with a good quality hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned), small amounts of fresh fruit and veg and occasional treats such as blueberries, a little chicken and slivers of apple. Hamsters also need a fresh supply of water every day.
Hamsters cannot eat citrus fruit
Hamsters cannot eat citrus fruit such as lemons, oranges or clementines because it is too acidic for their stomachs to handle and can cause diarrhea and distress for your hamster.
Hamsters have bad eyesight
Hamsters don’t have very good eyesight and they are in fact short-sighted. They can be easily startled if they don’t see you approaching and therefore have a tendency to bite as a result. Hamsters are also color blind and therefore have to use their whiskers, their hearing and their sense of smell to navigate.
Hamsters can hear a wide range of sounds
Hamsters have extremely good hearing, which compensates for their poor eyesight. Hamsters can hear a wide range of sounds including ultrasonic frequencies (which we cannot hear) and will often freeze when they hear an unfamiliar sound. Because their hearing is very good, hamsters hear sounds louder than we do and therefore don’t like loud noises.
Hamsters can catch colds
Believe it or not hamsters can catch colds and flu from humans so it is best to avoid contact with your hamster if you are infectious. Their symptoms are similar to those that we display. So for example, you may see your hamster sniffle or sneeze and you may even notice a runny nose.
Hamsters with a cold may be warmer than usual, drink more than usual, have watery eyes, matted fur and have discharge coming from their eyes and nose.
Hamsters are illegal in some countries
Hamsters are illegal in Australia and Hawaii and California in the US.
Because the climate in these countries/states are similar to their native environment, environment officials in these countries have expressed concern that if hamsters escape then they could potentially create wild colonies which can cause damage to native plants, crops and animals.
Hamsters are not lactose intolerant
Hamsters have pre-gastric pouches which enable them to break down lactose before it gets to the stomach. Therefore unlike many other mammals, hamsters are not lactose intolerant and therefore can have dairy products.
Hamsters can travel up to 5 miles in a night
Hamsters love to run, especially on their wheels and according to Wikipedia, hamsters have run distances of 5.6 miles one night!
In the wild they will run for miles during the night looking and foraging for food to stuff into their cheek pouches. Although your pet hamster won’t have to forage for its food (unless you hide some food for your hamster to find like we do), it is still biologically programmed to want to run.
Hamsters are solitary animals
Hamsters are solitary animals and must be housed separately. If you put two different sex Syrians with each other they will fight and mate. If they’re the same sex they will fight. It’s possible that you might get too young Syrians getting along fine but may fight in the future. Same-sex Winter Whites or Roborovski hamsters can live together, but if they squabble, you may need to separate them.
Hamsters can hibernate
Hamsters can hibernate especially in the winter months. When hamsters hibernate their heartbeat and breathing slow down so much that it’s hard to tell whether they are hibernating, ill or have died.
Hamsters hibernate when it gets too cold, so make sure that the temperature in your hamster’s cage is warm enough to allow their body temperature to rise.
Hamsters are excellent at breeding
The gestation period for a hamster is between 15 to 18 days. In captivity, Syrians can have young every month of the year; although this is reduced somewhat during the winter months and after they are a year and a half old. Litter size is on average between 6 and 10, but hamsters can have as many as 15 or more babies at once!
Hamsters can survive on little water
Hamsters only need to drink about one teaspoon of water each day and this is because they originate from desert or semi desert environments where they don’t have much access to water.
Golden hamsters are considered vulnerable to extinction
Unfortunately, Golden or Syrian hamsters are considered to be vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources ‘red list’ because of the rise of human settlements.
They are also considered to be agricultural pests (particularly in Syria) and are often trapped or poisoned when burrow entrances are discovered.
Hamsters have toes
Hamsters have paws rather than hands and have four toes on their front paws and five toes on their back paws. Toes help them to balance which is particularly important when they stand up on their hind legs in response to hearing unfamiliar sounds.
Hamsters can eat their offspring
A rather gruesome fact is that hamsters do eat their offspring if they feel threatened or stressed. The reason for this is not fully understood though one theory is that they do this in order to gain the energy for themselves rather than allowing it to go to the Predator.
Another theory is that the hamsters will eat their offspring to prevent them from suffering if they are in danger.
It has also been discovered that a diet of corn has turned hamsters into cannibals.
Different species of hamster can’t be cross-bred
So for example you can’t cross breed a Syrian hamster with a Dwarf hamster.
Syrian hamsters are commonly used for human medical research
According to Wikipedia Syrian hamsters are used to model various human medical conditions including cancer, infectious diseases and other health issues. Hamsters are used because they are widely available, very easy to breed and develop rapidly.
Hamsters mark their territory
Hamsters use their hip glands to mark their territory. Hamsters are very territorial animals and can’t be housed with other hamsters. Not only will hamsters bite each other, they will often fight to the death.
Hamsters eat their poop
Hamsters produce two types of poop. One type, which isn’t hard, is eaten in order to absorb nutrients in the small intestine that they don’t absorb the first time round from their food. The proper term for eating poop is called coprophagy.
Hamsters can’t vomit
Hamsters are unable to vomit because they don’t have a gag reflex. It may appear sometimes that your hamster is vomiting, but in actual fact, your hamster is simply emptying their cheek pouches.
This may look and smell like vomit, but instead, what you are seeing is chewed up food, nuts and even a little liquid that your hamster has stored in their pouches.
This therefore means that it’s very important that you are careful in terms of what you let your pet hamster consume. If they ingest something harmful, because they are unable to vomit, it will make them sick and can potentially be fatal to your hamster.
Hamsters are not strictly nocturnal
Hamsters alternative between being nocturnal and crepuscular. Nocturnal means to sleep during the day and be active at night. Crepuscular on the other hand means to be mostly active at dawn and dusk. Our hamster Richmond wakes up at around 930 in the evening but it is not unusual to see him up and about during the day time foraging for food or having a drink.
Hamsters should not get wet
It’s very important that hamsters don’t get wet, otherwise their oils can be stripped from their fur which they can’t get back. Bathing your hamster in water is also bad for their skin and generally causes a great deal of stress for your hamster. A stressed hamster can result in a weakened immune system which can cause the bacteria in their gut to change which can put them at risk of developing serious illnesses such as wet-tail.
European hamsters can live up to 8 years in captivity
The european hamster is also known as the European hamster, the Black-Bellied hamster or the Common hamster.
The main thing that distinguishes the European hamster from other species is its lifespan which can be up to 8 years in captivity.
The European hamster is commonly found on low-lying farmland in places such as Belgium, Russia and Bulgaria and is generally considered a pest because they have consumed and damaged large amounts of crops. Pest control has therefore caused its incidence in the wild to be relatively rare and is now classed as an endangered species.
European hamsters are rarely kept as pets because they have a reputation for being extremely ferocious and aggressive and can expel grains from their pouches with such force that it can cause serious harm to their target!
The oldest hamster ever was 4.5 years old
Hamsters normally live to be around 2-3 years old depending on the species, however you do get the odd exception and according to the Guiness Book of Records the oldest hamster was owned by Karen Smeaton of Tyne & Wear, United Kingdom and lived to be 4.5 years old!
Hamsters can be trained
Hamsters are quite intelligent animals. Over time they can learn to recognize their name, if you use it often enough and they will certainly learn the smell of their owners after a while.
Hamsters can’t be trained to shake a paw or to sit down on demand, but with enough practice and patience, they can learn to jump through hoops, spin in circles and can even be trained to use a litter box. You can find out how to do this in this article about a hamster’s toilet habits!
Syrian hamsters grow to between 6 and 8 inches in length and weigh around 5 to 7 ounces. Chinese hamsters are more ‘mouse-like’ and have a body of about 3 inches.
The Winter White hamster also has a body of about 3 inches whilst the Campbell’s dwarf hamster grows to about 4 inches. The Roborovski or ‘Robo’ hamster is the smallest of the pet hamsters and average between 1.5 to 2 inches in length.
Baby hamsters are born blind, deaf and naked
Baby hamsters are very vulnerable when they are first born as they can’t fend for themselves. The mother prepares a warm nest for the babies which they stay in until about a week has passed and then they begin to venture out. After this time the hamster will be able to see and hear a little better and begin to explore their new surroundings.
Hamsters can take their alcohol
Believe it or not, hamsters can metabolize alcohol quickly and actually prefer it to water! In this study, they found that hamsters were also able to have up to ten times the amount of ethanol as humans can without behaving drunk!
Pine and Cedar bedding is harmful to hamsters
Many new hamster owners aren’t aware of this, and I wasn’t aware initially either, but Pine and Cedar wood shavings, which are commonly sold in pet stores and used as hamster bedding, is harmful to your hamster’s health.
The reason is that these types of ‘softwoods’ contain naturally produced chemicals which can be harmful to a hamster’s skin and respiratory system. A good alternative is to use aspen shavings like this on Amazon (#CommissionsEarned) or a paper-based substrate like Kaytee Clean & Cozy (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned).
So there you go, 38 amazing facts about hamsters! Hamsters are amazing animals and they definitely make excellent pets and are very low maintenance in comparison to other animals. There are definitely some things you need to be aware of though if you’re deciding to bring one home, but hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll be in a better position to look after a hamster and give your pet the care it deserves.