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Which Hamster Breed Is the Friendliest?

Nicole Cosgrove

Hamsters are very popular pets. They are easy to care for, take up minimal room, and with regular handling, they can be amicable little buddies. Although care does need to be taken, especially at first, they can also make good pets for children.

Numerous breeds of hamsters exist, each with its own characteristics and traits. There’s the tiny dwarf hamster, the large Syrian, and the very shy Campbell’s dwarf hamsters.

But which is the friendliest hamster, and does its friendliness make it the best option as a family pet or a companion for kids? Read on to find the friendliest breed and for details of other hamster breeds that can be good pets.

divider-hamsterThe Friendliest Hamster Breed

Everybody’s experience with hamsters is a little different. This means that while the Syrian hamster is widely considered the friendliest breed, there will be some owners that have had a negative experience with this breed, as well as those that have had other breeds of hamster that were friendly and made great pets.

It is the Syrian that is considered to be the friendliest of the bunch. They are the largest breed, which means that they do not need to be as terrified of people looking over them as other, smaller breeds. It is also referred to as the teddy bear hamster because it has the cute appearance of a child’s cuddly toy but also because it is receptive to being hugged and held by its humans.

As well as being very easy to handle, the Syrian hamster is not known to be a regular biter and is considered very good for children. This means that families can own a Syrian hamster without really running the risk of nipped fingers.

hamster 3_Attila Bódis_Pixabay
Image Credit: Attila Bódis, Pixabay

About Hamsters

Hamsters are small rodents that are often the first pet of young children. They live up to two years, although they can live a little longer in some cases. They are nocturnal, which means that they are active at night.

Some species like the Russian dwarf hamster live in groups, whereas the Syrian hamster is something of a loner and a single adult will usually live in a burrow on its own. When keeping pet hamsters, it is best to try and replicate these familial groups, so if you want multiple hamsters in a single community, you should consider a breed like the Russian dwarf and if you only have the inclination for a single dwarf, this is another good reason to opt for the Syrian.

Hamster Handling Tips

Although the species of hamster can dictate how friendly it is, and how likely it is to bite your fingers, other factors are more important. For example, the more often you handle a hamster, the more comfortable it will be being held. So, get your hamster out of the cage and spend some quality time with it if you want to raise a well-adjusted and friendly little rodent.

Tips for Hamster Handling
  • Wash your hands before handling a hamster. Hamsters use their sense of smell to detect possible threats and to identify possible food sources. If your hamster can smell your cat on you, or it can smell something that it believes to be food, it could bite you as a means of identifying the smell.
  • Let them wake up properly before reaching in and grabbing. Waking a hamster can cause them to be scared and this is a sure reason for a hamster to bite.
  • When you reach in, place your hand flat on the bottom of the cage for a short time. This indicates that you are not a threat and should hopefully prevent your hamster from seeing you as such.
  • Let your little one come to you. If you lean over your hamster and grab at it in a pincer-like movement, you will seem like a predator and a hamster’s natural defense is to bite at predators in a bid to get them off.
  • The first times you pick your hamster up, leave your hand and the hamster in the cage. A hamster’s other natural defense is to tun when startled. If your hand is out of the cage and several feet from the floor, this can cause serious injury to your Syrian.
  • You can use positive reinforcement to train a hamster to be more relaxed on your hand. The first few times it gets on your hand, reward it with a treat that it enjoys. After enough handling sessions, the hamster will associate your hand with the positive experience of being given a small treat and will look forward to being picked up.
  • Keep animals and even young children away from the hamster at first. Dogs and cats can get very excited and are usually intrigued by the small animal running around on your hand. If the hamster gets scared, it could bite you or it could attempt to jump off your hand and end up injuring itself. Leave any introductions until much further into the relationship.
  • Take things slowly. Once your hammie is comfortable being picked up and sitting in your hand a few centimeters off the cage floor, you can start to take it out of the cage but maintain a relaxed hold while ensuring that your pet won’t get hurt if it decides to jump and make a run for freedom.

How to Pick a Friendly Hamster

As well as looking for a Syrian hamster, you can take some steps to help ensure that you pick a friendly hamster. Ensure it’s healthy because an unhealthy hamster is more likely to feel threatened and like it needs to defend itself by biting. While a degree of healthy caution is perfectly normal in a small animal like a hamster, if one scurries away at the first sign of noise or as soon as you get near the cage, this could mean that it will take a lot more effort to tame, even with time.

hamster in a hand
Image Credit: Pixabay

Are Males Friendlier Than Females?

Although gender is not really an indication of friendliness, anecdotal evidence from owners suggests that males tend to be friendlier and less aggressive than females.

Do Hamster Bites Hurt?

Hamsters usually only bite when they’re scared, and rarely is this small rodent an aggressor. While the hamster is small and its teeth may not do as much damage as a larger animal, they are strong teeth and can still cause a little pain. You should certainly discourage a pet hamster from biting.

Other Hamster Breeds

The Syrian hamster is the most popular hamster breed, at least partially because it is the friendliest and the largest, but also because it was introduced in the 1940s when lab hamsters were first introduced into captivity and into family homes. Below are other popular hamster breeds that you might also want to consider keeping as pets.

1. Campbell’s Dwarf Russian

hamster_IRINA ORLOVA, Shutterstock
Image Credit: IRINA ORLOVA, Shutterstock

The Campbell’s Dwarf Russian hamster is a tiny breed and has the appearance of a small mouse. While most hamsters will live two years, this one’s diminutive size means that it has a slightly shorter lifespan of approximately 1.5 years. However, it is timid and will usually form a bond with its owner. Like other sociable hamsters, it is willing to forego its nocturnal habits in exchange for some time on the hand. Their timid nature means that this breed is not considered a good choice for children, however.


2. Chinese Hamster

hamster standing on its hind legs
Image Credit: Frenjamin Benklin, Unsplash

The Chinese is smaller than the Syrian hamster, measuring around 4 inches. They are quick and alert, nimble, and difficult to catch if startled. They also tend to be quite playful, which makes them a popular pet choice. They are friendly. In fact, they can demand a lot of attention from their owners and if they don’t get it, they can be prone to chewing everything in their enclosure. Be prepared to put in the time and effort with this breed, but you will be rewarded for your effort.


3. Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster

dwarf hamster eating dried mealworms
Image Credit: W10Studio, Shutterstock

The Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster is another tiny hamster breed. In the wild, the hamster would have a brown coat for much of the year but this would turn white in winter. The breed is quick and can be skittish when scared, but the Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster is a friendly breed that enjoys being handled, tolerates being picked up, and makes a good pet for the family, with supervision around very small children.

divider-hamsterWhich Hamster Breed Is the Friendliest?

Hamsters are a popular pet. They are small, live well in captivity, and are easy to care for. With regular handling, they will also enjoy being picked up, and some of the livelier breeds of hamster do enjoy playing and spending time with humans. It is the Syrian hamster that takes the accolade of the friendliest hamster, but many other breeds warrant consideration as a potential bedroom buddy.


Featured Image Credit: Sandra Cheng, Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.