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The Syrian Hamster

Learn all about the Syrian hamster from its size, life expectancy, daily routine to grooming and marking.

By Martha Boden
Posted: March 21, 2012, 9:40 p.m. EDT

see Hamsters table of contents

While several species of pet hamsters exist, probably the most common one in the United States is the Syrian or Golden hamster. Syrian hamsters are the largest of the pet hamster species, with adults usually measuring 5 to 7 inches in length. The larger Syrian hamster makes a better pet for children than the dwarf species because its size makes it easier for children to handle. Like all hamsters, they have short tails and use cheek pouches to carry food, bedding and many other items. The average life span of a Syrian hamster is 2 to 2 1/2 years. Females tend to be a bit more pear-shaped than males, but this may be difficult to notice. In the longhaired variety, Syrian males have longer coats than Syrian females.

Syrian hamsters are nocturnal, typically waking to start their day between 7 and 10 p.m. A Syrian hamster will often stay active and alert until sunrise, at which time it retreats to its nest for a nice day of rest. Like people, different hamsters keep different schedules, but it’s usually best to avoid waking a hamster up before it’s ready. If you must wake up your hamster, give it time to yawn, stretch and climb out of its nest before attempting to pick it up.

Syrian hamsters typically need little or no grooming. Fastidious by nature, they spend up to an hour giving themselves a thorough washing-up when they awaken. Occasionally, a longhaired Syrian hamster needs help removing entangled bedding or nesting material from its fur. To do this, gently tease the material out with your fingers. Avoid using scissors to cut out tangles because it’s too easy to nick the skin on a moving hamster.

Hamsters never need a bath. It’s difficult for them to maintain their appropriate body temperature when wet, even if you dry them immediately. If you believe your hamster needs a bath, take it to the veterinarian for assistance. An experienced vet clinic will have the proper warming blankets to make sure your hamster survives a bath.

Because Syrian hamsters are very territorial, it’s not surprising that they like to mark places as their own. Scent glands can be found in various locations on the Syrian, but the most notable are on each hip. The scent glands are usually about a 1/4 inch in diameter, slightly raised and darker than the surrounding fur. Sometimes they look similar to moles on a human. Often after grooming, the hip scent glands appear damp or greasy, and you may see your hamster sidling up to its sand bowl, exercise wheel or bed to spread its scent. This is a perfectly normal behavior that helps establish a Syrian hamster’s territory. 

Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.

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