Syrian Hamsters are the largest and best-known of the domesticated hamsters and differ from dwarf hamster species in that they must be housed alone. Newborn Syrian hamsters will play together for the first month, but by the fifth week must be separated by sex, and by the seventh week, separated from all other hamsters.
Male Syrian hamsters are somewhat more relaxed and gregarious than female Syrian hamsters, which are more industrious and tend fastidiously to the nest area. Syrian hamsters instinctively enjoy running, climbing, gnawing on cardboard or other rigid material, and they thrive on regularity of schedule and surroundings. Syrian hamsters can be disquieted by sudden environmental changes. Female Syrian hamsters go into season every three to five days while young, and can be feistier (and often have a distinct scent) at these times.
While Syrian hamsters want nothing to do with other animals, they are gentle and playful with their human friends once they feel at ease, a process that takes about a week and a bit of patience. It’s important to note, however, that the joy of interacting with Syrian hamsters, as with all hamster breeds, is more observational than participatory.
Syrian hamsters are especially docile, once acclimated to their surroundings, but don’t expect them to sit calmly in your lap. They are constant ramblers. The central truism about hamsters is that they play on you, not with you.
Syrian hamsters have two dominant fur types, short and long (sometimes mistakenly called “Teddy Bear”), and are typically golden brown in color (thus the Latin classification auratus, meaning golden). Common variations include black and cream colors.
Smell is a Syrian hamster’s strongest sense. Syrian hamsters possess delicate respiratory systems, so special care must be taken to keep their environment clean, and to always wash hands before holding them. (These are good rules to follow for all hamsters). Litter materials that have a strong scent, such as cedar, are a hazard.
Syrian hamsters are meticulous groomers and typically maintain orderly surroundings, which makes it easier to keep clean the spot they set aside for urinating. This is important, as ammonia build-up can damage a hamster’s respiratory tract.
Syrian hamsters are also prone to stroke and heart attack, so their diet must be low in fat and processed foods. Garlic, onions, chocolate and most fruit seeds are forbidden foods. In general, fresh fruit and vegetables are of great benefit if introduced very gradually and in tiny amounts.
Syrian hamsters are strictly nocturnal, and instinct impels them to exercise at night, when in their natural habitat they would be foraging for food. So a quiet, solid-floored exercise wheel at least 8 inches in diameter is essential. A Syrian hamster’s enclosure should be at least 2 square feet in area and should contain an enclosure or cover to provide a measure of privacy, which Syrian hamsters crave.
The recommended habitat for a Syrian hamster is at least 2 square feet of floor space, which can be divided into two floors no more than a few inches apart (to avoid dangerous falls) or by amply wide, securely fitted tubes. Syrian hamsters favor a hiding spot within any transparent enclosure, and love a sturdy, solid-floor exercise wheel.
Feed Syrian hamsters fresh, high quality, store-bought grain and seed mixes that are supplemented with tiny amounts of hamster-safe fresh fruits and vegetables, which should be removed immediately if not eaten. Tiny amounts of cooked, unseasoned, boneless chicken or fish can be fed occasionally. Fresh water should always be available.