Choosing a small pet can be a challenging decision, especially for people who’ve never had pets before or have only dealt with cats and dogs. The two most common and popular options for small pets include hamsters and guinea pigs, but what’s the difference between the two?
While hamsters and guinea pigs are both small rodents with several similarities, these animals are quite distinctive. They have different personalities and care requirements, so it’s important to know more about them before deciding on one of these furry companions.
In this article, we help you get acquainted with hamsters and guinea pigs, along with their similarities and differences, so you can hopefully choose the best pet for you and your family!
At a Glance
Hamsters are small rodents commonly kept as pets in homes across the globe. These tiny creatures were first discovered in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, but they’re native to various parts of the world. The first countries where hamsters were discovered were Romania, Syria, Belgium, Greece, and northern China.
Depending on the species, these rodents can grow between 2 and 7 inches in length and weigh between 0.5 and 14 ounces. They can generally make good pets, though they don’t have particularly long lifespans. Usually, hamsters live between 18 and 36 months, but they can live slightly longer with adequate and proper care.
Currently, there are 24 known hamster species, but only five of them can be kept as pets:
- Syrian Hamster
- Winter White Russian Dwarf Hamster
- Campbell’s Russian Dwarf Hamster
- Roborovski Dwarf Hamster
- Chinese Hamster
Here are more details about this unique rodent species, along with general information that you need to know before getting a pet hamster.
Hamsters are typically categorized as docile and calm pets that are easy to care for. These critters are usually energetic and active, so they love to spend their free time spinning their wheel or playing in their enclosure. However, hamsters don’t have a playful enough nature that encourages interactions with humans, so keep that in mind before getting one as a pet. Also, not all hamsters will have a social temperament, and people looking for a friendly and cuddly animal might need to look for another species.
These little rodents are nocturnal, meaning they are mostly active at night, which is when their personality shines through. Still, this may be tiring to some people, as hamsters can be noisy and wake up light sleepers.
The enclosure for your hamster should be at least 15–20 gallons, with a minimum of 150 square inches of solid floor space (no wires). Still, when it comes to hamster housing, the bigger the better.
These rodents love to have plenty of free space to roam and explore their environment, so large enclosures are perfect for them to live comfortable lives. The cage should have proper ventilation and a separate bedding area, along with additional enrichment to keep your hamster satisfied and engaged.
When it comes to hamster bedding, it’s best to use materials like grass hay from reputable commercial brands. Don’t use pine and cedar shavings, as these could irritate hamsters and their skin. To ensure that your hamster is always sleeping in a healthy and clean environment, you should change the bedding every 1–2 weeks.
Hamsters require daily exercise, which they can get through playing with toys, climbing, burrowing, hiding, exploring, spinning the wheel, or doing any other hamster activity. These rodents also love to run through tunnels and play hide and seek, so be sure to provide them with plenty of obstacles and hiding spots in their enclosure.
It’s best to regularly clean your hamster’s toys to keep them in good shape and rotate them weekly to prevent your furry companion from getting bored.
Hamsters are generally healthy animals that simply don’t have long lifespans. As a general rule, these pets require annual vet checkups to stay in good health.
While mainly healthy, these furry creatures are prone to several issues. They’re also good at hiding that they’re ill, which is why it’s important to react if you notice any of the following signs in your hamster:
- Respiratory troubles
- Skin wounds
- Weight gain
- Runny nose
- Red, watery eyes
The most common health problems that hamsters can experience include:
- Eye issues
- Respiratory problems
- Dental disease
- Bladder stones
- Heart disease
Everyone who’d like to own a hamster should know that there are several zoonotic diseases, including tularemia and leptospirosis, that can be transferred from hamsters to humans.
Due to their size and low maintenance needs, hamsters make great pets for first-time pet owners and for people living in apartments, small homes, and quiet neighborhoods. Although these little rodents can be friendly, they’re not overly social and mainly interact during the night. Therefore, they’re not the best pets for light sleepers, people who like to spend their evenings quietly, or people who want playful and cuddly pets.
Guinea Pig Overview
The guinea pig is a small rodent species kept as a pet in homes across the world. These little rodents, also known as cavies, are native to South America or more precisely, to the Andes.
Although small in size, these rodents are larger and heavier than hamsters. Depending on their species, guinea pigs can reach anywhere between 10 and 12 inches in length and weigh around 1.5–3 pounds.
Currently, 13 guinea pig species are officially recognized by the American Cavy Breeder Association. However, only a few species are kept as pets, including:
- American Guinea Pig
- Peruvian Guinea Pig
- Abyssinian Guinea Pig
Here are more details about guinea pigs and their care that should help you determine if this rodent would be a suitable pet for you and your lifestyle.
When it comes to their personality and temperament, guinea pigs are social animals that love to spend their time around humans and other animals. In fact, these rodents can become lonely if left alone for long periods. It’s best to own guinea pigs in pairs so they can keep each other company.
These furry creatures love to play, so they need plenty of playful interactions to keep them happy and engaged. Although guinea pigs have bubbly personalities, they also like their alone time. Your guinea pig might look for several opportunities to hide throughout the day and rest from the everyday buzz.
When it comes to making a perfect enclosure for your guinea pig, the bigger, the better. The minimum size for guinea pig housing should be a 50” x 24” cage. If you plan on keeping multiple guinea pigs together, each new guinea pig should increase the living enclosure square footage by 20%.
The enclosure needs to be well-ventilated and have sturdy and solid floors without wiring, to prevent possible foot damage. It’s also essential to provide suitable bedding for your guinea pig inside the cage. You can use commercial guinea pig bedding or opt for paper towels or washable fleece.
The bedding needs to be kept clean. You should spot clean stains daily and change the bedding every couple of days to prevent dirt and debris from accumulating inside. Guinea pigs are often messy, so proper hygiene is essential if you want to keep these rodents as pets.
Guinea pigs require daily exercise to get rid of built-up energy and stay healthy. These little creatures love to roam around and explore their environment, search through tunnels, and play with all kinds of guinea pig-appropriate toys.
You should rotate the toys that your guinea pig has available to prevent boredom and increase stimulation. You can also let them freely play in a safe outdoor environment.
When it comes to their health, guinea pigs are generally healthy and have a long lifespan for a rodent, especially compared to hamsters. On average, guinea pigs live between 5 and 7 years, though with proper care, these furry creatures can easily go beyond their life expectancy.
Although cavies are typically healthy, they could still experience several medical issues that could jeopardize their health. Unfortunately, these rodents are good at hiding many signs of illness, resulting in late discovery and fewer chances for recovery. Therefore, it’s essential to recognize illness and strange signs early, such as:
- Lack of appetite
- Excessive drooling
- Weight loss
- Eye/nose discharge
- Difficulties breathing
- Overgrown teeth
- Difficulty moving
Common health problems that guinea pigs can have include:
- Vitamin C deficiency
- Inner ear infections
- Respiratory infections
- Reproductive disease
- Urinary problems
- Skin diseases
Guinea pigs are loving and social creatures that like to spend their time around people and other animals. They are small but active and often playful, making them great pets for first-time pet owners and people who live in apartments and small homes.
Due to their docile nature, guinea pigs can make excellent pets for quiet neighborhoods. They’re also better pet options for people with other pets, as they can get along with dogs and other small rodents.
Although it’s great that guinea pigs are social animals, they can become lonely and shouldn’t be left by themselves for long periods, which means they’re not ideal for people who don’t have enough free time to bond with them.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Both hamsters and guinea pigs are small rodents that are easy to care for, and both can make great pets for first-time pet parents and people living in apartments, small homes, and quiet environments.
However, guinea pigs are more social than hamsters, which is why they tend to be better for people who want to spend time with their pets. Conversely, hamsters are good for people who want a low-maintenance pet that doesn’t require much of their attention.
Overall, both of these rodents can make excellent pets; it all comes down to your personal preferences. Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll have a clearer picture of which of these animals is more suitable for you and your needs.
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