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Hamster vs. Mouse: Differences Explained (With Pictures)

Rachael Gerkensmeyer

By Rachael Gerkensmeyer

Hamster vs Mouse

Hamsters and mice are both rodents that make great pets, especially for children. They even look similar. However, these are two distinctly different animals and should be considered as such. In fact, hamsters and mice should not even live together in the same habitat because of their differences. For one thing, hamsters are usually bigger than mice, and mice are usually more active than hamsters.There is much to learn about both of these critters before deciding whether the hamster or the mouse is the best pet option for your household. Let’s dive deeper into this topic!

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Visual Differences

Hamster vs Mouse side by side
Image Credit: (L) PintoArt, Shutterstock | (R) Rudmer Zwerver, Shutterstock

At a Glance

Hamster
  • Average Size (adult): 2–13 inches
  • Average Weight (adult): 5–12 ounces
  • Lifespan: 18–36 months
  • Exercise: 30+ minutes a day
  • Grooming needs: Easy
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Not often
  • Trainability: Yes
Mouse
  • Average Size (adult): 1–7 inches
  • Average Weight (adult): .5–1 ounce
  • Lifespan: 12–18 years
  • Exercise: 60+ minutes a day
  • Grooming needs: Easy
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Not often
  • Trainability: Sometimes

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Hamster Overview

Satin Syrian hamster, yellow-white on a brown table with a gold background
Image Credit: zuzanafoto, Shutterstock

Hamsters come in a variety of different colors, including beige, gray, black, cream, lilac, and even spotted. They have small round ears, dark eyes, stout bodies, and short tails. They can have either long or short hair, and they have extremely sharp claws attached to their tiny paws. There are more than 20 species of hamsters in existence, but only five are common domesticated household pets. These are:

  • Syrian — These hamsters were discovered in the 1800s in the Middle East, where they live freely. Sadly, they’re considered endangered in their natural habitat. They usually have light brown coats and white undersides. They’re known for living up to 2.5 years in captivity.
  • Siberian — This species has several different names, including the Russian Dwarf and the Striped Dwarf. They have a black stripe going down their back and cute little furry paws that give them a “hardy” look.
  • Campbell’s Dwarf — These little critters hail from Central and Eastern Asia. They love to dig and gnaw, so they need plenty of things to do inside their habitats. These low-maintenance animals don’t mind being handled by their human companions.
  • Chinese — These hamsters were first domesticated to be used as lab animals, Today, they are a popular household pets. However, certain places like California and New Jersey consider these hamsters to be exotic and require pet owners to get permits before owning, breeding, or selling them.
  • Roborovski — This is the smallest hamster species kept in captivity as a pet. They might be tiny, but they are known for being more energetic and outgoing than their larger counterparts. These animals seem to love toys and will keep themselves busy during their waking hours.

Personality / Character

Depending on the species, hamsters have slightly different personalities and characteristics. However, there are certain characteristics that hamsters as a whole tend to share. For instance, while usually curious by nature, hamsters are known for being docile creatures. These are also clean animals that can handle their own grooming needs. Hamsters are nocturnal, so they spend most of the day sleeping and most of the night exploring their habitats. If handled from a young age, they can learn to enjoy close physical interaction with their human companions.

Training and Exercise

Hamsters can be trained to do things like sit calmly in your hand when you’re holding them, come when you call them, stand, and even roll over. Like all animals, a hamster requires daily exercise to maintain a strong body and a happy, healthy life as time goes on. Most hamsters must get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day to stay healthy. If they have a running wheel, a few toys, and plenty of places to explore in their habitat, they can get all the exercise that they need. Any time that they spend interacting with their human companions or running around in an exercise ball outside of the habitat is a bonus!

hamster in a cage drinking from a water bottle
Image Credit: Monika_1, Shutterstock

Health & Care

What is unique about rodents is that their teeth never stop growing, so hamsters must have things to gnaw on so they can keep their teeth trimmed. Little wooden toys, sticks, and pinecones are all great options. Always make sure there are enough chewing toys available in your pet hamster’s habitat.

Hamsters are easy to feed due to readily available commercial food designed just for them. They can also be offered various fresh fruits and veggies from your kitchen.

Suitable For:

Hamsters are suitable pets for most households because they are good with kids and don’t require much attention or care throughout the day.

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Mouse Overview

mouse up close
Image Credit: MainelyPhotos, Shutterstock

Mice are slender animals with prominent ears and tapered muzzles. Their legs are narrow, and their tails appear hairless, though they are covered in thin layers of fur. Those tails are also long—sometimes as long as the mouse’s body. They have small, black eyes and noses that are slightly pointy. Pet mice come in a variety of coat colors, patterns, and textures. The fancy mouse is arguably the most common type of domesticated pet mouse in existence.

Personality / Character

The average mouse is highly active and extremely curious. Unlike hamsters, mice enjoy living in groups, though be aware that males and females that are housed together can procreate quickly and often. Males can also get territorial and are prone to fighting when living in the same habitat. When dealing with humans, mice can be skittish, as they prefer to be seen instead of handled. Luckily, these are fun animals to watch when they’re interacting with their habitats.

Training and Exercise

Since mice dislike being held and handled, they don’t take as well to training as hamsters do. However, a mouse that is conditioned for handling as a baby may learn basic tricks and learn to enjoy being handled occasionally. Mice tend to bite when someone tries to handle them when they don’t want to be touched.

As for exercise, mice require more of it than hamsters do, but they can usually take care of their own exercise needs, just like hamsters can. Since they have a higher exercise need, they should have a bigger habitat and a bigger exercise wheel than a hamster.

Mouse inside a bowl of food
Image Credit: Piotr Wawrzyniuk, Shutterstock

Health & Care

Mice are typically healthy animals that are easy to care for as time goes on. However, they are prone to developing tumors as they age, so it’s important to keep an eye out for lumps and bumps on the body. These animals should eat grains and veggies as their main diet. Rodent pellets that are fortified with all the vitamins, minerals, and proteins that a mouse needs for optimal health can be found at most pet stores. Like all animals, mice require access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Suitable For:

These are suitable pets for most households but may not be great for kids who want to physically interact with their pets regularly.

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Which Pet Is Right for You?

Choosing between a hamster and a mouse as a household pet comes down to your personal preferences. Hamsters are more sociable and apt to enjoy human handling. But mice are a bit easier to care for because they are more likely to want to stay in their habitats. With these things in mind, consider your lifestyle to determine which pet would be best suited for your family.

See also:


Featured Image Credit: (L) Anastasia Solovykh, Shutterstock | (R) Rudmer Zwerver, Shutterstock

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