Trying to figure out whether a hamster or a guinea pig is the best pet for you? Maybe you’re looking for a cute furry friend who likes to run around and play with your kids, or maybe you just want something that will entertain itself when you’re not home.
Either way, there’s lots of options to consider. I did some digging to find out more about each pet: the pros, cons, and what it’s like to have one.
Before making any decisions about which type of pet would suit you best know how they’re different so that you make an informed choice. Temperaments, cage size, nutrition, general care, vocalization, and lifespan will come into play in order to find an appropriate match – and ensure that you’re making the right choice.
If you’ve been considering getting either of these two critters as your next family pet then this article is for you! Let’s go over some of their similarities and differences, so you’ll know which ones is right for you.
Let’s get started!
1. Temperament & Basic Behavior
When it comes to deciding between a hamster or a guinea pig as a household pet, probably the most important aspect to consider is temperament.
This is where these rodents’ differences matter the most. Even though, they’re both prey animals, typically, hamsters are known to be a bit more volatile and temperamental than guinea pigs.
Hamsters are more adventurous and agile, and they’re prone to biting more than guinea pigs, who are more docile (unless they’re injured or feel threatened). Normally, guinea pigs will run away if they’re scared, so they only bite if they feel like they don’t have any other choice.
To better explain each pet’s temperament, here are some common behavioral characteristics of each:
|Sociability||more solitary and quiet||Affectionate and sociable when they get to know you|
|Trusting nature||needs time to warm up to their owners||needs time to warm up to their owners|
|Physical Contact||Need daily handling to grow accustomed to humans||once tamed, they tend to stay attached to their owner|
|Activity||Nocturnal: most active in the evening and early morning||They’re crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and twilight|
|Aggression level||They are known to bite if not handled regularly or distrust the human handler.||Extremely rare for them to bite;. known for their docile nature|
Overall, these temperamental factors, make guinea pigs a slightly safer, more playful pet for younger children. This is because they’re less likely to bite and are known to be more affectionate, interactive and awake during the day.
They’re known to sometimes be less playful than the guinea pig which perhaps makes them less fun for children.
2. Cage Size:
Guinea pigs and hamsters maybe both rodents but they belong to different families. Guinea pigs are of the Caviidae family whilst hamsters are from the Cricetidae family.
This makes guinea pigs far bigger and heavier than hamsters; roughly 2-4 times bigger. Guinea pigs can weigh around 1.5 to 2.6 lbs. Hamsters, on the other hand, only weigh around 1 to 10 oz.
This is all important to know because it influences the size of their cage. Although both need lots of space (relative to their size), the guinea pigs – as you may have guessed – needs more.
Guinea Pig Cage
Guinea pigs require a more spacious environment which provides them with more room to play.
They need room to play, burrow, and do their zoomies (which are incredibly hilarious to watch as they run around and jump). They also need more space for toys, a wheel, food bowls, bedding (hay), and water bottles.
The Humane Society states that one to two guinea pigs need at least 7.5 square feet of living space, but they recommend a cage size of 10.5 square feet for these animals to live comfortably.
The rule of thumb is that larger cages are always better.
A cavy’s cage needs to be spot-cleaned daily (which is another thing to keep in mind when shopping for one of these critters) and deep cleaned weekly. There are also other things that need cleaning like the water bottles, food bowls, wheel, and toys.
The cage needs to be cleaned more often if it’s inhabited by more than one guinea pig.
The Humane Society recommends at least 3 square feet of living space for hamsters. Allowing your pet room to move around is just as important as providing them with space.
They require smaller spaces than guinea pigs but they also prefer roomier spaces. The Human Society advises a minimum of 2 to 3 square feet. Studies show that hamsters live longer lives when their cages are bigger.
Clutter in the cage can make for an extremely happy hamster, since much more similar to their natural habitat.
This clutter can be in the form of a secure wheel, toys to chew on, a sand bath (ceramic dog bowls are good for this-they can’t chew them) a burrowing chamber, anything that’s safe and doesn’t have sharp edges.
Hamsters are so active that they will run about 5 miles every night just exploring their surroundings and looking for food. This constant movement causes them to need a lot of space, so bigger cages are always better.
Hamster cage cleanings are relatively low maintenance. You can spot clean weekly: removing spoiled food or hoarded food, wash their wheel, etc.
Deep cleaning (when you empty out the entire cage and wash EVERYTHING) is suggested at least every one to two months.
3. General Care
Let’s explore the general care needs of each, as these are what you’ll need to keep in mind when taking care of them.
As for hamsters, depending on the bree they are more solitary and territorial animals, it’s usually best to keep them alone – especially if you have a Syrian hamster. They’ll most likely fight with a cage mate, and you definitely don’t want that.
Don’t be worried about them being lonely. If anything, worry about injuries. These include paralysis, open wounds, blood loss, ear loss, hair loss and eye loss – and death (yep, they can die from injuries if not taken care of properly).
On the other hand, guinea pigs are extremely social animals. They live in herds in the wild. You’ll definitely want to get more than one guinea pig preferably two males or two females. Same-sex pairs are fine as long as one or both are spayed and neutered (you don’t want any accidental baby guinea pigs out there).
These social animals will be unhappy if they don’t have another buddy to talk to. If you’re planning on having only one guinea pig, then you better be prepared to spend a lot of time interacting your little friend – and don’t be surprised if they’re lonely.
Both furry creatures require bedding, although how the bedding is put in their cages is a little different (we’ll get to that in a second).
For hamsters, shredded paper, wood shavings (not cedar or untreated pine) will work just fine. Hamsters need tons of bedding. Pour in the bedding. Pack it down yourself. Then pour in some more until you have 6 to 8 inches of bedding.
That way, the hamster won’t squish the bedding down so low that he won’t be able to dig. There needs to be enough bedding for tunnels and nesting areas, so pack the bedding in the cage down once it’s in place.
Enrichment & Entertainment
Hamsters require less floor time but most hamsters owners allow their pets out of the cage on a daily basis. Exercise wheels and balls are excellent diversions.
As a minimum, they should be released at least once a week form their cage. Remember, daily interaction is essential with your hamster otherwise your furry friend will bite!
Cavies should have floor time daily but don’t use exercise balls with your little friends. Toys like apple sticks, toilet paper rolls stuffed with hay, and wooden blocks are also excellent to use as toys.
The guinea pig’s diet is one of a herbivore and fairly basic. Herbivores only eat plants.
They eat lots of veggies, fruits and grass. They also need unlimited hay. Since their teeth never stop growing, the hay helps to keep their teeth trimmed down. Be sure to cut up the vegetables into bite size pieces for small mouths!
Also, guinea pigs don’t produce their own Vitamin C. So, they need to be fed veggies and fruits that are filled with Vitamin C (like bell peppers, kiwi, or strawberries). Some times owners end up feeding their piggies a supplement as an additional source of Vitamin C.
The fact that guinea pigs need to eat fresh veggies and fresh hay all the time can really increase your food bills overtime. So, make sure you take that into consideration.
Hamsters are omnivores. That means they eat plants and animals – just like us.
The fact that they need to eat fresh veggies and fresh hay all the time can really increase your food bills big time. So, make sure you take that into consideration.
Hamsters don’t need fresh food like their guinea pig cousin. Instead, it is healthier for them to have it changed every other day as this is sufficient to supplement their diet with balanced nutrition.
Hamsters are omnivores, so in the wild they would eat plants and insects alongside seed, grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Hamsters should be given a small portion of fresh fruit, vegetables or protein every other day.
Feeding time for a hamster is one tablespoon of commercial food and seed mix each day in the morning or evening. A 75% lab block to 25% seed mix ratio should make up the bulk of their diet.
As we have determined guinea pigs are the more sociable of the two so perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise they are more expressive than their cousin counterpart.
Here are some of the noises you might hear from your guinea pig:
- ‘Wheek’: This is often a signal of their happiness or a demand for more food!
- Purring: Depending on its tone, this purr can mean different things. If it is deep and relaxed it signifies the guinea pig is satisfied. If it is higher pitched, it suggests fear or annoyance.
- Chirping: This is an unusual sound and is similar to a chirping bird. It is currently unknown why a guinea pig may make this noise but could be linked to when their cage mat dies.
Here are some common sounds you might hear from your hamster:
- Squeaking and squealing: This is usually an alert noise perhaps made when first being handled by a new human or if they are handled too roughly.
- Screaming: This is an expression of fear.
- Hissing: This is an expression of anger. Hamsters can be vicious and this noise is a warning that they are angry and it could follow with a bite!
No matter which pet you choose, you need to spend some time getting to know the meaning of the sounds that your furry, little friend makes.
Another major difference is the life expectancy is an essential factor to consider when deciding whether you should get a hamster or guinea pig. Guinea pigs have average lifespan of 5-8 years. They are known to live upwards into the double digits.
With an average lifespan of 2-3 years, the life span of hamsters is shorter than the guinea pig. Their age is very much dependent upon diet, living environment, quality of care, species, genetics, exercise and handling. They are more sensitive than the guinea pig, so sudden deaths can be common.
As you can tell there is a substantial difference in life span so keep this in mind. A guinea pig is more of an investment and a long-term commitment.
Final Verdict: Which Should You Buy?
If you’re looking for a low maintenance pet that’s relatively easy to take care of, then a hamster is a good option. Plus, taking care of them is a little less expensive, because of their diet and lesser space needs.
On the other hand, guinea pigs require a little more time and attention than hamsters do. And they take up more space.
But pet owners often say that their docile temperament often makes it worth the extra effort.
At the end of the day, you need to consider how much time and commitment you want to make to your furry friend. Then, you can find the pet that works best for you.
Things To Remember Before Making Your Decision
Whether it’s for yourself or someone else as a gift, the process can be daunting- especially if this is something that has never been done before.
It all boils down to one thing- you need to decide what type of pet will suit your lifestyle best as well as your ability to provide the care that your pet needs.
Know what you’re getting into before making any big decisions.
This is the most important thing to consider when deciding which type of pet will suit your family best, and ensure that you’re making an informed choice about how much it’s going to cost in time, money, and energy for general care.
Also, you don’t want to buy anything without knowing exactly what kind of experience you’ll be having or be put in a situation where you have to rehome a pet after finding out that it doesn’t work well for you.
So, think carefully about what you really want from a pet, and then look at both types of pets to see which one fits better.
It may seem like a lot now but once you have all these factors figured out it’ll be easy! Which do you think would work well with your lifestyle?
Let me know in the comments below.