What’s The Difference Between Guinea Pigs And Hamsters?

Here’s what to know about guinea pigs and hamsters 🧐

guinea pig and hamster with question marks

If you’re not familiar with guinea pigs or hamsters, you might assume they’re pretty much the same — but they’re actually different in six key ways.

The Dodo spoke to Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian with Hepper, to find out the main differences between guinea pigs and hamsters and what factors a pet parent should consider before adopting one for themselves or their child.

Guinea pig vs. hamster: What’s the difference?

Guinea pigs and hamsters are related, both being part of the Rodentia order, meaning they’re rodents, but they’re part of different families. Guinea pigs are part of the Caviidae family, like wild cavies and capybaras, while hamsters are part of the Cricetidae family.

There are other differences between them, too. Here are the six main differences and things you should take into consideration if you’re deciding which pet is right for you.

1. Size

An easy way to tell guinea pigs and hamsters apart is by looking at them. Guinea pigs are much bigger than hamsters — around three times bigger, Dr. Bonk told The Dodo.

Since they’re so much bigger, guinea pigs need more living space, which is something you’ll need to take into account, especially if you’re interested in guinea pigs because of their small size.

2. Lifespan

Guinea pigs live longer than hamsters, so they’re generally a bigger commitment. Guinea pigs typically can live to be between 5 and 7 years old, but they can get up into the double digits in some cases. Hamsters usually only get to be around 2 to 3 years old.

3. Sociability

Guinea pigs and hamsters have very different personalities.

If you want a more social pet, you should go with a guinea pig. Most guinea pigs will enjoy cuddling once they get comfortable around you.

“Guinea pigs tend to like to play a little more than hamsters and interact more with humans,” Dr. Bonk said.

In fact, guinea pigs are so social that it’s usually recommended to get more than one because they do better when they have a friend. (And if you don’t get more than one, you should try to spend extra time with your guinea pig.)

“Guinea pigs also do better in pairs, while hamsters prefer to be alone,” Dr. Bonk said. “This just adds to the space that you’ll need to house two guinea pigs versus one hamster.”

Hamsters tend to be more solitary because they can be territorial towards other hamsters. They’re also more shy around humans than guinea pigs are, which means your hamster might not warm up to you right away. But many hamsters can learn to enjoy being held and petted if you take the time to let your hamster get comfortable.

“You’ll also want to look at the amount of time that you’ll have to spend with them, as hamsters may take a longer adjustment period to bond with you,” Dr. Bonk said. “Of course, this will depend on each individual animal. Some may warm up to people sooner than others.”

4. Sleeping patterns

Hamsters and guinea pigs also have different sleeping patterns.

Hamsters are nocturnal, so they won’t be up much during the day, and you might get woken up by your hamster rustling around in his cage at night.

“This may be disturbing for their owners and will also mean they won’t be as willing to play during the day,” Dr. Bonk said.

Guinea pigs are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk — so you could get woken up by your guinea pig, too. But guinea pigs typically only take naps and are awake for most of the day.

5. Noise

Hamsters can make a good amount of noise running around their cages or on hamster wheels, but they’re not as loud as guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs tend to be pretty loud, since they make lots of squeaking noises that seem to be way too loud to be coming from such a small animal (wheeking, in particular, which is a loud squeaking sound guinea pigs make when they’re excited or trying to get your attention).

6. Habitats

Guinea pigs are bigger than hamsters, so they require a much larger living space. Plus, since guinea pigs prefer to have a friend, you’ll need an even bigger cage to house two (or more) of them.

“When choosing between a guinea pig or hamster, space will be a huge consideration,” Dr. Bonk said.

Guinea pigs don’t jump or climb, so they need floor space to run around and get exercise, and you might actually be surprised to find out how much room a guinea pig should ideally have. According to The Humane Society, the minimum size of a cage for two guinea pigs should be 7.5 square feet.

Try this guinea pig cage from Chewy for $72.99

A hamster cage can be much smaller, usually around 2 square feet.

Try this hamster cage from Amazon for $133

Should I get a hamster or a guinea pig for my kid?

Both guinea pigs and hamsters can be great pets for kids, but guinea pigs might be a better option for younger children because they’re super social and friendly once they get used to their environment. As long as you teach your child to hold them properly, guinea pigs love to cuddle, and they can be fun for kids to play with since they enjoy roaming around. (If your guinea pig’s OK with it, you can even get costumes just for guinea pigs.)

If you want to get a hamster, you might want to wait until your child’s slightly older. Hamsters are tiny, making them harder to handle and easier to lose if they escape. They’re also nocturnal, so they’re not as likely to be awake during the day to play. And since hamsters can be more skittish than guinea pigs, your child will need to be patient and extra gentle with him.

Remember to always supervise your child when they’re playing with their pet. And be prepared to spend a lot of time taking care of the pet — like cleaning the cage and feeding him — since your kid probably won’t be able to do that on their own.

So now that you know the difference between guinea pigs and hamsters, you’ll be able to pick out the perfect pet for you.

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