The Difference Between Guinea Pigs and Hamsters.
You can walk into a pet store and find both guinea pigs and hamsters on display. But what are the differences between these two animals? If you’ve never owned either of these pets before you may have no idea what makes them different!
Today we’ll answer the question: are hamsters and guinea pigs the same? And which pet is right for you?
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Are Hamsters and Guinea Pigs the Same?
While both can make great pets, many people don’t realize that guinea pigs and hamsters are completely different animals!
Both guinea pigs and hamsters are rodents. One of the main characteristics of rodents is that they have teeth that are constantly growing. Both guinea pigs and hamsters need things to chew at all times to ensure their teeth are being worn down.
One of the first differences between guinea pigs and hamsters is their size. These animals are often called “pocket pets” because of their smaller size. Guinea pigs are much larger than hamsters and usually grow to be around one pound. Hamsters, on the other hand, are usually around depending on the breed.
Many people think of guinea pigs or hamsters as a great small pet for young children. Be sure to remember that all animals are living creatures and are an adult’s responsibility to take care of. Younger children are not going to understand all the specific care needs the animal has or have the responsibility to take care of the animal every day.
Guinea pigs are not just “large hamsters” and these two pets actually have very different lifestyles and care needs. We’re going to go over some of the main aspects of keeping pet guinea pigs and hamsters in depth.
Basic Guinea Pig and Hamster Behavior
The general behavior of guinea pigs and rabbits are pretty different. The two most important characteristics related to behavior are socialization and lifespan.
Social vs Solitary
One of the biggest differences between a pet hamster and guinea pigs is how social they are.
Guinea pigs are extremely social animals and should always live in at least pairs. They thrive with the company of other guinea pigs and I always, always recommend guinea pigs have a friend if at all possible.
Hamsters, on the other hand, are extremely solitary animals. The majority of hamsters should live alone. Putting more than one hamster together in the same enclosure is not a good idea as it can actually lead to major fighting and injuries between them.
The life expectancy of hamsters and guinea pigs are very different. Hamster live about 2-3 years. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, have an average lifespan of 5-7 years.
Many people are surprised when I tell them how long guinea pigs live because they do think it is very short like hamsters. When you’re considering a new pet, it’s always important to consider your near future plans and whether you are up for the commitment of the pet for it’s entire life.
Nocturnal vs Crepuscular
Hamsters and guinea pigs are most active at completely different times of the day.
Hamsters are actually nocturnal creatures, which means they are going to be sleeping during the day and active at night. Hamsters will bury themselves away to where you won’t see them for the entire day. They’ll pop out and start moving around once the sun goes down or you turn the lights out for the night.
Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are considered crepuscular or diurnal. There are conflicting stances on this, but the important difference here from hamsters is that guinea pigs are much more active during the day than hamsters. Even though hamsters are pretty popular pets, not many people know they are only going to be active at night.
Housing Guinea Pigs vs Hamsters
Housing guinea pigs and hamsters is completely different. However, they do have one thing in common – they both need a lot more space than most people think.
Let’s dive into some of the more specific aspects of housing guinea pigs vs. hamsters.
One of the biggest misconceptions about small pets is that because of their small size, they can be kept in small cages with less space. The minimum requirement for cages sizes for both guinea pigs and rabbits is much larger than a lot of people expect. Hamsters and guinea pigs need much larger cages than most pet stores recommend. Before you bring home a new pet, make sure to think about how much room you have available.
The size requirements between guinea pigs and hamsters are totally different. One, because guinea pigs are much larger than hamsters. But also because hamsters and guinea pigs have very different behaviors.
Guinea pigs are not burrowing animals. They don’t dig, which means the main space they need in their cage is one flat level. Guinea pigs do like to run around and will benefit from enough room to run laps and play. The minimum cage size for two guinea pigs (remember I said they are social creatures and need to live in pairs?) is 7.5 square feet.
READ MORE >> The BEST Cages for Guinea Pigs
Hamsters are major borrowers and they need a very deep layer of bedding in their cage and room for an exercise wheel, in addition to a lot of horizontal space. The minimum cage size needed for both dwarf hamsters and Syrian hamsters is 450 square inches minimum, with 650 square inches preferred. And the cage you get should have a deep enough base to put at least 10 inches of bedding in the bottom.
There are actually some bedding options available that work well for both guinea pigs and hamsters. But as I mentioned before, one of the key differences is that hamsters are burrowers while guinea pigs are not. This has a big impact on what types of bedding can be used with each one.
Guinea pigs need bedding that will keep them comfortable and dry. They have a sensitive respiratory system that can be irritated very easily by a dirty cage or unsafe bedding. There are lot of different options, but in general, you want something that is healthy and comfortable for your pet, as well as easy for you to keep clean. My personal favorite is fleece – although it does require daily spot cleaning.
Check out this post I wrote on the best bedding options for guinea pigs.
Hamsters will need a bedding that will enable them to dig and create tunnels under the surface. Hamsters generally need at least 10 inches of bedding minimum to keep them happy and give them plenty of space to dig their tunnels.
Using a variety of beddings usually works best for hamsters. Whatever you use will need to be safe and healthy for the hamster, while also sturdy enough to hold it’s shape as the hamster digs. This is a great article about bedding options for hamsters.
Even cleaning requirements for cages are different.
Depending on what kind of bedding you use and how messy your guinea pigs are, you will likely have to do a full cage clean once or twice a week, with spot cleaning done every day.
A hamster cage should be spot cleaned on a regular basis as well, but it’s better to only do a full cage clean for a hamster about once a month. It’s much more stressful for them to have their environment changed, so it shouldn’t be completely dumped out and changed very often.
How much cleaning you like to do is a matter of personal preference, but you should consider how much time you want to spend cleaning before you bring your new pet home.
Feeding Guinea Pigs vs Hamsters
The diet requirements of hamsters vs guinea pigs are also totally different.
Guinea pigs need fresh water, veggies, hay, and pellets every single day. They are herbivores and 80-90% of a guinea pig’s diet should be high-quality grass hay like Timothy or orchard grass. They need about 1/8 of a cup of healthy pellets and about 1 cup of a variety of fresh vegetables each day. Fresh veggies are very important because guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C. These are the basic requirements of a guinea pig’s diet and are non-negotiable.
The diet needed for a hamster is quite different. Hamsters of course need a fresh water bottle at all times, and they should also get fresh food sometimes. Hamsters are actually omnivores which means their diets are going to need to be much more varied than guinea pigs to keep them happy and healthy. Because they are much smaller than guinea pigs, hamsters will go through less food.
I am definitely not any type of expert on hamsters, so check out this article if you want to learn more about their diet.
Which Pet is Right For You?
So, you can tell that hamsters and guinea pigs are very different animals. They have specific care needs – and each one is better for a different type of lifestyle. New pet owners should be sure to think about their current routine and how a new animal will fit into it. When thinking about whether a hamster or guinea pig would be the best pet for you, make sure to really consider the necessities of each pet. How often do you want to be cleaning cages? How much can you spend on bedding? Do you have plans in the next 5-10 years that will affect whether you can have a pet?
Taking on a pet is not something to be done on impulse as you will be fully responsible for that pet for its entire life. And you of course want to give it the best life possible!
Final Thoughts on Hamsters vs Guinea pigs
While this is not a complete list of the differences between guinea pigs and hamsters, it is a great starting point for deciding which pet is right for you. I don’t share much about hamsters here at The Tiny Herd, but if you’re interested in learning more about guinea pig care be sure to check out the links below!
Learn More About Guinea Pigs:
- Guinea Pig Beginner’s Guide
- How to Feed Guinea Pig Veggies
- The Importance of Hay for Guinea Pigs
- The Best Cages for Guinea Pigs