Guinea Pigs and Hamsters are both known to make great pets. They are both small, furry and cute rodents that fill the homes and hearts of many a family. They make an ideal first pets for kids learning how to take responsibility and care of another living thing. There are also many of these animals that live in the wild, across a range of different locations around the globe.
Both of these popular pets have different personalities, needs and behaviours. In this guide we are looking at the ins and outs of the Guinea Pig vs Hamster. What are the habitats, behaviours and lifespans of each? And what are the similarities and differences? Let’s take a look.
Guinea Pig Vs Hamster – Taxonomies
- Order: Rodentia
- Family: Cavildae
- Genus: Cavia
- Species: Cavia porcellus
There is only one species of Guinea Pig. Historically the species has had a series of scientific names, but all referred to the same species Cavia porcellus which is the accepted binominal name.
- Order: Rodentia
- Family: Cricetidae
- Subfamily: Cricetinae
- Genus: Mesocricetus, Phodopus, Cricetus, Cricetulus, Allocricetulus, Cansumys, Tscherskia
- Species: There are 19 species of Hamster in total, across the 7 genera.
Of all the species of hamster, most domestic breeds come from the Syrian Hamster and the Dwarf Hamster.
Guinea Pig Vs Hamster – Appearance
One major difference between guinea pigs and hamsters is their fur. Despite both of them being adorable little fur balls, guinea pigs typically have short, smooth fur, while hamsters can have long or short, coarse fur. Hamsters also tend to have more hair on their face than guinea pigs.
While a guinea pig does have several tail bones around their rump, they don’t actually have anything beyond a stump and in most cases not even that.
They do have similar teeth, in terms of the layout and type, but the guinea pig’s are obviously bigger.
There are also some differences in the way guinea pigs and hamsters move. Guinea pigs tend to stay on all fours, while hamsters are known to sit up on their hind legs, to hold food and store it in their cheeks.
Guinea Pig Vs Hamster – Size
The size difference between guinea pigs and hamsters is probably the most noticeable difference. Guinea pigs are typically larger than hamsters, with a body length of around 12 inches (30 cm) and a weight up to around 2 pounds (0.9 kg). Hamsters, on the other hand, usually have a body length of around 3-6 inches (7.5-15 cm) and a weight of around 0.5-1 pound (0.2-0.5 kg).
As they have less access and availability to food and water compared to domestic hamsters, wild ones are usually smaller than those that live in captivity.
Where Do Guinea Pigs And Hamsters Live?
In the wild, guinea pigs and hamsters both live in different parts of the world. Guinea pigs are found mainly in Central and South America, and originated from the Andes Mountains region. While hamsters are found mainly in Africa, Europe, and Asia.
In South America, guinea pigs are hunted, much like rabbits, for meat and fur and this practice dates back centuries. As they originate from the mountainous Andes region, they are a hardy species, and adaptable to a variety of climates.
Hamsters are particularly common in the wild in Syria and China, but can also be found in the wild throughout Belgium and Greece. They tend to spend most of their time underground in their burrows, in some cases exiting for only up to an hour in a day.
Hamsters are not native to any area of the Americas, and were only introduced as a captive species for use in science and as a domestic pet in the early 20th Century.
Both animals are widely domesticated around the world. Guinea pigs were first domesticated around 500 years ago, but still live wild in their native land.
Guinea Pig Vs Hamster – Habitat & Behaviour
In the wild, guinea pigs live in mountainous regions with harsh climate. Hamsters are known to live in more temperate regions in Europe, but also arid, dry desert areas around the Middle East. They tend to spend most of their time underground in their burrows, in some cases exiting for only up to an hour in a day.
Guinea pigs and hamsters both make vocalizations, but they do so for different reasons. Guinea pigs usually vocalize when they are scared or in pain, while hamsters usually vocalize when they are excited or happy.
Unlike Guinea Pigs, the Hamster is an unsociable animal and different species have to be kept single as pets, putting one hamster with another hamster would cause fights in which one or both could be harmed. The Syrian hamster, which is the most common type kept as a pet, is a prime example of this but there are exceptions. Two exceptions would be the Russian Hamster and the Dwarf Hamster that both like the company of their own kind. It is however, still a good idea to keep males and females separated.
Guinea pigs are very sociable, they get on well with others and do like to be handled by their owners, but with care. In the wild, they are known to live in groups of between 3 and 10.
What Do Guinea Pigs And Hamsters Eat?
Guinea pigs and hamsters have different diets, but there are some similarities. Hamsters are omnivores while guinea pigs are herbivores. Both animals typically eat fruits, vegetables, and hay. Guinea pigs also need a source of vitamin C, which they can get from fresh fruits and vegetables or from a supplement.
Hamsters typically do not need a vitamin C supplement, but they do need a source of protein. In the wild they can get from insects and small lizards, but in captivity they can get this from specially made hamster food.
Lifespan Of A Guinea Pig Vs Hamster
There is a big difference between how long a guinea pig and a hamster can live. If you are buying a pet for a young child you may wish to take this into account. Guinea pigs typically have a lifespan of around 5-8 years, while hamsters typically have a lifespan of around 2-3 years. However, both animals can live longer if they are kept in captivity and have access to good care, but even then, in most cases this is the life expectancy.
While hamsters do make great first pets for children, if they are sensitive to pets dying you may wish to spare them the regular burials of those with a short lifespan and choose the option that is likely to live longer.
Guinea Pig Vs Hamster – Predators & Threats
Guinea pigs and hamsters have some similar, and also some different predators. Guinea pigs are preyed on by larger animals, such as dogs, coyotes, wolves, owls, cats, and foxes. Hamsters, on the other hand, are preyed upon by a variety of predators including cats, dogs, kites, buzzards, red foxes, ferrets and badgers.
In captivity, hamsters also need to be aware of domestic cats and dogs that share the same home. There are few things worse than hearing your child cry as they see their cat eating their hamster so any would be hamster owners, please keep that in mind!
Guinea pigs also need to be aware of other domestic pets, but are less likely to be attacked by cats of a similar size.
Diseases and competitive combat are also something to watch out for with hamsters. They should be kept alone with the exception of mating. Even then, one mating is concluded they should be separated again.
Which Makes A Better Pet?
Both guinea pigs and hamsters can make good pets, but there are some things to consider when deciding which one is right for you.
Guinea pigs are better pets for people who want a calm and friendly animal that doesn’t need a lot of attention. Guinea pigs are also easier to care for than hamsters, since they don’t require as much exercise and have a diet that is easy to follow.
Hamsters, on the other hand, are better pets for people who want a less active animal that can be entertaining to watch, but is more active at night than through the day. Hamsters also require less space than guinea pigs, making them a good choice for people who live in small apartments.
Tips for Keeping a Guinea Pig Or Hamster
If you are thinking about getting a guinea pig or hamster, there are a few things you need to know before you bring your new pet home. Here are some tips for keeping your pet healthy and happy:
- Make sure your guinea pig or hamster has a good place to sleep. A small hutch or cage with a bedding of straw or wood shavings is ideal.
- Provide your pet with plenty of food and water. Guinea pigs should have a diet that consists mainly of hay, fresh vegetables, and fruit. Hamster eat a diet of mainly seeds, fruits, vegetables and grains.
- Ensure that your guinea pig or hamster has plenty of exercise. A safe place to run and play is essential.
- Clean your pet’s cage regularly and change the bedding often. Guinea pigs can be messy eaters and will foul their bedding if it is not changed regularly.
- Take your guinea pig to the vet for vaccinations against both common and rare diseases. Check either per for abnormalities regularly.