Hamsters vs Guinea Pigs – What’s The Difference?

The animal kingdom includes a lot of species that closely resemble each other. Pocket pets are one example of species that look almost similar, and most people assume they have the same care needs.

Even so, there are a lot of differences between them, and you might be stuck with the wrong pocket pet if you do not take time to consider your choice. Hamsters, gerbils, mice and guinea pigs are the most common pocket pets currently.

Most people will erroneously settle for guinea pigs even when they want hamsters believing one is as good as the other. Though both are rodents, guinea pigs are scientifically called Cavia Porcellus.

They are domesticated animals renowned for their relation to the South American rodents belonging to the Caviidae family. On the other hand, hamsters are scientifically known as Cricetus Cricetus. They belong to the Cricetidae family.

Below are other facts that will boost your understanding of various elements that set the guinea pig and hamster apart.

Physical Differences

Both guinea pigs and hamsters are chubby and cute. They also have petal ears and round, expressive eyes. The guinea pigs nonetheless have no tails while hamsters have short stubby tails that look like part of their bodies.

Moreover, hamsters have cheek pouches that make their faces look almost double-sized when they store food in them. On the other hand, guinea pigs do not hoard food.

Guinea pigs have four feet, while hamsters have two feet and two hands. Whereas guinea pigs will stand on all four feet and do not use their hind paws to hold things, hamsters sit on their hind legs while using the hands to hold items.

Size Differences

The most obvious physical difference between a hamster and a guinea pig is the size. The Syrian hamster is the biggest one and attains adult lengths of 6-7 inches.

The Campbell hamster that grows to about three inches is the smallest one. Guinea pigs grow to lengths of 8-9 inches, but a few Peruvian guinea pigs have grown to lengths of 20 inches.

Syrian hamsters weigh 5-7 ounces on average while species like the Roborovski, Campbell’s, Siberian and Chinese hamsters weigh 1-2.5 ounces. Depending on the type of breed, guinea pigs weigh 1.5-2.6 pounds.

If you prefer a pet that is the size of a kitten, then a guinea pig might be your ideal choice. Size is one of the primary reasons for the higher cost of caring for a guinea pig compared to a hamster.

Color Differences

There are about thirteen guinea pig breeds. Unlike their somewhat homogenous sizes, the breeds have diverse colors for their coats. The coats are primarily classified into four including solid, self, agouti and marked.

Marked guinea pigs have coats that are predominantly white with distinctive markings. The common colors for agouti coats are golden brown, buff, black, dark brown and red.

The self variety of guinea coat colors include chocolate, cream, lilac, red, white and red-eyed orange with no patterns or markings. Solid-colored guinea pigs have the same colors as the self variety. They, however, have random markings, unlike the latter.

Due to crossbreeding in captivity, there are now several color options for hamsters. The Syrian hamster is now available in lilac, chocolate cream, black, beige, brown, blonde, tan, white, golden and grey.

The winter white hamster comes in pearl, sapphire and grey varieties while the Campbell’s hamster is black, white, opal or fawn. Roborovskis are only available in their natural light brown color.

Behavior Differences

Guinea pigs are very loving and social animals that will rarely bite owing to their mild-mannered, gentle nature. You can start cuddling your guinea pig as soon as it becomes accustomed to its surroundings and is comfortable being around humans.

The animal should be handled carefully with one hand supporting its belly and the other on its bottom because of its weak spine and huge size. Because guinea pigs are neither strictly nocturnal nor diurnal, you can train them to mirror your household’s sleep routine.

The animals are also expressive, and you will find yourself smiling as you spend more time with them.

On the other hand, hamsters are quieter and more solitary than guinea pigs. Though they are affectionate to humans, they can bite when aggrieved or startled. Care is essential when handling them since their small bodies make them prone to dropping more so when being held by kids.

Dropped hamsters will be quite angry and might reject all manner of human interaction henceforth. Hamsters are crepuscular and thus most active at night or in the evenings.

Diet Differences

The diet of hamsters and guinea pigs in captivity is primarily pelleted feeds. Even so, hamsters are omnivores and will thus need their diets supplemented with vegetables and meat. On the other hand, guinea pigs are herbivores whose supplemented feeds will be only plants.

Though feeding your guinea pig sounds easy and inexpensive, you should be careful to include a variety of plants in its diet to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Guinea pigs are also coprophages that feed on caecotropes. This is fecal matter with a high content of vitamins and nutrients. In general, guinea pigs will eat more food than hamsters.

Care Differences

Owing to their sizes, guinea pigs will need more living space than hamsters. The minimum cage size for a guinea pig is 30×36 inches with a height of 12-14 inches or 7.5 square feet.

If you choose to keep more than two guinea pigs, get a cage that is at least 8-10 square feet. The minimum cage size for hamsters is 40×20 inches with a height of at least 20 inches.

The increased height in a hamster’s cage despite its small size is to cater to the animal’s climbing tendencies. A short cage might contribute to the animal’s escape.

A guinea pig’s cage should be spot cleaned once or twice daily. The animal thrives on human interaction. It, therefore, would be best to spend time with your guinea pig and talk or play with it.

You need not clean a hamster’s cage as frequently as a guinea pig’s because the hamster is not as messy as the latter. The hamster will need daily human interaction to keep it tamed.

While hamsters need an exercise wheel and exercise balls in their cages to keep them stimulated, guinea pigs do not need them.

Breeding Differences

Hamsters produce offspring called pups. These are born without hair or sight. Female hamsters will give birth to about 6-12 pups per litter, but they can be up to 20. Female hamsters take care of their pups for three weeks.

The hamsters reach sexual maturity at 4-6 weeks.  The offspring of guinea pigs are called piglets. Female guinea pigs get 2-4 piglets per litter, but they can get as many as eight. The animals attain sexual maturity at three months of age.

Lifespan Differences

It is not easy losing your furry friend irrespective of how long you will spend with it. As such, the lifespan of your pet is an essential consideration when getting one.

In captivity, guinea pigs live for 5-8 years, while the average life expectancy for hamsters is 1-3 years.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, the differences covered in the above article have enlightened you on the pros and cons of owning a hamster or guinea pig. For instance, guinea pigs can peacefully live with other animals and can live either indoors or outdoors.

However, they can be messy, and some people are allergic to their fur. On the other hand, hamsters are not so messy and have fewer care needs than guinea pigs. Even so, they should only be kept indoors and are carriers of a few zoonotic diseases.

At the end of the day, your choice between a hamster and guinea pig depends on your preferences, environment, time as well as the available resources.

avatar Jane
Jane is an experienced animal care specialist with a focus on rodents and small mammals, with over 10 years of experience in the pet industry. Her articles provide practical guidance on choosing the right pet and managing common health issues. Jane is an advocate for animal welfare and supports organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife. read more...

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