At some point in life, a time comes when adding a furry family member becomes a possibility. Although there are many pets to choose from, a smaller pet like guinea pigs and hamsters are easier to care for with households jam-packed with extracurricular activities, school and social events.
If you are wondering whether a guinea pig or hamster is best suited for your family, this article will break down the differences between these two small pets.
Guinea Pig vs. Hamster As Pets
Guinea pigs and hamsters are both excellent first-time pets. There are differences between them that would be a determining factor based on your household dynamic. Hamsters are better pets for younger children, while Guinea pigs are better suited to teens and adults and have different needs.
Although they both make great little pets, there are particular needs and care methods for each species that have to be considered. They are both from the family of Rodentia (rodents) but are separate species.
Let us look at the contrasts of both of these furry little pets to help you make the right choice
Guinea Pig vs. Hamster Comparison Factors
Are guinea pigs and hamsters so different that we need to compare the pros and cons?
The reality is that they do require particular care, and attention to thrive. Considering things like the size the animal might grow to, how many hours of interaction a day they need are essential to know before you set off to buy one.
The chart below compares some general characteristics of guinea pigs vs. hamsters:
|SOCIABILITY||More social and can live in groups.||Better on their own.|
|HEALTH||Guinea pigs have stronger immunity.||They can quickly get sick.|
|LONGEVITY||Lives between 4 to 8 years.||Lives between 1 to 3 years.|
|BODY ODOR||Guinea pigs have slight body odor||Hamsters have a strong odor|
|AGGRESSION||Guinea pigs are not aggressive typically unless they are threatened or hurt.||Hamsters can be aggressive and nip for no reason.|
Below we will look at each animal more in-depth, looking at size, eating habits, negative aspects, and general health issues and costs involved.
Size And Weight
Guinea pigs are a larger size small pet and can reach up to 25cm in length and end up weighing around 6.6lb. That’s is around the weight of a small size cat. When they are just born, they are relatively small and are easy to handle.
Hamsters are much smaller rodents. They typically weigh between 5 and 16 ounces and only grow to between 2 to 5 inches. When they are newborn, they are tiny and should not be handled.
Guinea pigs don’t usually live as long as cats or most dogs. Some have been recorded to live up to 14 years of age. More commonly, they reach between 4 and 8 years. Their lifespan is directly related to genetics, habitat, and health.
Hamsters do not have very long lifespans. They range between 2 years for the Roborovski Dwarf hamster and 5 to 6 years for the Syrian Hamsters. The healthier they eat, the better their chances are of living a bit longer.
There are a wide variety of coats available in guinea pigs. From lovely short coats, cowlick coats, ruffled and the magnificent long-haired variants.
The shorter-haired types are typically groomed once per week. The cowlick and longer, silkier-haired types need grooming every day. Guinea pigs don’t need baths often unless they get unexpectantly dirty.
A good brush for the short-haired would be a regular dog grooming brush for medium-length hair, while the long-haired types can be groomed with a pet comb.
Hamsters are serial groomers. They can spend parts of every day just cleaning and grooming themselves. For this reason, you do not need to groom your hamster at all, and they shouldn’t require bathing. Their fur is well maintained and short.
Health And Nutrition
Guinea pigs are pretty healthy for the most part; they do suffer a few common ailments like:
- Running Lice.
- Respiratory Tract Infection.
- Neck Abscesses due to embedded hay in the throat.
- Fungus and
- Pneumonia is accompanied by torticollis which can be fatal.
Regular visits to your vet are an excellent idea to help your guinea pig maintain optimal health. They do not need routine vaccinations but deworming is a good idea. Please consult your vet for more information.
Guinea pigs should follow a strict herbivore diet of approved pellets, guinea pig hay, and a limited amount of fresh vegetables and fruits like carrots, green beans, oranges, and grapefruit. They need reasonable amounts of available Vitamin C, so red peppers and broccoli are great additions.
Foods that guinea pigs should avoid at all costs are iceberg lettuce, garlic, chocolate, mushrooms, avocados, and nuts.
According to MSD Manual, hamsters can suffer from several diseases as follows:
- Blood Clots.
- Congestive heart failure.
- Tyzzer disease caused by C. Pilliforme bacterium.
- Worm infestation, mites, and fungus.
- Pneumonia and
- Sendai virus.
These are a few of the possible ailments that could befall your hamster. Any sign of illness needs to be acted upon immediately. Due to their small size, hamsters can dehydrate and die very fast.
The hamster does not require routine vaccinations but does need to be dewormed. Ideally, visit your vet twice annually for a checkup.
Hamsters have a similar, simple diet to that of the Guinea pig. They need to eat hamster pellets from an approved source, a little bit of fresh fruit, some approved herbs, Timothy hay, nuts, and occasionally boiled egg and mealworms.
Foods that hamsters should avoid at all costs are garlic, almonds, raw potatoes, apple seeds, citrus fruit, rhubarb, chocolate, salt, and raw beans.
Cage Space And Hygiene
According to the Humane Society, there are guidelines set out for Guinea pig housing. Typically, a single guinea pig should have a cage of around 30” x 36”. The more guinea pigs you have, the more space they require.
Guinea pigs do not do well in very confined spaces as they need floor space to move in. They are not climbers or burrowers by nature.
Cleaning a Guinea pig cage is critical; thorough cleaning and disinfecting at least once a week is required. Ensure that clean, fresh bedding is replaced and always check for bugs or mites. Dispose of the soiled bedding and floor covering correctly to prevent mice.
The cage size for a hamster should be a minimum of at least 450 sq. inches big. Certain types of hamsters like the Syrian need ample floor space. Hamsters are climbers and require a lot of climbing and tunnel activities as they would typically burrow.
Hamsters have very pungent smelling urine. Therefore, it is suggested that you clean and disinfect the cage at least twice a week to prevent any disease. Hamsters need more bedding than guinea pigs.
Cost Of Setup
A single guinea pig can cost around $25, but you can expect to pay anything between $20 to $ 40. It is recommended to start with one guinea pig.
A good cage for your guinea pig can cost between $ 50 to $ 300 if you buy it from a store. You can expect to pay considerably less if you decide to build one yourself.
A single hamster can cost you between $25 to $ 40 depending on male or female and the variety you decide to buy.
A good size cage with all the accessories can cost between $125 to $ 400.
Daily Care and Interaction
You should plan and schedule to spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day with your guinea pig to do essential maintenance like grooming, freshwater changes, and filling up food.
Guinea pigs love interactions with their humans, and there is no limit to spending quality time with them. Once they are comfortable with you they enjoy being held and engaged with regularly.
Hamsters can be pretty messy in their cages, scratching out their food and messing the water if it is not in a dripper system. Make sure you check the water and food every day, twice a day.
A tame, single hamster will enjoy the attention and will need more than 15 minutes a day with you. Hamsters are known to fall asleep in your hand or a jacket pocket (don’t forget them in there).
Behaviors and Characteristics
They are highly social, docile, and friendly. They are gentle and rarely nip unless they are in a lot of pain. They can act like prey and hide pain and sickness to avoid being “caught.” They need hiding spaces and will run and hideaway if they feel threatened.
Guinea pigs are vocal and will let you know when they are happy, hungry and content making purring noises. They have a very distinct vocalization, and it is called whistling.
Hamsters are solitary and not very sociable and need a bit of handling to become tame. They are known to be aggressive toward each other, and it is never good to keep males together as they will likely fight.
Avoid keeping males and females in the same space unless you want to breed as they procreate rapidly. Hamsters are nocturnal rodents and will sleep all day. They can be nippy when disturbed or startled.
They also vocalize when excited by squealing when they are very happy or excited and screeching when they are angry. Hamsters are better suited to younger children but not recommended for children under 8 years old.
Which Pet Is Right For You?
To make the best choice for your family, you need to decide the following;
- Who is the primary caregiver going to be?
- How much space do you have?
- What is your initial budget?
- What is your monthly budget for food, bedding, and accessories?
- Where will the cage be situated?
- Does anyone have any allergies?
- Do you have other pets?
DID YOU KNOW? – Hamsters are illegal to own in Hawaii and California? The reason for this is that they are classified as potential pests. In these states, it would be better to consider a guinea pig as a pet.
There are definitely differences between guinea pigs vs. hamsters that you should consider if you are torn between the two pets.
Guinea pigs are more social, less aggressive, require only occasional grooming, and live longer; whereas hamsters live shorter, require no grooming, are less social with other hamsters, but enjoy human interaction, and need more cage space and obstacles.
Answering the questions above, will help you narrow down whether a hamster or guinea pig is best for your lifestyle.