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Guinea Pig Vs. Hamster: 10 Key Differences Between The Two

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Tim Rhodes

Guinea pig vs hamster – are the two animals similar?

Most people who don’t own a pet hamster or a guinea pig think that guinea pigs and hamsters are the same.

Both are popular pets.

However, if you’re thinking about having either of them as a pet you should know that they differ in several characteristics.

10 Key Differences Between a Guinea Pig and a Hamster

In this article, we’ll highlight 10 key distinguishing attributes of hamsters and guinea pigs.

This may help you decide whether to adopt a hamster or guinea pig.

Let’s get started.

1. What Is The General Difference of a Hamster vs Guinea Pig?

Origin

Both hamsters and guinea pigs belong to the order Rodentia.

In other words, both hamsters and guinea pigs are rodents, but are not closely related and don’t share the same family.

Guinea pigs belong to the Caviidae family and hamsters are members of the Cricetidae family.

Besides, while guinea pigs originate from South America, the first hamsters were seen in Syria.

There are 26 species of hamsters in the wild that live in parts of Europe (Greece, Romania, Belgium) and Asia (northern China) and the Middle East.

Most hamsters kept as pets and laboratory animals are Syrian hamsters, found in Syria.

Size

The first distinguishing feature of a hamster vs guinea pig is the size of these small animals.

Guinea pigs are bigger and heavier compared to hamsters, which is an important aspect when determining how much space you will need for your new pet.

Guinea pig cages are much larger than those you need for a hamster.

While hamsters grow between 5 and 15 cm, guinea pigs reach between 20 and 30 cm in size.

Guinea pigs are generally 2-4 times bigger compared to hamsters.

Weight

While guinea pigs weigh around 1.5 to 2.6 pounds and hamsters only 1 – 10 ounces.

Guinea pigs need more room and more food compared to hamsters.

Life Expectancy

Unlike other animals kept as pets, hamsters and guinea pigs don’t live long.

On average, a guinea pig lives between 5 and 8 years, whereas a hamster usually lives 2 to 3 years.

Besides, guinea pigs live longer if you take proper care of them.

The oldest guinea pig ever was almost 15 years old before it died in 1979.

The life expectancy of these small and adorable pets is important when considering which of these two rodents to adopt.

Appearance

Compared to hamsters, guinea pigs have a more rounded body and they don’t have a tail.

Unlike hamsters that are born blind, guinea pigs can see almost immediately after their birth.

As for the colors, we can see a wide range of colorations in all kinds of species.

2. What is the Difference in Behavior of a Hamster vs Guinea Pig?

Although very distant cousins, hamsters, and guinea pigs share several features.

They differ in many as well.

Both hamsters and guinea pigs have their unique personalities so make sure to get to know your new pet.

Guinea Pig Behavior

As social animals, guinea pigs require company.

Guinea pigs tend to feel lonely and may suffer from depression.

For that reason, you should have more than one guinea pig in a cage.

A guinea pig might be very fond of you, but it needs the company of other guinea pigs as well.

Also, never keep male guinea pigs with female guinea pigs unless you are hoping for a new litter of cute guinea pig babies.

The best option is to have at least two to three female guinea pigs, as they don’t argue as males do when placed together.

Unlike guinea pigs, hamsters are territorial and should not be kept with other hamsters.

Be loving and caring towards your guinea pig so it can show you all the affection it feels for you.

It takes some time for a guinea pig to get comfortable with the environment and the people living in the household, and then you will be able to cuddle with them.

Although guinea pigs need between four and six hours of sleep to stay healthy, they pigs sleep for only seconds to minutes at once, which is why new and inexperienced guinea pig owners feel like guinea pigs never sleep.

However, new pet owners should know that their furry friend sleeps often but in very short intervals.

Although you will need larger cages for your guinea pigs, as they are bigger when compared to hamsters, they are more fragile.

Guinea pigs have weaker spines, so you need to handle them carefully with both hands.

Hamster Behavior

Hamsters usually love to be alone; they are not very social creatures.

However, they can also be loving and affectionate to humans.

Unlike a guinea pig, a hamster might bite you if don’t build trust properly at the beginning.

It’s necessary to interact with hamsters daily to form a relationship with your pet; they are small animals and you can hold them comfortably with one hand.

Another quality that differs hamsters and guinea pigs is that hamsters tend to be more active during the night.

Unlike guinea pigs that are neither nocturnal nor diurnal but crepuscular (most active at dusk and early morning), hamsters are nocturnal creatures.

You need to be careful when introducing a hamster’s habitat to other pets as a hamster can become very aggressive even against other hamsters.

3. How Do Hamsters and Guinea Pigs Vocalize Their Needs?

Guinea pigs and hamsters can vocalize their mood and express their behavior in different ways.

Guinea Pig Vocalization

Usually, a guinea pig will produce three types of sounds: wheek, purr, and chirp.

You can hear a “wheek” when a guinea pig is happy and delighted, maybe when you get home and your pet welcomes you or maybe asks for food.

It’s a common sign of happiness in guinea pigs.

A “purr” coming from a guinea pig can imply satisfaction or annoyance depending on the tone, and it can even mean fear in some cases.

A “chirp” is a sound that doesn’t have an explanation; the reason behind this sound is unknown.

Hamster Vocalization

Hamsters can also express their emotions.

Squawk is some kind of warning.

A hamster might squawk when you are holding it in the wrong way and it’s trying to alert you about it.

Scream is a common sign of fear in hamsters.

A hiss implies aggression; hamsters are aggressive compared to guinea pigs.

4. What Is the Difference in Hamster vs Guinea Pig Diet?

Both hamsters and guinea pigs are great pets.

However, there is a significant difference in guinea pig vs hamster diet as well.

Guinea Pig Diet

Guinea pigs are herbivores and their main dish is hay, grass, and different kinds of fresh vegetables.

You have to keep in mind that they need an unlimited amount of hay and water daily.

As guinea pigs can’t produce vitamin C on their own, you need to include sufficient fresh vegetables and fruits rich in this vitamin.

Both hay and pellets are important to prevent problems with overgrown teeth.

You might even opt for vitamin C supplements made for guinea pigs, or guinea pig pellets enriched with this vitamin.

New pet owners have to learn which fruits and vegetables are safe for guinea pigs, as not all healthy for humans is healthy for guinea pigs.

Feed them a lot of broccoli and spinach and by doing so, you will prevent damage to their health and reduce the risk of scurvy.

Also, unlike hamsters, guinea pigs have an additional source of getting different vitamins and nutrients.

They manage to do it by digesting their fecal matter which is called coprophagy.

Just remember: guinea pigs cannot digest meat, dairy products, and any other type of processed foods.

Hamster Diet

Hamsters are omnivores and eat plants, worms, and insects.

You can feed your hamster with commercial hamster pellets that you can buy in pet shops, small amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, or herbs.

Likewise, your hamster can eat timothy hay and get some treats such as nuts or mealworms.

Hamsters obtain every necessary vitamin through their diet and don’t require any extra ingredients.

The general recommendation is to feed hamsters 10 grams of food a day and it should include at least 5% fat and 16% protein.

One interesting fact about hamsters is that they have pouches in the cheeks which they use to store some food for later.

5. What Are the Common Health Issues in Hamsters and Guinea Pigs?

Needless to say, every home pet requires proper health care to prevent health problems.

Both hamsters and guinea pigs need your care and attention.

Guinea Pig Health

It is not hard to take care of a guinea pig.

These small animals are quite sturdy, so if you take care of their diet, which should be balanced and varied, you shouldn’t have any problems with your pet.

However, an unbalanced diet can create digestion problems, which can complicate the situation and cause many other issues.

Both bloating and diarrhea you cannot explain are signs that something is wrong, so take your pet to the vet immediately.

Besides, to make sure your pet stays healthy, keep its habitat clean.

Hamster Health

On the other hand, hamsters may develop some serious diseases.

The most common condition is called a “wet tail.”

The symptoms include wetness on the anal and tail areas and watery diarrhea.

They can also lose appetite and develop infections as well.

This is the most serious illness of hamsters which you should treat quickly or else it may be fatal.

Another minor health problem in hamsters is skin conditions.

Also, they can host parasitic insects.

The usual life span of a hamster is 2-3 years.

6. What is the Difference between Hamster vs Guinea Pig Cages?

Make sure to decide whether you prefer a hamster or guinea pig before you decide to buy a cage.

Both small animals kept as pets live indoors, so the space in which they spend their life makes a major difference to their wellbeing.

A hamster doesn’t need as much room as a guinea pig, but it surely needs more toys.

Although guinea pigs cannot climb well, they can jump, especially when they are young.

Yet, although your hamster pet will need less space, it is more agile compared to a guinea pig.

Guinea Pig Cages

A guinea pig needs 7.5-10.5 square feet of living space.

These small animals need spacious enclosures and a much bigger cage compared to hamsters.

They need to feel comfortable and enjoy some personal space.

Your guinea pig pet has short legs and it cannot jump well or climb steep objects.

Nonetheless, guinea pigs require space and a hiding place to feel comfortable.

However, the majority of pet store cages are small and don’t meet the minimum requirements.

Therefore, a cage bought at a pet store can only be suitable for baby guinea pigs for the first few weeks, but you should expand the habitat as they grow.

For a start, check out some of the cages for small spaces.

Hamster Cages

As we have already mentioned, hamsters are not very social creatures.

They enjoy solitude, so hamster cages are not a big problem regardless of the size of your home.

The habitat of a hamster can be a minimum of 2-3 square feet.

Although they don’t need a lot of space, especially compared to other animals, studies have shown that they are much happier and live the longest in bigger cages.

Yet, both small pets need bedding to stay comfortable and healthy.

7. What is the Difference in Physical Abilities: Hamster vs Guinea Pig?

Hamsters and guinea pigs differ physically as well.

Climbing

Guinea pigs are not good climbers.

Some people might get confused by this, but this is true!

They don’t use their paws to climb and pull themselves up.

Instead, they are good at jumping.

On the other hand, hamsters are quite enthusiastic about climbing and they love to scale up the bars in the cage.

Running

It’s physically impossible for a guinea pig to run on a wheel and extremely harmful to the health of this small animal.

Unlike guinea pigs, hamsters love to have fun on an exercise wheel, so make sure to install one in their cages.

Their body structure does not allow them this comfort and it can cause permanent damage to it.

However, hamsters are very good runners and their small body gives them the possibility to run all day happily.

Exercise Balls

One more warning for guinea pigs is not to use exercise balls!

It requires backward arching of the spine and their body is not built for this.

Hamsters and other small animals have no problem doing it but we strictly advise not to use it for guinea pigs.

8. How to Care Daily for Hamsters and Guinea Pigs?

Daily Care of Guinea Pigs

As guinea pigs eat a lot more food, cleaning their cage takes more time.

You need to clean their cage at least twice a day from their leftovers.

Also, you need to interact and play with them every day as they are extremely affectionate animals.

Daily Care of Hamsters

A similar routine applies for hamsters as well with some small additions.

We have already noted that hamsters are relatively aggressive so you need to interact with them carefully every day to get accustomed to them.

Unlike the guinea pigs, it’s not necessary to provide fresh food every day for hamsters but we still recommend doing it to balance their diet.

Additionally, experts suggest releasing hamsters from the cage at least once a week to give them more space.

9. Are Guinea Pigs and Hamsters Good Pets for Children?

Which pet is the right pet for a child, depends on your child’s age.

Hamsters are a convenient choice for children despite their age because of several reasons.

This small pet is cute and lively, which is attractive to children and they enjoy playing with hamsters.

However, a hamster is a nocturnal animal, which means that hamsters are not the best option for small children and any night person.

Therefore, they can be relatively hard to manage and keep up entertaining.

On the other hand, guinea pigs are much easier to handle despite their big size.

They don’t run around as much as hamsters do, so your child will have a more fun time playing with them.

Yet, remember that a guinea pig is much more fragile compared to a hamster, so handling them requires gentleness.

10. What is the Difference in the Cost of Keeping Hamsters and Guinea Pigs?

Guinea pigs cost between 20 to 40$, while hamsters cost between 10 and 20$.

The cost of the cage and the cage size can be a bigger issue.

As guinea pigs are larger, their cages are more expensive as well.

On the other hand, guinea pigs don’t need as many toys and accessories as hamsters do.

Yet, feeding these two small pets costs almost the same.

Another component you should take into mind is the costs of vet care.

Generally, guinea pigs are more frequent visitors of vets compared to hamsters.

Most guinea pig owners take their pets for an annual wellness exam.

Hamsters don’t require these kinds of exams.

In conclusion, guinea pigs are more expensive to keep.

Final Thoughts

Both guinea pigs and hamsters are suitable for young and old new pet owners.

These pets are easy to care for compared to many other pets such as cats and dogs.

With your help, very young children can learn to love and care for other animals as well, which is crucial for their wellbeing and proper development.

Regardless of whether you opt for a guinea pig or hamster, which should depend on your personal preference, you will have the best pet!

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