What is the difference between a guinea pig and a hamster?

What is the difference between a guinea pig and a hamster?

When it comes to choosing a family pet, most people start off with either a hamster or a guinea pig, as both are small animals that are relatively easy to look after. However guinea pigs and hamsters have some fundamental differences, which should help you decide which pet is right for you!

The guinea pig is larger, longer and heavier than the hamster, which is the vital physical difference between the two animals. A guinea pig prefers to go around on all fours, but a hamster will use its front paws to hold food. Guinea pigs are also herbivores, while hamsters are omnivores.

While these two creatures could be confusing, we have prepared an in-depth comparison of guinea pigs vs hamsters to help make things simpler.

Read on to find more details about the main differences between guinea pigs and hamsters.

Are guinea pigs and hamsters related?

Many people confuse guinea pigs with hamsters, despite the fact that both may make excellent pets. In fact some people often mistake guinea pigs for larger versions of hamsters!

Guinea pigs and hamsters are both rodents, which in theory does make them related.

Guinea pigs, however, are domesticated animals that belong to the Cavia genus, whereas Hamsters belong to the Cricetidae family and include around 25 species.

Likewise, Guinea Pigs originate from South America, whilst Hamsters come from Asia and Europe.

One thing the two do share in common, however, is constant tooth development. Thus, both guinea pigs and hamsters need access to toys or other items to chew to keep their teeth worn down.

At a glance: The guinea pig

Appearance

Guinea Pigs have a stocky build, short limbs, a big head and beady eyes, and have a pair of comparatively small ears like other cavies.

Short, sharp claws replace hair on the soles of the feet. The front feet of a guinea pig have four toes, whereas the back feet have only three.

Many types of domesticated guinea pigs are sometimes categorized according to their coat texture and hair length.

Characteristics

Compared to other animals, domestic guinea pigs are on the larger side. They can weigh between 500 and 1,500 g which is 1 to 3 lb, and have a body length of between 20 and 40 cm or 8 to 16 inches.

The tail of a guinea pig is concealed from view. The fur may be short and silky, coarse and long, or somewhere in-between. Guinea pigs also have a crest of long hairs at the neck.

Life expectancy

Although guinea pigs typically live for five to eight years, some of the most well-cared-for examples can live to double digits of ten years or more.

Compared to other small mammal pets like mice, rats, and hamsters, a guinea pig is a little longer, albeit still much shorter, than cats and dogs.

At a glance: The hamster

Appearance

Pet hamsters are a popular species of a hamster because of their tiny size and ease of care. Their short legs, tails, and small ears set them apart from other rodents.

Hamsters have various hues. These include black, brown, white, grey, red, and yellow.

Characteristics

A hamster’s cheek pouches are used for storage and transfer of food. They have four toes on each front foot and five on each back, but no hair on their feet.

A hamster’s incisors, or front teeth, are massive and chisel-shaped, and they continue to develop throughout the animal’s life.

Life expectancy

Unlike guinea pigs, hamsters only live for roughly two to three years. It is commonly accepted that captive-bred hamsters have a shorter lifespan than their wild counterparts.

In addition, the breed, upbringing of a hamster, and genetics all play a role in determining how long the hamster will live.

Guinea pigs vs hamsters

In the great hamster vs guinea pig debate, it is important that we look at all aspects of these animals from their living space to their sleeping patterns, in order to understand their key differences.

What are the similarities and differences of guinea pigs and hamsters?

Even though they look different, guinea pigs and hamsters are both rodents. They share the same phylum, but come from separate families.

Sleeping patterns

Both guinea pigs and hamsters are more active at night, being nocturnal in the Caviidae family.

For the most part, hamsters are nocturnal, meaning they are generally awake at night.

As many hamster owners will attest, the squeaking wheel on the cage often gets started at about 1 a.m!

On the other hand, guinea pigs are also nocturnal. Guinea pigs tend to sleep whenever it feels tired during the day. Instead of getting a full night’s rest daily, guinea pigs nap whenever needed.

However, nighttime sleep is more common for them.

Social needs

Social requirements for hamsters and guinea pigs are very different. Guinea pigs form social communities of three to ten members in the wild.

Due to their evolutionary history, they are very social creatures and will suffer from depression and anxiety if they are denied it.

For guinea pigs, loneliness can be fatal, and studies have shown that prolonged separation can cause them to die.

Guinea pig owners should have a minimum of two pigs at any time. Keeping a single pet can be viable if you are willing and able to take over socializing duties.

Hamsters prefer to spend their time alone. At least that is the case with Syrian hamsters, and as such you should only ever keep one hamster in a cage.

Aggression is common among housed hamsters, primarily when two males are confined.

Other hamster species such as Dwarf hamsters can be kept in pairs, providing they have a big enough hamster cage.

To find out why hamsters fight, read our blog!

Diet

The feeding requirements of a guinea pig and hamster are arguably the most crucial distinction between the two species.

Hamsters are omnivorous and could eat pretty much everything they can find. They notoriously store food in their cheeks for later, making their adorable features bloat up, almost doubling their size.

If you would like to know more about what to feed your hamster then see our informative guide to 5 of the best pre-bought hamster foods.

Unlike hamsters, guinea pigs are vegetarian. In the wild, they take plant roots, and fruits. A guinea pig will also take high-fiber grasses as its food.

Space

Since hamsters need to keep their small bodies at a constant temperature, they should always be housed in a cage size that allows them to run around and dig.

Although hamsters tend not to require loads of space because of their small size they do like to run and play so a bigger cage is always better.

For information, check out our reviews on the best Syrian hamster cage and best Dwarf hamster cages.

However, guinea pigs, which are not only larger than hamsters but also prefer to live in social groupings, necessitate a more spacious hutch in addition to a run.

While some guinea pigs are housed indoors year-round, the best way for kids to bond with their pets is in a specially designed outdoor guinea pig run.

Is it easier to take care of a hamster or a guinea pig?

Although both a guinea pig and hamster are relatively low maintenance and make great pets, it is important that you have enough time to spend training and interacting with them.

You also need to ensure that you schedule in cleaning your hamster or guinea pig cages regularly.

We recommend that you try meeting a hamster and a guinea pig and seeing which one you connect with more before deciding which one is best for your household.

Which pet does your child feel the most affection for? Which character traits are consistent with your family’s routine and age?

Try to understand the major difference between a guinea pig and a hamster to arrive at the best pet for you.

Conclusion

When it comes to guinea pig vs hamster, it is often just a choice of personal preference. Both hamsters and guinea pigs are social animals and make great family pets.

Both guinea pigs and hamsters are fun and easy to care for as pets. Size, diet, and lifespan are where these two species part ways, but ultimately, it is up to you to decide which of these adorable creatures to add to your family.

As a family, we didn’t have a large garden, so it made more sense to choose a domesticated animal that could live indoors with us.

This is how we ended up choosing our lovely Syrian hamster, Oscar.

That said, if you take good care of either a guinea pig or the hamster, they will develop a strong attachment to you.

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