People that have never before seen a guinea pig or a hamster (called Cavia porcellus and Cricetus cricetus respecively) have a hard time distinguishing the two species of animals.
It’s sort of a natural thing to mix these two similar-looking rodents if you had no chance to closely observe the differences.
Others are just asking themselves which pet fits better to them.
In terms of taxonomy, both species are distant cousins from the order Rodentia. Guinea pigs belong in the Caviidae family and hamsters belong in the Cricetidae family.
The main difference between the species is not the physical appearance only, but the character and behavior as well. While guinea pigs suit certain people more, others prefer hamsters exactly because of the behavioral characteristics. I’ll explain what divides them so you can make your pick.
Let’s start with their physical appearance.
Guinea pigs are 2-4 times larger in size and can weigh up to 2 pounds (1 kilogram) and grow 8-10 inches (20-30 centimeters) in size. Guineas have very short legs and plump-like bodies.
They are known as the rodents that don’t have a tail (just a rudimental fragment on their hinds).
Hamsters do have a tail, although it’s a short one. The weight of an adult hamster varies according to breed.
Hamsters weigh between half an ounce (10 grams) and 10.5 ounces (43 grams) with a length of 5-8 inches (12-20 centimeters).
The only thing that appears bigger in hamsters is their head. Did you know that a hamster’s head can triple its size?
Well, it doesn’t actually get bigger it’s just that hamsters like to carry food in their cheek pouches. This doesn’t happen in guinea pigs because they don’t have secret hiding spots in their mouths.
Guinea pigs are your typical herbivores. They only consume plants, seeds, fruits, and vegetables.
It should be noted that guineas also eat their own fecal material which is lighter in color and softer than the regular poop. Weirdly enough, this food is quite rich in vitamins and nutrients.
Hamsters are omnivorous and can eat all the things guinea pigs are eating plus animal products. Mealworms and crickets are also a part of their diet.
The thing that binds the two species together is their enormous hunger for electric cables.
There are 25 breeds of hamsters and only 13 breeds of guinea pigs. If you enjoy picking from a wide variety of specimens, definitely hamsters will suit you better.
Baby guinea pigs are born full-grown and immediately start roaming around.
Little hamsters come to this world without hair and sight. It takes about one week for a hamster pup to get out of the nest and start exploring the surroundings.
Guinea pigs on the other hand only give birth to 2-4 pups on average.
An average litter of hamster pups has 6-12 individuals and can be as big as 20 babies.
Guinea pig versus hamsters summarised:
- Size: Guinea pigs are 2-4x larger than hamsters
- Diet: Guinea pigs are herbivores, hamsters are omnivores
- Breeds: Nearly twice as much hamster breeds compared to piggies
- Babies: Guinea pigs are born full-grown while hamsters are blind and without hair
- Litter size: 2-4 for guinea pigs and 6-12 for hamsters
- Companionship: Guinea pigs need pals, hamsters don’t
- Lifespan: Guinea pigs live twice as long
Which is better – Hamster or Guinea Pig?
The actual question is what suits your lifestyle and your taste better – a hamster or a guinea pig?
Both guinea pigs and hamsters have their pros and cons I’ll dive deeper into below. It’s up to you to decide what your home and family needs.
Since guinea pigs are larger in size naturally they need larger living space.
The minimum required space for a guinea pig cage is 10 square feet (1 square meter) for one animal. A more spacious setting is preferable for the guinea pig so they can exercise and hide.
Smaller cages can be acceptable when the pet is just a baby, but in time you will need to change it as the guinea pig grows. Keep in mind that most of the cages sold in pet stores are smaller than the recommended minimum.
Although you will need a much smaller cage for a hamster, be advised that hamsters live longer and happier lives in a larger cage. The minimum required space is for one hamster is 5 square feet (0.5 square meters).
One huge difference is that there is a positive correlation between group living and life-span in guinea pigs; experts recommend that hamsters should be kept alone because they prefer a solitary life.
The main conclusion comes to getting a hamster rather than a guinea pig (or two) if you have limited living space.
The bedding options are pretty much similar. In both cases you will need to make a floor that won’t cause respiratory difficulties or bumblefoot – it refers to dusty or hard bedding respectively.
For hamsters, the bedding needs to be thicker to allow them to dive in it and navigate through.
The average life-span of guinea pigs is 5-8 years. In some cases, a guinea pig can even celebrate a double digit birthday!
This fact means that getting a guinea pig is a long-term commitment. The emotional investment is grand because it’s not easy to say goodbye to almost a decade of friendship.
Hamsters live approximately 2-3 years. It’s harder to build a strong emotional bond during this short period, but definitely not impossible. Their life-span is dependent on different factors like diet, genetics, hygiene, exercise, etc.
If you have a guinea pig you are obligated to have enough spare time to clean the cage and replace the bedding.
Of course, hamsters need to live in a clean environment as well, but they don’t have the capacity to make the room smell like a zoo in just one day. Busy people better get a hamster.
Are Guinea Pigs Friendlier than Hamsters?
Guinea pigs can be active during day and night equally, so they are not exactly nocturnal nor diurnal.
They can play throughout the whole day and be mild-mannered and gentle. As soon as they get familiar with your voice, your smell, and their surroundings you can cuddle with them as much as you want.
Guinea pigs need to be gently handled with appropriate support provided on their hinds and bellies. They have weak spines so try not to squeeze them too much.
Exploring floor areas is one of the things they most dearly enjoy. You can notice this by witnessing endless popcorning.
Because hamsters are more solitary you will need a lot more time to gain their trust. Daily interactions and handling are needed for them to become affectionate towards their owners. They can be easily handled with one hand if accustomed.
Hamsters are nocturnal animals more active when the sun is down.
An owner can bond with both of the species, although it’s much easier to do it with guinea pigs. If it’s important for you to frequently interact with your pet, a guinea pig is a better choice. Busy people are better off with a hamster (or no pet at all if time really doesn’t allow it).
The social character of guinea pigs is expressed through their constant purring, squeaking, and chirping.
These loud episodes can go on throughout the whole night especially when they are in a herd. Some people find this vocalization cute while it can become annoying for others.
Hamsters are generally quieter and definitely more useful for the benefit of a ‘good night’s sleep’. The sounds they are producing are for the sake of averting danger or showing fear.
The wide range of defensive emotions is expressed through squealing, hissing, and screaming.
Do Guinea Pigs or Hamsters Bite More?
It’s extremely rare for a guinea pig to bite. You have to get him really angry or scared to provoke this defensive mechanism. If your guinea pig bites it means that he is afraid of you and doesn’t trust you.
Don’t confuse aggressive biting with occasional curiosity biting when the guinea pig nibs on you just for the taste.
Hamsters bite a lot more often because they get scared more easily. Their teeth won’t do much damage, but the bite will hurt.
This is one of the reasons why hamsters aren’t ideal pets for children.
Sometimes children can accidentally scare the hamster and get bitten as the pet turns to his defensive side.
Can Guinea Pigs Live with Hamsters?
Guinea pigs and hamsters can’t coexist with each other in one cage. They are far too different in personality.
Guinea pigs can live in large groups, but hamsters are fiercely territorial and will attack to defend what they consider as exclusively theirs.
The fact that they are active during different periods of the day means they will annoy one another constantly. They shouldn’t be even mixed for playtime outside the cage because things will turn sideways very, very fast.
Keeping a guinea pig and a hamster in different cages in the same household is acceptable as long as you keep the distance between the two animals.
The conclusion is that you have to put much more effort and persistence if you decide to take care of a guinea pig. Hamsters don’t like to be bothered and you can’t expect them to play with you constantly.
They are fairly easy to maintain as long as you don’t have small children in the house. Moreover, hamsters are cheaper to buy and to take care of.
If you have any questions regarding your potential pet, let me know in the comments!