Guinea Pig vs. Hamster as Pets

Mychelle Blake
Hamster and guinea pig

If you're looking for a small, furry pet that doesn't take up a lot of room, Guinea pigs and hamsters are two obvious choices. Each has their pros and cons depending on your unique needs and available time to care for your small pet.

Guinea Pigs and Hamsters: A Comparison Chart

Guinea Pig

Hamster

Ease of Care

Requires cage cleaning several times a week

Requires cage cleaning once or twice a week

Size

2 to 4 pounds

.8 to 3.5 ounces

Noise level

Makes various squeaking and whistling sounds.

Very little, if any, noise.

Lifespan

5 to 8 years

2 to 3 years

Sociability

Can live with other Guinea pigs and other animals

Hamsters are mostly solitary and often need to be housed alone

Handling

Easier to handle and generally gentle.

Can bite and more fragile to hold.

Space Need a larger cage to be happy and can live indoors or outdoors if weather permits. Can live in a smaller cage but must live indoors

Variety

There are 13 breeds to choose from.

Only 5 breeds of hamsters can be pets (out of 24).

Pros and Cons of Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are adorable pets but owning one isn't as easy at it looks. They do have some care needs that might be an issue for you depending on your schedule.

Girl with pet guinea pig

Benefits of Owning a Guinea Pig

  • Guinea pigs can also do well with other animals so you can keep one with a rabbit, for example, allowing you some more variety in pets.

  • Guinea pigs tend to be active when you as are as they aren't crepuscular like hamsters.

  • Guinea pigs can be kept indoors or outdoors if the climate is appropriate.

  • Guinea pigs can bite when frightened but they will rarely, if ever, do this. They are known for being social and good-natured pets.

Issues to Consider When Choosing a Guinea Pig

  • If you decide to keep only one, you need to interact with it daily and provide it with lots of enrichment for when you're gone.

  • Guinea pigs need a daily diet that includes pellets, fresh vegetables, and hay.

  • Allergies to Guinea pig fur are very common compared to hamsters so they may not be a good choice if you suffer from allergies.

  • They do best in pairs so you'll need to have space for a hutch big enough to fit two comfortably.

  • Guinea pigs can be very messy so you'll need to plan on giving their cage bedding daily quick cleanings and a good scrubbing once a week. You may need to do more thorough cleanings more often if you notice a urine odor.

  • Depending on the breed you get, you may need to groom them regularly to keep their coats healthy.

Pros and Cons of Hamsters

Hamsters are a good pet for children as they're easier to care for although adults should always supervise their care. Like Guinea Pigs their care requirements may or may not be a good fit for your lifestyle.

White dwarf hamster

Benefits of Owning a Hamster

  • Hamsters don't live as long as Guinea pigs (two to three years compared to ten to eleven) so they are not as much of a long-term responsibility. This can be good or bad depending on your situation!

  • Hamsters tend to be most active early in the morning and at night so they're a good choice if you're at work or school during the day.

  • Hamsters tend to be very quiet and little noise other than the sounds of them moving about their cage.

  • Hamsters, being smaller, don't mess their cages quite as quickly as a Guinea pig, so you can expect to clean their cage about twice a week.

Issues to Consider When Choosing a Hamster

  • Hamsters can be very affectionate with their owners, but they also can bite. They require daily interaction to keep them tame and willing to be handled.

  • You can have more than one hamster in a cage but more often than not hamsters don't get along. You may only be able to keep one depending on his or her personality.

  • Hamsters are omnivores and have a more varied diet than Guinea pigs, which can include pellets, fresh vegetables, hay, and insects.

  • Hamsters must be kept indoors and in a secure metal cage.

  • Although they are a popular with children, they may not be the best choice for small children as hamsters are delicate and need to be handled correctly to avoid injury or escape.

  • If you live in Hawaii, it's illegal to own a hamster as a pet.

  • Hamsters can carry some zoonotic diseases, such as salmonella and lymphocytic choriomeningitis, so they should not be kept in homes with humans with immune system deficiencies.

Choosing Guinea Pigs vs Hamsters

Ultimately which pet you choose is based on personal preference and while their care needs differ, they also have many similarities. While both pets are favorites with children, an adult will need to supervise their regular care, particularly with younger children. The age of the children and their ability to handle animals properly is also an important consideration as hamsters aren't the best choice for very young children unless an adult will be doing the handling.

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Guinea Pig vs. Hamster as Pets