What is the Difference Between Guinea Pigs and Hamsters?

Small animals make great pets for children and adults alike and provide a great alternative to cats and dogs. Guinea pigs and hamsters are frequently at the top of the list when considering small, furry pets.

These two small animals have similar body types and are often mixed up and referred to each other interchangeably. However, these two animals are very different and require very different care and cage setups.

The differences between guinea pigs and hamsters are substantial. First of all, guinea pigs and hamsters differ in their social behavior. Guinea pigs are highly social animals that enjoy the company of their kind, whereas hamsters are solitary and prefer to live alone. Guinea pigs are also significantly larger and longer-lived than hamsters. They are active during the day, unlike hamsters, who are nocturnal.

When choosing a pet, it’s crucial to be well-informed about their care, behavior, and housing. This article will clarify the distinctions between guinea pigs and hamsters so you can choose the right pet, whether you are a seasoned pet enthusiast or a first-time pet owner.

How Do Guinea Pigs Differ From Hamsters?

Although guinea pigs and hamsters are somewhat similar in appearance, they have distinct differences in their characteristics and care requirements. The following are the primary distinctions between guinea pigs and hamsters.

Size and Physical Appearance

The size and physical characteristics of guinea pigs and hamsters are apparent differences. Compared to hamsters, guinea pigs are bigger and more robust. They usually have a full body structure and a length of 8 to 10 inches (20 to 25 cm).

Contrarily, hamsters are smaller, ranging from 3 to 7 inches (8 to 18 cm), and have a more compact body with shorter legs. Hamsters are also more agile than guinea pigs – they can climb, run on wheels, and have a more flexible spine. Guinea pigs have very stiff bodies in comparison and can easily injure their spine if placed in a ball or wheel.

Hamsters also have tails – albeit much shorter than that of a mouse or rat. Guinea pigs have tailbones internally, but no visible tail on the outside.

Social Behavior

Guinea pigs are highly social animals who like being with others of their species. They thrive in environments where there are other guinea pigs. As a result, if you keep a solitary guinea pig without another guinea pig to bond with, they could feel lonely and stressed.

On the other hand, hamsters are solitary animals that prefer to live alone. They might develop territorial behavior or aggression if kept with other hamsters. Guinea pigs do best when housed in pairs or small groups, while each hamster needs to have their own enclosure.

Here is a table summarizing the difference in their social behaviors:

CharacteristicsGuinea pigsHamsters
Social NatureHighly socialSolitary
Ideal HousingPrefers companionship.
Pairs or small groups.
Individual habitats.
Interaction with HumansCan be timid, generally enjoys gentle handling and interaction.Less inclined to be cuddled or carried.

Activity Patterns

Guinea pigs and hamsters have different activity patterns due to their instincts and habits.

Guinea pigs are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They only sleep 4-6 hours in a 24-hour cycle, and sleep in 10-30 minute periods throughout the day and night. They generally adapt well to any schedule since their sleep schedule is so flexible.

In contrast, hamsters are primarily nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night and sleep during the day. Their nocturnal nature influences their care and interaction schedules. Hamsters can also hibernate through the winter in some circumstances, but guinea pigs never go into hibernation.

Handling and Temperament

Guinea pigs and hamsters have different temperaments and responses to handling.

Guinea pigs are generally more social, gentle, and docile, but they can be more timid and skittish at first. Guinea pigs are fairly passive and generally do not bite. They can take some time to bond with their owners, but they generally love to interact with humans and are tolerant of handling once they settle in.

On the other hand, hamsters are more independent and may become stressed if mishandled or overstimulated. Hamsters are very small and delicate, so it’s important to handle them gently. Hamsters are generally fine with brief handling sessions, but they are typically less inclined to be cuddled or carried for extended periods.

It’s also important to handle them in the evening when they are most active, as hamsters tend to be groggy and a little grumpy when woke up during the day (as we all would be.)


Guinea pigs also have a much longer lifespan compared to hamsters. On average, Guinea pigs live between 5 and 7 years, though some can live even longer with good care and genetics.

The average lifespan of a hamster is about 2-3 years. Certain species may live a little bit longer. It’s essential to consider the commitment and longevity associated with each pet when deciding on a suitable pet for you.

Diet and Digestive System

Guinea pigs and hamsters also have vastly different dietary requirements and digestive systems.

Guinea pigs are herbivorous animals with a digestive tract built for breaking down fiber-rich plants and grasses. They need a constant supply of fresh hay, veggies, and a small amount of pellet food to ensure they get the nourishment they need.

Guinea pigs also cannot make their own vitamin C and need to consume foods high in vitamin C daily to ensure they maintain a strong and healthy immune system.

Contrarily, hamsters are omnivores and have a more diversified diet. They primarily eat commercially available hamster pellets supplemented with occasional fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds.

Why Should We Differentiate Guinea Pigs from Hamsters?

Knowing the differences between guinea pigs and hamsters will help you better care for your pets, as their care requirements are vastly different from one another. 

Knowing the differences between guinea pigs and hamsters also enables you to choose the best animal for your home and family based on their personalities and the type of care required. Guinea pigs have a more flexible sleep schedule, but they require bigger cages due to their size, and their longer lifespan calls for a longer-term commitment of care and attention.

On the other hand, hamsters are more active and entertaining to watch as they enjoy climbing and have endless energy to run on wheels. Due to their smaller size, they tend to smell less and require less cleaning than guinea pigs. However, they are best suited for night owls who want a pet that is active when they are.

Ultimately, knowing the difference allows you to align your personal preferences with the characteristics of each species, ensuring that you choose the pet that best suits your lifestyle, interests, and desires for companionship.

By recognizing and appreciating these individual traits, you can form deeper connections and derive greater enjoyment from your chosen pet.

To summarize all the info above, here is a table highlighting the main differences and care comparisons between guinea pigs and hamsters:

CharacteristicsGuinea pigsHamsters
Activity PatternsCrepuscular.
Active throughout the day and night.
Active at night.
Dietary NeedsHay, vegetables, supplemented with pellets and extra Vitamin COmnivorous – consisting of commercial pellet mixes, seeds, and veggies
Lifespan5-7 years or more2-3 years or slightly longer.
Weight Range0.7-1.4 kg or 1.5-3 pounds0.5-7 ounces (14-200 g)
Average Length20 to 25 cm or 8 to 10 inches3-7 inches (8-18 cm)
Housing RequirementsSpacious living environment.
Suitable socialization.
Individual habitats.
Appropriate exercise options.

How are Guinea Pigs and Hamsters Similar?

Although the differences between hamsters and guinea pigs are substantial, their appearance and similarities can confuse some people, making it easy for them to mistake guinea pigs for hamsters or vice versa.

Similarities between hamsters and guinea pigs include:

  • Small size: Both guinea pigs and hamsters are considered small pets, although guinea pigs are considerably larger in comparison. Due to their compact size, they are good alternative pets for people that want a smaller companion than a typical cat or dog.
  • They are Famous as Pets: Guinea pigs and hamsters have captured the hearts of pet enthusiasts worldwide. They are both beloved choices for families, individuals, and children. Numerous households enjoy having them as pets because of their adorable looks, endearing personalities, and relative ease of care.
  • They are Well-Suited to Indoor Only Living: Guinea pigs and hamsters are popular pets for those who live in apartments or don’t have access to outdoor space since they adapt well to interior living situations. They can thrive and have happy lives in the comfort of your home.
  • They are Soft and Fluffy: One undeniable similarity between guinea pigs and hamsters is their soft and fluffy fur. Both species possess adorable coats that come in various colors and patterns. 
  • They Make Good Child-Friendly Companions: Children can learn valuable lessons about responsibility, empathy, and the value of caring for another living being from guinea pigs and hamsters, frequently regarded as kid-friendly pets. Both animals can encourage a sense of friendship and provide important lessons about nurture and compassion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Hamsters and Guinea Pigs Coexist?

No, hamsters and guinea pigs do not get along and should not share a space. Hamsters are solitary animals who prefer to live alone, whereas guinea pigs are social animals that thrive in the company of their kind. The two animals would suffer stress, territorial disputes, and even potential fights and injuries if the two species are mixed.

Can Guinea Pigs or Hamsters Be Trained?

While guinea pigs and hamsters are intelligent animals, their trainability may vary. You can teach guinea pigs simple tricks and they can also learn to associate certain sounds (like their name) with food rewards.

On the other hand, Hamsters are generally less trainable due to their independent and adventurous nature. However, both species can be tamed and become accustomed to human handling with patience and gentle interaction.

Are Hamsters and Guinea Pigs Suitable Pets for Kids?

Children can have either guinea pigs or hamsters as pets, but it will depend on their age, maturity level, and capacity for handling and caring for a pet. Due to their social nature and calm demeanor, guinea pigs are typically preferable pets for kids.

However, hamsters can be great for older kids that know to be gentle and careful when handling them. If you have a younger child who doesn’t stay up late enough to socialize with a hamster, a guinea pig may be the best option. However, since they are messier and longer-lived, prepare to take on a fair bit of the responsibility as an adult.

Final Thoughts

Whether cuddling a guinea pig in your lap or watching a hamster run in their wheel, these small pets can make us happier, teach kids about responsibility and empathy, and provide a sense of joy.

Ultimately, guinea pigs and hamsters can both make great pets for the right people. They share a handful of physical similarities, but these animals each have their own personalities and traits that make them unique from one another.

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