If you’re looking for a little furry companion to shower with love, then you may find yourself in a confusing dilemma. Which cute ball of fluff should you introduce to your family: a hammie or a piggy?
And we’d forgive you for feeling confused! Guinea pigs and hamsters do share some common ancestry as they both belong to the order of Rodentia. But think of it more like long-lost, twice-removed distant cousins, because that’s really where the similarities end. They ultimately belong to different families, with cavies hailing from the Caviidae clan and hamsters coming from the Cricedidae tribe.
Besides this connection, our sweet furry friends are actually quite different. To be a responsible hammie or piggy parent, you must carefully consider their specific needs when deciding which is going to best suit your lifestyle.
In this article, we’ll look at what sets these two furbabies apart in the hope that, by the end, you’ll be able to choose one or the other!
Hamsters vs Guinea Pigs: 8 Main Differences
Without further ado, let’s learn a little more about the main differences between the cute cavies and the handsome hammies.
1. Size, weight & appearance
You’re likely to have already noticed the most obvious difference between a hamster and a guinea pig: their appearance. Piggies are plumper, stockier, and more potato-like than their hamster cousins. To put it into perspective, they typically weigh around 1.5-2.6 pounds, while hamsters tip the scales at a meager 1-10 ounces. Much closer to rodents in their looks, hamsters also have a tail (in contrast to tailless piggies).
Due to their physiological differences, they also navigate the world differently. Guinea pigs have 4 feet and like to stay firmly planted on the ground where possible. Hamsters, on the contrary, have 2 hands and 2 feet. They’re more likely to perch on their back feet, hold food with their front paws, and they’re even adept little climbers!
Piggies typically live between 5-7 years, but in some rare cases have also been known to make it to a ripe old age in the double digits. Hamsters, on the other hand, have a more fleeting lifespan of just 2-3 years.
Keep their different lifespans in mind when deciding which furball you should bring home - adopting a piggy will be much more of a long-term commitment while the short but sweet life of a hammie is better suited to people completely new to pet parenthood.
If you’d like to enjoy plenty of cuddles with your furry friends, we recommend you carefully introduce moments of affection between the two of you from a young age. This will help get them used to being handled by their hoomans.
That said, guinea pigs and hamsters are like chalk and cheese when it comes to personality types. We promise we’re not biased (well, maybe a little!) when we say that guinea pigs are generally known to be much more sociable, affectionate, and loving little floofers.
Hamsters originate from the desert regions in Asia where food and resources were hard to come by (and even harder to keep hold of), so they’ve evolved to be much more independent, territorial, and even solitary animals. Oftentimes, they don’t even get on with their fellow hamster friends, so it’s best to keep them on their own!
Piggies, however, couldn’t have more different temperaments. Having grown up alongside the Andean mountain folk, they crave company and attention (and they’ll be sure to let you know if they’re not getting enough of it!). They are incredibly social animals that love the company of their furry pals and are more likely to develop a bond of trust with their piggy parents.
In fact, guinea pigs are such herd animals that it’s heavily advised to keep them with at least one other mate so that they don’t become lonely and sad.
With all this in mind, hamsters might be a favorite choice exactly because of their independent nature. However, being this solitary might mean not knowing much about social etiquette between hoomans and furries, so your fingers might suffer from a few bites here and there - something that happens more rarely with guinea pigs.
Piggies are also expressive little souls, producing an adorable chorus of sounds you’ll learn to interpret as you get to know them better.
The most noise you’ll ever hear from a hamster is the familiar rattling of their wheel that punctually starts at 3am. Hammies are most active at night and can cause a racket by running and scurrying around in their cages.
However, it may surprise you to find out that guinea pigs, on the whole, can be louder. This is because of all the little wheeks, purrs, squeals, and chirps they simply can’t help but make. Yep, piggies are very good at letting you know how they’re feeling at any given time of day, whether it’s to show excitement at the sound of a bag of lettuce or to simply call for your attention - it’s always a shock that such a small fluffball can make such a loud fuss!
5. Sleeping patterns
Another major difference between hamsters and guinea pigs is their sleeping habits.
Hamsters are nocturnal animals, which means that they’re at their most active during the evening and in the dead of night. They’re also likely to be feeling perky very early in the morning.
Guinea pigs, on the other hand, are neither diurnal nor nocturnal animals. In fact, they can be described more accurately as crepuscular, which means that they are most active at dawn and dusk. However, they can survive on even the briefest of power naps and only need 4 hours of sleep at most a day! Therefore, your cute cavy will likely be awake and ready to play during your waking hours.
If space comes at a premium in your household, then you’ll want to take into account that guinea pigs require a much bigger house than hamsters.
In fact, despite being such little furry potatoes, they need a surprising amount of space to live! A pig needs at least 7.9 square feet of living space, whereas a hamster requires just 5.3 square feet minimum of space.
Remember that guinea pigs prefer to live with companions, so keeping two piggies means even more room for both of them to popcorn about. They also require spacious enclosures to exercise in, and private hideaways where they can take a break from their furry housemates and hoomans.
Another point to consider is that hamsters should always be kept in an indoor cage, whereas guinea pigs can thrive both indoors in a cage or outdoors in a well-insulated and cozy hutch.
You may have assumed that piggies and hammies like to nibble on the same tasty treats, but there are some key differences to be aware of when it comes to the diets of these sweet furballs.
In short, guinea pigs are herbivores whereas hamsters are omnivores. Piggies need unlimited access to hay and fresh drinking water every day, with a side of healthy assorted veggies. A hamster’s diet, instead, should be supplemented with foods they would eat in the wild, so you’ll need to give them at least 10 grams of specially formulated food per day.
Unlike their piggy pals, hamsters can eat a selection of different foods like seeds, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and grains, as well as animal-based proteins like insects.
When hamsters first enter the world, they’re pretty helpless pups. They are sightless, furless, and have a lot of developing to do to grow into robust little hammies! Their litters are also very large, varying between 6-12 furbabies to as many as 20. That’s a lot of brothers and sisters!
Guinea pigs, by contrast, are born almost fully developed. These pups have fur, teeth, open eyes, and the ability to scamper around from the get-go! Their litters are also much smaller, with just 2 to 4 pups per pregnant piggy.
Should I Get a Hamster or a Guinea Pig?
Before taking the plunge and bringing one of these furballs home, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to better understand how your furry friend will fit into your lifestyle. This way, you can make sure that you’re able to give your guinea pig or hamster all the love, time, and attention they deserve.
How much time can you dedicate to caring for your pet?
A small animal like a hamster or a guinea pig will naturally require less daily attention than a larger, needier pet like a dog. But this doesn’t mean they require no maintenance whatsoever! Remember that they still have their own unique wants and needs that you should be able to provide for.
A piggy is bigger than a hamster, so it makes sense that they’ll eat more throughout the day. More food means more poop, so be prepared to set aside a little more time to keep their cage spick and span. A guinea pig’s cage needs to be cleaned once or twice a day, whereas a quick daily spot-clean is enough for a hamster.
Guinea pigs need some daily floor time, ideally with an outdoor run so that they can potter around with plenty of happy foraging. Hamsters, instead, only need to explore the world outside of their cages once or twice a week.
You’ll also want to bear in mind that piggies require top-ups of fresh food every day, but this isn’t the case for hamsters. You can ensure your hamster receives a balanced, nutritious diet by supplementing their food every other day.
And whatever you do, don’t forget that both piggies and hammies need daily interaction with their piggy parents! Guinea pigs, in particular, are incredibly social animals who love to play with their hoomans.
What is your lifestyle rhythm?
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Keep your own natural rhythms and sleep patterns in mind when deciding which furry friend will best fit into your schedule.
If you need your prized beauty sleep and don’t want to be disturbed during the early hours, then it probably isn’t wise to adopt a nocturnal hamster. Similarly, if you’re a busy person and don’t have much time to spare during the daylight hours, you may struggle to keep a needy piggy entertained.
How much space do you have?
How much room do you have to house a furry companion in your home? If space is a luxury you just don’t have right now, then a hamster is the obvious choice over a guinea pig.
While hamsters prefer to live alone, keep in mind that guinea pigs thrive on companionship, so they will ideally need extra space to cozy up with a cuddly cavy companion. You should always make sure that your piggy has enough room to roam around and forage, as well as some outdoor space to exercise in a natural, grassy environment.
What is your budget?
Piggies live for quite a few more years than hammies, so taking care of them over their lifetime is going to require a bigger overall budget. Moreover, because your pig is a social butterfly at heart, you’ll need to adopt these furballs in pairs - meaning double the food, vet bills, and overall upkeep costs.
If money is tight, then we’d advise that you choose a hamster since in the long run, they'll end up costing less than a guinea pig.
Do you like cuddling your pet?
Are you a cuddler or do you prefer to keep your distance? If you’re looking for a furry friend who’s affectionate and can get used to your attention more easily, then you should definitely consider the sociable and wonderfully even-tempered piggy.
Hamsters tend to be more temperamental and skittish than guinea pigs when it comes to interacting with their hoomans, although it can help to ease their fears by getting them used to cuddles from a young age.
All in all, piggies are more robust than hammies, so they can be handled with fewer worries (however, be still careful when doing so as their spines are quite fragile)!
Keep in mind that every piggy and hamster is different and that regardless of which little floofer you’ll bring home, they will need some time to get used to your presence and bond with you.
How long do you want to be committed to taking care of your pet?
Are you a commitment-phobe or do you crave the deep bond of trust that a long-term relationship with your pet can bring? Before bringing home one of these furballs, you should carefully consider the responsibility you are taking on and whether this is something you can commit to over the coming years.
Guinea pigs have a much longer lifespan than hamsters, so you’ll want to be ready to welcome the potential of up to 7 years of happy piggy parenthood. If thinking ahead further than 2-3 years is freaking you out, then stick to what you’re most comfortable with and adopt a lovely little hammie instead.
Guinea Pigs vs Hamsters FAKs - Frequently Asked Kavees
Are guinea pigs and hamsters going to get along well?
Sadly not. If you were hoping these rodent pals could become the best of friends - think again. Hamsters are territorial animals that should be kept in solitary cages and as such, they’re unlikely to warm up to the presence of their distant furry cousins!
Is a guinea pig or hamster better for a child?
Both guinea pigs and hamsters can be great options for your child’s first pet. However, piggies may be better than hammies for younger kids due to their friendlier temperament. Regardless of which furry little friend you choose, make sure to supervise your child and teach them how to handle their new pet carefully and respectfully.
Which of the guinea pig or the hamster lives the longest?
Guinea pigs have a longer lifespan than hamsters. You can expect your piggy pal to keep you company for 5-7 years (or even longer in some cases), whereas a hamster typically lives for 2-3 years at most.