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Hamster vs. Mouse: Which Pet Should You Get? (With Pictures)
Both hamsters and mice are great little rodent pets, especially for children. Looking after either of these rodents is fairly easy but still requires specific attention and care. They can be a great introduction to your kids on the responsibility of caring for animals.
Although these two rodents may seem similar, they both have different needs and cannot be kept together. Both hamsters and mice can vary in size, but hamsters are generally larger with shorter tails, and this bulky body will need more space to play around in. That being said, mice are more active than hamsters and will need a fair bit of space to run around in. Additionally, mice, unlike hamsters, should not be kept alone and need to be kept in at least pairs or more, whereas hamsters do fine on their own (with adequate attention from you, of course!).
In this article, we’ll dive into the unique personalities and requirements of both mice and hamsters to help you decide which rodent is best for you.
A Quick Overview
Hamsters are easy to recognize with their short tails and legs and their tiny ears, and they come in a wide variety of colors. There are 24 different species of hamster, each of which varies widely in size, but there are only five species that are commonly kept as pets. These include the following.
- Syrian hamster. Syrians grow up to 7 inches long, typically have golden brown coloring with distinctive white bellies, and live for 2-2 ½ years. Syrians are one of the most commonly kept pet hamsters.
- Campbell’s hamster. These popular dwarf hamsters max out at about 5 inches long and only live for up to 2 years. They are slightly more difficult to keep than other hamsters due to their small size.
- Siberian. Also known as the “Winter White,” the Siberian is a dwarf species that typically reaches 4 inches in length. They have a characteristic dark stripe down their back on top of a brown coat that turns white during winter.
- Roborovski. Another dwarf species, these hamsters grow to around 4 inches long and are known to be quick-moving and curious, similar to mice. They have a longer than average lifespan of 3-3 ½ years.
- Chinese. Generally reaching up to 5 inches long, Chinese hamsters have longer tails than other hamster species. They make great pets, as they are gentle and enjoy handling and live for 2-2 ½ years.
Personality and characteristics
Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they prefer to sleep during the day. Although hamsters are generally solitary creatures, they are generally friendly and docile with humans, making them great pets. With adequate training, they are happy to be handled and rarely bite, although they will bite if startled. Males kept together will likely become aggressive and fight, so they should preferably be kept alone. Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, are fairly social and generally don’t mind having a companion in their cage.
Hamsters have poor eyesight and instead, use scent to navigate their world. They will leave a trail of scent secreted by glands on their backs to find their way around their enclosure.
Training and exercise 🎾
Hamsters can be easily trained to be held and petted if this is done from an early age. Dwarf hamsters can be a little bit more of a challenge to train, as they are often more active and quicker moving and are easily dropped by children. Taming and training can take a few weeks in some cases, and depending on the species, hamsters may take time to build up trust. They are sensitive animals that should not be overly handled, even once they are tame and trust you. They do not enjoy being woken up and handled, and this startling may cause them to bite.
Hamsters need several hours of exercise and play every day, and this can be a challenge due to their nocturnal nature. An exercise wheel is essential so your hamster can exercise itself while you’re asleep or away. Some hamsters are active and hardly ever keep still, while others are docile and relaxed and are happy to relax in their cage. You will usually be able to tell their energy levels by around 3 months old, although they will all mellow and become more docile when they get older.
Health and care 🏥
Hamsters teeth are unique in that they never stop growing, so it is essential that they have sufficient hay to chew on to keep them short. Without this, their teeth will continue to grow and potentially injure their mouth.
Hamsters are easy to feed, and quality commercial hamster food will take care of all their nutritional needs. Fresh food is essential for hamsters too, though, and they will enjoy and benefit from vegetables, like leafy greens and broccoli, and small amounts of fruits, like apples. That being said, sweet fruits should be kept to a minimum.
Hamsters prefer to live alone and will often fight if paired with others of the same sex. Their cage needs to be secure enough to keep them from escaping and equipped with an exercise wheel and plenty of space to play and burrow. Their litter should be changed weekly, and they need constant access to fresh clean water.
- Related Read: What Do Mice Eat in the Wild & as Pets?
While hamsters are great for kids, they are nocturnal and will only be active from about 9 PM-6 AM.
Mice kept as pets are commonly referred to as “fancy mice.” Mice are highly social animals, and while they can be kept alone, they are far better off in pairs or groups — keep in mind, though, mice are prolific breeders! Mice are far smaller than hamsters and thus are agile and quick, making them more difficult to handle. If trained from a young age, they will fare better at handling, although this should always be kept to a minimum.
Like hamsters, mice are nocturnal, and they will sleep for most of the day, which is great for owners who are out all day.
Personality and characteristics
Mice are active and social creatures that love to live in groups, although male/female combinations are likely to breed, and males kept with males are prone to fight. If you don’t want to breed, a pair of females is the best option.
Mice are skittish animals that are more suited to look at and observe than handle and play with. That being said, mice have unique personalities and express themselves in a variety of different ways. Individual mice have specific preferences and behaviors, and they are a joy to observe and get to know.
Training and exercise 🎾
Training and taming mice can take time and patience, and mice that are not accustomed to being held may bite, especially when startled. You’ll need to allow your mouse to get accustomed to your presence and their environment for a least a week or two before attempting to handle them. You can then start tempting them by offering treats like nuts and seeds on your hand and slowly gain their trust.
Mice do not have good eyesight and thus, are not good at judging distance or height. This means you should take extra precautions when handling them, as they will try and run off your hand without knowing the consequences.
Mice are active creatures that love to run around, so they’ll benefit greatly from an exercise wheel and a large cage.
Health and care 🏥
Mice are generally healthy rodents that are easy to care for. They are known to develop tumors, however, so you’ll need to keep a close eye out. Of course, avoid feeding them any junk food, and stick to grains and fresh vegetables and fruits to keep them healthy. You can purchase specially formulated rodent pellets that are high in protein, and supplement this with a variety of grain and seed blends. As with any pet, be sure they have plenty of clean and fresh drinking water.
An exercise wheel is essential for adequate exercise, and mice love cages with tunnels, multiple levels, and ropes and ladders to climb on. Make sure the cage that they are housed in has small gaps that they cannot squeeze through, as they will try and escape if given the chance.
Mice are suitable for kids, but they should know that mice are not easily handled and are more to observe. Also, mice are nocturnal, which is great if you are out for most of the day.
Which Pet Should You Choose?
Both hamsters and mice are easy-to-care-for, low-maintenance pets with little feeding and housing requirements. Hamsters prefer to live alone, so if you want to keep more than one, you’ll need multiple cages. Mice, on the other hand, are social creatures and don’t enjoy being alone, so they’ll need a roomier cage with more levels and toys to play with. Bear in mind that both are nocturnal, but due to their ease of being handled, hamsters are a better choice for kids.
If you are looking for a hands-on pet that you want to be able to handle, a hamster is an ideal choice, as they are easy to train and happier to be handled. Mice are a great option if you want a pet with a unique personality that you can happily observe for hours on end.
Featured Image Credit: Pixabay
Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts’ knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.