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Hamster vs Rat: Which Pet Should You Get? (With Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove

May 24, 2021

Hamsters and rats are the most popular small pets. They are both known for being social, and they will enjoy spending time with their owners as long as they are regularly and routinely socialized. They both live approximately 2 years and while the rat is a little larger than the hamster, he is also considered easier to train. In fact, rats can be trained to perform various tricks and commands, and they are well known for their ability to find their way out of mazes and around obstacles.

Both of these species make good pets for children, as well as adults, although care must be taken to ensure that your children do not accidentally hurt small animals. It doesn’t take much to cause serious injury to animals of this size.

While the two species are considered similar — they are small, both live in cages, enjoy socialization, and can be trained to some extent — there are differences. Below, we have included details of both of these popular pets so that you can decide which is best for you and your family.

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hamster vs rat visual

A Quick Overview

Hamster
  • Average Length (adult): 2-6 inches
  • Average Weight (adult): 1-10 oz
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Species-friendly: Rarely
  • Trainability: Reasonable
Rat
  • Average Length (adult): 6-12 inches
  • Average Weight (adult): 8-16 oz
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years
  • Grooming needs: Low
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Species-friendly: Yes
  • Trainability: Excellent, highly intelligent

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Hamster Overview

Hamsters are cute little rodents. They have quite round bodies and round cheeks. They have a lot of fluffy fur and long whiskers. There are, in fact, many distinct species of hamster, ranging from the tiny Russian dwarf hamster to the Syrian hamster, the latter of which is the most popular of all the subspecies. Chinese hamsters also make popular pets.

The hamster is considered a popular pet because he tends to be friendly, is very cute, and he thrives living in a cage. While he is sometimes used as a gateway pet to ensure that a child can look after a small animal before getting a cat or dog, he has plenty of character of his own, and his attributes make him a great addition to the home.

Hamster
Image Credit: Nikki, Pixabay

Personality

Hamsters are solitary creatures. They prefer to be alone, and if you try to keep two male hamsters together, they may try and kill one another once they reach adulthood. With humans, however, they tend to be docile and even friendly. With some socialization, they enjoy being handled and will rarely bite. They are nocturnal creatures, so will come alive at night and sleep through the day.

Training 🎾

Hamsters are receptive to some training, although it does depend on your definition of training. While it is unlikely that you will train your hamster to sit or perform tricks, you can train them good social skills. A young hamster may try and bite you, but with regular and calm handling, they will stop biting. They will also learn where their food is and they may learn that certain actions occur before feeding. This means that it is possible to train a hamster to come to you for food.

Health and Care 🏥

A hamster will usually live 2-3 years. They are prone to certain health conditions, including colds. They may also suffer from a condition called wet tail, which is usually caused by stress. It is a bacterial infection and its main symptom is diarrhea. Once a hamster is infected, it can die within 72 hours, so early identification and treatment are important.

Hamsters need daily handling to ensure they are well socialized. Their cages need cleaning out every few days, and you will need to remove soiled bedding every day. The more time you spend looking after your hamsters and his habitat, the healthier he is likely to be.

Hamster
Image Credit: marcelaarrubla0329, Pixabay

Suitable For 👪

Hamsters are suitable for all potential owners that can provide a little time every day to give them love and attention. If you are unable to give them daily attention, they may not be a suitable pet.

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Rat Overview

Rat
Image Credit: Varga, Pixabay

Rats have grown in popularity in recent years. In terms of aesthetics, they are not as cute as hamsters, and a lot of people are put off by the long tail, as well as the old reputation of being dirty animals. However, rats are as close as you can get to a cat or dog. They are responsive, show love to their owners, are highly intelligent, and can be trained.

Personality

While hamsters can be grumpy, even towards their human owners, rats tend to be much more laid back. They rarely bite following early socialization, and they can live with other rats, usually without fear or trying to kill one another.

Training 🎾

Rats are incredibly intelligent animals. They are capable of figuring out quite complex problems, and you can use this intelligence to train them. Rats can learn to respond to their name, they can learn some basic commands, and they excel at small problem-solving tasks. This intelligence does mean that rats need plenty of time out of their cages and they need to be provided with mental stimulation, as well as physical.

Health and Care 🏥

Rats can suffer from several common health complaints. They regularly get runny noses and eyes. They may suffer difficulties breathing and they may lose weight. If your rat experiences any of these issues, it may be worth getting him checked out by a vet. Expect your pet rat to live approximately 2 years, and ensure that they have clean bedding and a safe environment in which to live.

Rat
Image Credit: sipa, Pixabay

Suitable For 👪

Rats are also suitable for any pet owner that wants a small but responsive pet. Rats can be surprisingly affectionate, develop a bond with their owner, and they can even be taught to perform some basic tasks. They are very intelligent and if their naked tail doesn’t put you off, they make excellent pets for people of any age or pet experience.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

Hamsters and rats are similar in many respects and it will often come down to personal preference to determine which species is better suited to you. Rats are more intelligent, can be more loving, and are less prone to using their teeth, but hamsters are smaller, generally considered to be cuter, and they will be happy with little more than a wheel in which to run.


Featured Image Credit: Pixabay

Nicole Cosgrove

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.