Rats and hamsters share many similarities. They are both rodents, both live for two to three years and both have similar diets. They both have devoted camps that state that each one is the better small pet. But pet rats and pet hamster do have several key differences that potential pet owners need to know before bringing home a furry friend. Please consider adopting a small pet rather than buying one.
There is only one species of rat available as a pet, Rattus norvigicus. However, pet rats (sometimes known as “fancy rats”) come in many colors and patterns. There is also a hairless rat on the pet market, but these rats are not recommended for beginning rat owners.
There are five species of hamster, including the Syrian or golden (the largest), Campbell’s or Russian dwarf, Chinese dwarf, winter white and Roborovski (the smallest). The Syrian also comes in a longhaired version known as the teddy bear and a hairless version. Both short haired and long-haired Syrian are small enough to be cute but large enough to be handled. The hairless version is not recommended for first-time hamster owners because they are prone to illness.
Hamsters are more socially acceptable pets than rats. This is due to ignorance of how pet clean and friendly pet rats really are. Many people are afraid of rats, partially because rats are thought to carry plague-infected fleas. Hamsters do not have such a reputation and may be more socially acceptable as a pet than a rat.
Some people are afraid of rats because of their long, naked tails which vaguely resemble earthworms. Pet hamster species have very short hairless tails. In teddy bear hamsters, the hair completely covers the tail. There are wild species of hamster that have longer tails, but they are not usually found in the pet market or in animal shelters.
Hamsters generally prefer to live by themselves. Syrian, teddy bear and Chinese hamsters will fight when brought together. Although some people have been able to keep littermates of the same sex together, they can still get into squabbles and inflict serious injuries to each other. Dwarf hamsters are more sociable, if the cage mates have been introduced to each other before they are eight weeks old. Even then, dwarf hamsters get into quarrels with other dwarf hamsters for unknown reasons. No matter what species of hamster you have, it’s best to have one cage per hamster.
Rats are more social prefer to live with at least one other rat. They also have been known for form friendships with other species – especially humans. Rats seem to thrive on attention and play from their owners. Rats are also active in the day or night, while hamsters are nocturnal. Never wake a sleeping hamster or it will bite out of fear.
“Critters Annual 2007 – 2010.” Bow Tie Press: 2006 – 2009.
“Training Your Pet Hamster.” Gerry Bucsis & Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2002.
“Training Your Pet Rat.” Gerry Bucsis & Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2000.
“Dwarf Hamsters: Everything about Purchase, Care, Feeding & Housing.” Sharon L.Vanderlip, DVM. Barron’s, 1999.
Petfinder.com “Small Animal Care: Rat Care.” http://www.petfinder.com/pet-care/rat-care.html