A Pet Rat

What are The Differences Between a Rat and a Hamster

Rodents are becoming an increasingly popular alternative pet choice. More and more people across the country are opting to keep them instead of going the regular cat and dog route. Whilst hamsters have been the most commonly kept pet rodents for decades, over the years, pet rats have also been gaining in numbers.

Both rats and hamsters are furry, cute, and intelligent creatures which makes them a good companion for just about anybody. Oftentimes people find it difficult to tell these two types of rodents apart due to the similarities in their looks. While to the untrained eye they may look similar, once you know where to look for the differences, they are quite easy to spot.

If you are considering gifting yourself or a loved one a pet rodent, it is only natural to be slightly confused about which one to opt for. In such moments research is your best bet. After all, you are choosing a close companion who will be with you for the foreseeable future and you need to make sure that you are both compatible. So without further ado, let us take a close look at the characteristics of both rats and hamsters to help you choose the perfect pet.


Compairing Rats

The best way to tell rats and hamsters apart is to look for the telltale differences in appearance. The key to ascertaining if the furry little cutie you are looking at is a rat or a hamster is their tails and the shape of their bodies. Rats have long hairless tails that help with balance and slender bodies. Most hamsters, on the other hand, have as we have talked about here have short tails and stout rounded bodies.

Another difference is the shape of their muzzles which is pointy for rats and more rounded in the case of hamsters due to their cheek pouches. Rats have feet that tend to be slender and dexterous whereas hamsters have wide and flat forepaws. The sizes and colors of both rats and hamster tend to vary depending on which type they belong to. The types that are kept as pets usually tend to be on the smaller size.


Both pet rats and hamsters have an average lifespan of 2-3 years though this may vary slightly depending upon the specific type of rat or hamster. Rat experts even claim that there are ways in which a pet owner can look after their pet rats to increase their life expectancy to as long 4 to 5 years. Pet rats do tend to live longer than wild rats due to a more secure environment in terms of availability of food and lack of predators.

The lifespan of hamsters, on the other hand, varies depending on their type. Some of the most commonly kept hamsters are the Roborovski with a life expectancy of 3 to 3.5 years, the Syrian hamster that lives for 2-2.5 years, the Chinese hamster with a lifespan of 1.5-2 years, and the Dwarf hamster varieties that live for 1.5 to 2 years.

Cage and Space

Hamster in a cage

One of the main attractions of having a rat or a hamster as a pet, over the more conventional choices such as cats and dogs, is their small size. Even the comparatively larger sized rats are rarely over 6 inches. Due to their small sizes, even people living in tiny flats and having a space scrunch can keep these rodents as pets. All you need is a cage for your pet rat or hamster, and you are set to go.

Rats have bigger bodies than hamsters and consequently need bigger cages to live in. They also tend to be very active creatures and are constantly moving about. This further necessitates that they have the requisite space inside their cages to be their active selves. Their bigger bodies also mean that they are easier to keep track of as they rarely manage to slip through the smaller gaps in the cage.

Hamsters, on the other hand, are fine with lesser cage space. Though they do tend to be very territorial about their space and most hamsters do not like sharing it with other hamsters. So if you are planning on more keeping than one hamster, then you should also be prepared to get them separate cages and have the additional space they need. With that being said there are a few breeds of hamster that can share a cage such as the ones we talked about in this article.

Rats As pets

Rats have an easy and laid-back attitude towards people as well as other pets that you may have in your home. Despite their big teeth they rarely ever bite and are quite gentle with their owners as well as children. They are very intelligent creatures with the capability of recognizing individual family members and learning playful tricks.

The downside of their high intelligence is that they need to be constantly occupied and entertained. This is not very difficult to accomplish through making toys available to them and taking them out of their cages regularly in order to keep them entertained. They make great pets due to their social and playful nature.

Hamsters As pets

Golden hamster sitting on a table

Hamsters, unlike rats, can often perceive their human owners as large predatory threats. This is especially so in the early days of cohabiting with their human when they are still unfamiliar with their surroundings. Consequently, they are more likely to bite your fingers if you approach them too suddenly or wake them up too soon.

Hamsters are nocturnal creatures that spend the day sleeping and do not like to be awakened before evening. Once well acquainted with their owners, these territorial animals make very faithful pets. They will socialize and play with you during the evening but do not require constant attention. A wheel on which they can run is all the activity or toy required by hamsters.

Which one is easier to look after?

Both rats and hamsters have particular attractions that their owners swear by and adore about them. While rats are highly intelligent and more active with their clever tricks, hamsters require minimum attention the entire day which they spent sleeping. While rats have slender looks, hamsters are chubbier. Depending upon your priorities and what you are looking for in a pet, you could opt for either of these cute furry creatures.

Speaking with my biased hat on I love my pet hamster and as long as you take things slow and get them used to being handled you will have a very loving affectionate pet.

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