Hamsters vs Rats

Rodents are a popular type of pet to keep. Hamsters have become known as the standard pet rodent as it is these creatures that people usually think of first. However, they are not the only option as there are many other amazing rodents that make fantastic pets. One option is to keep rats as these animals have many plus points that make them excellent pets. If you are thinking about keeping a rodent as a pet for the first time and you have not decided which is best suited to you, then it is important to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each. Here is a comparison of rats and hamsters to help you decide which is the better option for you.


Most people would argue that hamsters are the cuter of the two creatures as they are smaller, have adorable facial features and lovely fur. There are many breeds and the colorings of hamsters vary greatly.

However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and fans of rats argue that rats are handsome creatures and find their appearance interesting. It is the rat’s naked tail that many people find off-putting, but this serves an important purpose for balance.


Rats are much more agile and acrobatic than hamsters. They will jump and climb about their cage athletically. As a rodent owner, this gives you something entertaining to watch. On the other hand, hamsters stumble around and the most entertaining thing they do is eat.

Similarly, rats enjoy interacting with their owners much more than hamsters. Taking a rat out of its cage and letting it climb you is a source of entertainment for both you and your rat. A hamster prefers to simply sit in your hand with you stroking it calmly.


Hamsters are smaller than rats and the long tail of a rat can make it seem even larger. There are both pros and cons to the size of each of these rodents in terms of keeping them as pets.

As hamsters are smaller, they need delicate handling. On the plus side, they only need a small habitat which will not take up space and will usually cost less than smaller cages. This is great if you live in a home with little space available or if you have a limited budget for pet supplies.

Rats are larger, and this makes them easier to handle, which is a plus point if you want a pet with which you can interact daily. The downside of their size is that they need a bigger cage, which will probably cost more than smaller cages and will take up more space in your home.


Many breeds of hamsters, including the most common golden hamsters, prefer to live a solitary life and are not sociable animals. They are quite grumpy creatures, especially if you wake them from their sleep. They are the rodent that is the most likely to bite. This includes both their owners and other hamsters.

Rats are far more sociable and are happy to live with other rats in a cage. They are lively creatures that develop a bond with their owners and enjoy being handled once they have become accustomed to their owner and surroundings. Although they have larger teeth than a hamster, it is rare for rats to bite their owners and usually only do so if you poke your fingers through the bars of the cage and they mistake them for food.


Rats are far more intelligent than hamsters. In fact, rats are often credited as being the most intelligent animals of their size. They can learn tricks and will recognize different members of the family. The downside to their intelligence is that they need entertainment. This means that you must provide an interesting habitat where your rat can live that has different points of interest to prevent boredom. They should also have toys to play with in their cage.

Hamsters are less intelligent, and this can make them a less interesting animal to keep. However, they need far less entertainment than rats and are happy with a simple cage with nor more than a hamster wheel to keep them entertained. There are many hamster toys available and some hamsters enjoy playing with these, but others simply ignore their toys.


Which pet you find best to keep depends largely on your own lifestyle and how this corresponds with the natural behaviors of your pet. Hamsters sleep for most of the day and are most active at night. If you are also awake at night, you will have the chance to play with your pet or watch them then.

Rats are usually very active during the day and will sleep at night. During daylight hours, you can watch them playing in their cage and most rats are happy to interact with their owners and enjoy being handled. Therefore, they are the better option if you want a pet to play with during the day.


The maintenance needs of rats and hamsters are very similar. They both need soiled bedding removed from their cage every day, a complete bedding change once a week, and their habitat cleaning once a month. Both rats and hamsters are self-cleaning, so you don’t necessarily need to clean the animals themselves. Compared to many other pets, rats and hamsters are both relatively low-maintenance.


Both rats and hamsters are very similar in their feeding habits and diet. They eat either hamster or rat mixes and pellets topped up with treats of fruits and vegetables. The only difference is that rats are larger animals, so they eat slightly more than hamsters. However, this isn’t a significant enough amount to make a huge difference to the cost of keeping these pets.

Final Verdict

Both hamsters and rats can make fantastic pets, and each has its pros and cons. It is important to weigh these up before making your decision, so you choose the right pet for you. While hamsters are the best pet for some people, rats are a better option for others. It really comes down to personal preference.

About the author


Liz Flynn is a mum of four with a background in education. An animal lover, she has owned everything from dogs to tarantulas and animals of all sizes in between and loves to write about them.

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