Hamsters and guinea pigs require less of a time commitment than a dog or a cat, so they can be great “starter pets” for children. Peter G. Fisher, D.V.M., a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (Exotic Companion Mammal) explains how these two breeds differ:
Lifespan: 18 to 24 months
Digs: Best by themselves in a large cage (hamster cages typically aren’t big enough)
Traits: “They’re soft and can be personable, but they like to explore and are escape artists,” says Fisher. Hamsters also tend to run on their exercise wheels into the night, which could be a downside if you’re a light sleeper.
Chow: Hamsters are granivores that like pelleted food.
Lifespan: 5 to 7 years
Digs: Adopt in pairs. Guinea pigs also like having a high box in their cages to hide in.
Traits: Guinea pigs tolerate handling and like being out of their cages, but they don’t have the adventurous spirit of other rodents. “They just tend to hang out,” Fisher says.
Chow: Guinea pigs require fresh hay as well as plenty of vitamin C; they can develop scurvy and swollen joints if they don’t get enough.