Many misconceptions surround hamsters and rats due to the fact that they belong to the same rodent family. And though some species can be almost similar in size, they’re different animals with significant distinctions.
In this ultimate hamster vs. rat guide, we compare the two rodents in extensive detail, covering everything from their general relationship to their feeding, nutrition, and more.
Let’s jump right into it!
Both hamsters and rats belong to the Cricetidae family, along with mice and other small rodents. They’re both popular small mammal pet choices because they’re relatively low maintenance.
There are over 20 recognized hamster species all over the world. Some of the most common breeds are the Syrian or Golden hamster and the Russian dwarf hamster, also known as the winter white dwarf hamster.
Hamsters have a variety of different coat colorations depending on the species, but most have long, thick fur.
They grow roughly between 2 to 13 inches. They’re significantly smaller than rats and they have stubby and chunky tails. Their tails are often shorter than their body length.
Aside from being smaller in size, they also have rounder bodies compared to rats.
Perhaps one of their most distinctive features is their cheek or buccal pouch. These are for storing seeds and other food.
Hamsters can learn tricks to some extent. They’re intelligent and relatively friendly toward humans.
However, you have to note that hamsters aren’t afraid to use their teeth. They’re more prone to bite than rats are!
Some training and socialization can successfully keep this habit at bay. Once they unlearn it, hamsters can be easily handled.
With rats, the species specificity is a bit more complicated than hamsters. The term ’rat’ is commonly used for small rodents that aren’t technically true rats.
That said, most of the rats we know, such as the brown and black rats, likely belong to the genus Rattus—the true rats.
While the size and weight of rats depend heavily on the species, they’re usually around 6 to 8 inches long. Their tails are usually as long as their bodies—longer even, in some species.
They can weigh anywhere between 4 to almost 9 ounces. Anything smaller than that might be a mouse, not a rat.
Unlike hamsters, they don’t have cheek pouches. However, most species have similar elastic muscles in place of these buccal pockets.
Rats are more intelligent than hamsters, which is why they can typically form stronger bonds with their owners. They’re social creatures that genuinely enjoy the company of their owners.
In addition, they’re highly responsive to training and are even capable of solving complex tasks. They’re excellent learners, partly due to their inquisitive nature.
They rarely bite, which makes them easy to handle as long as socialization starts early. They’re also a lot less territorial than hamsters.
This means you can house rats together, and there’s less chance that they’ll fight and harm one another.
The term ‘rodent’ is used to refer to small mammals, including rats, mice, hamsters, and gerbils, to name a few. Does that mean that hamsters are related to rats?
The answer is yes, as they belong to the same small rodent family.
Despite the aforementioned distinctions between hamsters and rats, they share many similarities too. These resemblances are mainly because they evolved from the same primary ancestors.
They’re genetically alike, which means they share a handful of the same characteristics.
For example, hamsters and rats have a similar lifespan of around 2-3 years, depending on the breed and care provided.
Another example is their shared keen sense of smell. They use their exceptional noses for navigation and to sniff out any available food sources.
In addition, they’re both open to training, although there are more limitations in the complex tasks a hamster can handle.
Beyond being in the same rodent family, what other relationships do hamsters and rats have with one another? Is one prey to the other? Can they peacefully coexist?
One of the most common misconceptions about rats is that they’re not picky eaters, when, in fact, their eating habits depend a lot on their environment.
Most people think rats will eat anything, mainly because of city rats’ reputation. They usually feed on what they can and what’s available to them—be it old papers or even certain parts of furniture.
Wild rats, who have easier access to food items like seeds, small meat sources, and fruits, usually have a more naturally omnivorous diet.
However, this doesn’t mean there’s a 100% guarantee that a rat won’t prey on a hamster.
Their first instinct when they see a hamster isn’t exactly to eat it, but if a hamster does attack, a rat won’t think twice about fighting back.
Generally, pet rats or domesticated rats aren’t as aggressive as hamsters, but they aren’t exactly pushovers. Even the gentlest rat will attack back when prompted.
However, wild rats are a completely different topic. Especially if they’re hungry; anything smaller than them can easily be a target for food.
No, they can’t breed because they’re not the same species. It’s impossible to mate them successfully because they have significant genetic differences, such as chromosome numbers.
Female hamsters will never be receptive to a male rat and vice versa. They have widely different reproduction cycles.
While theoretically, this is possible with the help of a laboratory facility and advanced genetic engineering; it’s still extremely challenging.
Even if successful breeding does occur, there’s an exceptionally slim chance that their offspring would survive when they’re born, let alone into adulthood.
There are many significant differences between the hamster and rat when it comes to housing. While it might seem like they’d have similar living requirements, the main driving force for their difference in housing preference lies in their temperament.
Housing conditions are generally the same for most small rodents kept as pets.
Some housing recommendations from VCA Animal Hospitals include glass tanks or plastic cages with locks and screens.
Stay away from wooden cages because rodents can chew on them and can cause splinters. This type of cage is also difficult to clean since getting it wet can cause mold.
Pet rodents, whether hamsters or rats, are known escape artists. This is why their housing should be as escape-proof as possible while still providing adequate ventilation and light.
Another of the big similarities in terms of housing is the choices for enrichment. Rats and hamsters love to exercise and will likely benefit from wheels for running.
However, you have to make sure that the wheel is big enough for your pet. Rats generally require one with a larger diameter since they’re bigger than hamsters.
Other sources of enrichment include interactive items like cutouts with holes and hide-outs. These give them enough activity within their enclosures so that they don’t misbehave.
If you don’t provide enough enrichment for exercise, bored hamsters will try to entertain themselves—sometimes developing bad behaviors like chewing on their enclosures.
Moreover, poor housing conditions can lead to many diseases and even death. This means you have to pay attention to your pet rodent’s enclosure and ensure that it’s safe and clean.
Hamsters are widely known for being strongly territorial. In addition, they’re solitary animals, which means they love their alone time!
On the other hand, rats are really social animals. They love to live in groups.
Unfortunately, these temperaments don’t cancel out one another.
If a hamster feels that its territory is invaded, it won’t be scared to defend what’s theirs. A rat, no matter how social, won’t hesitate to fight back when attacked.
So, no, the short answer is hamsters and rats don’t usually get along because of their natural attitude toward others.
The short answer is no. Because of the hamster’s solitary and territorial nature, housing it together with a rat is a recipe for disaster—even if most rat species are social animals.
They could end up injuring one another, especially since both have claws and teeth that they’re not afraid to use when they feel in danger. A hamster can’t cohabitate with a rat and vice versa.
When you feel like you really need to house your hamsters with others, get a Roborovski dwarf breed and pair them up. This breed is more tolerant towards having cagemates.
It’s better to house same-sex hamsters to avoid accidental matings.
Remember, this is only for the Dwarf breed. Syrian hamsters should strictly be housed singly—even if you house them with same-sex hamsters, they’re willing to defend their space to death.
As for rats, they’re highly social and generally won’t mind getting housed with other same-sex rats. Ideally, they should be housed together early on in their lives to avoid any conflict.
Both hamsters and rats are considered omnivorous; they’re happy to have both plant material and meat products included in their diets. In addition, their overall dietary requirements don’t stray too far away from one another’s.
There are commercial seed diets made specifically for hamsters. This is still the best diet to give them.
However, if you find yourself in a situation where this isn’t available and you only have a feed mix for rats, it’s usually okay to feed them this.
The only real downside is that the mix is specially formulated with rats in mind, not hamsters. This means it might not have the exact nutrient formulation that a hamster will need to live the healthiest life.
We can apply the same principle as above. While it’s okay to feed rats hamster food, there’s a huge chance that it won’t fully supply the rat with the right amount of nutrients it needs.
Your best option will always be to feed rats the mix or feed formulation made specifically for them. Luckily, these mixes are commercially available and are relatively easy to find in pet stores.
From species down to housing and breeding, hamsters and rats have quite a lot of similarities. However, they still have important differences that you need to know about, especially if you plan on keeping one as a pet.
This hamster vs. rat round-up created an overview of everything you need to know to better care for these animals if you ever encounter them.
A key takeaway is despite their seemingly identical living conditions, like dietary requirements, they still have principal differences that significantly affect how they live.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard. I also like photographing wild birds, especially birds of prey.