What Is the Difference Between a Mouse and a Hamster?

One question “pocket pet” enthusiasts will eventually ask is, “What is the difference between a hamster and a mouse?” While both species are cute, small, and popular as first-time pets all across America, they have many differences that distinguish them as animals.

The main difference between hamsters and mice is that they belong to different families, even though both are considered rodents. Hamsters are members of the Cricetidae family; mice are members of the Muridae family. They also have different temperaments, personalities, and dietary and care needs.

The word “Muridae” means “mouse,” and the Muridae family only includes “true mice;” meanwhile, the Cricetidae family of rodents includes not only hamsters but also rats, lemmings, and voles.

So while hamsters and mice are related, they are not the same. Read on to learn more about the differences between hamsters and mice!

Caring For a Hamster Vs. Caring for a Mouse

Probably one of the biggest differences between hamsters and mice is their care. While the two animals look similar, they have different dietary needs, ways of socializing, and habitat requirements. Such differences make caring for a hamster versus a mouse quite different!

Hamster Care

As with any new pet you intend on welcoming into your home, hamster care has to be taken very seriously. Hamsters are anxious and easily stressed animals, which can lead to health complications and even fatalities down the line.

To keep your hamster happy and healthy, you must understand how to care for it. Here is a quick rundown of the basics to get you started:

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  • Bedding. Hamsters need bedding that won’t lead to a respiratory infection. Improper can result in an allergic reaction in the hamster or even intestinal blockages and pouch impactions if the hamster tries to eat it!
    • The most recommended bedding for small rodents is Carefresh 99% Dust-Free Natural Bedding from Amazon.com. Carefresh is a dust-free bedding, meaning it won’t result in a respiratory issue for your hamster and is highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction as well. It also has “exceptional odor control,” so your house won’t smell of hamster urine.
    • Kaytee Clean & Cozy, also from Amazon, is another leading brand when it comes to keeping small rodents clean and healthy. Like Carefresh, it is 99% dust-free and has odor control. What separates it from Carefresh is its ability to absorb six times its weight in liquid. Its high absorbency makes it long lasting.
  • Entertainment. Hamsters need something to do! Not only must you care for their physical needs, but you must also care for their mental and emotional needs! A hamster that becomes bored will become depressed, which will eventually lead to physical complications that could even prove fatal! The following are some product recommendations from Amazon.com to keep your hamster entertained.
    • This PStarDMoon Hamster Exercise Ball is pretty much the standard plastic ball you’ve probably seen hamsters famously running inside. The ball is silent, so it won’t disturb the hamster’s owners, and it comes with extra chew toys.
    • Sofier’s Hamster Chew Toys set provides hamsters with one of their favorite past times: chewing and climbing! This set comes with many fun pieces for your hamster to chew, climb, push, and pull. Hours of entertainment to keep your hamster happy!
  • Habitat. Hamsters need a 15-gallon cage at minimum, but the bigger the better. The ideal hamster cage is made of plastic because it’s easiest to clean and poses the least amount of health risks for your pet. Wire cages typically have painted bars, which the hamster will chew, and it’s best to avoid that. Meanwhile, aquariums don’t allow much ventilation due to the glass, raising the likelihood of respiratory complications.

Ferplast Hamster Cage, 15.94 x 11.61 8.61 x 8.86

Mouse Care

Unlike hamsters, mice are very social and have different needs when it comes to habitat and entertainment (bedding is about the same). Here’s a quick overview:

  • Habitat. Because mice are social creatures, four can be kept comfortably in 10 gallons of space. As with hamsters, the cage needs to have good ventilation and should be kept away from direct sunlight.
  • Entertainment. Like hamsters, mice require intellectual stimulation. Fill their habitat with proper toys, including hide boxes, running tubes, exercise wheels, and chews to keep their teeth filed down.

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As you can see, hamsters and mice have similar care needs that are just different enough to warrant consideration when choosing one for a pet.

The hamster is likely going to wind up the more expensive of the two, especially with its penchant for anxiety and anxiety-induced illnesses.

Read Is Silica Sand Safe for Hamsters?

Physical Differences

Though hamsters and mice look very similar, they have many physical differences. For example, hamsters are shorter than mice. Hamsters have shorter (and broader) bodies, shorter legs, and shorter bald tails.

Meanwhile, the average mouse’s body is slender and long, with longer legs and a longer tail.

Though hamsters are “fatter” and shorter, mice have more oversized ears and eyes. This is only on average, as some hamsters have very large ears. Hamsters also have poor vision and are colorblind.

While fancy mice (domestic mice) can come in various colors, wild mice are typically one uniform color across their bodies (either brown or gray), as this helps them better blend with their environment and hide from predators, especially since they tend to burrow in the ground.

Hamsters tend to come in brighter colors, though there are some darker variations, like the Black Bear Hamster.

The standard and best-known hamster, the Syrian hamster, is the most commonly kept pet in America and is known for its golden fluffy appearance, with variations including a white body with a gold head or a fully white body.

Read Why Do Hamsters Pull Their Poop Out?

Tail

Though I mentioned the differences between the two rodents’ tails up above, there is such a difference between them that it warrants its own section.

As mentioned before, mice have long bald tails while hamsters have short bald tails. A hamster’s tail is so short it’s typically only a few centimeters long!

The reason for the difference in length is the need for balance. While hamsters love scurrying through plastic tubes and running in wheels, mice are actually more active and athletic. So it only makes sense that they would have evolved to grow longer tails.

Habitat

Given that circus mice are famous for their tricks, it may come as a surprise that hamsters and mice would require different habitats.

After all, hamsters are as clever as mice and also enjoy toys and fun objects to climb. But as mentioned in the last section, mice are more acrobatic and energetic.

The main difference in the habitat needs of a mouse and a hamster comes from the fact that hamsters are almost fully domesticated now, while many wild hamsters are on the endangered species list.

However, wild mice and domestic mice both exist simultaneously and in abundance.

Whether domesticated or in the wild, the average hamster enjoys a nest and a quiet environment. This is why zoologist Aharoni found his hamster and her offspring in the middle of a wheat field!

Mice are similar but more adaptable, meaning they are more willing to nest in noiser areas than a hamster.

Read Is Calcium Sand Safe for Hamsters

Dietary Needs

The dietary needs of hamsters and mice are one of their fundamental differences and are probably why you are more likely to find a mouse in your garbage than an escaped hamster.

Hamsters have evolved to hide food in their cheeks and store it for later consumption to avoid predators.

The hamster’s evolutionary cheek-stuffing behavior is one of the main reasons the diet of a hamster and a mouse differs so significantly: hamsters could not successfully store dead insects or smaller rodents for later consumption, but fruits and vegetables and seeds are easier to store.

In fact, storing meat would just draw more predators, the exact thing a hamster is looking to avoid!

The average hamster prefers clean, fresh food, such as:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables:
    • Celery
    • Broccoli
    • Raspberries
    • Mangoes
    • Grapes
  • Seeds
  • Hamster pellets

Though hamsters love fruit, you should only give it to them in moderation since they are prone to diabetes, unlike mice, who can thrive on sugar and fruit.

And though domesticated hamsters are vegetarians, wild African hamsters have been observed hunting insects in packs.

The mouse, much like its cousin the rat, will eat a wide variety of foods, including whatever it happens to stumble upon in the wild. Mice are omnivores, meaning they will eat:

  • Meat
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Grains

Their preference for grains (and electrical wiring) is how mice have gained a reputation as pests. They would target gardens and crops, causing devastating damage.

They are more drawn to chocolate than cheese (their commonly believed “favorite” food) and are likely to eat almost anything they find, including food in the garbage.

During times of desperation, mice have even engaged in cannibalistic behavior, eating their own tails and offspring.

Read Why Is My Hamster Not Eating?

Personality and Behavior

Hamsters and mice have personalities that are practically opposites. For example, hamsters don’t mind being handled and are friendlier, while mice are more cowardly, shy, and nervous.

Hamsters are also solitary, while mice are more social and prefer to live in large groups. You can’t house two hamsters together unless you intend to breed them, given that the hamsters will fight each other for space and resources, no matter how large the cage or abundant the resources.

Hamster fighting likely comes from the fact that hamsters evolved to store food in their cheeks and hide the food in secret places. A hamster stumbling across another hamster’s food cache would trigger a fight if one were caught stealing from the other.

On the other hand, mice tend to eat food as they find it, rather than storing it for later. This means that mice are more prone to sharing with other mice and, as a result, evolved to be more social.

Difference Between a Mouse and a Hamster
Difference Between a Mouse and a Hamster

Read Can You Die From a Hamster Bite?

Owning a Hamster Vs. a Mouse

So, now that you know the differences between a hamster and a mouse, you’re probably wondering which one to keep as a pet. Though hamsters can become sick or stressed easily, both hamsters and mice are low-maintenance pets that don’t require much in the way of housing and feeding, and they each have their pros and cons.

A con of keeping hamsters, for instance, is that hamsters are solitary creatures, so if you want to keep more than one, you’ll have to buy multiple cages. Mice, meanwhile, will happily live in groups.

Hamsters are also more welcoming when it comes to physically handling them, whereas mice are shy and more easily frightened. Their willingness to be handled (and the mouse’s reputation as a pest) is one of many reasons hamsters are more popular than mice as pets.

In the end, both pets have their pros and cons, and you should choose one according to your needs. If you want a pet you can touch and handle, then hamster it is. But if you prefer a pet you can observe without handling, then a mouse is ideal. Choose what’s right for you!

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Conclusion

So in conclusion, while hamsters and mice are both rodents and have a few similarities, they are actually quite different in dietary needs, social needs, and temperament. Choosing one as a pet relies on your needs as an individual.

A hamster would be best for a person who wants a low-maintenance pet they can display, while a mouse would better suit a person who wants a pet they can interact with regularly!