Hamsters may still be thought of as the “standard” pet rodent, but over the years rats have gained a lot of fans. Many of these passionate rat-owners claim that their chosen pet has an awful lot going for it – assuming you can ignore the tail. They’re smart, clean and playful; but when it comes to rats vs hamsters who really wins the battle?
There’s no denying the fact that hamsters are pretty cute to look at. Their rounded bodies and stubby faces, combined with a coat of fur that seems a few sizes too big, makes for a very appealing appearance. Curled up asleep, there are few animal lovers who could fail to be transfixed.
Rats, however, are perhaps something of an acquired taste. To their fans, rats are just as good-looking and come in almost as many different colour forms as traditional Syrian hamsters. Two of the more common concerns raised about rats relate to their naked tails, and their larger body proportions.
There’s no getting away from a rat’s tail; typically the least-appealing aspect for non-rat lovers. While there is little that can be done to overcome such feelings, it is worth remembering that a rat’s tail poses a very important purpose.
A rat’s tail is incredibly effective for balance, which in turn makes pet rats far more acrobatic than hamsters. They will happily bounce and climb about their cage, where a hamster might precariously stumble.
Out of their cage they’re just as well-balanced, and will happily clamber about your living room – or even your person – without issue. This can actually help to make handling rats rather easier than hamsters, as they are far less likely to take a tumble.
In terms of size, it’s certainly true that rats are bigger-bodied than hamsters, though the addition of their tail can make them seem much larger than they actually are. They’re also more active, which necessitates a considerably larger cage if they are to remain happy. Of course, bigger cages cost more money.
The flipside of rats being larger is that they can be easier to handle, and they also find it harder to slip through tiny gaps in their cage.
If there’s one personality trait that most hamster owners would agree on it’s that hamsters can, on occasion, be rather grumpy. They’re naturally nocturnal, and start waking up in the evening. Wake them up early and they’re rarely pleased.
Of all the common pet rodents it is hamsters that seem most likely to bite. This is especially so for smaller species of hamsters – Russian and Chinese hamsters for example. Remember, too, that hamsters aren’t just occasionally snappy with their owners – they can be even more rough with members of their own kind. For this reason it is necessary to keep Syrian hamsters alone after some 12-16 weeks of age, or serious fighting can break out.
Rats have an altogether more relaxed attitude to both people and other animals. While their teeth may be larger than those of a hamster, they are also far less likely to use them. Unless you’re jamming your fingers through the bars – where your pet might nibble on them assuming they’re food – you’re far less likely to be bitten by a rat than a hamster. For young children, this can be a very positive aspect.
There’s a very good reason why rats have been so successful in the wild; it’s their superior intelligence. In short, rats are some of the most intelligent creatures of their size, capable of quickly figuring out seemingly complex problems.
As pets, this intelligence can be a good thing. Many pet rats are capable of learning tricks, and may also come to recognise different members of the family. This can make them very appealing as pets.
The flipside to this intelligence is that great care must be taken to ensure that they are suitably entertained at all times. Not only should rats be regularly allowed out of their cage for human interaction, but it is critical that they should have suitable space and a range of toys with which to amuse themselves.
Note, also, that it is considered kind to keep two or more rats together, so that they have company at all times.
While toys are available for hamsters, they generally seem far less bothered. A simple wheel is sometimes all that a hamster will use, irrespective of the money you may have invested into expensive toys.
Lastly when considering hamsters versus rats as pets it is worth thinking about their general lifestyles. Hamsters tend to sleep through most of the day and can be quite secretive and private creatures. Rats, in contrast, are awake during most of the day and seem to positively enjoy interacting with people.
Hamsters Vs Rats: The Conclusion
In truth, it is very difficult to decide whether one pet is better than another; the real question is which one fits your lifestyle best. Some would argue that rats are much better pets, as they’re intelligent, clean and love to interact with their owner. They’re also much less likely to bite than hamsters.
Hamster-lovers would remind you that hamsters are kept alone in much smaller cages, so are cheaper to look after. They’d also point out that if you’re willing to persevere, most hamsters will get used to handling – and will accept it with the minimum of fuss. They also don’t have the long, naked tail of the rat.
Only you can decide whether hamsters or rats are best, though if under any doubt it is a good idea to try holding both animals at the pet shop, so that you can make an educated and informed decision about which pet rodent is best for your family.