Hamster Vs Rats: All Differences Explained

Even though these two cheeky rodents are well-known in the pet trade – they are very different in appearance, behaviors, and how to care for them. People who don’t have pocket pets, though, might not be able to tell them apart – so here are a few easy tips.

4 Ways To Tell Hamsters And Rats Apart

1: Body Size – Rats (or Fancy Rats as they are known when pets) are so much bigger than most species of hamster

2: Tail Length – Rats have a long, straight hairless tail – hamsters have a wee stump only

3: Long Nose – Hamsters have quite a short cute face, whereas rats have a long beaky face

4: Behaviour – Hamsters are very strict nocturnal rodents – whereas rats will be up and about all-day

As you can see, these are things you can easily see when you spot the rodent and so should help you to tell them apart at first glance – but let’s go into a bit more detail so you can be sure.

1: Hamsters Are Smaller Than Rats

There are five pet hamster species, with the most popular being the largest: the Golden (or Syrian) Hamster. Even this hamster is only around 150g (5.3oz) in weight and around 15cm (6in) long (including tail). The smallest of rats, on the other hand (the Black Rat) can be around 30cm (1ft), and the largest Brown Rat sits at over 45cm (17.7in). These giants can top the scales at up to 500g (just over a pound) too. 


2: Rat Tails Can Be 25cm (10in) Long

Black Rats have giant tails compared to their body size and can be seen dragging these straight and skin-covered tails behind them. Brown Rats have long tails too, but a lot shorter by comparison. Their tails aren’t fully prehensile (able to grip things) and are always held straight out when running – making them easier to see in the yard!

Hamsters all have tails, too – but they are so small that most people don’t notice them. Only the Chinese Hamster (Cricetulus griseus) has a tail you can see – but it is no longer than a few cms (an inch) at most. Anything small and furry running across the floor with an obvious tail – isn’t a hamster.

3: Rats Have A Long Beaky Nose With Beady Eyes

Wild rats are famous for their long faces and beady black eyes. They are great for seeking out food, watching for danger, and keeping safe on the streets. These rats are also usually dark brown or rusty-colored, so they blend in with the environment. Hamsters, on the other hand, are usually brightly colored and have cute shorter faces. With black or pink eyes set higher on the head and with front-facing ears – the patterning on hamsters (with their white tummies) makes them look adorable. Nothing like a wild rat.

Domestic rats (Fancy Rats) can be beautiful colors, though – with different colour fur and pink eyes. They can also have their ears down low – called ‘dumbo’ rats – but they still keep their giant naked tail and are usually even bigger than wild rats.

4: Hamsters Sleep All Day Long

Hamsters are mainly nocturnal – so you don’t see them out and about during the day. If you try to wake them up, they will give you a nasty bite to warn that they need their beauty sleep. Rats, on the other hand, are out and about looking for food at all hours. They are scavengers and so will take food wherever they can find it. Rats do come out at night too, but ask any hamster owners if they see their pocket pet during the day!


Who Would Win a Fight Between Them?

With its larger size and powerful jaws, it is most likely that the rat would win the fight if the rat wanted to eat. That isn’t to say that the hamster wouldn’t put up a really good fight. Many stories of dwarf hamsters (at 20g/0.7oz) fight off cats who caught them – leaving the cats bleeding and wounded. 

Could Rats And Hamsters Have Kids?

No. Rats and hamsters are from totally different rodent families, with the rats more closely related to mice and the hamsters nearer to voles and lemmings. Black and Brown rats would most likely fight or run away from hamsters – so the logistics for love could be troublesome.

Which One Makes The Best Pet?

If you love a giant pet that is easy to hold and loves to perch on your shoulder – stares at you all day begging for food and can be easily trained – then rats are for you. If you can’t stand long tails (or your parents or roommates can’t), a hamster is the best pet. Both can become friendly with regular handling – although hamsters must live alone, rats like to live in groups.

Are Black Rats Dangerous?

Answer: Black Rats are known to carry a host of diseases and parasites, including toxoplasmosis and Weil’s disease, but they didn’t bring the Black Death to Europe as commonly told (gerbils did?).

Why Do Hamsters Bite So Much?

Answer: Hamsters’ natural defense when startled or threatened is with their teeth. They live down tunnels, and so this is the first thing a predator will see when they enter the hamster burrow looking for lunch. Hamsters retain this behavior even when domesticated – so never wake a hamster up with your finger.

How Many Babies Can A Rat Have?

Answer: Rats are famous for their fecundity, and a rat mom can easily have a litter of up to 15 pups without batting an eyelid. On average, they have seven pups a litter but can produce five litters a year from 5 weeks. Doing the math – a single pair can be responsible for 1000s of new rats a year under ideal circumstances.