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Are Mice or Hamsters Better Pets? (Which Rodent Should I Get?)

Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 10:22 pm

Whether mice or hamsters make better pets is highly subjective. Despite being members of the same family (the order Rodentia), they’re different animals with different traits.

Syrian hamsters are the most common hamster species, but dwarf hamsters are also popular pets.

The fancy mouse (Mus musculus) can be kept in captivity. Having been bred as pets for over 200 years, they look much different from their wild brethren and are available in various colors.

Hamsters and mice are most active when it’s dark. Hamsters are crepuscular and emerge between dusk and dawn, while mice are nocturnal and come out after dark. However, mice do emerge during the day.

Both species are trainable, but mice are smarter than hamsters. However, neither is as clever as rats.

Hamsters are solitary and are happy to entertain themselves with the toys they find in their cages. Mice prefer to live in groups, making their cages smellier due to scent marking.

Differences Between Mice and Hamsters

Hamsters and mice share similar features, but it’s easy to tell them apart:

  • Hamsters are larger and rounder with short, stubby tails. Mice have slender bodies and long tails.
  • Mice have larger ears and eyes than hamsters, although they’re similar in shape.
  • A mouse’s fur tends to be one solid color; hamsters have a variety of colors and markings.
  • Hamsters have large cheek pouches they fill with food.
  • Mice have longer feet than hamsters.

The easiest way to tell mice and hamsters apart is through their tails.

Are Mice or Hamsters Friendlier?

As mice are sociable animals who prefer living in groups, they find living alone stressful and experience depression if kept as a lone pet.

Due to their social preferences, they’re friendly creatures who can bond with their owners. However, getting mice comfortable around people takes time and patience.

While mice are friendly, they dislike being picked up and handled. While uncommon, they may bite when threatened. This is a problem for young children who want to cuddle their cute pets.

Not all hamsters enjoy human interaction, but they can learn to become friendly with early socialization. Once tamed, they make friendly and loving pets who often greet their owners once they wake up.

are mice or hamsters friendlier?

Are Mice More Affectionate Than Hamsters?

Most rodents are friendly animals, relying on their ability to form relationships in captivity and the wild.

According to Physiology, a neurochemical called oxytocin (sometimes known as the love hormone) is released in the brain when rodents are touched and petted.

This means mice and hamsters can exhibit a basic affection toward humans.

Some hamster species (like Syrians) are more affectionate than mice. While not all hamsters are happy to be held and petted, most form strong bonds with their owners, but this takes time.

While mice are friendlier, they dislike being cuddled. Fancy mice hand-raised from birth can grow to tolerate being touched but don’t respond well to being picked up and handled.

Do Hamsters or Mice Smell Worse?

Rodent urine smells strongly of ammonia, which becomes unpleasant if the cage isn’t spot-cleaned.

While hamster pee smells bad, they urinate in a particular spot – usually in their sand bath or a certain burrow. This means the smell is concentrated and relatively easy to clean.

Only remove soiled bedding, as replacing all of the bedding is stressful for hamsters, as they’re comforted by their scent and pheromones.

Mice drink and pee a lot to mark their territory, producing a foul-smelling odor that quickly permeates the room. When you clean their cages, they produce more odors from their scent glands.

Mice are harder to toilet-train and pee all over their cage. Unless you use odor-absorbing bedding, you’ll need to replace the substrate and clean the enclosure and all accessories, which mice dislike.

Hamsters’ scent glands produce a strong smell, which only occurs when stressed.

Female hamsters produce a musky smell when they’re in heat. The smell doesn’t last long but will occur every 4-5 days during its heat cycle.

Are Mice Smarter Than Hamsters? 

While hamsters have basic intelligence, mice are the smarter rodents.

Hamsters have unique qualities, like building burrows and hoarding food inside their cheek pouches. They’re good at learning tasks (like running mazes, problem-solving, and responding to stimuli).

Mice have superior memory and spatial navigation due to their excellent vision and hearing. Hamsters have particularly bad eyesight but can memorize things essential to their survival.

Do Mice Bite More Than Hamsters?

Mice and hamsters are at the bottom of the food chain, so they bite when fearful, cornered, or threatened. They use their sharp yellow teeth to protect themselves from predators.

Without proper socialization and handling, hamsters bite when picked up.

Mice will only nip when cornered, which is a warning that it’s scared or uncomfortable. However, mice are less keen on being picked up and handled than hamsters.

Both mice and hamsters must chew to keep their teeth filed. As Cell Reports explains, hamsters have continuously growing incisors, as do mice.

Mice and hamsters gnaw on fibrous foods and natural materials like wood to prevent their teeth from overgrowing and becoming misaligned.

As a result, they sometimes confuse human fingers for items they can chew or eat. This is most common among hamsters because they have poor vision.

Mice vs. Hamster Life Expectancy

Hamsters’ life expectancy is 2-2.5 years, while mice only live for 1-2 years. The longevity of mice is about the same as dwarf hamsters, which have shorter lifespans than Syrian hamsters.

do hamsters or mice smell worse?

Hamster And Mice Care Needs

When deciding between a hamster and a mouse, it’s important to consider the care they need and whether you can provide it. They need the following:

Cage Size And Bar Spacing

Hamsters and mice need large enclosures to exercise and move freely.

For hamsters, that means solid floor space measuring 100 x 50 cm at a minimum with at least 6 inches of bedding. Hamsters burrow and won’t do so until a substrate layer is 10 inches deep.

According to the Ottawa Humane Society, the minimum size for a mouse cage is 45 x 30 x 30 inches. Mice are also nest builders and use substrate to maintain their temperature.

You must also find an escape-proof cage for mice and hamsters.

As mentioned, hamsters can squeeze into small gaps, so a glass tank with a secure lid is a good option. If using a wire cage, ensure the bars are no more than ¼ inch apart.

Food And Diet

Hamsters and mice require scientifically formulated pellets. They also enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables and occasional treats consisting of nuts, seeds, and protein-rich foods, like egg whites.

Entertainment and Enrichment

Mice and hamsters need a large running wheel for entertainment and exercise while awake.

Unlike hamsters, mice are climbers and like to have climbing frames and ropes they can scale for fun. Hamsters have poor eyesight, which means these items can lead to injuries like broken limbs.

Both animals benefit from toys, particularly ones they can chew. They also like nesting boxes and hideouts where they can hide whenever they feel unsafe or threatened.

Tunnels, branches, cork logs, and foraging toys are other good forms of enrichment.

Whether mice or hamsters make better pets is subjective. Both rodent pets provide companionship and give you a sense of purpose, as a living creature depends on you for its day-to-day needs.

A Syrian hamster is the best option if you want a single pet. You’ll likely be able to tame it if you start socializing it at an early age. Also, spot cleaning is easier, so you’ll find that hamsters aren’t smelly pets.

However, if you’re happy to have two or more mice and don’t mind spending more money on their food, you’ll grow to appreciate their fun-loving nature. Mice enjoy climbing, swinging, and jumping.