Difference between Rat and Hamster

Key Difference: A rat is a medium-sized to large rodents, with a pointed muzzle, long slender and hairless tail, and dexterous forepaws. A hamster is a rodent that belongs to the Cricetidae family of the Rodentia order. They are small in stature, are stout-bodied and have short, stocky legs with wide feet.

Rats and hamsters are two of the most popular pets that are available for people that prefer to take care of small pets, rather than dogs or cats that require more responsibility. At one glance, it can be really easy to become confused between rats and hamsters as they are both small creatures and have a similar appearance. Rats and hamsters are not the same, but can be considered as cousins (maybe once or twice removed). Rats and hamsters belong the same superfamily and different between families and subfamilies.

A rat is a medium-sized to large rodents, generally described as pigeon-sized. They are usually distinguished from mice by their size, but are also known to have a pointed muzzle, long slender and hairless tail, and dexterous forepaws. Like mice, these rodents are also found throughout the world, in varying environments and are nocturnal.

Rats are considered as deadly pests, especially because they often carry deadly diseases. They have been known to have a big part in spreading the Bubonic plague throughout Europe. They are also known to damage and eat crops, and cause structural damage. In some parts of India, every fifty years, armies of bamboo rats descend upon rural areas and devour everything in their path. Also, it is believed that there are up to 4 times more rats in New York City than there are people.

There are many species of rats, including, Philippine forest rat, Polynesian rat, Himalayan field rat, Sunburned rat, Rice-field rat, Summit rat, Nonsense rat, Palm rat, little soft-furred rat, Malayan field rat, Spiny rat, Australian swamp rat, long-haired rat, etc. However, of these the most commonly found and popularly known is the Brown rat or Norway rat and the black rat.

A hamster is a rodent that belongs to the Cricetidae family of the Rodentia order. They are small in stature, are stout-bodied and have short, stocky legs with wide feet. Hamsters have approximately six to seven genera, with over 25 known species. Hamsters have a small tail, that is generally shorter than their body and the amount of fur on their tail differs depending on their species. Although widely believed as nocturnal, hamsters are actually crepuscular creatures, meaning they are active during twilight, dawn or dusk. They prefer to sleep during daylight. However, many pet hamsters may change their daily sleeping habits depending on what they prefer. These rodents are crepuscular to keep themselves away from predators by burrowing holes in the ground during the day.

Hamsters are omnivores that prefer a diet of dried food, seeds, berries, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables. They may also occasionally eat burrowing insects. Similar to other burrowing rodents, hamsters have extra skin in their cheeks that allows them to carry and store food for transport. They have solitary natures and prefer to stay along. They may even become aggressive if they are kept with other hamsters or animals. Hamsters are timid in nature and scare easily, which is one of the reasons why a mother often eats her young if she suspects danger.

Hamsters become fertile at the age of 4-5 weeks, which can change depending on their species. The female’s reproductive life lasts about 18 months and the females are in estrus about every four days. Following mating, the male should be separated from the female or she will attack and can even kill the male. The males should also not be present during birth of the children; they can attack and kill the females or the young. Hamster pups are born in a litter of 6-7 pups per litter. Hamsters are born blind and hairless and wean at the age of 3-4 weeks.

Hamsters make popular pets as they require less maintenance and prefer to stay in solitary conditions. They also require less time and energy and only require small amounts of exercise. Hence, they are the most preferred choice, when trying to teach children of responsibility of pets. Hamsters are also popularly used as laboratory rats because they are easily bred.



























There are six or seven genera, including Allocricetulus, Cansumys, Cricetulus, Cricetus, Mesocricetus, Phodopus and Tscherskia.


64 known species

There are over 25 known species of hamsters.

Commonly known species

Black Rat (Rattus Rattus); Brown Rat (Rattus Norvegicus)

Rat Hamster (Cricetulus griseus); Gray Dwarf Hamster (Cricetulus migratorius); Dwarf Hamsters (Phodous)

Life Span

Avg. 2-3 Years

Avg. 2-3 years

Length (head & body)

20-25 cm (8-10 inches)

5.5 - 10.5 cm (2.2 to 4.1 in); can also go up to 34 cm (13.4 in).

Length (tail)

15-20 cm (6-8 inches)

Tails are usually very small, while some have longer tails that can measure up to 6 cm (2.4 in).

Total length

35-45 cm (14-18 inches)

Can be anywhere from 6 cm to 40 cm.


Up to 300 grams (11 ounces)

Up 500 grams (17 ounces)


White, gray, brown or black.

Black, grey, honey, white, brown, yellow, red, or a mix, depending on the species


Short, stubby, broad, large relative to body

Hamsters are stout-bodied, have short, stocky legs, and wide feet.


Large and blunt with wide muzzle

Small pointed snout with pockets to store food.


Ears are small relative to the head.

Small, furry ears. They also have a keep hearing and are sensitive to high-pitched noises.


Shorter than body, thick

and heavy

Shorter than the body length, thick and may have fur.



Small, they are nearsighted and colorblind.

Sense of smell

Rats have a keen sense of smell and are easy to train. Used by a Norwegian NGO to detect landmines and diagnose tuberculosis through smell.

Hamsters have a sharp sense of smell, along with scent glands on their flanks or abdomen in some species. Hamsters rub areas with these parts to leave a lingering scent to follow back.

Distinguishing features

Primarily nocturnal, high intelligence, keen sense of smell, ingenuity, aggressiveness, and adaptability.

Crepuscular, meaning most active during twilight. They have a keen sense of smell, hearing and are aggressive. They are small and rounded with furry ears.

Average gestation period

21 days

16-30 days depending on the species.


Omnivores, known to attack rats of other species, mice, and even eat their young in some cases.

The diets of hamsters include dried food, berries, nuts, fresh fruits, seeds, insects and vegetables.

Living habits

Can be found indoors, outdoors and in sewers.

Active burrowers, leaving approx 10cm (4 inch) holes. Tunneling can be very extensive. Not agile climbers.

Most common as pets, they are also burrowing animals and dig tunnels under the earth.


Rats are very social and make nice pets. They are calm, composed, rarely bite. However, they must be kept in pairs or they become depressed. They are intelligent and can also be taught to do tricks.

Hamsters are solitary animals and are aggressive in nature. They must be kept apart from other hamsters. Some species can be kept together if they are introduced early in life.


Snakes. In some cultures, rats are or have been limited as an acceptable form of food to a particular social or economic class. Rat meat is taboo in some cultures.

Owl, Hawk, Snakes. Humans use hamsters as part of laboratory testing.

Cultural view

Evil, vicious, malicious, unclean, parasitic animals. Known to spread diseases. The first of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Seen as the vehicle of Ganesha, in Indian mythology. Negative portrayal in stories like The Rats or H.P. Lovecraft's The Rats in the Walls, and in films like Willard and Ben. Changing view, e.g. Dr. Dolittle and Ratatouille.

They are considered to be small, cute and easy to keep pets. They are also used for laboratory tests as they can be easily be bred and reproduced.

Image Courtesy: batzner.com, telegraph.co.uk

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Thank you for detailed information feedback

"Rats are considered as deadly pests"? Was this article written on the middle ages. Clueless.. Plague was started by fleas. Not rats.

And those fleas were carried by rats

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