Thinking of getting a pet, but can’t decide between a rabbit or a hamster ? I know you know they’re very different animals, but there are some things that can become deal-breakers, depending on what you’re looking for in a pet.
Let’s see the main differences between a hamster and a rabbit, so you can properly decide which is best for you. If you want to know how a hamster would fare living with a rabbit in the same cage, you should read this article.
About the hamster – general info and personality
A hamster is very small, can be as small as 2 inches/5 cm, and as large as 5 inches/13 cm. He doesn’t need as much room as a rabbit, and usually stays put.
Hammies don’t like to share and generally should not be housed together. The only exceptions are the Dwarf types, who can live with a sibling or two of the same sex. This is only true for siblings that have never been separated and live in a very large cage, so they won’t fight over food and toys and general resources.
Even so, I recommend keeping any and all hamsters alone, one hamster per cage. This reduces the hamster’s stress levels and this way you make sure there are no unnecessary fights, which can sometimes be deadly.
Hamsters are prey animals, so they’re used to running away and hiding. Their cages need to have plenty of hiding places, so they can feel safe.
This also means that taming the hamster will not be as easy as taming a puppy. He will take anywhere between a few days and a few weeks to trust you. And that trust can always be lost, or forgotten if you stop interacting with him for a few days.
Still, hamsters make for very entertaining pets. It’s just that the vast majority of hamsters only come out of their hiding place at night. This means that if you go to bed before 10 PM you might just miss their waking up. And if you wake up around 6 AM, they’ve just gone to bed.
So I’d only recommend a hamster to a person who either stays up very late, or works night shifts and can catch the hamster awake more often.
They’re also very sensitive animals, in that there is such a thing as handling them too much, and too little. They get grumpy if you wake them up, they won’t always want to stay in your hands… okay, they rarely want to stay put. They want to explore and see everything.
Their personalities are not obvious from the start, when they’re babies. But once they grow up (3 months-ish) you’ll realize you’ve either got a Rambo type (all over the place, exploring, trying to intimidate you, not staying still) or the world’s laziest and relaxed furball. There is no in-between.
All hamsters mellow down once they become old, it’s just that some are absolutely spastic when they’re young.
About the rabbit – general info and personality
Rabbits are very different from hamsters. For a very long time I thought that, with rabbits being rodents they must be very similar to hamsters.
Well, it turns out rabbits aren’t even rodents, they’re lagomorphs. That’s mainly a difference in teeth and digestive system, which includes the fact that their feed is going to be different.
Rabbits are everything the hamster is not. While they too are small (compared to a dog), even the tiniest bunny is bigger than the largest hamster. You can get anything from Dwarf bunnies to the ridiculously large Giants. That means your cage and pens are going to vary according to the type of rabbit you have.
Bunnies are social. Definitely social. They’re more like a cat than a hamster, actually, demanding attention and then getting fussy if they don’t get it. If they do get it, you’ve probably done it wrong. Bunnies aren’t as easy to read, so it’s best if you read up on their general body language here.
This means that rabbits can’t be kept in a cage all their life, like a hamster. You’re going to need to let the bunny out. often, and let him roam around the house, or a designated area.
They also live longer than hamsters – about 8-12 years – so they’re a big commitment. That means for the next 8-12 years you’re going to have to adapt yourself to your bunny’s demanding yet endearing personality, and he’ll adapt to yours. Maybe.
Rabbits can and do get aggressive, but not often. They’d rather warn you that you’ve done something wrong rather than bit or headbutt you. They’re forgiving like that. But they will attack if you insist on annoying them.
Territory is a big thing for rabbits. They will mark any and every thing they think they own. Your sofa, the carpet, under the table, between counters, your leg, maybe even your shoes.
They do this with a combination of pee, pellets, and rubbing their chins onto surfaces. That’s where their scent glands are.
Food and treat differences between hamsters and rabbits
Food is fairly different for hamster and for rabbits.
Firstly hamster eat almost anything, but they prefer and start with grains. Hard, dry grains are their usual meals, accompanied by nuts and seeds. A bit of fruit and vegetables are welcome, if they can find them.
Protein too is great, whether it’s insects, a mealworm, or a fresh nice strip of cooked chicken (plain, no condiments or oil).
You can find a whole bunch of commercial feeds for hamster, and most of them are good. You can also use foods you’ve got in your fridge or pantry as treats for them. Here’s a big list of safe hamster foods you can find in your home.
But, if you’ve got a diabetic hamster be warned that most fruits are off-limits to them. A few vegetables like sweet potato and carrots are limited too, since they will only worsen their condition.
As for rabbits, their food is not that similar to a hamster’s food. A hamster can find things he likes in the rabbit’s food, but the rabbit won’t eat much of what’s in the hamster’s bowl.
But what does a rabbit eat, aside from the classic carrots ? Well plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the leafy green kind of foods. They eat food that’s a lot like guinea pig food, actually.
They eat lots of timothy hay as well, since they use it to file down their teeth and for nutrients as well. This means you’re going to have to provide them with a fresh supply of hay all day, every day.
Aside from all of this, rabbits will need pellets as feed. This commercial food mix has a blend of all the nutrients a rabbit will need, and they’re all in one single pellet.
This way the rabbit won’t be able to pick and choose his favorite foods (which all animals end up doing), so you can be sure he’s going to get all his nutrients on one go.
Rabbits go through a bag of food much faster than a hamster seeing as a hamster only needs a teaspoon or two of his dried food mix every day. A rabbit can need even 4 heaping tablespoons of pellets ! This is aside from all the extra veggies and hay.
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Cage sizes and exercise requirements for rabbits and hamsters
Cages are a big problem here. Mostly because a hamster will only need a cage of minimum 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall.
This is the absolute minimum, and I recommend getting a cage much larger than this. However most cages on the market don’t come much bigger than this. Most barely reach this size, actually.
Hamsters don’t need time outside their cages, mostly because they spend most of their time hiding and digging burrows. If you were to let them out on the floor they’d need a place to hide. Wide open spaces make them panic and they will want to find a safe, dark corner to hide in.
As for their actual exercise needs, hamsters do a whole lot of running. This is why they always get an exercise wheel with their cage. But the wheels that come with the cage you buy are almost always poor quality plastic wheels that barely spin.
You need a good, solid, big wheel to let your hamster get all of his exercise. You can find out more about exercise wheels for hamsters here.
Rabbits, on the other hand, need not only a much larger cage, but also a very large play area. Most people agree that providing the rabbit with a whole room, all to himself, would be best.
But not everyone has a spare room. In this case a minimum for the living space would be 90 x 60 cm, and 90 cm high/ 35.4 x 23.6 inches, and 35.4 inches high.
The exercise space should be a minimum of 2.43 x 1.21 m/ 8 x 4 feet, with height allowance. Rabbits can sometimes jump very high, and like to jump on top of things.
The living area and exercise space need to be linked together so the rabbit can come and go as he pleases. If you’ve got more than one rabbit living together, you’re going to have to double those sizes I mentioned.
So in short, keeping a rabbit in an apartment or house is going to be very difficult. In a garden outside however, you can provide much more space.
But that space can’t be used for anything else, though. So think about this carefully. You should read here more about the cage and playpen areas necessary for rabbits.
You can’t skimp out on the rabbit’s enclosure size, since he will become irritated, restless, and generally destructive. Do not underestimate rabbits, cute as they may look.
Socializing and upkeep needs are very different for rabbits and hamsters
Hamsters don’t need much by way of socializing. They’re loners, for the most part, and get by just fine if they’re got a big enough cage and plenty of toys to keep them entertained. Hammies don’t really get bored if they have all of that.
They are fine with their owner’s presence, although they’re not necessarily crazy about being held or petted. They’ll tolerate it because they can learn that it’s not something harmful for them, and sometimes those hands carry treats.
Still, hammies are perfectly fine on their own, and are mostly low-maintenance. Yes, their cage should be cleaned one a week, but that’s pretty much the only downside.
Rabbits need plenty of attention and petting and rubbing behind their ears. They need to be the center of attention. All rabbits do, even if you’ve got a mellow bunny. They will eve ask for your attention, either by butting their head against your hands or legs, sometimes even nipping gently.
Sometimes they might even just lay flat across you, or parts of you. This is partly them showing dominance, and partly asking for grooming/attention from you.
Can you think of another furball that does the same things ? It usually meows and can’t decide if it wants out of the house or back inside.
Rabbits will take up your lives, and that can be either a great thing or a nuisance, depending on your disposition and what your home can offer. If you’re willing to be there for the bunny, cuddle him, feed him, play with him, and leave him, all on his own terms that’s great.
He will claim parts of your home as his, and will understand that some parts of the home are yours (and thus off limits). He’ll still try to go into those place, just not when you’re looking.
Cleaning after the rabbit will be a constant aspect of your life, since rabbits mark their territory with pee and pellets. And wherever you let him roam is going to need to be an easy to clean place, otherwise the entire are will stink up fast.
If you’re looking for more of a quiet pet, who won’t take up more than you give him, then maybe the hamster is for you. He needs less attention from you, and is there more to look at than cuddle with. They can be charming and cute on their own, with their fuzzy mugs and that did-I-leave-the-gas-on look about them.
You need to think very carefully which pet would be best for you. A rabbit is high maintenance, more than a dog for example. And definitely more than a hamster.
And they definitely can’t be kept together, that’s for sure. Some have tried, and it’s never went over well.
A hamster, while low-maintenance, can be sometimes dull compared to the sometimes too lively rabbit. Neither of them are good pets for children, since they require a very patient person to look after them, and to handle them.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. I know you might be trying to decide between a hammy and a rabbit, but we’re very different. You’ll need to think about whether your home and life would be a better fit for a hammy, or a bunny.
If you want to know more about us hamsters you should check out the related articles below. You’ll learn how to keep us safe and happy, and what we need for a good life.