If you’re looking for a new pet, either a chinchilla or a hamster would be a good choice. But which is better, and why? What’s the difference between them?
Should you get a chinchilla or a hamster? We believe chinchillas are the better pet, because they’re softer, no more expensive or difficult to care for, and live longer than hamsters. Both require training to be tolerate handling, and both require occasional veterinary care. If you aren’t sure which to get, ask a friend who owns either pet, or a nearby breeder, if you can spend time with their animal/s to see which one is the best pet for you. You can have both but you can’t keep chinchillas and hamsters in the same cage.
The guide below looks at every aspect of owning either chinchillas or hamsters: how cuddly they are, how good with children they are, how easy they are to care for, how much they cost and more. We’ll also look at why you can’t keep chinchillas and hamsters in the same cage, what to do if you want both, and what to do if you can’t decide between hamster or chinchilla.
Should You Get a Chinchilla Or a Hamster?
We’re firmly in the ‘chinchilla camp’. We think chins make one of the best small pets by far, so we definitely recommend getting a chinchilla if you want companionship and fun. But you’d be a fool to take our word for it! That’s why we’ve detailed each and every way that chinchillas and hamsters differ below, so you can make up your own mind.
What’s The Difference Between a Hamster And a Chinchilla?
Chinchillas and hamsters are both rodents, but that’s where their similarities end.
There are two species of chinchilla, the long-tailed and the short-tailed. Both of these species come from Chile, and the mountain sides of the Andes, although it’s only the long-tailed chinchilla that has been domesticated and kept as a pet. All chinchilla species are a part of the family Chinchillidae, and are closely related to viscachas. Because they’re from South America too, they aren’t too distantly related to guinea pigs either.
Hamsters, on the other hand, are part of the family Cricetidae. There are many different hamster species, but only five have been domesticated, including the Syrian or Golden hamster. They are found in a range of places: they’re common in Syria and Greece, for example, but have been found as far away as China too.
Anatomically speaking, chinchillas and hamsters aren’t too alike. You can instantly tell them apart just by looking at them. Chinchillas are much bigger than hamsters, and much fluffier. Hamsters have tiny stubby tails, while chinchillas have long, fluffy ones. They’re also different to care for.
Are Hamsters or Chinchillas Easier to Care For?
It’s a myth that hamsters, chinchillas or any other small pet requires minimal care. It’s true that you don’t need to put as much effort into caring for your pet, since you don’t need to take it for walks, for example. But what’s not true is that you can leave either a hamster or a chinchilla in a cage with minimal human intervention. Hamsters do require attentive care—it’s just that generations of people have neglected them. That’s why it’s so common for them to die before they reach the end of their natural lifespans.
Both chinchillas and hamsters require:
- Interaction with their owners. It’s no fun being alone in a cage all day, so spending time with your pet is required.
- Frequent deep cage cleans, plus daily spot cleans. Bacteria builds up over time and makes the cage smelly. Both pets pee, poop, shed fur and leave partially-eaten food on the floor, so you should take 5-10 minutes each day to tidy the cage.
- Daily refilling of food bowls or hay racks. We recommend unlimited feeding, but it’s essential that you don’t a) overfill the bowl so that some of the food goes off, or b) leave your pet without food. It’s therefore best to check each day that your pet has enough to eat.
- Regular changing of bedding to stop it from getting soaked. Both chinchillas and hamsters frequently go to the toilet, and if you don’t keep their cages clean, the bedding inside gets soggy. This makes your pet’s fur dirty and the cage, and the room it’s in, smelly.
- Frequent checking-over and vet checkups. You should handle or observe both pets occasionally to see if they have health issues. We recommend a vet checkup twice a year for each, to catch anything you might have missed.
If all this sounds like a lot of effort, then neither hamsters nor chinchillas are the pet for you.
Which is better? Both pets need care. The idea of a ‘low-maintenance’ pet is a myth.
Are Hamsters or Chinchillas Better for Kids?
Since both hamsters and chins require proper care, neither is ‘easier’ for your child to look after. As for cuddling, neither chinchillas nor hamsters are suitable for being held and hugged close. That’s because both are delicate pets with delicate skeletal systems. You can easily break either a hamster’s or a chinchilla’s bones by squeezing it too tight.
That doesn’t mean you can’t pick them up, but both require that you spend lots of time with them first. Put yourself in the pet’s shoes: you’re much bigger than it, and the only thing that would want to pick up a wild chinchilla or hamster is a predator. As such, we don’t recommend either chinchillas or hamsters for boisterous kids who can’t be taught to be careful with and respectful of animals. If you’re worried that your child would neglect their pet, get it a plant to teach it about responsibility rather than a living, breathing animal.
Chinchillas do edge ahead of hamsters since they’re so fluffy and pleasant to pet. But kids seem to enjoy how small and cute hamsters are, and they’re soft enough that your child will enjoy stroking them.
Which is better? Both are good for kids, so long as you teach your kid to care for them properly.
Are Hamsters or Chinchillas Cheaper to Keep?
Chinchillas and hamsters are roughly as expensive to keep as each other. They both have roughly the same care requirements, including:
- Housing. Both hamsters and chinchillas live in cages. It’s commonly thought that hamsters should live in tiny cages, but that’s not true—they need big ones too.
- Food. Both chinchillas and hamsters eat hay. Chinchillas are bigger so eat more, but hay is so cheap that it makes little difference.
- Veterinary care. Both chinchillas and hamsters need vet care from time to time. Both can easily be physically injured as they’re delicate, and both can get sick.
- Cage accessories. Both chinchillas and hamsters need toys in their cages to stop them getting too bored.
However, there are a couple of ways in which hamsters are cheaper. The first is that hamsters are much easier to find and buy, and because of how common they are, they’re much cheaper. While you can adopt a chinchilla from a shelter for free, most people buy them from breeders and pet shops, and hamsters remain cheaper if purchased this way. The second is that chinchillas live longer, which means you have to pay for their care for longer, too.
Which is better? Hamsters, but not by much.
Do Hamsters or Chinchillas Live Longer?
Chinchillas can live much longer than hamsters. Depending on your perspective, this could be either a good or a bad thing.
Chinchillas can live for over twenty years, and you can expect yours to hit the average of ten years if it receives good care. Hamsters, on the other hand, will only live for around three years. The longest-lived hamster ever only reached 4 1/2 years old.
If you’re buying a pet for a child, you might want to get a pet that doesn’t live as long, so a hamster would be better. But if you want long-term companionship, a chinchilla is by far the better choice.
Which is better? It depends.
Do Chinchillas Or Hamsters Have Softer Fur?
This is one way in which chinchillas are distinctly better than hamsters.
Chinchillas have the softest fur of any pet by a wide margin. They adapted as a species to the cold Andes Mountains, where their thick fur helps them keep warm in the winter. Their fur is so effective, in fact, that they can easily get heat stroke in summer temperatures. It’s very soft to the touch.
Hamsters, on the other hand, come from warmer parts of the world. They didn’t develop such thick fur because if they had, it would make them too warm.
You could be forgiven if this makes you assume that chinchilla fur is much harder to keep clean than hamster fur, but that’s not true. If anything, chinchillas are the cleaner animals. That’s because they learned to ‘dust bathe’, i.e. roll in volcanic dust to keep their fur from getting greasy. Owners let their pet chinchillas bathe in special dust once or twice a week, and this means you never have to brush them, bathe them in water, or use any kind of cleaning products on their fur. They’ve even learned—or at least, most chinchillas have learned—to pee in one corner of the cage so they don’t get their fur wet as they go about their daily business.
Which is better? Chinchillas, chinchillas, chinchillas!
Do Hamsters or Chinchillas Handle Better?
You can handle both hamsters and chinchillas. But both require that you get to know them first, and you have to be gentle, too.
As we said above, to understand why, you have to put yourself in your pet’s shoes. You’re much bigger than it is, and it doesn’t have any instinct to tell it that you’re friendly. Dogs have been bred over millenia to be friendly to humans, so much so that even newborn puppies recognize that their owners aren’t threats. But chinchillas haven’t been through this process; they’ve only been consistently domesticated for a hundred years now. The same applies to hamsters. This means that you have to gradually befriend your pet over time, whichever you pick.
And again, whichever you pick, you have to be careful with it. You can’t throw it around, move it quickly, or handle it in the rough-and-tumble way you might handle a puppy. Both hamsters and chins are delicate pets, which means they aren’t suitable for hyperactive kids. You have to go at your pet’s pace, not at yours, no matter which you pick.
That being said, chinchillas have the much softer fur. They’re easily one of the best small pets for cuddling, even though you have to be careful with them.
Which is better? Chinchillas.
Which Is Better, Chinchilla or Hamster?
We would say that chinchillas make much better pets than hamsters. But, obviously, we’re biased.
On a serious note, chinchillas are more pleasant to stroke and handle, they’re more fun to keep, and they provide you with years more companionship. As for the price of their care, the most expensive aspect of it is the medical side, and that applies both to chinchillas and hamsters. If you don’t have enough to pay a chinchilla’s vet bills, then you can’t afford a hamster’s ones either. So, on balance, we genuinely recommend chinchillas as pets!
Extra Credit: Can Chinchillas And Hamsters Live Together?
If you still aren’t sure which pet you would prefer, you might want to get both. That’s not unusual; most people who have one pet will get another, either at the same time as the first or after it passes.
But do chinchillas like hamsters, or get along with hamsters? Just because hamsters and chinchillas are two small furry pets you keep in cages, that doesn’t mean they can live in the same cage. You would have to keep them apart in two separate cages. Whether you have the space for this depends on where you live.
Why Can’t Chinchillas Live With Hamsters?
The problem is that your chinchilla and your hamster are two different species of pet, and different species naturally compete. Unless they are well bonded, even two chinchillas or two hamsters will fight with each other over space (hides, tunnels, platforms, etc.) or over food. It’s little wonder, then, that a chinchilla and a hamster would fight.
When we say ‘fight’, we don’t mean low-level bickering either. Both chinchillas and hamsters can be vicious, dangerous to each other, especially chinchillas (whose teeth are much bigger than a hamster’s). A chinchilla could easily kill a small hamster, and because of its instinct of not letting food go to waste, might even eat it. That’s not a hypothetical either, it’s a very real scenario that could happen if you kept the pair together.
The same applies even if you want the pair to play together. Chinchillas are social animals that live in groups, and learn to play with each other from an early age. Syrian hamsters, on the other hand, are solitary animals and should live alone. Even other hamster species that are social—like dwarf hamsters—wouldn’t know how to play with chinchillas if they were allowed outside the cage together.
As such, your only option for keeping both would be to keep them separately.
If you can only get one, we recommend talking to a breeder directly, and seeing if you can spend time with each to see which you like better. You could go to a pet shop, but we don’t recommend supporting pet shops as they typically keep their animals in unsuitable conditions. You could also ask a friend, if any of your friends have either pet, if you could spend time with it. After watching and handling both you should get an idea of which you prefer.
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