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Choosing a pet can be an exciting decision, and gerbils and hamsters are both popular choices for beginner pet owners. While they may have some similarities, there are also notable differences between these two small rodents. In this article, we will compare gerbils and hamsters in terms of their physical characteristics, behavior, housing and diet requirements, and overall care. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of which pet might be the right fit for you.

Physical Differences

Gerbil vs Hamster: Tail

One of the first noticeable differences between gerbils and hamsters is their tails. Gerbils have long, slender tails, which they use for balance and communication. These tails are covered in fur and are about the same length as their bodies. On the other hand, hamsters have shorter tails that are often stubby and less flexible compared to gerbils. While gerbils’ tails are an integral part of their body, hamsters’ tails are not as prominent and are less versatile.

Gerbil vs Hamster: Face

When it comes to the face, gerbils and hamsters have distinct features. Gerbils have a pointed snout with small, round ears on the sides of their head. Their eyes are large and prominent, providing them with excellent vision. In contrast, hamsters have a rounder face with larger cheeks, giving them a more “chubby” appearance. They have small ears and eyes that are not as prominent as gerbils. These facial differences give each species its unique look.

Gerbil vs Hamster: Body

Another difference between gerbils and hamsters lies in their body shape. Gerbils have a slim, elongated body, resembling a miniature rat. They have a high energy level and are known for their agility and quick movements. On the other hand, hamsters have a more compact and rounded body shape, often described as “hamster-like.” They are typically slower in their movements compared to gerbils. These distinctions in body shape reflect the different behaviors and lifestyles of these two species.

Behavioral Differences

Gerbils and hamsters also exhibit contrasting behaviors, which can influence your choice as a pet owner.

Gerbils are social animals and are best kept in pairs or small groups. They enjoy the company of their own kind and engage in various social behaviors like grooming, playing, and nesting together. On the other hand, hamsters are generally solitary animals and prefer to live alone. They are known to be territorial and can become aggressive towards other hamsters if housed together.

In terms of handling, gerbils are typically more comfortable being held and interacted with by humans. They are known to be curious and enjoy exploring their surroundings. Hamsters, on the other hand, are generally more timid and may take longer to become accustomed to human handling. It’s important to approach and handle them gently to build trust and create a positive bond.

Housing & Diet

Gerbils: Housing & Diet

Gerbils need a spacious enclosure that allows for burrowing and exploring. A glass tank with a wire mesh lid or a specifically designed gerbil cage with multiple levels works well. Provide them with bedding material such as shredded paper or aspen shavings, as well as tunnels and hiding spots for them to feel secure. Gerbils are omnivores and require a balanced diet consisting of commercially available gerbil food, fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional protein sources like mealworms.

Hamsters: Housing & Diet

Hamsters require an appropriate-sized cage that provides ample space for them to run and play. A cage with solid walls and a ventilated lid is ideal, as hamsters are notorious escape artists. Line the cage with bedding material such as aspen shavings or paper-based bedding. Hamsters are primarily herbivores and require a diet that consists of high-quality hamster pellets, supplemented with fresh vegetables, fruits, and occasional treats like nuts or seeds.

Care Differences

Both gerbils and hamsters require regular care to ensure their well-being.

Gerbils need a clean living environment, so spot clean their enclosure daily and perform a full cage clean at least once a week. They also require regular access to fresh water, and their food bowls should be replenished with appropriate food portions daily. It’s essential to provide them with opportunities for physical and mental stimulation, such as exercise wheels, toys, and tunnels.

Hamsters also need a clean cage, with spot cleaning done daily and a full clean at least once a week. They should have a fresh supply of water and adequate food portions daily. Enrichment items like tunnels, chew toys, and hamster wheels should be provided to keep them active and prevent boredom.

Comparing Gerbil vs Hamster


Gerbils are energetic and sociable creatures that thrive in the company of other gerbils. They are ideal for pet owners who have the time and commitment to provide them with social interactions and mental stimulation. Gerbils are known for their agility and curiosity, making them entertaining pets to watch and interact with.


Hamsters, on the other hand, are more independent and prefer to live alone. They are suitable for pet owners who want a low-maintenance pet that requires less social interaction. Hamsters are typically more timid and can be easily startled, so they may require a quieter environment to feel secure and comfortable.

Which Pet to Get?

Deciding between a gerbil and a hamster ultimately depends on your preferences and lifestyle. If you enjoy observing and interacting with social animals that require companionship, gerbils may be the better choice. On the other hand, if you prefer a more independent pet that requires less social interaction, a hamster might be the right fit for you.

Ease of Care

Both gerbils and hamsters have their care requirements, but neither is significantly more difficult to care for than the other. With proper knowledge and commitment, providing for their needs can be manageable. The key is to understand their unique characteristics, behaviors, and dietary needs, and make sure to dedicate time and effort to their well-being.


Gerbils and hamsters are both popular choices for beginner pet owners, and each has its unique qualities. Consider the differences in physical characteristics, behavior, housing and diet requirements, as well as care needs, when deciding which pet is best for you. Whether you choose a gerbil or a hamster, providing them with a suitable environment, social interaction, and proper care will ensure a happy and healthy life for your new furry friend.


Q: Are gerbils or hamsters better for children?

A: Both gerbils and hamsters can make great pets for children, but it ultimately depends on the child’s personality and age. Gerbils may be a better choice for older children who can responsibly handle and interact with them, while hamsters may be more suitable for younger children who prefer a pet they can observe and care for with minimal handling.

Q: Can gerbils and hamsters be kept together?

A: No, gerbils and hamsters should not be housed together. Gerbils are social animals and thrive in the company of their own kind. Hamsters, on the other hand, are solitary creatures and prefer to live alone. Housing them together can lead to stress, aggression, and potential harm to either animal.

Q: How long do gerbils and hamsters live?

A: Gerbils typically live between 2 to 4 years, while hamsters have shorter lifespans, ranging from 1.5 to 3 years on average. Proper care, nutrition, and a suitable environment can help extend their lifespan.

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