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Gerbil vs. Hamster: Differences Explained (Which Is Best?)

The main differences between gerbils and hamsters are their appearance. Gerbils are smaller, have long tails, and long snouts. Hamsters are bigger with stubby tails and flattened snouts.

Rodents are slowly becoming popular pet choices. They are easy to keep and do not require much attention. Among the most popular are gerbils and hamsters.

While both these rodents are indistinguishable at first sight, there are several key differences between the two. 

But which one is the right pet for you?

This article discusses the similarities and differences between gerbils and hamsters so you can make a better decision when buying your next pet.

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Overview

Gerbils are smaller than hamsters but have a similar lifespan. They have similar physical characteristics and both are great for families with children.

Gerbils and hamsters look familiar, only distinguished by small differences. 

The biggest difference between the two is their tail. Gerbils have long tails, as long as their body. Hamsters have a short stump as their tails.

Hamsters and gerbils both occur in different colors and sizes. Gerbils are found in five major types:

  • Mongolian gerbils
  • Fat-tailed gerbils
  • Great gerbils
  • Pallid gerbils
  • Shaw’s jird gerbils

Hamsters mainly come in three types[1] as pets:

  • Syrian hamsters
  • Chinese hamsters
  • Dwarf hamsters (Campbell’s, Roborovski, and winter white Russian)
Gerbil vs. Hamster Overview

What Is the Difference Between a Gerbil and a Hamster?

The main differences between gerbils and hamsters are their snouts, leg length, and tails. Gerbils have longer and pointed snouts, while hamsters have flattened snouts. Gerbils also have longer hind legs than hamsters, and their tails are as long as their body. Hamsters don’t have a tail, but a short stump.

CharacteristicsGerbilsHamsters
Size2–4 inches3–8 inches
Weight4–5 ounces4–9 ounces
Lifespan2–4 years2–4 years
Pet-friendlyAverageGood
Children-friendlyYesYes
TrainabilityHighMedium

While gerbils and hamsters both belong to the Rodentia family, they have several differences. 

Hamsters are solely nocturnal and are asleep during most of the day. Gerbils don’t have a fixed sleeping schedule but prefer to remain active during the night. They can also adapt to their owner’s preferences, unlike hamsters.

Here are some more differences between them:

  • Origin
  • Appearance
  • Size
  • Temperament
  • General health and care

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Origin

Gerbil vs. Hamster Origin

The Mongolian gerbil originates from Mongolia, while hamsters originate from Syria. Gerbils were introduced to the US in 1954, while hamsters were introduced earlier, around the early half of the 20th century.

There are many types of gerbils with varying colors and sizes. 

The most common is the Mongolian gerbil. This species originated in Mongolia. They live in deserts and drylands, including the Gobi Desert.[2]

The harsh climate of the desert made gerbils tough rodents that can survive on small amounts of water. This resulted in unique adaptions, such as the fat-tailed gerbil’s ability to store food and water in its tail. This serves the same purpose as a camel’s hump.

Their hind legs are developed for running and jumping away from predators. Their predators include snakes and birds.

In 1954, Dr. Victor Schwentker brought 20 pairs of Mongolian gerbils to the United States for breeding. This was the first recorded instance of gerbil domestication in the United States.

Hamsters were brought to the United States in the early half of the 20th century. From 1936, the popularity of hamsters exploded, which led to their domestication.

These furry rodents spend most of their time underground to avoid predators. They were first discovered in Syria by a biologist named Israel Aharoni.

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Appearance

Gerbil vs. Hamster Appearance

Gerbils are smaller than hamsters, but they have long tails and snouts, while hamsters have small stubs for tails and flat snouts. Gerbils also have stronger and longer hind legs than hamsters, relative to their size.

Gerbils have big and straight ears that help them detect predators coming their way. They also have powerful hind legs, which let them stand up and scout for threats. Their noses are pointed and long, which resemble a rat’s nose.

Gerbils also have large eyes and a long tail. The length of a gerbil’s tail is the same as its body length. Fat-tailed gerbils have thick and furless tails which are used to store food and water.

Hamsters’ front and hind legs are similar in length. They do not stand up straight but love to run around. Their paws are bigger than gerbils.

Hamsters have short flat noses in contrast with gerbils. They do not have a long tail (except for the Chinese hamster) but have a short snub. 

One of the most unique aspects of hamsters is their cheek pouches which they use to carry food. Gerbils do not have cheek pouches.

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Size

Both gerbils and hamsters start out as inch-long babies, but hamsters are bigger when fully grown than gerbils. The average size of a Mongolian gerbil is around 2–4 inches, while that of the Syrian hamster is around 3–8 inches.

The size difference vanishes when comparing any gerbil to the Dwarf hamsters. Dwarf hamsters can be as small as two inches, making them smaller than most gerbils.

The weight of an adult gerbil is around 4–5 ounces, while the weight of adult hamsters is around 4–9 ounces. The Roborovski hamster weighs less than an ounce, making it the lightest hamster breed.

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Temperament & Personality

Gerbil vs. Hamster Temperament & Personality

Gerbils are social animals while hamsters are solitary. Both are curious and friendly pets, but gerbils are more interactive than hamsters.

Gerbils are shy and reserved animals but make for affectionate pets once they get used to their owners. Once a gerbil becomes fond of its owner, it craves interaction. 

You should not startle a gerbil as it can get cranky and bite you.

Gerbils are also highly inquisitive and curious animals. They enjoy exploring the cage and running around it at night. 

They are social animals and prefer to be kept in groups[3]. Keeping multiple gerbils keeps them happy and engaged.

Hamsters also have friendly personalities. They rarely bite and love interacting with their owners. They are also curious by nature and love running around their cages. 

In contrast to gerbils, hamsters do not live in groups. They are solitary animals and are highly territorial.

Hamsters are nocturnal and active at night. Avoid keeping your hamsters in your bedroom as they make noises at night, which interfere with your sleep.

Gerbil vs. Hamster: Health and Care

Gerbil vs. Hamster Health and Care

Gerbils are at risk of certain diseases which are fatal if left untreated. 

Some of the diseases and health problems that are frequently found in gerbils are:

  • Mites
  • Diarrhea
  • Fleas
  • Colds
  • Heatstroke

All of them are treatable with proper care and timely attention. You should look for signs of diseases in your gerbil. Take it straight to a vet if there are any signs of weakness, lameness, and panting.

Hamsters have diseases of their own. They can develop a variety of fatal conditions which require urgent veterinary care:

  • Skin diseases
  • Oral issues
  • Digestive problems
  • Respiratory infections
  • Cold

Almost all these issues are treatable if given proper care on time.

Avoid dropping and stepping on your gerbils or hamsters as they are sensitive rodents. Be careful when handling them, as a small accident can be fatal for them.

Hamster vs. Gerbil Diet

Both gerbils and hamsters are omnivores. As pets, they need specialized pellets as their primary source of food. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be used to provide additional nutrition.

Rodents in the wild eat whatever they can find. As for hamsters and gerbils, both are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals.

As they are small, compared to other predators, they feed on insects for meat. Apart from this, they also eat fruits, vegetables, and grasses.

Gerbil Diet

Gerbil Diet

Wild gerbils eat the following foods to fulfill their nutritional requirements:

  • Seeds
  • Bulbs
  • Leaves
  • Fruits
  • Insects (for protein)

They do not require much dietary fiber but need loads of carbohydrates. 

Pet gerbils need special commercially available gerbil pellets. These contain all the necessary nutrients they need in their daily life.

A Gerbil’s diet should contain 14 to 15 percent protein and 6 to 9 percent fat. The rest of the energy comes from carbohydrates. Apart from pellet mixes, you can also feed your gerbil several other foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Flowers
  • Meat

Moderation should be exercised when feeding gerbils these foods as too much is dangerous for them.

Hamster Diet

Hamster Diet

Hamsters have a similar diet to gerbils. They get most of their nutritional requirements fulfilled by pellet mixes. 

Other than that, hamsters also eat other foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Seeds
  • Grains

Unlike gerbils, hamsters need more protein in their diet. Their diet should contain around 18 to 23 percent protein. 

Obesity is a major problem with hamsters which can be avoided by giving them foods with low-fat content.

Frequent feeding with a lack of exercise also contributes to obesity and other health problems in hamsters.

Can Gerbils and Hamsters Live Together?

No, gerbils and hamsters cannot live together. They need to be separated. Gerbils are social animals and prefer to live with other gerbils. Hamsters are territorial and attack gerbils if they feel threatened.

Gerbils are highly social rodents. In the wild, they live in large groups with hundreds of members. They eat, sleep, and play together, forming a bond.

Hamsters are at the other end of the spectrum. They are solitary beings and prefer to live alone. They are also territorial and attack other hamsters who they see as a threat.

You should not put gerbils and hamsters in the same cage. Gerbils, being smaller and docile, are at risk of getting attacked by hamsters.

If you want to keep hamsters and gerbils in your house, keep them in different cages to avoid confrontation.

Are Hamster or Gerbils More Social?

Gerbils are more social than hamsters. Hamsters do not like social interaction. They live alone and move out of their mother’s nest when they grow up. Gerbils form a bond with other gerbils and tend to live in groups.

Which One Is More Intelligent?

Gerbils are slightly more intelligent than hamsters due to their social behavior. They function better in groups and have better communication with other gerbils. 

Gerbils are also more curious about their surroundings than hamsters, while hamsters prefer relaxing with short bursts of activity.

Conclusion

Gerbils and hamsters are both excellent pets. They are easy to care for and do not require much attention. They both have similar lifespans and eating habits. Gerbils are more active and playful than hamsters though.

Hamsters are affectionate rodents that rarely bite their owners. You should keep hamsters in separate partitions to avoid possible fights between them.

It is better to get multiple gerbils as pets instead of one to keep them happy and to fulfill their social needs.

Other comparisons:

FAQs

Are Gerbils and Hamsters the Same Thing?

No, gerbils and hamsters are rodents belonging to the same group, but they are not the same. The biggest difference between the two is their tail. Gerbils have a long tail that is the same size as their body, while hamsters have a short stump on their backs instead of a full tail.

Are Gerbils Bigger Than Hamsters?

Hamsters are generally bigger than gerbils depending on the species. Mongolian gerbils are bigger than Dwarf hamsters. Syrian hamsters are the biggest species of hamsters and are at least two inches longer than the Mongolian gerbils.

Do Gerbils Bond With Their Owners?

Yes, gerbils bond with their owners well. They are shy during the initial stages of interaction but become comfortable with their owners with time. Some gerbils tend to become clingy and crave increased attention. 

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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