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Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs: Key Differences Explained

The main difference between gerbils and guinea pigs is their size as gerbils are significantly smaller than guinea pigs. Both rodents occur in varying colors and have some similar characteristics such as their fur.

Having a pet has its own ups and downs. Most people prefer cats and dogs, while others opt for smaller, easy-to-care pets. Gerbils and guinea pigs are two such pets.

These two rodents belong to the same Rodentia group and have some similar physical characteristics making them easy to confuse. 

But, the two rodents have different origins and characteristics, which you should know before buying your next pet.

This article discusses the differences between the two rodents so you can figure out which is the best pet for you.

Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs: Overview

Gerbils are small rodents that resemble mice and rats. Guinea pigs are slightly bigger than gerbils with shorter legs and no tail. Both rodents like to live in groups instead of alone, and both are great pets.

CharacteristicGerbilGuinea Pig
Size2 to 5 inches8 to 10 inches
Lifespan2 to 4 years5 to 7 years
TailAs long as the bodyNo external tail
EarsUpright and smallFloppy and big
Fur lengthShortLong

Gerbils and guinea pigs are excellent pets and are easy to care for. There are several similarities and differences between the two, which are detailed below.



Gerbils are small crepuscular animals that are native to different regions of the world. They live in deserts and prefer a hot and dry environment [1]. The most common variety of gerbils is the Mongolian gerbil which is found in the steppes of Mongolia.

They are docile and go well with children. Gerbils are small but require a large space for their burrowing needs. They burrow deep in the ground to hide from predators and protect themselves from the harsh climate of the deserts.

They are social animals and prefer to remain in groups instead of being alone [2]. In the wild, gerbils live in large groups. This helps them feel safe and keep each other warm by piling together.

Guinea Pig

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are bigger and heavier than gerbils. They have smaller legs compared to gerbils. The biggest difference between guinea pigs and gerbils is that the former does not have a tail, not even a stump.

Guinea pigs are found in the Andes mountains of South America [3]. Their fur is fluffy and long, which keeps them warm in the cold conditions of the mountains.

Like gerbils, guinea pigs are also social animals that prefer living in groups instead of alone. Female-only groups are not ideal and can lead to fights due to their territorial nature and protectiveness for their babies.

Main Differences between Gerbils and Guinea Pigs

Gerbils and guinea pigs both belong to the group Rodentia and have similar characteristics. Gerbils are highly curious and love exploring the cage. Guinea pigs are not as active as gerbils but also like to explore their cages.

Gerbils and guinea pigs are different animals, but they belong to the same Rodentia family. While they have their similarities and differences, they make great pets for families of all ages.

Here are the main differences between gerbils and guinea pigs:

  • Personality
  • Diet
  • Training
  • General health


Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs Personality

Both gerbils and guinea pigs are mostly diurnal, meaning they sleep mostly at night and are active during the day. Gerbils are more active as they like to roam and explore more than guinea pigs.

Gerbils have a highly curious nature, and you can often find your gerbil exploring the cage. They are also playful and love interacting with other gerbils or their owner. 

They will often come and sit on their owner’s hand. Some even lay down and sleep in their owner’s hand.

Gerbils are active and do not tire easily. They love to dig, sniff, run, and climb inside the cage. 

While they are generally docile but can bite if startled. Avoid scaring your gerbil, waking it suddenly, or introducing strangers as it can develop anxiety. 

Guinea pigs are not as active as gerbils but still explore their cages and new places. They can develop anxiety in the presence of other large pets, which is why they should be kept separate.

Guinea pigs do well with other rodents if kept in separate cages. They love interacting with their owners and have outgoing personalities. They even get clingy when they get used to their owners.

Nutritional Requirements

Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs Nutritional Requirements

Gerbils are omnivores, while guinea pigs are herbivores. Gerbils feed on insects, fruit, vegetables, and grasses, while guinea pigs primarily feed on hay.

Gerbils are omnivorous and eat plants and small insects in the wild. They don’t do well with foods with high amounts of water as their digestive system is made for dry food.

Pet gerbils require specialized pellet mixes with a variety of ingredients:

  • Herbs
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Hay
  • Freshwater
  • Grass
  • Roots
  • Leaves
  • Flowers

Gerbils also need proteins in their diet which they cannot get from these foods. Pet gerbils should be given small amounts of boiled chicken and meat to fulfill their protein requirement.

Guinea pigs need a fiber-rich diet to remain healthy. Their primary source of nutrition is hay as it provides them with adequate fiber to keep their digestive system healthy. 

Guinea pigs also eat the following:

  • Some fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Some dry fruit
  • Washed green leaves
  • Weeds
  • Freshwater

Make sure that the bedding is made from safe material as your guinea pig is likely to chew it. Safe bedding includes hay, paper, and fabric.


Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs Training

Guinea pigs are smarter than gerbils, meaning they can learn more tricks. Gerbils can learn to respond to their name, but not much more than that.

Training gerbils is easy but takes time. You can encourage your gerbil with positive reinforcements in the form of treats. 

When you call your gerbil’s name, and it comes to you, give it a small treat as a token of appreciation.

Guinea pigs are more intelligent than gerbils and can be trained to do more than respond to their names. 

This does not mean that you can teach your guinea pig to do flips, but you can train it to use the litterbox. You can use positive reinforcements to train your guinea pigs too.


Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs Health

Both gerbils and guinea pigs need time out of their cage to exercise. Both rodents’ teeth continuously grow, which is why they need chew toys or wood to file them down. 

Gerbils are highly active rodents and need lots of playtime and exercise to remain fit. You should have an exercise wheel in your gerbil’s cage so it can keep itself busy.

Their teeth grow forever. This makes them susceptible to elongated teeth which is dangerous as this can interfere with their ability to eat. 

Gerbils need to file their teeth regularly to keep them at a safe length. Regular eating and chewing toys help them trim their teeth.

They require a large enough cage with lots of bedding to burrow and make their hiding spot. Gerbils use these spots to protect themselves from predators and to feel safe.

Guinea pigs need a big cage to stand safely on their hind legs. They need soft bedding to avoid injuries and diseases. 

They also need regular exercise to remain healthy. Obesity is a big problem with guinea pigs. 

Gerbils vs. Guinea Pigs: Which Is Better?

Gerbils and guinea pigs are both excellent pets suited for families. They do well with children and are generally harmless. But, guinea pigs are bigger and more intelligent than gerbils. They also need a larger cage due to their larger size.

Gerbils are easier to manage as they don’t need a lot of attention. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, love spending lots of time with their owners, which can be too much for some people.

If you are looking for a short-term commitment, gerbils are the better option as they live almost half as long as guinea pigs.

Other comparisons:


Do Gerbils Get Along With Guinea Pigs?

No, gerbils and guinea pigs do not get along well as they both are different species. They view each other as competitors and can fight for resources and their territory. Putting them in the same cage is out of the question. You can put them in two separate cages without proximity to each other.

Are Gerbils and Guinea Pigs Related?

Gerbils and guinea pigs belong to the same family of Rodentia and are rodents, but they are not related, even though people often confuse them for each other.

What is the Difference Between a Gerbil and a Guinea Pig?

Guinea pigs are larger and heavier than gerbils. They do not have a tail, in stark contrast with gerbils, who have a tail as long as their body. You can easily tell them apart by looking at their tails and ears. Gerbil ears are straight and small, while guinea pigs have bigger and sloppier ears. 

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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