Difference Between a Hamster and a Gerbil

Hamsters and gerbils are currently popular pocket pets in many households. Taking care of these critter rodents can be a fun experience, especially if you’re a pet lover. But how exactly do you distinguish between them?

The most distinctive difference between a hamster and a gerbil is their appearance – a hamster is large and has a short tail, while a gerbil is tiny and somewhat resembles a rat. Moreover, hamsters and gerbils have other physical, behavioral, and care differences.

Distinguishing between a hamster and gerbil will help you understand their behaviors and care requirements. The rest of this article will discuss a few topics related to the differences between the two. You don’t want to miss out on anything, so read on.

The Differences Between a Hamster and a Gerbil

Although hamsters and gerbils have similarities, they also possess several distinguishable features. Body size is the most obvious difference, but knowing other variances will go a long way in easing your selection process if you’re planning to adopt one (or two).

Difference Between a Hamster and a Gerbil
Difference Between a Hamster and a Gerbil

Physical Differences

The first glance at these rodents might be confusing, but a closer look will reveal some differences. For starters, a hamster is larger and appears fuller than a gerbil. So, adult hamsters grow up to six inches (15.24 cm) long, while gerbils reach about four inches (10.16 cm).

Secondly, a hamster has a short stubby tail, approximately an inch (2.54 cm) long. Contrastingly, a gerbil has a longer tail at four inches (10.16 cm) long and loves to stand on its long hind legs. So, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a hamster jumping around, but a gerbil will do so effortlessly.

Their face structure is another distinguishing feature between a gerbil and a hamster. A hamster appears to have chubby cheeks due to its round face and short nose (snout). Moreover, its inner cheek comprises a stretchable pouch that helps them carry and store food.

On the other hand, you can easily spot a gerbil by its lean face and prolonged snout. It also lacks an internal cheek pouch. So, you won’t find a gerbil hoarding food as a hamster does.

Read How Long Should a Hamster Be in a Ball?

Behavioral Differences

A pet’s behavior is an essential quality to consider before adopting it. Now, hamsters and gerbils have some behavioral variances that you can get used to with time. But you won’t enjoy keeping them if you can’t cope with their personalities.

Intelligent is a word that most gerbil owners use to describe them. These pet rodents are clever, curious, and always want to associate with people. So, the critters will love it when you hold or carry them gently.

Gerbils have lots of energy, which keeps them lively in any activity-filled environment. Moreover, these active rodents are diurnal (active during the day). Therefore, they’re more likely to keep you on your toes when they climb and play all day.

The pocket pets are also fond of burrowing and shredding materials into pieces in their nests.

Unlike gerbils, hamsters are primarily nocturnal (active at night). Therefore, they’ll spend the night exploring and burrowing and then prepare their nests for sleep at dusk. And, they’ll appear grumpy if you accidentally startle them during the day.

However, you may find hamsters operating early, before sunrise, or at dawn. So, these are the best times to interact with them by holding them for a short while. Moreover, they can at times recognize your voice and try to respond.

Check out, How To Keep a Hamster Warm

Diet and Lifespan

Both hamsters and gerbils are omnivores. Therefore, they enjoy eating almost anything, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and proteins. However, hamsters have a higher protein requirement (18-23%), while gerbils need a smaller food portion and about 14-15% protein.

Now, how long do hamsters and gerbils live? Well, the two critters don’t live for too long. Usually, hamsters live for two years, while a gerbil’s lifespan is three years. But, this life expectancy is only average, as some gerbil and hamster species can live for more than four years.

Socialization Needs

Just like people, hamsters and gerbils have different social needs. Now, gerbils appear to be more sociable than hamsters. Therefore, these long-tailed critters can become stressed when they live alone, as their well-being sometimes depends on companionship.

You wouldn’t want your gerbil to develop a stress-related health issue, right? So, to ensure that your rodent is at peace, adding a companion to its nest would be a perfect option.

Moreover, the best alternative is to adopt or buy at least two young gerbils that can bond as they grow.

Contrastingly, hamsters are territorial and solitary rodents. So, they thrive best without other hamsters in the same or neighboring cages.

But, if you want more of these critters in your household, consider keeping two hamsters of opposite genders so that they can reproduce.

Care Differences

Taking care of both hamsters and gerbils can be overwhelming if you don’t know their specific care requirements. However, a good shelter is paramount to ensure you’re the best guardian for your pets. Also, their cages should have ideal nesting areas and interactive toys.

Experts recommend at least five gallons (18.93 L) of aquarium tank space for a gerbil cage. It should also have a top cover made of wire for proper ventilation. Moreover, to keep your pet in shape, clean the cage every two weeks or as need be.

On the other hand, a hamster cage should have a 700 square inches (0.45 square meters) or a 40×15 inches (1.02×0.38 cm) floor. But, you can get a larger cage size if you want to keep your pet happier. Moreover, always ensure that your critter has good hygiene by replacing its bedding regularly.

Hamster vs Gerbil
Hamster vs Gerbil

Check out, How To Take Care of a Hamster

Can You Keep a Hamster and a Gerbil in the Same Cage?

Are you wondering whether you can keep a hamster and a gerbil in the same tank? If you’ve ever adopted pets, you can agree that some can live well in the same house despite their differences. But, can a hamster and a gerbil live together?

You shouldn’t keep hamsters and gerbils in the same tank because they have varying social needs and temperaments. While hamsters are territorial and solitary, gerbils are sociable pets. So, a hamster will react fast when confronted by attacking or fighting another hamster or a different pet.

Apart from varying social habits, hamsters and gerbils have different sleep habits. Hence, keeping them together isn’t a good idea. Therefore, if you want to adopt two pets, you can keep two gerbils in one cage or have two hamsters in separate enclosures.

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Parting Shot

Hamsters and gerbils are cute, fun, and adorable rodents to keep as pets. But, their differences make it unsuitable for you to have them in the same cage. So, if you want to adopt either of them, ensure that you know their varying physical differences, behaviors, and care requirements.