Gerbils and guinea pigs are both rodents, but they are very different animals with very different needs. Below we’ve listed some of the differences between these species, as well as some of the similarities. Neither of these animals are suitable pets for children under the age of ten or eleven, and even owners over that age will require supervision by an adult when handling the pets.
Gerbils and guinea pigs have very different requirements as pets
- Both species need to be kept in a safe, quiet area free from disturbance by other animals. They become stressed if kept in areas with, for example, cats, dogs, or ferrets.
- Both gerbils and guinea pigs need to be kept in an enclosure with members of their own species. You will sometimes see guinea pigs mixing with rabbits in zoos, but a single guinea pig will become stressed if he or she has no fellow guinea pigs to hang around with.
- Both species need a high quality dry food, with regular fresh food - although guineas need more of the fresh stuff than their smaller cousins the gerbils. Dry food is still the basis of their diet, though, giving them the different vitamins and minerals they need for a healthy life.
- Both species need plenty of bedding material for sleeping, nesting, and - in the case of gerbils - burrowing and tunnelling.
- Guinea pigs need a run - i.e. a large, flat area to run around in. They need a hutch and a run, otherwise they will not get enough exercise. They are much larger than gerbils, and not as fast and agile.
- Gerbils need more vertical space than guinea pigs. This must be filled with bedding so that they can satisfy their strong urge to tunnel and dig. Guinea pigs enjoy a bit of tunnelling, but don’t need very very deep bedding to do this. A good layer of hay will do them just fine.
- Guinea pigs need plenty of fresh veg and fruit every day. They can suffer vitamin C deficiency, and other nutritional deficiencies, without fresh food.
- Guinea pigs can be kept outdoors, as long as it's not too cold. Read our Guinea Pig Guide for more information on where and how to keep guinea pigs.