Gerbils and hamsters are both rodents, but they are different species and therefore have different needs. Some aspects of their care are similar, others vary a lot. Below you’ll find a checklist of some the similarities and differences.
Gerbils and hamsters: different animals, different needs
- Both are desert species, (although pet specimens would struggle to live in the harsh conditions of their wild cousins).
- Both types of animal need lots of formulated dry food, and a little fresh food for variety.
- Neither species are recommended as ‘starter pets’ for young children (i.e. the under-tens). They are fast movers, can become easily stressed and unhappy, and need handling carefully. The responsibility for their care should always lie with an adult.
Gerbils are not recommended for young children, unless an adult is the main pet carer
- Unlike some hamsters (such as the Syrian or Golden), gerbils cannot be kept alone. In the wild, they live in family groups or colonies, whereas Syrian hamsters live a solitary life. Gerbils need to be kept in pairs or groups, so you will need enough space to make that work.
- Hamsters are generally nocturnal - meaning they are active at night - while gerbils are usually diurnal, which means they go about their business during the day.
- Gerbils usually live longer than hamsters – three to eight years on average, versus two to five years for hamsters (with these figures varying according to species).
- Gerbils need a much deeper cage than hamsters, for digging. Both types of rodent love to burrow, but gerbils have a very strong tunnelling instinct that needs to be satisfied. If you have a Qute, the bottom compartment of the unit is deep enough for both species to be happy.
- Gerbils require a solid exercise wheel, as their tails can become caught in a wheel with gaps between rungs. A full, solid wheel suits both species, in fact.