Although both species are small rodents, there are important differences in what they require from their owners.
Your choice of “gerbil or hamster?” should be based on your circumstances - who is the main owner? Is a nocturnal pet suitable for your lifestyle? Do you want to keep more than one animal in the cage?
Hamsters and gerbils have similar food and housing requirements, but below we note the key differences in their requirements.
A Gerbil is a small rodent like a hamster, but the two species have different needs
- Hamsters are nocturnal, which means they’ll become active later in the evening. This means they are not the best choice for young children, as there won’t be much time for the child to play with their pet, and the animal become lonely.
- Some species of hamster cannot be kept with other hamsters. They are very territorial and get stressed if kept in groups. Syrian hamsters must always be kept on their own, and some dwarf hamsters tend to fight too. This doesn’t make them loners, though, and they will require attention from their human friends.
- Hamsters have short lives of two to three years, so the little time they have should be optimized with the best possible living conditions. They need a big, solid cage, fresh bedding, and daily helpings of food, including fresh fruit and vegetables, throughout their lives.
Yawwwwwn! Hamsters are active at night
- Gerbils have very different needs from hamsters, and live a little longer, from four to five years. Unlike lone-wolf hamsters, they need to be kept in pairs, as isolation makes them stressed. The pairs can be same-sex – two brothers or pairs of sisters will do very nicely.
- Gerbils have different sleep patterns to hamsters. They are active in short bursts throughout the day, as well as the night, so they can bond with their owners for short periods in the daytime.
- A hamster wheel is not suitable for a gerbil if it has gaps between the rungs. You’ll need to buy one without gaps to ensure the gerbils’ tails don’t get caught when the wheel is turning.