When it comes to choosing a small pet companion, hamsters and gerbils can pop into mind. After all, they’re cute, cuddly, and pleasant to hold!
The question is this: hamsters vs. gerbils: which pet to choose?
In this article, I’ll walk you through the differences and similarities between those furry critters, helping you adopt the right pet. So, stick around!
Hamster vs. Gerbil: What Are the Differences?
At first glance, you might mistake both pets for one another. However, hamsters and gerbils have several differences. These include the number of species, lifespan, physical appearance, and more!
Here’s a detailed explanation to help you tell hamsters and gerbils apart:
1. Species and Lifespan
As you might know, both hamsters and gerbils are rodents. However, they belong to two different families. The former is a member of the Cricetidae family, while the latter is under the Muridae family.
Currently, there are around 20 identified hamster species. Gerbils, on the other hand, are around 110. However, don’t let the large number fool you. Only two gerbil breeds are popular among pet owners. These are the fat-tailed gerbil and the Mongolian gerbil.
Aside from their taxonomical dissimilarities, hamsters and gerbils have different lifespans. Both pets don’t live for long. However, gerbils have an average lifespan of 3-5 years, while their rodent cousins only live for around 1-2 years.
2. Size and Physical Appearance
Both rodents are tiny, fitting in the palm of your hand. Still, gerbils can be slightly larger, averaging 4 inches in length. Hamsters, on the other hand, can be 2-4 inches long.
As for the tails, well, that’s a different story. Hamsters have cute, short, chubby tails.
Gerbils have long tails, approximately reaching 4 inches. It can be hairy or bold.
Examining the face is another way to tell hamsters and gerbils apart. Generally, the former have chubby, round faces and cheek pouches. Gerbils have the typical mouse features—long, narrow faces and pointy noses.
3. Social Behavior and Handling
Social behavior is one of the telltale signs between hamsters and gerbils.
The chubby little rodents prefer to live alone. That’s because hamsters are highly territorial, especially the females. Housing these animals in groups can lead to aggressive behavior and even death!
Gerbils are the polar opposite. They’re sociable and like to live in pairs or groups. However, as they become adults, gerbils can become territorial and highly aggressive toward new members.
As for the handling, both hamsters and gerbils are good-natured toward humans. However, the former are more likely to bite.
4. Activity Level and Temperament
As their cute appearance suggests, hamsters are docile, tame, and friendly. They’re also nocturnal. That means they’re active during the night and sleep during the day. On that note, you should avoid disturbing them during the day, as waking hamsters can cause stress.
Gerbils, on the other hand, are full of energy. They’re playful, agile, and curious.
Unlike hamsters, these rodents are more active during the day. However, they’re not diurnal animals; they’re crepuscular. That means they prefer to be awake during the twilight period.
Hamster vs. Gerbil: How Are They Similar?
Now that you understand the difference between both animals, let’s look at the similarities between hamsters and gerbils!
Both hamsters and gerbils need comfortable homes to stay healthy. You should provide escape-proof cages with bedding, hiding spots, and exercise wheels.
Additionally, make sure the temperature and humidity mimic their natural habitat. Generally, the room should be between 65ºF and 75ºF. As for the humidity, around 35%-50% would be suitable.
Unlike most rodents, hamsters and gerbils are omnivores. For those wondering, the former refers to organisms that can feed on both plants and animals.
A perfect diet should consist of seeds, cereals, larvae, and insects. They also like to eat fruits and vegetables, like apples, pears, and carrots.
However, try to avoid citrus fruits, grapes, rhubarbs, and walnuts, as they can be poisonous to rodents.
Both hamsters and gerbils are clean; they don’t need shampooing or frequent bathing. However, they can use a few sand baths per week. Don’t use dust, though; that’ll only cause health problems.
Instead, opt for a commercial sand bath. Such products help keep their coats less oily and healthy.
Hamster vs. Gerbil: Which Pet is Right for You?
Hamsters are ideal for those who prefer pets that aren’t social and don’t require a companion. These rodents can also be perfect if you don’t like handling pets often. The only problem is that they’re active at night and can be noisy.
Gerbils, on the other hand, are best for people who enjoy playing with their pets. They’re generally easier to handle, making them suitable for children, unlike hamsters.
While they may look similar, comparing hamsters vs. gerbils helps you understand their many differences.
Still, both animals can make delightful and low-maintenance companions. You should consider their temperament, lifestyle, and social behavior to decide which one makes the best pet for you.
Whether you prefer a hamster’s solitary charm or a gerbil’s sociable nature, the bond you’ll develop with your small pet will be fun and rewarding!