The Difference Between Hamsters and Gerbils

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When it comes to choosing a small and adorable pet, hamsters and gerbils often come to mind.

Though they may appear similar and share some characteristics, these two popular small mammals have distinct differences, which can impact the type of care they need and the interactions you can expect to have with them as a pet owner.

Hamsters and gerbils both belong to the rodent family, but they come from distinct geographical origins and species types. As pets, the key differences between them lie in their physical attributes, behavior, habitat, diet, and lifespans.

Understanding the differences between these furry companions is essential for any prospective pet owner, as it can help them make an informed decision about which pet best suits their lifestyle, expectations, and level of commitment.

Key Takeaways

  • Hamsters and gerbils have distinct physical and behavioral differences
  • Habitat, diet, and lifespans vary between these popular small pets
  • Choosing the right pet depends on the owners’ preferences, lifestyle, and commitment.

A Brief Overview of Hamsters and Gerbils

Hamsters and gerbils are two popular species of small rodents commonly kept as pets. They might appear similar at first glance, but there are some key differences in their physical features, behaviors, and care requirements.

Hamsters belong to the Cricetidae family and are mostly nocturnal animals. Among the various species of hamsters, some of the popular ones include the Syrian hamster, Chinese hamster, and dwarf hamster.

Syrian hamsters, also known as Golden or Teddy Bear hamsters, are typically the largest and most frequently kept as pets. On the other hand, the dwarf hamsters include the Roborovski and the Campbell’s hamsters, which are smaller and more suitable for experienced pet owners.

Gerbils, on the other hand, belong to the Gerbillinae subfamily. They are more active during both day and night, making them entertaining pets to observe.

Mongolian gerbils are the most common species kept as pets. They are social animals that prefer to live with a companion of the same species in order to thrive.

One of the main physical differences between hamsters and gerbils is their tails. Hamsters have short and stubby tails, while gerbils have longer tails, approximately the same length as their bodies.

Another visible difference lies in their snouts, with hamsters having flattened snouts and gerbils having longer, more pointed snouts. Furthermore, gerbils usually have longer hind legs than hamsters.

In terms of their habitats, hamsters can be housed in makeshift plastic bin habitats or wire cages with proper ventilation. Gerbils, however, require extra-large glass aquariums as they tend to be avid chewers and may escape from other types of enclosures.

Exercise requirements are essential for both of these pets. While a hamster wheel is sufficient for hamsters, gerbils need more space to dig and explore their surroundings.

Hamsters tend to live around two to five years, while gerbils have a longer lifespan averaging three to eight years.

Both hamsters and gerbils can be engaging and rewarding pet choices.

Nevertheless, it is essential to understand their unique characteristics and needs to provide a suitable environment and care for these fascinating little rodents.

Physical Differences

When examining the physical differences between hamsters and gerbils, it is important to observe their size, tails, fur, and general appearance.

Both hamsters and gerbils are small mammals, but their physical characteristics do differ slightly.

In terms of size, hamsters and gerbils can both fit in the palm of your hand. Regardless, hamsters tend to have small, stout bodies, while gerbils are more slender.

The male individuals of both species are typically larger, with a weight of around 130 grams.

One of the most striking physical differences between these animals is their tails. Gerbils have long tails, approximately the same length as their bodies. These tails can be around 4 inches long and may be either hairy or bald, depending on the species.

Hamsters, on the other hand, have short tails that resemble a stump rather than a long, slim tail.

The fur and coloration of these animals also vary. Hamster fur can range from white to cinnamon to brown to gray to black. Some of their fur may have a satin sheen, while others may have wavy hair.

Some hamsters have a dark stripe on their backs, while others have a white band around their bellies. Gerbil fur varies less, with their colors mainly consisting of shades of brown, gray, or white.

Looking at their face and eyes, gerbils have longer, pointed snouts, while hamsters have flattened snouts. This difference in their facial appearance is not just a superficial trait, as it also affects their behavior and how they interact with their environment.

Their eyes are quite similar, both small and bead-like.

Finally, it is worth noting the distinction in leg length between these two animals. Gerbils have longer hind legs than hamsters, a feature that allows them to be more agile and better suited for jumping.

Their feet are also slightly different, as gerbils possess more elongated and slender feet compared to the stockier feet of hamsters.

Overall, the physical differences between hamsters and gerbils are subtle but important, as they can influence their behavior, habitat preferences, and suitability as pets.

Behavioral Differences

Hamsters and gerbils have different behaviors and personalities, which can impact the way they interact with their owners and their environment.

Gerbils are known to be social animals and typically thrive when they are housed together with other gerbils. They are active and inquisitive, often seen exploring their surroundings, running, and jumping.

Gerbils have a friendly disposition, making them interactive and engaging pets for their owners. Additionally, they are active during the day, which makes them a great choice for people who prefer daytime activities with their pets.

On the other hand, hamsters are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most active during nighttime hours. They are more solitary animals, and housing multiple hamsters together can result in territorial disputes.

In general, hamsters tend to be more shy and less interactive with humans than gerbils, but some species, like the Syrian hamster, are known for being docile and can develop a bond with their owners when handled with care.

Both animals exhibit curiosity, but gerbils are often more outgoing and eager to engage with their owners and explore the environment around them.

Contrarily, hamsters may appear more reserved and might need extra time to adjust to new surroundings or people.

In summary, while both hamsters and gerbils have unique behavioral traits, gerbils tend to be more social, active, and interactive pets, whereas hamsters lean towards a solitary and nocturnal lifestyle.

Comprehending these differences can help potential owners decide which pet suits their personal preferences and lifestyles best.

Habitat and Housing Needs

When it comes to the habitat and housing needs of hamsters and gerbils, there are some key points to consider for the well-being of these small rodents.

Hamsters are solitary creatures and require different cage setups compared to gerbils. They need their own space and should be kept in individual cages rather than in pairs or groups to avoid fights.

A hamster cage should be a minimum of 24 x 12 x 12 inches in size and should have proper ventilation, an exercise wheel, and a hiding place for the hamster to feel secure.

On the other hand, gerbils are social animals and prefer living with a companion. They thrive better in pairs or small groups, although it is vital to make sure they are the same sex to avoid overpopulation.

Gerbil cages should be larger in size and have a minimum of 36 x 18 x 18 inches to provide adequate space for digging and playing.

Both hamsters and gerbils need proper bedding in their cages, such as aspen shavings, paper-based bedding, or a well-blended mix. Avoid using cedar or pine shavings, as these can cause health issues in your pets.

Further, both hamsters and gerbils enjoy digging and burrowing, so make sure the bedding is deep enough for them to tunnel through.

As natural chewers, both species can benefit from having chew-safe wooden toys in their habitat. This helps them keep their teeth trimmed and maintains their dental health.

It’s also essential to provide them with an appropriate-sized water bottle to stay hydrated.

While there are similarities in housing needs for both hamsters and gerbils, some notable differences stem from their social habits and space requirements.

Providing the right habitat setup will ensure your small rodents are happy and healthy.

Dietary Differences

When it comes to the diets of hamsters and gerbils, there are some noticeable differences that should be taken into consideration when caring for these small pets.

Although both are rodents with similar dietary needs, their preferences and sources of nutrients vary.

Hamsters are primarily herbivores, enjoying a diet consisting mainly of fresh fruits, vegetables, and seeds. They benefit from the fiber found in leafy greens, and small amounts of fruits can provide them with essential vitamins.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to avoid overfeeding fruits, as the sugar content can be dangerous for them. Seeds, such as sunflower and pumpkin seeds, also make great treats in moderation.

Gerbils, on the other hand, are omnivorous, meaning they can consume both plant and meat-based foods. In addition to seeds, veggies, and fruits, gerbils also require protein, which can be found in mealworms or other insects.

Gerbils tend to enjoy a more diverse diet than their hamster counterparts due to these differences in their nutritional requirements.

While feeding both hamsters and gerbils, it is essential to provide fresh drinking water daily. A water bottle is typically the best option to ensure that their water stays clean and easily accessible.

Regularly washing and refilling the water bottle helps prevent the growth of bacteria and algae, ensuring the optimal health of your pets.

Remember that each animal might have individual preferences, so it’s essential to observe and adjust their diets accordingly. As a friendly tip, always consult your veterinarian or pet care expert for more specific guidance on feeding recommendations to maintain their well-being.

Keep in mind that dietary imbalances can lead to health issues later on, making proper nutrition paramount in the care of these small pets.

Health Concerns and Lifespan

Hamsters and gerbils have some differences when it comes to their health concerns and lifespan. Generally, gerbils have a longer lifespan, ranging from 2 to 8 years, whereas hamsters typically live for 2 to 3 years.

The average adult gerbil weighs between 3-5 ounces, and the adult hamster weighs between 4-10 ounces.

Both species require proper care to maintain good health and avoid common health issues. Regular veterinary check-ups are recommended for both hamsters and gerbils to ensure they receive appropriate care.

Monitoring their health can help detect and address any potential problems early on.

Gerbils are less prone to mites compared to hamsters. However, both can encounter these parasites if their living conditions aren’t kept clean.

Regularly cleaning their enclosure and providing a sand bath instead of dust can help prevent mite infestations and keep their coat healthy, less oily, and parasite-free.

Diarrhea is another health concern for these small rodents, which can be caused by various factors, including stress and improper diet.

Adequate care, balanced nutrition, and minimizing stressors can help prevent such issues. Keeping their diet consistent and providing them with clean water is crucial.

In addition to proper care, providing the correct housing and diet specific to each species will help ensure a healthy life for both hamsters and gerbils. Adequate exercise and socialization play a vital role in their overall well-being, as well.

Gerbils tend to be more sociable, while only some hamster breeds enjoy the company of another hamster.

It is worth noting that individual factors such as genetics and living conditions can impact each pet’s health and lifespan. Taking care of your hamster or gerbil’s health concerns is essential to help them live a long and happy life.

Unique Features

When comparing hamsters and gerbils, there are a variety of unique features that distinguish the two species. To better understand these differences, let’s discuss some key characteristics and traits of each animal.

Hamsters are known for their cheek pouches, which they use to store food and bedding. These furry creatures have short, stubby tails and short, wide faces.

They have strong teeth that constantly grow, requiring them to chew on items like wooden toys to keep their teeth healthy and trimmed.

Hamsters have a wide range of personalities, from calm and cuddly to more skittish and prone to biting. Proper handling and understanding of their temperament can help minimize the chances of being bitten.

In contrast, gerbils have long, pointy faces similar to mice and tails that are as long as their bodies. Their long tails may have hair and are often used for balance when they are agile and quickly exploring their environment.

Gerbils also have a strong need to chew to maintain their teeth, so providing chew toys is essential for their well-being.

These creatures are known to be highly social and enjoy burrowing, making them fun pets to watch as they create intricate tunnels in their habitats.

Differences in temperament and handling are noticeable as well. Gerbils are generally considered more friendly and less prone to biting compared to hamsters.

They enjoy interaction and are less likely to become stressed with proper handling, making them a better choice for families with children. Gerbils tend to be more comfortable in groups, while hamsters often prefer a solitary lifestyle.

Both hamsters and gerbils have specific characteristics and personalities that set them apart from one another. Some key differences between the two species include their tails, faces, appetites for chewing, temperaments, and preferences for social interaction.

Choosing the right pet for your household depends on personal preference and an understanding of these unique features.

Choosing Between a Hamster and a Gerbil as a Pet

When it comes to selecting the perfect small pet for your home, the decision between a hamster and a gerbil can be tough.

Both of these adorable rodents make great pets, but there are a few differences that might make one a better fit for your family than the other.

Appearance: Hamsters and gerbils share some similar physical traits, but hamsters are generally rounder and have shorter tails. Gerbils, on the other hand, have longer tails and slimmer bodies.

Both come in a variety of colors and fur patterns, which can make them equally appealing to prospective pet owners.

Handling: If you have children who want to interact with their new pet, handling is an important factor to consider. Hamsters can sometimes be more difficult to handle than gerbils, as they may be more prone to biting when scared or irritated.

Gerbils are usually more inquisitive and friendly, making them easier to handle, especially for young kids. Yet, both animals can become comfortable with handling if given time and patience.

Social Animals: Gerbils are known to be very social creatures and thrive when living in groups. This means it’s essential to keep at least two gerbils together so they can keep each other company and avoid loneliness.

Hamsters, on the other hand, tend to be more solitary animals. Syrian hamsters, for instance, should never be housed together, as fights may occur. Dwarf hamsters can sometimes live in pairs or small groups, but it’s important to monitor them for signs of aggression.

Living Space Requirements: Both animals require a safe and secure living space with proper bedding, nesting areas, and exercise opportunities. However, the specific space needed for each can differ.

Gerbils tend to be more active and require larger enclosures to accommodate digging and exploring. Hamsters are nocturnal animals and may be more active during the night, which could potentially affect your sleep if their enclosure is in your bedroom.

In the end, the decision between a hamster and a gerbil as a pet depends on factors such as your living space, the level of interaction you desire, and the pet’s social needs. Consider the unique characteristics of both animals before making your final choice.

A well-informed decision will help ensure you and your new pet have a happy and fulfilling relationship.

Origins and Types

Mongolian gerbils and Syrian hamsters have different geographical origins. As their names suggest, Mongolian gerbils come from Mongolia, while Syrian hamsters originate from Syria.

Gerbils were introduced to the United States in 1954, while hamsters made their debut earlier in the first half of the 20th century.

There are approximately 110 different species of gerbils with varying colors, sizes, and features. The most common type is the Mongolian gerbil, known for its friendly and curious nature.

Another popular breed is the fat-tailed gerbil, native to Africa. These charming creatures have chubby tails and come in a variety of colors, including cinnamon and black.

On the other hand, hamsters are available in several types, each differing in size, color, and personality. The well-known Syrian hamster, also called the Golden hamster, is the largest and one of the most popular breeds.

Other hamster species include the Dwarf, Roborovski, and Chinese hamsters.

When comparing the physical appearance of gerbils and hamsters, it’s important to note their distinct differences. Gerbils are typically longer than hamsters, with pointed noses similar to rats, long hind legs, and tails up to 4 inches in length.

In contrast, hamsters have short and stubby tails, wide faces, and roomy internal cheek pouches where they store food.

Both hamsters and gerbils have unique origins, types, and physical characteristics, making them distinct yet equally delightful small pets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the size differences between gerbils and hamsters?

Gerbils and hamsters have similar body sizes, ranging from 2-4 inches long. Males of both species are larger, weighing around 130 grams or about 4.5 ounces.

Nevertheless, their tails are a key difference; hamsters have short, stubby tails, while gerbils have longer tails.

Do gerbils or hamsters have more odor?

Hamsters generally produce more odor than gerbils. Gerbils are desert animals and have adapted to conserve water, resulting in less urine production and minimal odor.

Keeping their environments clean and sanitary helps reduce odor for both pets.

What are the differences in housing needs for gerbils and hamsters?

Gerbils are active burrowers in nature, requiring a deeper layer of bedding in their cage for tunneling and nesting. Hamsters also enjoy burrowing but do not require as much bedding as gerbils.

Gerbils thrive in larger enclosures with ample space to play and explore, while hamsters may prefer smaller spaces. Both pets need hiding spots, toys, and exercise equipment like wheels or tunnels.

How do social behaviors differ between gerbils and hamsters?

Gerbils are social creatures that enjoy the company of their kind and usually fare better when housed with other gerbils. It is important to introduce gerbils early in life to prevent territorial aggression.

Hamsters, on the other hand, are often solitary and may not tolerate other hamsters, especially as they mature. Housing hamsters together may result in fights and injuries.

Which is a better pet for kids: a gerbil or a hamster?

Both gerbils and hamsters can be great pets for kids, but it’s essential to consider the child’s preferences and personality. Gerbils are more active during the day, making them easier to observe and interact with, while hamsters are mostly active at night.

Gerbils may be slightly less prone to biting and are generally less wiggly than hamsters, making them a good choice for younger kids. Proper supervision, handling, and care are necessary for either pet.

What are the main distinctions in the diet of gerbils and hamsters?

Gerbils and hamsters have slightly different dietary needs. Gerbils require more grains, seeds, and vegetables, while hamsters need a balanced diet containing more proteins and carbohydrates.

Pelleted food can be used for both pets but should be specific to each species. It is also essential to supplement their diets with fruits and veggies, as well as occasional treats like mealworms, for a complete and balanced diet.

Jim Nero

Jim Nero

As a child, my parents got me a hamster cage and I loved my furry little friends.
So obviously when my kids were old enough I got them a pet hamster to care for.

About Me

As a child, my parents got me a hamster cage and I loved my furry little friends.
So obviously when my kids were old enough I got them a pet hamster to care for.

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