Difference Between Gerbil and Hamster

The main difference between a hamster and a gerbil is that a hamster is a larger rodent than a gerbil, which looks like a cross between a rat and a mouse.

A full-grown gerbil is about four inches long, while a full-grown hamster is about six inches long.

Gerbils and hamsters can both stand on their back legs. Gerbils like to stand up and stretch, but hamsters don’t do that as often.

Even though both hamsters and gerbils are popular pets, they look and act differently.

What is the Difference Between a Gerbil and a Hamster?

One of the first things to figure out is whether or not a gerbil is a hamster. Because these two words can be used in the same way, it is a fair question.

Even though they are both rodents and have a lot in common, a gerbil and a hamster are not the same things.

The Mongolian gerbil is the type of gerbil that is most often kept as a pet (Meriones unguiculatus). Most of the time, these gerbils are strong and tough.

There are a few other kinds of hamsters that people often keep as pets. Hamsters as pets can be either Syrian or dwarf.

The Campbell’s dwarf, the Roborovski, the Djungian, the Russian Winter White, and the Chinese hamster are all types of dwarf hamsters.

Some of these hamster types look more like gerbils than others.

Check out the chart below to learn a few of the easiest ways to tell hamsters and gerbils apart.

SizeAverage 4 inchesAverage 2 to 4 inches
TailLong, approximately 4 inchesShort and stubby, usually less than 1 inch
FaceLong and narrowRound and wide
BodyLong and lean, long hind legsShort and narrow, short legs
Cheek pouchesNoYes
Social habitPrefers to live in pairs or in groupsMost prefer to live alone
TemperamentCurious and agileDocile and easy to handle

Similarities Between Hamster and Gerbil

  • Hamsters and gerbils are two types of rodents that people keep as pets.
  • Plants and insects are the main foods for both species. Because of this, they eat everything.
  • Hamsters and gerbils both have thick fur covering their bodies.
  • Since hamsters and gerbils are rodents, they can carry diseases like rabies that can be dangerous to your health.
  • Since hamsters and gerbils are rodents, their teeth are always getting longer.
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Difference Between Hamster and Gerbil


A hamster is a rodent that is often kept as a house pet. A gerbil is also a rodent that is often kept as a house pet, but it is smaller than a hamster.

Life Span

A hamster can live for 2–4 years, while a gerbil can live for 5–7 years.


A full-grown hamster is about 6 inches long, while a full-grown gerbil can be up to 4 inches long. Also, hamsters’ legs, tails, and noses are usually short and round.

Gerbils, on the other hand, have longer tails, noses, and back legs.

Sleeping Pattern

Hamsters usually sleep at night, but gerbils don’t always sleep at night.

Food Habits

Hamsters are hoarders. They put food in their big cheeks, carry it to their colonies, and store it there. Gerbils, on the other hand, don’t save food.


In contrast to hamsters, which like to be alone, gerbils like to hang out with other animals.

Can Gerbils and Hamsters Live Together?

Gerbils and hamsters should never be housed together.

Yes, gerbils are social animals. But, they should only ever be housed with other gerbils.

Hamsters are very territorial rodents. They are likely to attack gerbils if placed in the same cage.

Syrian hamsters should never be housed with another pet, they must live alone.

Some dwarf hamsters will be fine living with littermates. But, even they can be territorial and fight one another. If this happens, they will need to be housed separately.

If you want multiple rodents living together, you will be best choosing only gerbils.

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Gerbil vs Hamster: Care Differences

Both gerbils and hamsters need a clean, well-ventilated cage with a solid base, lots of bedding for burrowing, a water bottle, chew toys, and an exercise wheel. Experts agree that gerbils and hamsters need an 8-inch wheel to get enough exercise.

Hanna says that each gerbil needs at least 5 gallons of aquarium tank space with a mesh lid for housing. She prefers aquariums because gerbils like to chew through (and eat) everything.

“Because gerbils don’t make much urine and their poop is small and hard, you should clean their tank every two weeks and change it as needed,” she says.

Ramsey says that hamsters need at least 3 feet of clear floor space.

“If the cage is the right size, the nest can be cleaned in small sections, and a full cleaning would only need to happen every 4 to 5 weeks,” she says.

Gerbil vs Hamster: Behavioral Differences

When adding a pet to the family, a pet’s personality can be a very important factor. Gerbil owners say that their pets are smart, curious, and active. In fact, Hanna says that they care a lot about people.

She says, “They watch what you do and like to stay in the room with the most active because they like action.” “Because they don’t only come out at night or only come out during the day, they are very in tune with human activity and can figure out the household routine.”

These animals are very social and need to be held and played with every day. They also have fun digging, chewing, and shredding the nesting materials that are put out for them.

Because gerbils can jump and climb, it’s important to keep an eye on them when they’re not in their tanks.

Hanna says, “They don’t mind getting up early and are always ready to go.” “If you give them deep enough bedding, they will make very interesting burrows and spend a lot of time rearranging the “furniture” in their nests.”

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Hamsters are most active at night. Before going to sleep for the day, they might spend a little time building a nest.

The hamster likes to explore at night, so experts say that the best time to play with them is in the morning or in the evening. And their owners warn that they can be very grumpy if they are startled or woken up too early.

When they are active, hamsters also like to build burrows with rooms for sleeping and storing their food.

Melissa Brown, co-president of the California Hamster Association, says that dwarf hamsters love to explore and do their best in places with lots of things to do.

“Sometimes they can even respond when they hear their owner’s voice.” Ramsey tells people to look at Syrians if they want to see a more social species: “They like people and are more social than dwarf hamsters,” she says. “They are happy to be held and cuddled for a few minutes, but not for long.”

Gerbil vs Hamster for Children

Hamsters and gerbils are both popular choices for kids who are older. But it’s important that your child knows exactly how to care for and handle these pets.

Dwarf hamsters are fast and very small. They like to run away and bite more often, so kids shouldn’t play with them.

Small and delicate pets like gerbils and Syrian hamsters are still popular. So, watch children when they play with and handle these pets.

They do best with older kids who can learn how to take care of them.

Pros and Cons of a Gerbil vs Hamster

Let’s recap the pros and cons of each type of pet before you make a decision.

Gerbil Pros

  • Social animals
  • General care is easy
  • Come in lots of colors

Gerbil Cons

  • You will need to buy multiple gerbils
  • Will bite if not socialized well
  • Won’t be able to play with them throughout the day

Hamster Pros

  • Friendly and sweet-tempered
  • Housed alone so fewer pets to care for
  • Syrians are bigger, so easier to handle

Hamster Cons

  • Won’t be able to play with them throughout the day
  • Dwarfs will need to be housed separately if they fight
  • Will bite if not socialized well


In short, the main difference between a hamster and a gerbil is that hamsters are bigger, less friendly, and more active at night, while gerbils are smaller, more friendly, and less active at night.

The life span of a gerbil is longer than that of a hamster. Even though hamsters and gerbils are often kept as pets, they can both give you the deadly disease of rabies if they are out in the wild.