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Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: Differences & Similarities

You’re trying to choose between guinea pigs vs gerbils as your next pet. But both animals are incredibly cute and desirable to your entire family.

In this article, we’ve compiled all the similarities and differences guinea pigs and gerbils may have so you can compare and choose the right one for your family.

Key Takeaway:

Gerbils and guinea pigs are both small mammals that are popular pets. They both are social creatures and thrive with companionship and human interaction. Guinea pigs are larger, while gerbils are smaller. Gerbils burrow, while guinea pigs do not.

So, what is the difference between gerbils and guinea pigs? Are you ready to find out?

Then check out our complete guide in the following article.

guinea pigs versus gerbils

Gerbils vs Guinea Pigs

Coming up next is a comparison of Gerbils vs Guinea Pigs, but before we dive in, let’s examine these two animals.

Gerbils are burrowing rodents found in desert climates like those in Africa, Asia, and India. There are over 100 different species of gerbils in the world.

Guinea Pigs are a domesticated species of rodents found in South America. They have no tails, and the length, texture, and color of their fur vary between their 13 different breeds.

We’ll closely analyze the differences and similarities between these two common household pets in the following categories:

  • Origin
  • Size and Appearance
  • Behavior and Social Needs
  • Housing and Environment
  • Diet and Nutrition
  • Lifespan

Let’s dig right in!


veterinary doctor holding guinea pig on hands

Guinea pigs originated from South America, where the Moche people of Peru domesticated them back in 2500 BC. Later, they were introduced to Europe by the Dutch and British explorers. They can still be found living in South America’s swamps, forest edges, and savannas.

Alternatively, the gerbil has its origin in China. In 1954, Dr. Victor Schwentker brought gerbils to the United States for scientific experiments. Their adorable appearance and unique behavior made gerbils extremely popular as pets. Despite that, they continue to be used in scientific research.

Guinea pigs are from South America, whereas gerbils originated in China.

Size and Appearance

Gerbils are small pets, typically measuring 4–5 (10-13 cm) inches in length.

Their bodies are slender with a curved back, which is very similar to a rat or small mouse.

The gerbil has a tufted longer tail that spans roughly the length of its entire body. Their fur is super soft, covers their entire body, and can differ in color depending on the breed or species. The most common colors are gray, black, sandy, and agouti.

However, the size and appearance of guinea pigs are a bit different. They, too, are good pets, but their size difference is notable. Most guinea pigs grow 8 to 10 inches (20-25 cm) in length.

Guinea pigs have a rounded body and short legs. Also, their body is more robust and larger than the gerbil's.

The guinea pig also has virtually no tail. Its coat can come in various lengths and types, including long, even, short, smooth, and sometimes even curly. Many pet owners love the guinea pig’s colors and patterns, ranging from spotted and roan to solid and tortoiseshell.

Gerbils are the smaller of the two species, while guinea pigs are larger and have shorter legs and no tail.

hand holding gerbil

Behavior and Social Needs

Are gerbils and guinea pigs the same regarding their behavior and social needs? The answer is not quite. Let’s check out their preferences.

Gerbils, for example, are active and curious creatures. They spend a lot of time moving and exploring their environment. Gerbils are also widely known in the animal community for their curious nature and the joy they get from investigating their environment.

Gerbils also prefer to burrow and dig inside their homes. Their strong instinct to burrow and dig tunnels adds new requirements to these small rodents’ enclosures. They require deep bedding material or substrate to satisfy their natural instinct to dig.

What about their social inclinations? Gerbils are very social animals, so experts recommend keeping them in groups of same-sex pairs or small groups to prevent loneliness and enhance companionship.

Pet gerbils are playful and agile and exhibit a lot of playful behavior, preferring to jump, climb, and run on exercise wheels rather than staying in one spot for a substantial time.

Guinea pigs have their own set of behavior and social needs and are very different animals in many ways. For example, they tend to be very lovable pets due to their docile and gentle nature. Their temperament is typically calm and gentle, which makes them great for handling and interactions with most children.

Their social preferences are also great. Like the gerbil, guinea pigs are highly social animals. They enjoy the company of their fellow guinea pig peers and human caretakers. Guinea pigs tend to bond rather easily with their owners.

Guinea pigs benefit from living with other guinea pigs in pairs or small groups. They often communicate with other animals in their cages using various squeaks, chirps, and purrs.

Gerbils are more active inside their cages, while guinea pigs tend to be more sociable with humans and even other guinea pigs than gerbils, while both are, in general, fond of their owners when treated well.

Housing and Environment

gerbil big enclosure

There are differences between guinea pigs and gerbils regarding their housing and general environment.

For example, gerbils require a secure and properly sized enclosure to keep them safe and healthy. Most experts recommend a glass aquarium or well-ventilated wire cage with limited spacing to prevent escape. The recommended cage size for two gerbils is 10 gallons (or 390 square inches) of floor space.

The deep bedding requirements for gerbils are thanks to their love of burrowing, which we briefly touched on earlier. Providing them with a deep layer of suitable bedding material is critical. They do best with aspen shavings, hemp bedding, or paper-based materials. However, avoid cedar or pine shavings, which can harm your pet gerbil.

Gerbils also like hideouts in their environment. These popular pets enjoy exploring their environment through tunnels. Give them tons of toys and platforms to keep them properly stimulated. Giving them enough exercise is important to reduce behavioral issues.

Gerbils tend to be sensitive to extreme temperatures. Keep their environment at around 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius) and avoid placing their enclosure in sunlight. Maintain a consistent light-dark cycle, too, as they need regular darkness to get their beauty sleep.

lots of guinea pigs

Guinea pigs also have unique housing needs. Because of their size, they need a large cage to move comfortably. We recommend a wire cage with a solid bottom. The minimum size for one guinea pig is 7/5 square feet to keep them healthy.

Guinea pigs require a thick layer of suitable bedding materials, including paper-based bedding or aspen shavings. Don’t add cedar or pine shavings, as guinea pigs react negatively to them.

Guinea pigs love hideouts, tunnels, and cozy areas to escape to. A quiet area free of distractions, like an igloo, is a great addition to any guinea pig enclosure. They also like to chew on toys or even toilet paper rolls to keep themselves stimulated.

Your guinea pig enclosure should be maintained at 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit (18-24 degrees Celsius), and avoid exposing them to drafts. Also, ensure proper ventilation to keep your pet healthy, and keep in mind their sensitivity to high temperatures.

Guinea pigs also enjoy outdoor time. They require supervision, but fresh air and a predator-free outdoor environment keep them happy and healthy.

Gerbils are sensitive to the temperatures in their environment, prefer hideouts to get away from it all, and like exploring tunnels. Guinea pigs, however, require a larger cage, lots of bedding material and are also sensitive to extreme temperatures. They also prefer outdoor time, unlike gerbils.

Diet and Nutrition

guinea pig eating grass

Gerbils prefer high-quality gerbil pellets formulated for their nutrition. High-quality dry food is the best way to keep them happy.

They also enjoy fresh vegetables like carrots, broccoli, and kale. Like small pieces of fresh fruit, the occasional treat is great to give in limited quantities.

Fresh water at all times is equally important for their health.

Guinea pigs’ diet consists ofTimothy hay to aid their digestion, alongside a supply of regular fresh food like formulated pellets. They also like fresh veggies like bell peppers, carrots, and cucumbers.

Fresh fruits that are good sources of vitamin C should be given sparingly because guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C.

Be sure to give them fresh water at all times, as well.

Key Takeaway:

Gerbils like high-quality dry food, as do guinea pigs–pellets being their favorite. However, guinea pigs also require vitamin C supplementation, unlike gerbils.


Gerbils have an average lifespan of between 3 and 4 years. Guinea pigs, on average, have a lifespan of 5 to 7 years.

Guinea pigs live longer than gerbils.

The Similarities Between Gerbils and Guinea Pigs

Gerbils and guinea pigs are both extremely popular pets, like pet hamsters.

Pet gerbils tend to be desired because of their smaller size, but guinea pigs are also smaller than other animals like cats or dogs.

But let’s look at a few other similarities.

  • Neither are solitary animals. Guinea pigs and gerbils enjoy having companions in their cages.
  • Both make suitable pets. Both gerbils and guinea pigs are loveable pets that enjoy brief episodes of cuddling and handling.
  • Diet. These two pets also share a herbivore diet consisting mainly of formulated pellets supplemented by fruits and veggies when desired.
  • Lifespan. Both live approximately the same amount of time, with gerbils having a slightly shorter lifespan.
  • Activity. These two rodents tend to be highly active and curious in nature.
  • Easy to handle. Both make great pets because they are easy to handle, but small children should be supervised while handling either pet.

The Differences Between Gerbils and Guinea Pigs

So, what is the difference between gerbils and guinea pigs?

If you’re trying to decide which is the better pet for your home, you may want to look more closely at the differences between these two species.

To help you make the best decision, check out the following differences guinea pigs and gerbils have between them.

FeatureGerbilsGuinea Pigs
Size4-5 inches in length8-10 inches in length
Weight4 ounces 1- 2 pounds
Body ShapeSlender and elongated tailStocky and round, short tail, guinea pig’s ears are upright
Breeds2 breeds 13 breeds
VocalizationsGerbils are quiet Guinea pigs chirp, purr, and rumble
GroomingSelf-cleaningRequire external grooming like brushing
Cage RequirementsSmaller cage with a lid to prevent escapeBigger cage to accommodate their size

Choosing Between Gerbils and Guinea Pigs

Now that you know more about these two popular pets, you may still be stressing about which to choose: Gerbils vs Guinea Pigs. What’s right for you?

Choose a gerbil if you:

  • Want to save space
  • Want less maintenance
  • Want a more affordable pet
  • Want a more child-friendly pet
  • Want a quieter pet

Choose a guinea pig if you:

  • Want a pet that has a longer lifespan
  • Want to cuddle and bond more with your pet
  • Want a more relaxed pet
  • Want a more colorful pattern palate to choose from

Did you find this article helpful?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we try to provide you with the best information about the most popular pet species, including gerbils and guinea pigs. For more information about how to care for your pet guinea pig or gerbil, please visit our website.

Thanks for reading!

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