Hamster vs Gerbil (Differences & Similarities)

Gerbils and hamsters are both cute, small, and easy to look after. But, you can’t take both species home.

In this article, we’ve made a thorough comparison of these different species to show you the main differences between them. Make sure you check it out as it’ll help you decide what’s best for you and your family.

Should I get a gerbil or a hamster?

Key Takeaway:

Most hamsters (except the dwarves) are bigger than gerbils. They have more compact features and are nocturnal, solitary animals. Gerbils are more placid than hamsters. They like to live in pairs and groups. They live for 3 to 4 years in captivity and have more mouse-like features.

But now you want to know…

…Are gerbils smaller than hamsters? Which is a better pet hamster or a gerbil?

You’ll find out the answers to these questions and more coming up in the following comparison.

Take a look.

hamster vs gerbil

Introducing Hamsters and Gerbils

Are gerbils and hamsters the same thing?

No, gerbils and hamsters are not the same thing. Although they are both from the rodent scientific classification order, they are from different family groups.

Hamsters are from the Cricetidae subfamily. There are 19 species of hamsters and Golden (Syrian) hamsters are the most popular breed in captivity.

Gerbils are from the Gerbillinae family. The most popular gerbil in captivity is the Mongolian gerbil.

Hamster vs. Gerbil

You’re looking for the perfect addition to your family. A rodent that will entertain you but also one that is easy to look after and show love.

So, gerbil vs hamster, which species is ideal for you?

Coming up next in this article, we are going to take a look at some of the key differences between the two. We will be comparing them in the following categories:

  • Size
  • Nature
  • Housing
  • Lifespan
  • Features
  • Active hours

Let’s jump right to it.


There’s no doubt about it, both hamsters and gerbils are small pets. But although they’re tiny, they are not the same size.

Are gerbils bigger than hamsters?

Some hamsters are bigger than gerbils. The Syrian hamster, for example, can grow up to 15 cm long whereas a Mongolian gerbil will only grow up to 13.5 cm.

The exceptions are dwarf hamsters, some of which are considerably smaller than gerbils. For example, the Roborovski dwarf hamster grows to 4.8 cm long, and the Winter White dwarf measures 7 to 9 cm.

Yes, they are really miniature!

If you are looking for the smallest family pet, choose a dwarf hamster.


Both gerbils and hamsters are adorable furry friends. But they do have slightly different temperaments.

Are gerbils friendlier than hamsters?

Hamsters are generally docile animals. Syrian hamsters are popular pets because of their curious and placid nature.

They generally, though, need time to get used to being handled by their owners. Frequent, gentle handling, and keeping handling sessions short will make the pet less likely to bite.

Although rare, hamsters will bite when they feel frightened.

Gerbils are somewhat different.

A pet gerbil typically has a good temperament, better than a hamster’s. It will not be aggressive unless it feels stressed or you provoke it.

If you want the most docile, small pet, choose within the gerbil species.

hand holding gerbil


The housing needs of hamsters and gerbils could not be more different.

How do hamsters and gerbils like to live in captivity?

Hamsters are very territorial, solitary animals and are not tolerant of other hamsters. It is not recommended to put two in the same living space.

Hamsters like their own company. Syrian and Chinese hamsters tend to find it particularly difficult to share a habitat.

A dwarf hamster can interact with and live with another dwarf on occasion, but it must have access to its own water bottle, food to eat, toys, and hiding spot. You must keep an eye on them and separate them at the first sign of bullying.

Gerbils are completely different.

Pet gerbils are social creatures that like to be handled by their owners. Gerbils love the company of other gerbils in the wild and in captivity.

If you want multiple pets, choose Mongolian gerbils as they like to live in pairs or in groups. If you want just one, choose a hamster.


Gerbils and hamsters are similar in that they both have short lifespans but they’re not exactly the same.

What is the difference between a hamster and a gerbil when comparing their lifespans?

Most hamsters live for 2 to 3 years in captivity. This includes the Syrian hamster, Winter White dwarf, and other popular hamster pet breeds.

Most Mongolian gerbils live for 3 to 4 years in captivity. Some can live for even longer.

If you are looking for pets with the longest lifespan, choose gerbils. Most gerbils live for longer than hamsters.


Hamsters and gerbils have a lot of similar features, but they are by no means the same.

So, gerbils vs. hamsters, what makes them different?

A hamster’s body is small and compact. It has shorter legs and a shorter tail.

Their faces are short and wide, and they have big cheek pouches they use to store food.

A gerbil's body has longer, slimmer features than a hamster's. These rodents have long hind legs, large feet, and up to 4-inch long tails.

Their faces are longer and pointier.

Hamsters and gerbils have a lot of similar features too. They both have tiny claws and teeth that continue to grow throughout their lives.

To keep their teeth down, they need access to chew toys and hard food like seeds and grains to nibble on and eat.

If you want to see longer, more mouse-like features, choose a couple of gerbils. If you want a pet with more compact features, choose a hamster.

Active Hours

Another one of the key differences between a hamster and a gerbil is the times of the day the species is active.

What is a better pet, a hamster or a gerbil? Which is more entertaining?

Hamsters are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and are most active at night.

Hamsters are nocturnal in the wild and in captivity. This is important in the wild where they will come out at night to escape the heat of the day and also to avoid becoming food for their predators.

Because they are nocturnal, hamsters are more difficult pets to interact with. Very small children might not find them very exciting pets because they spend the day asleep.

Gerbils are mostly diurnal. Children tend to prefer gerbils as pets as they are up and active throughout the day and sleep during the night as we do.

Gerbils are the most entertaining animals as they are up when you are.

gerbil on a silent spinner

The Differences Between Hamsters and Gerbils

Are you still deciding on the perfect rodent to take home with you?

Then take a look at this list of differences that will help you decide.

Regular breeds are slightly bigger in size Slightly smaller in size
Dwarf breeds are much smaller in size Much bigger in size
Need handling frequently to tame Docile, good temperament
Solitary Social
2 to 3-year lifespan 3 to 4-year lifespan
Smaller, more compact features, big cheek pouchesMouse-like features, longer tails
Nocturnal Mostly diurnal

The Similarities Between Hamsters and Gerbils

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the ways these two rodents are different.

But, in what ways are they similar?

Take a look at this summary to find out.

  • They fit in the palm of your hand
  • The males are larger than the females
  • They may bite when frightened or stressed
  • They have small claws
  • Their teeth continue growing throughout their lifespan
  • They love to burrow
hand holding hamsters

Choosing Between a Hamster and a Mongolian Gerbil

Hamsters and gerbils are both small rodents that make good pets. But, thanks to this article, we’ve seen that by analyzing the differences between them, you’ll choose the best animal to suit your family’s needs.

So, what’s the verdict? Are gerbils better pets than hamsters?

Choose a hamster as your next pet if you:

  • Want a really small pet (choose a dwarf hamster)
  • Would like your pet to have more compact features

Choose a gerbil if you:

  • Want a very docile animal that is easy to handle
  • Plan on housing the animals in pairs on in groups
  • Want your pet to live for slightly longer
  • Would like to see more mouse-like features

Did you find this article interesting?

At Oddly Cute Pets, we always strive to provide you with the best articles about small mammals and what food they must eat, how they must live, and their temperaments. For more guides on gerbils, guinea pigs, and other pets, check out our website.

Thanks for reading!

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