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Gerbils vs. Hamsters as Pets: Which One is Right for Me?

Hamster or gerbil? Which ones is right for me?

Gerbil or hamster... which is the right choice for you? At a glance, these adorable, pint-sized, furry creatures look the same. Their growing incisor teeth, tiny claws made for digging and burrowing, and soft fur may be the same, but there are a few key characteristics that make these rodents very different.

One of the biggest giveaways when comparing the two is the signature tail of the gerbil. These tails are roughly the length of the gerbil's body. Some types of gerbils have smooth, hairless tails, while others have furry tails. Hamsters, on the other hand, have tiny little stumpy tails. Other differences include the shape of each rodent's face and body. Gerbils have a pointy, more rat-like face, and a sleek body shape, while hamsters are known for their chubby cheeks and short, round bodies. Both hamsters and gerbils are found in a wide variety of colors.

Then there are the more subtle differences, such as personality and behavior. If you're looking for a daytime buddy who is active and curious, a gerbil will be a good choice. As these critters are social, they need a lot more interaction. They can jump, so you'll need an escape-proof enclosure. Hamsters are nocturnal. They love interacting in the evening or early morning. They love exploring and will have great fun with tunnels and toys that help them burrow and make nests. They don't always like the company of other hamsters, unlike gerbils, who make friends more easily.

If you're wondering how these two cuties compare, keep reading to get our guide on gerbils vs hamsters.

Gerbils vs. Hamsters as Pets. Lots of people actually think they’re almost the same. I can name a few ways they’re similar. 1. they’re super cute and 2. they make awesome pets. But there are quite a few differences, too. I know, I know… how do you decide which one to welcome into your home? (You can have both, you know. Just in separate living spaces.) 

Let’s check out some of the main differences between these two furry friends.





Hamsters are generally bigger than gerbils. Adult Syrian hamsters are approximately 6 inches in length, while pet gerbils clock in at approximately 4. However, the dwarf hamster is similar in length to the average gerbil, sometimes smaller (some are only 2 inches long. Awe!) One of the most obvious differences between the hamster and gerbil, is the gerbils tail, which is usually just as long as his entire body, while hamsters rock a short stub.

Hamster faces are rounder and wider than his gerbil pal’s, which has a more lean look. Hamster snouts aren’t as long, either (chubby cheeks, anyone?). And while both hamsters and gerbils will get up on their hind legs, you won’t see Mr. Hamster doing jumping jacks any time soon. Gerbils are excellent jumpers, due to their large feet and long legs.


Want a laid-back pet? Maybe check out a hamster. Gerbils are usually more curious and have lots of energy. They’re mostly nocturnal, but basically, they just sleep when they want. However, hamsters are totally nocturnal, so if you want a good night’s sleep and hammy’s cage is in your bedroom? Maybe check out a gerbil.

Hamster in hamster wheel


A hamster is likely to bite more often, even if you’ve had them for a while, where with gerbils, this is rare. If you’re worried about your soon-to-be-adopted rodent biting your child, think about this one.


While we should all clean our pet’s cages on a regular basis, gerbils are desert animals and produce less waste than hamsters. You know what that means! Less waste = Less stink. Not that one’s better than the other, it’s surely not, but if you’re tight on time, you may have to just adjust your schedule more frequently for hamster cage cleaning than you would with a gerbil


Gerbils tend to be more social creatures, and really do well being kept with a friend, so if you want more than one new family member, go with the gerbil, as the hamster generally prefers being housed alone.

We're all ears graphic

Lots of differences, right? They may seem minor, but it’s our responsibility to understand even the minor ones before adoption . I’ll tell you, though, you really can’t go wrong in terms of gerbils vs. hamsters as pets. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you’ll love them, no matter which species you choose.

DISCLAIMER: The links and information are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Small Pet Select of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual.

Wanna read more interesting articles about gerbils and  hamsters? Check these out!

Is My Hamster Sick?

Why Syrian Hamsters Prefer to be Alone at Home

Do Gerbils Need an Exercise Wheel?

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