Gerbil vs Hamster

Gerbils and Hamsters are similar in some ways, yet very different.   Yes, they are both of the order of Rodentia, however, they are classified into different families because of their differences.

Mongolian Gerbils:

Order: Rodentia
Family: Muridae
Subfamily: Gerbillinae


Order: Rodentia
Family: Cricetidae
Subfamily: Cricetinae

Body Types:



  • Gerbils are on average 4 inches long with a furry tail that equals body length.  Their tails also have a furry little tuft of hair at the end.
  • Hamsters average size is 3-4 inches long with the Syrian hamster averaging 5-6 inches long.  Hamsters have a short stubby tail.
  • Gerbils weigh around 2.5 ounces.
  • Hamsters weigh between .60 to 1.1 ounces.
  • Gerbils have a long, pointer snout.
  • Hamsters have a short snout and pockets inside mouth to store food.
  • Gerbils have strong long hind legs and can jump up to 18 inches high.
  • Hamsters have short stocky legs with wider feet.

Behavior Types:

Gerbils and hamsters have completely different personalities.  Gerbils are very social animals both with their clan and seek human interaction while in captivity.   Gerbils must live in pairs or trios when kept in captivity.  Hamsters are loners and can not live with another in the same cage.  They are both territorial when it comes to an unknown who enters there territory.

Gerbils will push you away with there face or arms if you are annoying them and usually only bites when being mishandled or badly frightened.  Hamsters are more likely to bite you for whatever reason.

Hamsters are nocturnal and will sleep all day.  If you try to wake a hamster they are more likely to be grumpy and even bite you.  Gerbils have several cycles of sleep throughout a 24 hour period.  Sometimes gerbils will even adjust their sleep to their owners.  Because gerbils only sleep a couple hours at a time, its best to let a sleeping gerbil sleep.

Hamsters in the wild run up to 40 miles in one night to gather food.  This is why hamsters must be provided a wheel to run.  Gerbils, on the other hand, are natural diggers creating complex tunnels and burrows with several rooms and entrances.  Having a deep tank filled with deep bedding is a must for gerbils.

Diet & Nutrition:

Both gerbils and hamsters are omnivores and love mealworms and crickets.  They both require a diet of Oats & Grains, Seeds, Herbs, Fruits & Veggies.  You should look into safe foods for each as somethings that are ok for hamsters are not for gerbils and vice versa.

Hamsters have dry pouches located in their mouth that they use to store food.  Gerbils do not have these pouches and usually have a designated area with in their burrow system to store food for the winter.

Cleaning & Smells:

Gerbils, being desert animals, produce very little waste or odor.  Their tanks usually do not stink when cleaned every 2 weeks or long for bigger tanks.  They do have scent glands on their lower bellies, however, the scent produced cannot be detected by humans.  Hamsters on the other hand, can be quite stinky and require their cages to be cleaned every week.


Both gerbils and hamsters should be kept in an environment between 65-75°F with low humidity.  Both should be kept out of direct sunlight, away from heating and air vents as well as drafty rooms.

Any other differences you can think of?  Please, feel free to comment below!


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