Gerbils or hamsters – which is the better pet?

While hamsters are among the most popular pets in German-speaking countries, gerbils are rather exotic.

But why is that?

One thing first: It is not because gerbils are the worse pets. Gerbils definitely have their advantages, too.

In this article, we’ll tell you what they are and which of the two animals actually wins in the competition for the better pet.

Are gerbils or hamsters the better pets?

The question of whether gerbils or hamsters are the better pet for you cannot be answered in a general way.

This is because it depends on your character, your living conditions, but also your intentions, what you want to do with your animal.

You should also consider that hamsters are nocturnal, whereas gerbils have active phases during the day as well as at night.

What are the character differences between gerbils and hamsters?

The most striking difference between the two species is that the gerbil is a very social animal that absolutely needs contact with conspecifics to lead a happy and species-appropriate life.

The hamster, on the other hand, is an absolute loner.

If they are kept together with other hamsters, quarrels and biting – which can often lead to the death of one of the animals – are inevitable.

Exception is the Campbell dwarf hamster, which can also be kept in groups.

In addition, gerbils are much more suitable for children than hamsters, since hamsters are nocturnal animals and only really wake up in the evening hours. However, since children usually go to bed quite early, they will not be able to enjoy their pet much.

Gerbils, on the other hand, are also primarily active at dusk, but these lively rodents can also be seen doing various activities throughout the day.

You should also be aware that gerbils, unlike hamsters, are excellent jumpers and the enclosure should therefore be especially high or additionally secured to the top.

Hamsters have poor or no ability to judge heights and therefore tend to have a higher risk of injury if you offer the animal a multi-story cage.

Space requirements and accessories

Since hamsters are solitary animals, these pets require less space than gerbils.

But the hamster also wants to move a lot and extensively!

So a hamster needs a terrarium with minimum dimensions of 50 cm height, 100 cm width and 50 cm depth. Of course, your animal will be very happy if you provide him with more space.

How big the terrarium for your gerbils should be, depends of course primarily on how many animals you want to keep: 2 gerbils need a terrarium with minimum dimensions of 50 cm height, 120 cm width and 50 cm depth.

Both rodents need sufficient occupation and gnawing possibilities.

Please refrain from using plastic objects as well as cages and drinking bottles. Instead, offer your animals water in an open bowl.

Also provide your furry friends with furnishings made of untreated wood, because hamster and gerbil teeth grow throughout their lives and therefore need to be continuously worn down.

Furthermore, for both hamster and gerbil keeping, you will need a sand bath in which the animals can roll around and thus groom their fur.

Due to the fact that both species are very eager to run, a running wheel or a turntable is recommended to give the animals the opportunity to satisfy their great urge to move.

Gerbils have a tail compared to hamsters. For this reason, you should not place an open wheel in your gerbils’ enclosure, which carry the risk of the tail becoming entangled and causing injury.

Both gerbils and hamsters are avid tunnel diggers and therefore need bedding at least 20 cm high to satisfy this need.

Furthermore, sufficient hay should be available so that the animals can build a warm and soft nest for sleeping.

Thus, we can conclude that the needs of both animals are relatively similar in terms of equipment and space requirements.
Cost factor regarding purchase and keeping

Regarding the acquisition costs it does not make a serious difference whether you reach for a hamster or a gerbil.

As a rule, a healthy gerbil or a healthy hamster will cost you between five and twenty euros.

Only the fact that you should keep at least two gerbils, but only one hamster, ensures that the purchase costs for a hamster are cheaper than for gerbils.

However, gerbils live on average between three and five years, while the hamster has a life expectancy of about two years.

Both in terms of the size of the terrarium and the equipment, no major differences are noticeable. However, as you keep more gerbils, the ‘wear and tear’ of the furnishings will progress more quickly.

For example, it makes a big difference whether two gerbils or a single hamster are gnawing on a wooden house.

With gerbils you will therefore have to buy new furnishings more often.

Also, food consumption is naturally higher with multiple animals than with a single animal.

Vet & Treatment

Since hamsters and gerbils are about the same size, there are no significant differences in terms of veterinary costs.

Here it is always a matter of luck, how robust your animal is and how often it gets sick.

It may well be that a rather weak hamster causes more expenses at the vet than three fit gerbils together.

How much time do I have to schedule per week and what kind of work do I have to do?

The amount of time you should spend with your pet(s) depends on your goals.

If you want to build up a close and intensive relationship with your pets, you should take about half an hour every day to not only provide your pets with food and water, but also to spend time with them.

In addition, the enclosure of gerbils or hamsters should be cleaned at least once a week. The amount of time spent on this, of course, depends entirely on how large the terrarium is.

Plan on about one hour per week.

If you want to keep your animals as species-appropriate as possible, you should allow them daily secured exercise in a room or a separated area.

Of course, you don’t have to constantly check on your hamster or gerbils here, but you should always be nearby if a dangerous situation arises.

This also requires about an hour of effort per day.

The sand bath will also want to be cleaned. It is not necessary to change all the sand every day, but you should remove feces and urine clumps at least once a day.

Ideally, you should also completely replace the sand once a week when you clean the enclosure.

How much effort is required for feeding depends mainly on what you want to feed your animals. If you use ready-made food, you will need less time than if you prepare fresh food for your rodent(s).

Conclusion: Which animal suits me – hamster or gerbil?

Which animal suits you and your living conditions, can not be said in general. It depends on your life situation at the moment.

If you are on the road all day and only come home in the evening, you will be very happy with a hamster. If you work the night shift and are only at home during the day, you will hardly ever see a hamster.

It is important to mention at this point that neither hamsters nor gerbils are suitable as cuddly animals!

Both species are purely observational animals that do not like to be petted by large or even small hands.

However, gerbils and hamsters are very intelligent animals that you can work with excellently via clicker training to actively spend time with the animals.

Hand feeding is also gladly accepted by the animals after a certain period of acclimatization.

Basically, however, it can be said that the differences in terms of cost, time and also space are not very large.

Weigh the pros and cons to be able to decide for yourself which animal suits you and your life better – both gerbils and hamsters have their very own charm with which they can and certainly will wrap you around their finger.

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