Gerbil Vs Hamster Vs Guinea Pig | Find The Right Pet For You - Kate's K9 Pet Care (2023)

Table of Contents

1 Comparing Gerbil vs Hamster vs Guinea pig

1.2 About hamsters

1.3 About guinea pigs

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2 Gerbil vs Hamster vs Guinea pig: Which is the pet for you?

(Video) Howe Story Time with Kate: What Pet to Get?

3 Conclusion

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Looking to add a new pet to your family and thinking about getting a rodent? Good choice! These furry creatures can make for fun, social and cuddly pets. But with so many different rodent species out there (think hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, gerbils, mice, rats and more), how do you know which best matches your family? All have different personalities and care guidelines, so it’s important to inform yourself before choosing.

Below, let’s compare three of the most popular pet rodents: gerbil vs hamster vs guinea pig. Which is the right pet for you?

Comparing Gerbil vs Hamster vs Guinea pig

About gerbils

Although it looks almost like a cross between a mouse and a hamster, the gerbil is actually part of a separate genus of rodents called Meriones (the jirds). Scientifically known as Meriones unguiculatus, it hails from the plains and steppes of Mongolia and surrounding regions. You can tell it apart from a hamster by its long tail and longer hind legs.

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Although gerbils are not the most popular of the three types of rodents we’re discussing here, they can actually make excellent pets. They’re generally quite social, as well as energetic, playful and rarely bitey. A gerbil will spend the majority of its waking time playing, exploring and running around its cage. It’ll love being able to explore the rest of the house as well, although it might be a good idea to set up an enclosed pen. It’s easy to lose sight of these curious and quick little rodents!

Although they’re suitable for children, their small size does make them fragile, so playtime should be supervised.

Here’s what you’ll need if you’d like to keep a gerbil:

  • Glass tank (at least 20-gallon capacity, preferably bigger) with a thick layer of bedding like aspen
  • Plenty of toys and items to climb
  • Exercise wheel (solid, not wire)
  • Nest box
  • High-quality pelleted food supplemented with fresh vegetables and occasionally fruit
  • Multiple sources of fresh water (bottles preferred)
SizeUp to 5” and up to 130 grams
Social?Keep in same-sex pairs (preferably litter mates)
Bites?Usually not
ActivityCrepuscular (dawn and dusk)
Lifespan3-4 years
Enclosure size (minimum)20-gallon tank

About hamsters

Unlike gerbils, the hamsters comprise more than one species of rodent. They belong to the subfamily Cricetinae within the Cricetidae, a large group that also includes such animals as voles and lemmings. The most popular hamster to be kept as a pet is probably the Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus), although dwarf hamsters from the genus Phodopus are also very common.

Hamsters make fun pets, and if you provide yours with a suitable hamster enclosure, you’ll enjoy seeing its natural burrowing behaviors and food storage abilities. Do keep in mind that they’re crepuscular and sometimes even straight-up nocturnal, so they spend most of the day sleeping and don’t like being disturbed. At night, they go wild burrowing, running in their exercise wheel and exploring their cage!

They’re considered relatively low-maintenance pets, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re not quite as social as something like a gerbil. Socializing your hamster properly is important if you want to be able to handle it. Children should always be supervised while playing with a hamster.

Because they live solitary lives in the wild, hamsters should be kept alone. Otherwise, even their own litter mates can be injured or killed in territorial fights!

If you’d like to keep a hamster, here’s what you’ll need:

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  • Solid-bottomed cage with wire canopy, at least 31 x 20 x 20″, but preferably bigger
  • At least 6-10″ (preferably more) of bedding material like aspen shavings
  • Plenty of hamster toys
  • Exercise wheel (solid, not wire)
  • Hide/nest box with nesting material
  • High-quality hamster food blend supplemented with lots of fresh vegetables and some fruit
  • Multiple sources of fresh water (bottles preferred)
SizeDwarf: up to 4″ and 2 oz. Syrian: up to 8″ and 5,5 oz.
Social?No, keep alone
Bites?Needs careful socialization
ActivityCrepuscular (dawn and dusk)
LifespanUp to 3 years (dwarf) or 4 years (Syrian)
Enclosure size (minimum)31 x 20 x 20″

About guinea pigs

Between gerbil vs hamster vs guinea pig, it’s the guinea pigs that are the odd ones out. Also known as cavies, they belong to the South American genus Cavia. In their natural range, they were actually first domesticated for human consumption, although over time they became popular as pets as well. At a maximum length of around 10″ and weight of up to 2.5 lbs, guinea pigs are much larger than gerbils and hamsters.

If you’ve ever kept guinea pigs before, you’ll know they are social animals. They need to be kept in pairs or groups, and they tend to be quite easy to socialize and even cuddly. Unlike something like a gerbil, they’re pretty mellow, and unlike hamsters, they rarely bite. They can be so happy to see their owners that they burst into spontaneous squeaking when you walk into the room!

Guinea pigs do need a lot more space than either of the aforementioned species, with a big pen or indoor hutch being ideal. It’s best to also let yours roam the house for at least a few hours a day to ensure it gets enough exercise.

If you’d like to keep guinea pigs, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 50 x 30″ minimum enclosure, pen or hutch
  • Lots of guinea pig toys
  • Hide or nest box
  • Bedding like aspen or fleece
  • Timothy hay as a staple food, plus fortified pellets, vegetables and occasional fruits
  • Multiple water sources
SizeUp to 10″ and 2.5 lbs
Social?Keep in same-sex pairs or groups (females or neutered males)
ActivityCrepuscular (dawn and dusk)
LifespanUp to 8 years
Enclosure size (minimum)50 x 30″

Gerbil Vs Hamster Vs Guinea Pig | Find The Right Pet For You - Kate's K9 Pet Care (1)

Gerbil vs Hamster vs Guinea pig: Which is the pet for you?

Now that we’ve discovered a little about the characteristics of each of these three popular pet rodents, it should hopefully be easier to figure out which best suits your family between gerbil vs hamster vs guinea pig:

  • Choose a gerbil if you want a small, high-energy pet that’s reasonably social.
  • Choose a hamster if you want a small pet that can be kept alone, and don’t mind having to slowly get it used to being handled.
  • Choose guinea pigs if you have plenty of space available and want a larger, more cuddly pet.

Remember: although they’re considered less work than something like a cat or dog, each of these rodent species still needs daily attention. Guinea pigs are the most high-maintenance of the three, but gerbils also need plenty of attention to keep them happy. Hamsters are generally content to be left alone, but they, too, benefit from being able to run around outside their cage daily in order to keep them fit.

Daily cage inspection is required for gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. Any dirty or wet bedding should be replaced, water bottles refreshed and cleaned, and fresh food offered.


Between gerbil vs hamster vs guinea pig, the right rodent for you depends entirely on what you’re looking for, how much space you’ve got available and how much time and money you’re willing to invest. Once you’ve made your choice, be sure to consider adopting rather than buying your gerbil, hamster or cavy at a pet store. There are many in need of a good home!

If you’re worried about leaving your pet alone while you go on holiday, we can help. Our Small Pet Care service is perfect for rodents like the ones discussed here.


What is better a gerbil or a guinea pig or hamster? ›

Gerbils are more energetic than hamsters, too, and aren't as prone to biting. The largest of the three, guinea pigs are also the most common. They live to be 5-7 years old and weigh 2-3 pounds. Guinea pigs rarely bite, are calmer, and are social animals, like gerbils.

Which pet is easier to take care of hamster or guinea pig? ›

Typically, hamsters are far more temperamental than guinea pigs. And because they are smaller and more fragile to handle, they are more likely to nip or bite. If you have very young children in the house, a guinea pig is probably a better option.

What's a better pet gerbil or hamster? ›

While both can do well in captivity, gerbils are notoriously easier, more docile, and less likely to bite. Hamsters can become tame with frequent handling but will not tolerate being held for long and will bite when scared, sick, or with rough handling.

What's a better pet hamster or guinea pig? ›

Guinea Pigs Vs Hamsters — the Verdict? Overall experts suggest that guinea pigs make the best pets for children due to their affectionate and active nature. They also live longer which means the there is more time for your child to bond with their pet.

Do guinea pigs like to be held? ›

Guinea pigs are social animals and enjoy human interaction, including petting, stroking and playing. However, it's important you learn how to handle your guinea pig correctly to avoid any injuries. It's not uncommon for guinea pigs to be skittish around their owners.

What is a better pet than a hamster? ›

Guinea pigs make great pets for kids, especially if you have young kids. They are more sturdy than hamsters, although obviously you will still need to supervise kids while handling them. Guinea pigs need more cage space than a smaller rodent.

What hamster is more cuddly? ›

Also known as teddy bear or golden hamsters, the most popular breed for children is the Syrian hamster. They are friendly with people and easy to handle, but are not sociable with other hamsters. This means that you woud usually keep them as an individual pet.

Do guinea pigs like to be cuddled? ›

A healthy guinea pig is a happy guinea pig, and a happy guinea pig loves cuddles. So regularly grooming your guinea pig is an excellent way to keep an eye on its health, and of course, it helps build that all-important bond.

Can you cuddle with a hamster? ›

Cuddling. Hamsters are cute, tiny and notoriously afraid of humans. But you can actually train your little hammie to enjoy your snuggles which, face it, is kind of your goal in life.

Do gerbils like to be held? ›

Gerbils are usually friendly and happy to interact with people, but they do not really enjoy being picked up. It's important to health check your gerbils regularly so it's a good idea to get them used to being handled for this purpose.

What is the friendliest gerbil? ›

There are many species, but the Mongolian gerbil species is most commonly kept as a pet. They are considered to be friendly, active, gentle pets who love to dig and create burrows/tunnels.

What is the most cuddly rodent? ›

The most cuddly rodent pet is the rat. Rats can develop strong bonds with their owners, and they enjoy being stroked and held. Gerbils are also sociable, but they rarely sit still for cuddles. The least affectionate rodent pets are chinchillas and mice, as they are more shy and timid small animals.

Do hamsters like to be held? ›

They do not like to be held. They are more prone to bite if they are startled or woken from a deep sleep, or if your hands smell like another animal or food. Handle your hamster gently.

Can guinea pigs be potty trained? ›

Cavies are generally clean animals, and you can potty train them by placing droppings in the litter box every time they have an accident. Although it's a bit of a pain to do, it's a really effective way to get your guinea pigs toilet trained.

Can a guinea pig live alone? ›

Guinea pigs are social animals who do best with the companionship of another pig. Preventing a solitary guinea pig from becoming lonely and bored is a tall order, even for someone committed to spending a significant amount of time with their animal every day.

Why does my guinea pig scream when I pick him up? ›

Guinea pigs with scream when they have a fright or when they are in a fight with another animal. Pay close attention to your pet if you hear a scream. Squeal: Some guinea pigs will squeal when they are experiencing potential pain or they need attention.

How not to hold a guinea pig? ›

Never hold your guinea pig with only one hand. If your guinea pig becomes stressed, there is a higher chance that they will attempt to jump or wiggle out of your grasp. It is always best to hold your guinea pig so that they are secure and comfortable in both of your hands.

Can I hold my guinea pig on the first day? ›

Guinea pigs are quite sociable and generally enjoy being held and petted, but it may take time to get to that point. Avoid handling them for a few days after you bring them home, so they have time to adjust to their new surroundings.

What pet does not bite? ›

Labrador Retrievers, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and Newfoundlands are among the safest dog breeds that are least likely to bite, new research has found. While any dog can nip, these breeds are known for their particularly sweet-tempered spirit as long as they are treated right.

What is the best pet for loneliness? ›

Cats have been known to help with loneliness, anxiety, depression, and more, just like dogs. If you're looking for a pet that requires a little less attention, a cat might be your best bet. They still make for great companions, but they're also okay with being alone for a while.

What is the easiest rodent to care for? ›

Mice are one of the easiest pets to own because they have minimal space needs and do not require attention.

Are male or female hamsters nicer? ›

Male hamsters are more easygoing and friendly than females and are more open to being handled. In general, they are calm and docile and do not display aggression when you reach into their space to pick them up.

What is the rarest hamster color? ›

Beige is a rare colour, because it is produced by breeding together a hamster with the rust and dark grey gene, which are, themselves, rare. The beige variety is often smaller than the rest of the litter and may have a kinked tail due to the Dark Grey gene.

Why is my guinea pig licking me? ›

Guinea pig licks, also referred to as guinea pig kisses, are just one of the ways your guinea pigs can show you they like you. When a guinea pig licks you, it is a good sign that your piggy is feeling comfortable and safe with you!

Where do guinea pigs not like to be touched? ›

The feet and underside are usually areas to avoid, and the back might even be an area to avoid. Observe your guinea pig's body language and listen to vocalizations for clues about how he or she feels. Keep petting sessions brief in the beginning until you know how your guinea pigs react.

Do guinea pigs sit in your lap? ›

It's important to hold these little animals properly

Only ever carry one guinea pig at a time. Guinea pigs will sit on your lap for ages watching TV with you. It is always wise to sit them on a towel though, to catch any unfortunate little accidents!

Can I sleep with a hamster in my room? ›

Hamsters are Nocturnal

A quiet room away from the chaoticness that lies inside a human's household will help brighten your hamster's day. It simple really; a hamster that's well-rested will be more open to being sociable. This is why a bedroom may not be the best place for your hamster.

Do hamsters like being in a ball? ›

The hamster ball is an exercise device for hamsters. The hamster is enclosed in the ball and can then exercise/run in the ball which then rolls around on the floor. There are concerns that such products may, in fact, be stressful for hamsters and so the RSPCA does not recommend their use.

Where do gerbils like to be touched? ›

Gerbils are usually happy to be handled, although some can be timid. Start by placing your hand in the tank so the gerbils can sniff and get used to you, then gently stroke them. Pick up a gerbil by placing your hand around its body, just behind the forelegs, and support the hindquarters in your other hand.

Do gerbils need a buddy? ›

Gerbils are sociable animals, and their group sizes in the wild range from two to 15 animals of all ages and sexes. Groups are founded by a breeding pair and extended by their offspring and other relatives. For this reason, gerbils need to live with other gerbils and should never be kept on their own.

Are male or female gerbils nicer? ›

Some owners say males are more docile and friendly towards each other than females. Others say they have had no problem with female gerbil pairs. However, it's generally a good idea to choose males if you want to keep more than two gerbils together, as they seem slightly happier in larger groups than females.

Can gerbils be aggressive? ›

Gerbils are popular pets and social animals that do best in a happy, companionable group. These are curious and intelligent creatures, but they can also be territorial and aggressive as adults.

Will gerbils cuddle with you? ›

Most gerbils enjoy petting or sitting in your hand. Some gerbils will allow you to cuddle or hug them once trust is established. Spend time with your gerbil every day to strengthen your bond. To get a gerbil to like you, you have to build trust gradually over time.

Which animal loves humans the most? ›

Summary of the 10 Most Friendly Wild Animals in the World
1CapybarasFriendliest Wild Animal
2DogFriendliest Pet
3House CatFriendliest Feline
4DolphinFriendliest Ocean Dweller
6 more rows
Apr 13, 2023

What is the best small pet to own? ›

Easiest Small Animals to Care for and Why They Might be Right for You
  • Hamsters. While hamsters are fun and active pets, they are nocturnal, which means that they can be a disappointing pet for small children. ...
  • Guinea Pigs. ...
  • Rabbits. ...
  • Chinchillas. ...
  • Mice and Rats. ...
  • Parrots. ...
  • Hermit Crabs. ...
  • Ferrets.

Are hamsters more affectionate than gerbils? ›

Gerbils seem to enjoy handling more than hamsters. This makes handling a much more pleasant experience both for you and your pet. They seem to enjoy physical affection more than hamsters.

What type of guinea pigs are best as pets? ›

As the most common breed, the American Guinea Pig by default wins the popularity contest. They are known for their great temperament and also get along well with other piggies. Its short, smooth coat makes it easy to take of, particularly for children.

What is a better pet gerbil or rat? ›

Rats are by far the easiest and most responsive pocket pets to train. They are social creatures and quickly learn to trust people. Gerbils are probably next on the list; they are naturally curious and respond well to human attention. Hamsters are often the most difficult pocket pets to get to know.

Do guinea pigs or hamsters smell? ›

Hamsters are much smaller, so the smell does not build up in the cage nearly as quickly as with guinea pigs. However, if cages are cleaned regularly, there should be little difference in smell between the two.

What is the most cuddly guinea pig? ›

The Abyssinian guinea pig is recognizable because of its uniquely swirled fur. These guinea pigs have a cute and scruffy look, which almost makes them look like they just woke up. They tend to be one of the most affectionate breeds, which explains why they are so popular.

Are guinea pigs easy to potty train? ›

Guinea pigs can be trained to go to the bathroom in a litter box. Some get the hang of it quickly, while some never learn. That's just how it is. Just remember that it's not your guinea pig's fault if they poop outside the litter box - sometimes they can have accidents or simply forget.

Which gender of guinea pig is friendlier? ›

Both have similar temperaments although males often have a bolder personality, making them easier to handle. It can often be easier to find a suitable companion for a female guinea pig though as they tend to be more amenable with their guinea pig friends.

What is the cleanest rodent pet? ›

Guinea pigs and chinchillas are gentle sweet pets, but they have special dietary needs and all of their teeth continuously grow. If handled gently, gerbils are unlikely to bite, explains Hoppes. They have few health problems and are the cleanest of all the commonly kept pet rodents.

What is the nicest pet rat? ›

Best Type of Domestic Pet Rat. The species of rat available in the pet and laboratory trade is Rattus norvegicus domesticus, domesticated from the Norway rat. Rats are characterized by their long bodies, short fur, small eyes and ears, and long hairless tails.

What is the smartest rodent pet? ›

Perhaps the smartest rodents, rats can learn tricks, love to hang out with their owners, and are extremely affectionate. They actually respond to their owners when their name is called.

Do guinea pigs like to cuddle? ›

A healthy guinea pig is a happy guinea pig, and a happy guinea pig loves cuddles. So regularly grooming your guinea pig is an excellent way to keep an eye on its health, and of course, it helps build that all-important bond.

Is it OK to keep guinea pigs in your bedroom? ›

Guinea pigs get along just fine indoors with no enclosure at all, so if you have enough space in your home, you should give them an entire room to themselves.


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