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Are Gerbils Friendlier Than Hamsters?

Last Updated: 25.02.20


Hamsters are nocturnal pets that will often bite the people handling them, while gerbils are active during the day and very seldom bite their owner. Both hamsters and gerbils need special attention, care, and training that involves frequently handling them, and they should only be fed special hamster or gerbil food.

As most of us know, both gerbils and hamsters make great pets, especially for children that are learning about the responsibility of caring for a pet. Despite the obvious similarities between the two, such as their small size and the food they eat, there are quite a few differences between these two cute animals.

When looking to get the most suitable pet for your family, one of the first things one needs to take into consideration, and thoroughly research, is the personality each particular species has, to make a perfect choice. Choosing the right pet ensures that the new family member will create a strong bond with the family.

Most people think of character when they hear the word “personality”, but when we talk about pets, their personality has a much broader meaning, including their habits and how friendly they are when being handled. After all, any new pet owner expects to be able to safely handle his or her pet as often as needed. So, how are hamsters different from gerbils in terms of friendliness?



First of all, hamsters are nocturnal rodents, meaning they will most likely sleep all day and be very active during the night. For any hamster pet owner, this might have two major consequences. The first one is that the noise made by the hamster during the night may disturb its owner’s sleep, especially when the tiny buddy eats or plays.

The second thing is that because they sleep all day, it is quite hard to interact with them in any way. Things like cleaning their cage, wanting to play with them or any other type of interaction means waking them up, which they do not take very well. The result will be a more than grumpy hamster and a not much happier owner. Why is that?

Well, it seems that out of all rodent species that are being kept as pets, hamsters are the most prone to biting. Only in rare cases will a pet hamster bite with the malicious intent of hurting its owner. In most cases, the hamster bites as a reaction to something that scares or disturbs it, such as loud noises made by kids or handling when it is sleeping. 

Another reason hamsters sometimes bite is their habit of exploring their surroundings. For instance, if your hand smells like food, your furry buddy will most likely take a bite at it, thinking your finger is a most desired carrot. In other situations, they might act defensively if your hand smells weird to them.

On the other hand, hamsters are quite slow, making them quite easy to handle. This is a good thing for small children. Also, when fully grown, they are still small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, meaning they can be safely and securely grasped in your hand. Moreover, their fur feels like soft velvet, which is quite a nice feeling when you are handling them.




Even though gerbils are small, just like hamsters, they are very different from them. First of all, they are active during the day, so their owner can really enjoy their companionship during this time. Also, if one chooses to clean their enclosure during the day, the risk of disturbing them or waking them up is close to none at all.

Gerbils rarely bite, if ever, regardless of the situation. This is why they make a very good choice for small children, even better than hamsters, especially for kids that are afraid of handling a small pet for the first time. While they are far less likely to bite than a hamster, they are very athletic and fast-moving, so caution is in order when handling them.

Gerbils need special gerbil cages, that allow them to display their burrowing habits while entertaining their owners with a wonderful burrowing show. Due to their fast and acrobatic nature, they can climb, jump, and run around at impressive speed, which makes it a bit more difficult for their owners to handle them.

Also, gerbils are social animals, unlike hamsters, that are solitary pets. This means that is best for them to be kept in pairs. They are quite friendly to each other, cuddling and grooming each other, which comes to show just how good-natured these cute animals are. However, it is very important to avoid scaring them since they are sensitive creatures.


Social vs solitary

Gerbils are social animals, and it is widely known amongst gerbil lovers that they might even get depressed or fall ill if kept alone. However, you cannot just get two gerbils together and expect them to immediately get along well. They will only accept the company of gerbils whose scent they already know.

For this reason, it is best to get the animals acquainted when they are still young and, therefore, way less territorial. If this is not possible, and you want to get two adult gerbils together, the best way to do it is by using the split-cage method. This involves allowing the two pets to get to know each other without them being able to touch for a while, before getting them together.

By getting gerbils very well acquainted before allowing them to share the same enclosure prevents any unwanted territorial fights. Despite their overall good-natured character, gerbils can become quite aggressive to other gerbils, and most fights between them can have a very negative outcome.  

Hamsters, on the other hand, are solitary animals. In the wild, they prefer being alone and nocturnal, therefore bonding with the owners can be quite a challenge. Also, these cute pets are fiercely territorial and will make sure they defend their cage from any intruder. Syrian hamsters, in particular, should always be kept alone.

The only time hamsters come together is breeding time. But even then, the owner needs to make sure the male is removed from the female’s cage in due time to avoid her fighting him, or even worse, killing him. When it comes to hamsters, it is just safer to keep one hamster per cage in case you have more than one furry friend.

Even if hamsters may bite sometimes, and they sleep all day long, they can create incredibly strong bonds with their owners. Creating such a unique bond with such a tiny creature can be wonderful, and will show young children the importance of caring for all other living creatures around us, whatever their size may be. 



Other differences between them

Hamsters are escape artists, so much so, that they have even been named as “Houdini of the pet world”. Any chance they get, they will escape their cage and hide as well as possible. This fact has nothing to do with how well hamsters are taken care of, it has to do with their instinct to explore as far as possible their surrounding areas, as well as stay hidden as much as they can.

Gerbils, despite their agility and speed, do not escape as often. Because they do not have the same exploring and hiding instinct that hamsters do, they will be much easier found in case they get out of their enclosure. However, any gerbil owner has to be vigilant when opening the gerbil cage since they can easily get hurt while trying to escape.

In terms of the time they demand from their owners, both gerbils and hamsters are fairly independent creatures that can entertain themselves over extended periods. The main difference here is that while gerbils are ok with not being handled on a daily basis as they will not start to bite, with hamsters there is a high chance they will go untamed if not handled as often as possible. 

Handling both gerbils and hamsters on a daily basis will ensure they are kept tamed and friendly toward their owner, but it will also give the handler a chance to make quick medical check-ups on a daily basis. Keeping close contact with your tiny pet rodents allows you to notice any changes that may indicate they are not feeling well in due time.

Keeping a close eye on your furry friends is of utmost importance to keep them healthy and friendly. A sick small rodent will tend to be way more aggressive than a healthy one, and not noticing health issues as soon as possible may lead to having an extremely aggressive pet, especially a pet hamster, even after they get back on their feet.


Ease of care

There is a big difference between gerbils and hamsters in terms of the quantity of waste they produce. Gerbils are desert mammals, meaning they do not urinate that often, and their urine does not have a typical ammonia smell. They usually choose a spot in a corner of their burrow for their business, therefore being very clean pets.

Hamsters produce considerably more waste than gerbils, their urine has a strong ammonia smell, therefore it is very important to clean their enclosure regularly, to avoid any unwanted odors around it. Also, because hamsters like hiding in their bedding, keeping their cage clean is important to their overall health.

Since hamsters are solitary animals, they require smaller cages than gerbils, that need to live in pairs or small groups. You should always choose the appropriate type of housing for each particular species. For instance, hamsters will always try to escape their enclosure, hence a small cage with appropriate openings is in order.

Gerbils, however, are very active and playful animals, therefore they require a much bigger cage, with lots of space for them to dig their burrows and lots of accessories for them to keep busy with. Ideally, gerbils will be kept in cages that have more than one level, so they have plenty of space for their daily activities. 

Because gerbils will continuously chew on any given item around them, wood or plastic cages are not suitable for them. The best material to use is glass. Glass enclosures come with two benefits: gerbils cannot chew their way out of them, and it allows the owner to watch the show gerbils put on during their daily activities.

Hamsters, on the other hand, are not nearly as destructive as gerbils, therefore their toys will last longer and they can be kept in plastic cages, as well. Wood enclosures are not a good idea for hamsters either since they too will chew on them until freedom is found. Glass enclosures are suitable for hamsters too, as long as they are not placed in direct sunlight. 

When you choose a pet rodent as your companion, you will like it to be around for as long as possible. The average lifespan of a well cared for gerbil is about 3.5 years while hamsters live to be 2 – 2.5 years old. How long they live depends on many factors, such as how well they are cared for and their genetic heritage. 





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Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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