Are you considering getting a small rodent as a pet but can’t decide between a hamster and a gerbil? These adorable creatures can make wonderful additions to your family, but it’s important to understand their differences before making a decision. While hamsters and gerbils may share some similarities, such as their small size and cute appearance, there are important factors to consider, especially when it comes to their temperament.
Temperament: The Key Difference
When it comes to behavior, hamsters and gerbils have distinct temperaments. Gerbils are known for being easier to handle, more docile, and less likely to bite. They are generally a great choice for families with children or those new to owning small pets. On the other hand, hamsters can become tame with frequent handling but may not tolerate being held for extended periods. When scared, sick, or handled roughly, hamsters may resort to biting. Due to this, they are typically not recommended as pets for children.
Physical Differences: Tails, Faces, and Body Types
One noticeable physical difference between hamsters and gerbils is their tails. Hamsters have short and stubby tails, while gerbils have longer tails, measuring up to 4 inches. Their facial features also set them apart. Gerbils have long, pointy faces similar to mice, while hamsters have short and wide faces. Additionally, hamsters have cheek pouches, which they use to store and hoard food, giving them a chubbier appearance.
In terms of body type, gerbils are longer and leaner, making them more athletic. They are capable of impressive jumps, runs, and other agile maneuvers. Hamsters, while also active, have rounder bodies and shorter legs, which makes them slightly less athletic.
Energy Levels and Social Behavior
Both gerbils and hamsters have high energy levels, but their activity patterns differ. Hamsters are nocturnal and are most active at night, which can be noisy and playful when you’re trying to sleep. Gerbils, on the other hand, are active during the day and can interact with their human companions while still having designated sleep periods. Both species thrive on consistent daily routines and enjoy scheduled activities.
When it comes to social behavior, gerbils are highly social animals and thrive in pairs or small groups. On the contrary, hamsters are territorial and usually better suited to live alone. In fact, hamsters can seriously harm or even kill other hamsters if they are housed together.
Hygiene and Care
Both hamsters and gerbils are naturally clean animals and don’t require regular water baths. However, they do enjoy sand baths a few times a week. Using chinchilla sand, not dust, is essential to prevent any health issues. These sand baths help keep their coats healthy, less oily, and free of parasites.
In terms of housing, both hamsters and gerbils require escape-proof cages with secure lids. The ideal temperature for them is around 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity level of approximately 50%. Providing hide boxes for both species is important to ensure they have a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Regular rotations of toys and enrichment activities are also recommended for their mental stimulation.
While gerbils and hamsters have similar dietary needs, it’s important to feed them species-specific pelleted diets. Avoid seed-based diets, as they tend to be higher in calories. Fresh water should be provided daily, and occasional fresh vegetables can be offered as treats. Keep an eye on hamsters, as they have a tendency to hoard large amounts of food in their cheek pouches. Regular spot-cleaning of their cages and deep cleaning every two to four weeks are necessary to maintain cleanliness.
Lifespan and Handling
Both gerbils and hamsters have similar lifespans, with five years being the maximum. However, hamsters typically live for one to two years, while gerbils can live for three to five years. Gestation periods for both species are less than a month, and they give live birth to their babies. Hamsters tend to have larger litters, with up to nine pups, while gerbils usually have smaller litters. Pups from both species are weaned around three weeks old.
When handling these small pets, it’s important to avoid holding them by the tail to prevent injuries. Hamsters, in particular, are more likely to bite during handling, so wearing gloves or using towels as a barrier can be helpful. Two-handed scooping techniques are best used for both gerbils and hamsters. If necessary, a hamster can be gently picked up by scruffing, which involves holding the excess skin at the back of their neck. Gerbils are usually held by gently supporting their head between two fingers. Remember that hamsters have poor eyesight, so making a quiet noise before touching them can prevent startling.
Both hamsters and gerbils need daily human interaction for at least 30 minutes. Additionally, regular visits to the veterinarian are essential for their overall health and well-being.
In conclusion, both hamsters and gerbils can make great pets, but their differences in temperament, physical attributes, energy levels, social behavior, and care requirements should be considered when making a decision. By understanding these distinctions, you’ll be better equipped to choose the perfect small pet for you and your family.