Guinea Pig vs Hamster vs Gerbil

In Gerbils, Guinea Pigs, Hamsters by Ana M

Rodents are very attractive and cute pets. Some are very gentle and cuddly pets while other can only be held for short periods at a time. It is hard to pick a right animal for you out of 10 small rodents. So, today we will compare the most popular rodent pets – guinea pig vs hamster vs gerbil.

Guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils are the most common little furry friends among all small rodents that you can keep as pets. With a right treatment each of these pets will thrive in a loving environment. There is no doubt that any of them can be a great addition to the family.

So, how do you choose if a guinea pig or hamster or gerbil is a right pet for you? In this post we will help you to decide what animal to buy based on their behavior, life span, housing and care requirements. Have a look at the table below to compare main characteristics of each pet.

Guinea Pig vs Hamster vs Gerbil

FeatureGuinea PigHamsterGerbil
Lifespan4 to 6 years2 to 3 years3 to 5 years
Size8 – 12 inches long2 to 7 inches in length4 inches in length
Weight1 – 3 pounds 0.9 to 7 ounces4 ounces
Handling Easy to handle and need daily interactionsShould only be held for short periods at a timeLove to be held, stroked, and petted
SocialityMust live in pairsMust be kept singlyMust live in pairs
CareDaily care routine requiredDaily care routine requiredVery low maintenance
Biting Unlikely to bitePainful and often bitesRarely bites
Activity DiurnalCrepuscularNocturnal
Breeds13 breeds 5 breeds2 breeds

So, should you get a guinea pig or a hamster or a gerbil?

Guinea pigs and gerbils are cuddly pets, they do not bite and enjoy human companionship. A 7 year old can become guinea pig owner with adult supervision. Hamsters makes perfect first pets for older children who go to school during the day. Gerbils are much smaller than hamsters and guinea pigs, so are suitable for younger kids.

I will talk in more detail about each animal comparing their behaviors, temperaments and care requirements. I have also put together a blog post comparing gerbils and hamsters if you are choosing between these two pets. Shall we do some more digging? Let’s go!

Origins

Guinea pigs originate from South America where the Moche people of Peru first domesticated them between 2500 and 5000 BC. Later, Dutch and British explorers introduced them from South America to Europe. You can still find guinea pigs in the wild in their habitats – forest edges, savannas and swamps.

Guinea Pig vs Hamster vs Gerbil

In 1930 Dr Aharoni found a female hamster and her young in the Aleppo region of Syria. Hence the name Syrian hamster and all Syrian hamsters are descendants of that one female. Since them hamsters were taken into captivity for breeding and began to be kept as pets in 1945.

hamster origin

Gerbils originate from China and later Dr Victor Schwentker brought them to the United States for use in scientific experiments in 1954. Due to their interesting behaviors and cute looks, gerbils became very popular pets. However, gerbils are still being used in scientific research.

Lifespan

Guinea pigs usually live four to six years, but with good care your pet can live eight to ten years. A mature guinea pig is between four and six months of age. The best age to purchase a guinea pig is at six weeks, that is when a piggy can move away from the mother.

guinea pig vs hamster vs gerbil

Gerbils live for 3 to 5 years and up to 8 years with proper care. In comparison to gerbils and guinea pigs, hamsters have a shorter lifespan – on average from 2 to 3 years. So, when choosing a pet for a kid, take into consideration which animal lives longer.

Size

In comparison to gerbils and hamsters, guinea pigs are larger rodents that weigh between 1 and 3 pounds reaching from 8 to 12 inches in length. Gerbils are very easy to hold as they weigh only four ounces and are four inches in length.

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Gerbils are very easy to hold!

Dwarf hamsters are much smaller in comparison to gerbils and guinea pigs. They weigh between 1 and 2 ounces at maturity and are up to 2 inches in length. On the other hand, Syrian hamster weighs 7 ounces and can reach up to 7 inches in length.

That is why gerbils make good pets for young kids who have little or no experience of handling a pet. Alternatively, hamsters are only suitable for older children. A guinea pig can be a pet for children 7 years of age with adult supervision.

Sociality

Gerbils and guinea pigs are social little animals meaning that they need other of their kind around to be content. They are accustomed to being in groups. In comparison, hamsters are solitary animals meaning that you must keep it singly.

do guinea pigs live in groups

Although having two pets instead of one is more fun, you also need to provide them with a bigger cage and double of everything. So, for some owners the fact that Syrian hamster is a solitary animal is an advantage. However, hamster is not the only one rodent who can live alone.

Care

A child can become a guinea pig’s owner if parents are willing to carefully supervise the animal’s daily care. That includes making sure that their food is nutritious, home is clean and comfortable. Furthermore, daily exercise is important as well as lots of love and attention.

hamster care

Generally, guinea pigs, gerbils and hamsters are very clean animals. However, a hamster will store food in the cage and nesting box which will go moldy. Moreover, hamsters in comparison to gerbils, will pee and poop a lot, so daily spot-cleaning is a must.

Activity

Unlike hamsters and gerbils, guinea pigs are diurnal meaning that they are awake at the same time as their owners. So, piggies will sleep when you sleep! However, they can nap a little in the afternoon. In the wild, gerbils are nocturnal meaning that they hunt and move around at night.

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Alternatively, hamsters are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). It means that they rest during the daytime and become active at night, dawn and dusk. It makes them a perfect pet for those at work or school during the day. You can play with them early in the evening.

Although guinea pigs are not as active as gerbils or hamsters, they do have certain characteristic moves and noises. You can even teach guinea pig tricks! Their noises indicate their moods. For example, purring means that your piggy is relaxed and comfortable.

Many owners get hamsters because they enjoy watching their pets explore the house and running in the hamster ball. That way hamsters stretch their legs and satisfy natural curiosity of their environments. Gerbils are also naturally very curious animals.

Breeds

There are 13 breeds of guinea pigs available including Abyssinian, English Smooth Coat, American, Coronet, Peruvian, Sheltie, Teddy, Texel, English Crested, Silkie and Peruvian. Each breed has its own distinct look. The most popular guinea pig breed is American.

guinea pig vs hamster vs gerbil
American Guinea Pig

Although there are 87 known species and 14 genera of gerbil, only 2 breeds are commonly kept as pets. These are Mongolian gerbils and fat-tailed gerbils. In contrast, there are 5 breeds of hamsters with varying coats, both shorter and longer.

The breeds come in the whole range of color varieties. The most popular breed is Syrian Hamster. Moreover, there are four species of dwarf hamsters: Campbell’s Russian, Winter White, Roborovski and the Chinese hamster.

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