What do hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbil have in common? They make great pets at home. And they aren’t just pets you can bring home for your kids. Adults, too, have them as pets. They’re cute, sociable, and enjoyable to be around.
Though they look very similar, all three animals are different from each other. They have different needs as pets – diet, exercise, and maintenance. What you really want to know is how do they differ in appearance.
So here’s a simple, detailed guide on hamster vs guinea pig vs gerbil. All their important physical characteristics and stuff you need to know about taking care of them.
This is a comprehensive and researched comparison of hamster vs guinea pig vs gerbil. It will answer all your questions about their age, size, lifespan, and cost.
Table of Contents
Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil – Similarities
Before I point you to the differences between these three animals. I want to talk a bit about their similarities.
This holds true for all the small mammals and that is that they need a silent and safe space. You cannot keep them with other animals if you have more at home. They need their private space with zero distractions and chaos.
Especially around cats and dogs, they can become very stressed. Having said that, they thrive with a companion. So if you’re thinking of buying either a hamster, guinea pig, or gerbil – it’s best to buy them in pairs.
So when you maintain a proper and clean cage for them, they are not alone. Nor are they with animals of a different species such as a rat or a rabbit. You keep them in pairs of two or in groups. Because they are social animals, they can interact and live healthily and happily.
Everyone who owns a hamster, guinea pig, or gerbil knows that they require lots of bedding. You need thick bedding material to make a nest out of. Only then will your pet mammal sleep comfortably all through the night. Make sure it’s soft, cushiony, and cozy. Enough to make you feel like you want to sleep in it.
Lastly, and most important factor of consideration, is diet. Hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils need lots of minerals and vitamins to survive. That is the main portion of their diet. And their diet is different kinds of dry foods and fresh foods like veggies and fruits.
We will get into the details of that later on.
Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil – Physical Appearance
Read this if you want to know:
- How do they have a tail?
- How big do they grow?
1. Hamster Physical Appearance
Hamsters have a short tail and grow up to 4 to 7 inches long. You will find that their coat can be of many varieties of colors. Such as black, white, brown, grey, yellow, or red. They have bigger and rounder cheeks because that’s where they store their food after consumption.
This is what attracts most people to hamsters. They look cute, chubby, and slim to have as pets. You can bring home a group or pairs of them and they’re so tiny that they’re practically undemanding to take care of.
You can differentiate a hamster from a guinea pig or gerbil by their front teeth. Hamsters have chisel-shaped, large teeth. These incisors keep elongating as the hamster grows older.
2. Guinea Pig Physical Appearance
Guinea pigs are smaller with no tail. They have larger eyes than hamsters or gerbil. They are known for their strong but short legs. Their feet have sharp claws on them. This makes them excellent hunters and survivors in the wild. They can dig their way through anything to burrow and scrabble in the mud.
A fully-grown guinea pig grows up to 8 to 10 inches long. Even though there are many varieties of guinea pig types, this is the common size for most of them.
The long whiskers also make them excellent predators. They have a keen sense of direction and awareness of any change in their surroundings. This is the same for any species of rodent, actually.
Unlike hamsters, you can find a guinea pig in any one of these three colors. Black, grey, or brown. They have different hair lengths and textures. They, too, have large two front teeth. But they are more curved than hamsters and they elongate continuously.
Guinea pig gnaws at objects or surfaces a lot. So it’s important to keep their front teeth trimmed and sharp with proper grooming.
3. Gerbil Physical Appearance
The gerbil is smaller and stouter than hamsters and guinea pigs. They look most like rodents with their small head and short stance. Some gerbils even have a denser tail while most others have a scanty tail.
Gerbils grow up to the size of mice. An adult gerbil can grow up to 3 to 4 inches. And if the gerbil has a hairier tail, they can grow up to 3 inches in length extra.
Like hamsters and guinea pigs, gerbils are kind of nocturnal animals. They are most active during early mornings or late evenings. They are easily frightened and can burrow and dig elaborate underground cavities for survival.
Even though they have a small size, they can scavenge food for weeks even. Surviving on cached food for days, weeks, and some even months at a time.
Their small size must not be mistaken for any lack of agility. They are fast runners when threatened or frightened. They run on all fours and will hide very quickly – owing to their stout and slender body.
Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil – Lifestyle
Read this if you want to know:
- Do they smell?
- How do they communicate?
- Do they bite?
- Are they sociable?
#1. Hamster Lifestyle
Some people call hamsters loners. This means they prefer their solitude more than anything. However, it’s tricky to keep two male hamsters together in one cage. There are chances that they will show aggression and fight each other.
As pets, they are very sociable, friendly, and calm creatures. If you feed them and take care of them well, they do not cause any harm.
Many people have asked whether hamsters bite. The truth is that hamsters rarely do. If you mistreat them, chances are they will bite you in distress and anxiety.
Their lifestyle is very simple and straightforward. They sleep during the day. And they are most active during the night. You do not have to break your back to feed or exercise them.
Make sure you buy good hamster food from the pet store. They love eating fresh vegetables, fruits, and clean water. Check with your doctor to understand the dietary needs of your pet hamster.
They may be sensitive to certain kinds of foods like cabbage, raw potatoes, and other excessively sweet fruits. It may cause digestive distress.
This is common knowledge that hamsters love to play around. So you can always buy a hamster wheel for their pay-pen. This is enough to keep them happily busy and healthy.
#2. Guinea Pig Lifestyle
Guinea pigs are slightly bigger than hamsters. They need more social attention than hamsters. So it’s best to purchase guinea pigs in large pairs. They thrive in groups of 10 even. In fact, guinea pigs thrive and function as a hierarchy.
There will always be an alpha male and female in a group. As with any form of leadership, this can be the cause of fights and fatalities. But if you keep them well-fed and well-exercised, this should not be a problem.
This brings me to another behavioral trait of guinea pigs. And that is that guinea pigs communicate louder and for longer than hamsters and gerbil. What this means is that guinea pigs are very vocal about how they’re feeling.
This can be in the form of burbles, chirps, or squeaks. They are vocal when they’re excited, threatened, angry, or in stress. Unlike hamsters, they release an odor in order to communicate. So keeping their cage or play-pen clean is a priority.
Guinea pigs also sleep during daylight. So you will definitely notice lower levels of activity in daylight. They require plenty of cushioning as bedding. And to avoid any fatalities, it’s best to give each guinea pig a separate bed or cavity to sleep in.
#3. Gerbil Lifestyle
Gerbils grow small as youngsters. But their lifestyle is quite complex. Understanding your pet gerbil’s needs is different for different gerbils. But there are a few basics that you need to know right away.
Such that they are very active animals. If they’re busy digging or gnawing, you can expect them to go on for a long, long time. So it’s easier to keep them healthy and occupied.
Gerbil, just like hamster and guinea pig, has front two teeth that never stop growing. Although you may not have to trim it. Gerbils often shred objects like paper or straw or other chewable surfaces. This is to trim their teeth and keep them short.
Gerbils are also highly-intelligent creatures. They learn a lot from being around other gerbils. Including their elders such as their mother and father. Diet, lifestyle, and odor – gerbils inherit everything from their parents.
If you provide a gerbil with proper nesting materials, they will make their own bedding. They do not stink nor do they bite unless provoked. They’re quite sociable and intelligent animals to have as pets.
And with their digging and gnawing around, they are definitely entertaining to look at.
Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil – Food
Read this if you want to know:
- How often do they eat?
- How long do they live?
#1. Hamster Food
Hamsters have a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables. But you cannot feed them everything. In terms of quantity, however, hamsters eat a small amount each time.
You can either purchase pre-made hamster food packs from a pet store. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Perfect for your hamster to nibble on. In the shape of cereal, cookie, or a biscuit.
If you’re purchasing a seed mix for your hamster, you should know that they’re quite picky eaters. In case your hamster refuses to eat a seed mix, switch to pellet food. It’s more balanced in terms of nutrition. And your hamster won’t get enough of it!
Pelleted mix makes up for most of your hamster’s daily nutritional needs. This includes vitamins and minerals. You can also add in some seeds, veggies, and fruits to make things appetizing.
Out of the three, hamsters live the shortest. Even on a healthy and balanced diet, a hamster’s average lifespan is 2 to 3 years.
#2. Guinea Pigs Food
Guinea pigs are herbivores. They eat only fruits and veggies. Do not feed your guinea pig eggs, dairy, meat, or any insects. The bulk of your guinea pig’s diet consists of fresh hay. And you can incorporate fresh leafy veggies into your diet.
On top of everything, guinea pigs need vitamin C. This is because their bodies do not produce vitamin C on their own. So they need extra from fruits and veggies to keep them healthy.
Just like a gerbil, guinea pigs love to chew and gnaw to trim their teeth. So buying and keeping hay all-around their play-pen is very important.
You can feed your pet guinea pig store-bought food and fresh food. You can keep fresh veggies as treats while store-bought food makes up for most of your pet’s diet and nutrition. With proper care and attention, a guinea pig can live for 6 to 7 years.
#3. Gerbil Food
The two most common foods for gerbil are seed mixes and pellet blocks. Seed mixes contain dried fruits and veggies made specifically for gerbils. They are balanced, nutritional, and delicious.
Combined with pellet blocks, they have an advantage over fresh foods. Fresh foods you can give to your gerbil as healthy treats. Pellet blocks are the most nutritious and enriching. It’s good for an active and mentally-healthy gerbil to thrive on.
If you’re feeding your gerbil vegetables, know that you must do so carefully. Try to feed in the tiniest amounts to see if your gerbil doesn’t fall sick because of it. Make sure the veggies are pesticide-free and hygienic.
You can also feed them raisins, eggs, mealworms, and wholegrain bread. The lifespan of a gerbil is similar to that of a guinea pig. They can live for as long as 7 years on a healthy diet.
Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil – The Verdict
Between a hamster vs guinea pig vs gerbil – who’s your favorite pet? Now is the time to consider the cost of buying each. And finding your ideal choice.
Hamsters are beginner pets. Because they live for the shortest period of time. They are easier to take care of and keep happy. They do not require as much socializing as guinea pig or gerbil.
In terms of size, they are larger and chubbier. This makes them a visually-appealing and entertaining option than a gerbil or a guinea pig. And you’ll find that hamsters come in many colors.
The only time hamsters are a nuisance is when they are defensive. So you have to be very careful who you keep them with. If you’re buying a pair of hamsters, make sure you do not buy two male hamsters for a single cage. They will fight to their deaths.
A hamster wheel is enough to keep them occupied. And they look cuter than ever running around their play-pen. It’s the perfect choice for kids.
The cost of owning this very common household pet is around $345. This includes buying the hamster, litter, bedding, and other basic items. If you want a direct answer to how much does a hamster cost. To be fair, the cost of a hamster, by itself, is not more than $20.
It’s the cage, food, pet mix, bedding, hay, and other toys that will cost you.
How to Look After a Hamster – Basic Care Needs
2. Guinea Pig
Being the largest of all, guinea pigs also live the longest. They are more sociable and interactive pets. And unless provoked or mistreated, they rarely bite. While hamsters can still live alone, you need to buy guinea pigs in pairs.
They thrive when they’re interacting with other members. They require a larger area to live in as well. It’s best to buy or adopt guinea pigs in 3s. You will find that they are a lot calmer and happier in pairs than they might in alone.
According to my research, a 4-square feet area is perfect for guinea pigs. This will mean that they have a more interactive space to thrive in.
In terms of diet, guinea pigs need balanced nutrients. Vitamin C in their foods is a must. You can also look for fruits and veggies that are abundant in vitamin C. Based on their lifespan and way of living, guinea pigs make good pets for a long-term commitment.
Having said that, there are two ways to answer how much do guinea pigs cost.
The price of buying a guinea pig as a household pet is 10 to 40 dollars. This is when you buy a guinea pig from a breeder. Were you to rescue a guinea pig from a shelter, it shouldn’t cost you more than 10 to 20 dollars.
In terms of upkeep, guinea pigs need a medium-sized cage per pig. This means no more than 10 square feet if you’re buying two guinea pigs. This should cost you 25 to 200 dollars per cage. And other expenses such as litter, food, bedding, and water are essential expenses.
Based on the quality of bedding, cage, food, and litter you buy. The initial cost of owning a guinea pig is around $450 or so. The higher the cost, the better the amenities you can buy for your guinea pig.
10 Reasons Why You Should Get Guinea Pigs
Gerbils are the same as hamsters. They can excellent beginner pets. Even though they live longer than hamsters, that is around 6 to 7 years. They have little upkeep and are energetic to have around.
They share similar characteristics with hamsters than they do with guinea pigs. In that, you should never keep two male gerbils together in a single cage. A pair of male and female gerbils is a good idea.
Gerbils are friendly, energetic, and nocturnal. They rarely bite unless you provoke or mistreat them. They do not have an odor and require plenty of water to drink. The same applies to hamsters and guinea pigs. Proper water and hygiene will ensure a long, healthy life for each of them.
A gerbil, on the other hand, is the least expensive of them all. It costs not more than 5 to 10 dollars. Bedding, food, hay, grass, and a cage will cost another $100 or so. Monthly bills and health check-ups are not more than $20 to $40.
Between hamster vs guinea pig vs gerbil, gerbils are the most affordable pet to have. But if you buy more than a few gerbils at one time, the cost of all would be much greater.
How to Care for a Pet Gerbil
Conclusion – Hamster vs Guinea Pig vs Gerbil
Deciding which pet is for you can be confusing. Because when it comes to down to convenience, all three make excellent household pets. The thing that separates them in your eyes is commitment. Hamsters live for a short period of time than guinea pigs and gerbils.
And if you’re thinking in terms of personality, hamsters are friendlier and calmer pets. Guinea pigs are louder, more interactive, and intelligent creatures. While gerbils keep themselves busy gnawing and burrowing cavities all over the cage.
Picking out a healthy pet hamster or guinea pig or gerbil is important. Hamsters and guinea pigs are more popular as household pets than a gerbil. But all three share a social and calm temperament around humans.
So what it all boils down to is your personal choice. Deciding which pet is for you based on cost is another way to go. Guinea pigs and hamsters are the most expensive household pets to own. Gerbils are affordable including their monthly and annual costs.
What do you make of their physical appearance, temperament, diet, and cost? These small animals are fun and loving to be with. But taking care of them should be a priority for any pet parent.
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