What is the Difference Between Hamster and Gerbil

The main difference between hamster and gerbil is that a hamster is a rodent that is bigger and fuller in size than a gerbil, a rodent that resembles a rat or mouse. An adult hamster is generally about six inches long whereas a fully grown gerbil is about four inches long.

Both hamsters and gerbils can stand on their hind legs. Gerbils love stretching and standing up while it is less common for hamsters to do so. Though both hamsters and gerbils are favorite pets in human households,  there are several distinctive physical and behavioral variations between these two species of fluffy animals.

Key Areas Covered

1. Hamster 
   – Definition, Features, Appearance, Behaviour 
2. Gerbil
     – Definition, Features, Appearance, Behaviour 
3. Similarities Between Hamster and Gerbil
     – Outline of Common Characteristics
4. Difference Between Hamster and Gerbil
    – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Hamster, GerbilDifference Between Hamster and Gerbil - Comparison Summary

Hamster – Features and Behaviour 

Hamsters are small rodents. They are frequently kept as house pets. Unlike gerbils, they have short tails, short and chubby legs, and small ears. Hamsters have different shades varying from, black, grey, brown, white, yellow, red, or a mixture of several colors.

There are  24 different species of hamsters in the world. Therefore, the size of one hamster species differs from another. One of the longest hamster species is the European hamster who can grow up to 13.4 inches. However, the most common pet hamster is the Syrian hamster and it usually grows up to about 6 inches long.

Hamster - Features and Behaviour 

Hamsters’ favorite diet includes grains, nuts, seeds, corn, vegetables, and fruits. However, wild hamsters also consume lizards, frogs, and small insects. Most significantly, hamsters have a very special way of eating. They have pouches inside their cheeks. Hamsters stuff them with food and carry them back to their colony to feed on later. When it comes to pet hamsters, they often hoard food under the sheets inside their cages.

Gerbil – Features and Behaviour 

Similar to hamsters, gerbils are also common household pets popular in Europe and North America. Although these rodents resemble rats in their outer appearance, they are different species of animals.

There are over 90 different species of gerbils in the world. The largest is considered the Great Gerbil. It is native to Turkmenistan. A Great Gerbil can grow up to 16 inches. However, the Mongolian gerbil is the most common species adopted as a house companion.

Hamster vs Gerbil

The diet of gerbils includes grass seeds, leaves, herbs, bulbs, fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, and vegetables such as pumpkin, cucumber, carrots. However, just like hamsters, gerbils are naturally omnivores. Similar to hamsters, a gerbil’s whole body is covered with a smooth and dense coat of fur and they come in a wide variety of shades extending from gray, tan, brown, and reddish-brown.

Similarities Between Hamster and Gerbil

  1. Hamsters and gerbils are rodents who are adopted as household pets.
  2. Both species mainly feed on plants and insects. Therefore, they are omnivores.
  3. Both hamsters and gerbils have a dense coat of fur on their bodies.
  4. Being rodents, hamsters and gerbils can carry diseases such as rabies, which can be a risk to your health.
  5. Hamsters’ and gerbils’ teeth constantly grow throughout their lives as they are rodents.

Difference Between Hamster and Gerbil


Hamster is a rodent popular as a household companion while gerbil is a rodent popular as a human household pet but is smaller in size than a hamster.

Life Span

A hamster lives up to 2-4 years while the life span of a gerbil is around 5-7 years.


An adult hamster is about six inches long whereas an adult gerbil grows up to four inches in length. In addition, hamsters usually have short and chubby legs, tails, and noses. Gerbils, in contrast, have longer noses, rear legs, and tails.

Sleeping Pattern

Hamsters are usually nocturnal, whereas gerbils are not strictly nocturnal. 

Food Habits

Hamsters are hoarders who stuff food into their roomy cheeks and transport and store them in their colonies. Gerbils, however, are not food hoarders.


Gerbils are social animals in contrast to the hamsters who love to spend a more solitary life.


In brief, the main difference between hamster and gerbil is that hamsters are comparatively larger in size, less social, and more nocturnal in comparison to gerbils who are smaller in size, very amiable, and less nocturnal. The life span of a hamster is shorter in comparison to that of a gerbil. Both hamsters and gerbils, though adopted as household pets, have the ability to infect you with deadly diseases rabies if they are open to the natural eco-systems.


1. Davis, Jen. “Life Span of a Teddy Bear Hamster.” Pets on Mom.com.
2. Cutts, Shannon. “Wild Hamsters And Their Habitat – Where Do Hamsters Come From?” Squeaks and Nibbles.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Hamster-white-cute-pet-animal-fur-5203446” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “Meriones unguiculatus (wild)” By Alastair Rae from London, United Kingdom – Mongolian Gerbil (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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