If you’re wondering if you can keep a hamster and a gerbil together, you need to read this. They’re often mistaken for one another, but the differences between hamsters and gerbils are critical.
We’ll see whether these two rodents can live together, and what decides that fact. For a more detailed comparison between gerbils and hamster, you should read this article here.
So can hamsters and gerbils live together ?
No, hamsters and gerbils can not and should not live together. This is because the hamster is territorial, and will attack (and kill) anything that tries to come close, even their own siblings.
While gerbils can and do live together, hamsters do not. This makes hamsters unable to share their home with anything, especially not an animal that is not another hamster.
There are some very important differences between the two, and we’ll discuss them here.
About the hamster’s personality
Hamsters are small animals, about the size of a gerbil (without the gerbil’s tail) and they’re very much prey for other, larger animals. This means that they are skittish, will try to hide as often as they can, and do not react well to strangers.
Hamsters are more aggressive than gerbils, and they will attack anyone or anything that comes too close. There are some submissive hamsters that just cower in a corner or freeze in fear, but most will actually attack and fight to the death.
This means that housing a hamster with anything is a bad idea. Most of the time even another hamster is a bad idea, even if they’re siblings.
Hamsters sleep during the day, and wake up in the evening. They stay up all night, running in their wheel and playing in their cage. In the wild they’d be running from predators and looking for food at the same time, while fending off intruders on their territory. Busy little things.
A hamster doesn’t react well to stress, and is actually quite jittery and restless when handled. He will not stay put, at all, and will want to wander off and explore everything.
As such, a big cage with lots of space is going to help the hamster feel more at ease, and less stressed.
About the gerbil’s personality
Gerbils are social animals, and they actually live in colonies of up to 20 individuals in a colony. This means that you can house together several gerbils and they would be fine, but their cage needs to be very large. The more gerbils you own, the larger the cage.
Since gerbils are social, this means they’re okay with sharing, but only with gerbils they know. Strangers, or even siblings that smell different are attacked on sight (well, rather smell) and it’s usually deadly.
Gerbils, like hamsters, will protect their own. It’s just that their definition of ”their” also includes their immediate family. Most of the time gerbils are kept only in pairs, partly because a cage big enough for 10 gerbils isn’t easy to find or fit somewhere.
Compared to hamsters, gerbils are more mellow, and are easier to tame. They can still be skittish, especially as babies, but not nearly as much as hamsters.
Gerbils too are very active animals (all rodents are), and they’re always exploring, digging a tunnel, making a nest, playing with a friend, or running on their wheel. Their energy is similar to the hamster, and as such they needs lots of stimulation.
Unlike hamsters, a lone gerbil will become depressed, and possibly ill from being so lonely. They need the stimulation and activity a colony (or at least another gerbil) provides, and they grow up happier if they have a friend.
Major differences between hamsters and gerbils
A hamster is fairly short, stocky, and has barely any noticeable tail. There are 5 types of hamster to choose from (Syrian, Chinese, Roborovski, Campbell, and Djungarian) and they look very different from a gerbil.
The only hamster that resembles a gerbil is the Chinese, with its long slender body and longer tail. Not as long as the gerbil’s tail, but definitely longer than the other hamster tails (which are just stubs).
Gerbils have longer bodies, and look like a bit of a cross between a mouse and a squirrel, minus the bushy tail. A hamster has a much shorter neck, and a wider body. It looks fluffier than a gerbil, and has more of a rounded face.
Both gerbils and hamsters love to run, but their needs are different. A hamster needs a minimum of 7 inches/18 cm for a wheel, but a gerbil will need a much larger one, since its tail is sensitive.
If the tail is injured or caught in something (and it can happen in a wheel) it can and will fall off. This is not easy on the gerbil, nor on you as an owner.
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Another big difference is the sleeping and activity patterns. While the hamster sleeps during the day, the gerbil will go about his business. He will take short naps throughout the day, but the main sleeping time is the night.
This annoys the hamster greatly, since he is trying to sleep. An irritated hamster that hasn’t rested well enough will be very hard to handle, and will snap at the gerbil.
Conversely, while the gerbil sleeps at night, the hamster will wake up and do his own hamster things. This will wake up the gerbil and he will not rest well, leading to other fights.
Food is pretty much the only thing hamsters and gerbils agree upon. They even share food mixes/pellets, since they both eat mostly grains, with some veggies and fruit, peanuts, and a bit of protein when they can.
Housing a hamster vs housing a gerbil
Two gerbils can live in a lone Syrian’s cage – 24 x 12 inches, and about 12 inches tall. That’s 61 x 30.5 cm, and about 30.5 cm tall. But a single hamster can’t live in a single gerbil’s cage, unless it is a Dwarf hamster.
All this means is that a gerbil and a hamster have different housing needs, and they will end up fighting over space anyway. This is because most cages aren’t large enough for a hamster and a gerbil together, but also because both animals mark their territory.
They both use their scent glands to mark what;s their, be it it with their bellies, hips, or faces rubbed against various objects.
This leads to fighting in the end, and there is no amount of toys and duplicate of cage objects that will keep that from happening.
Both the hamster and the gerbil love to chew, so in that respect they would need the same toys and hideouts. They would both end up chewing on the cage bars or trying to escape, so housing them together is not good.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. I know us hammies get confused with gerbils often, but we’re really very different. And we can’t live together, at all. We’d fight all the time.
If you want to know more about us hamsters you should check out the related articles below. You’ll learn how to keep us safe and happy, and what we need for a good life.