WRITTEN BY DREW MATNEY | EDITED BY GRETA KRATZ
Hamsters undoubtedly dominate gerbils in the pet scene — at least in the US. With their fat little faces and fluffy stumps for bodies, they are marketed to children and adult pet owners alike with ease. Let’s face it. You’ve seen it happen. A customer browses through a pet store and stops at the hamster habitat. They reach their arm in and pick up one of the fluffy little guys. A slick employee approaches them and gives them a pitch. They’re in the moment, the little thing is oh, so cute, and that’s it. They go home with a hamster.
However, the wiser choice for a furry little friend was in the back of the store. They were kept in a covered tank because they’d kangaroo-jump out of that petting-zoo-style enclosure. They have long, furry tails. Your mom might hate them because, “they look like mice!” And they somewhat do resemble a mouse mixed with a squirrel and just slightly enough, a kangaroo. Their name is sloppily written in Sharpie: GERBILS. While hamsters may appear to be the obvious choice for a pet rodent, gerbils are superior in almost every way.
In layman’s terms, gerbils are generally easier to care for. They eat less, drink less, and most importantly, pee less than a hamster. Hamsters pee. A lot. They pee, and the pee stinks. Then the cage stinks. Then that whole room stinks. You’re left cleaning the cage constantly or suffering from that smell. You don’t let company in that room if it’s been a few days since you cleaned it, because that smell might just make them not want to be your friend anymore. Gerbils, on the other hand rarely pee and you end up cleaning their cage more for their general well-being than for the horrendous odor of the dreaded hamster pee-pee.
Hamsters are not the nicest of animals. They often do not enjoy being handled and will bite. Hard. On top of that, hamsters are nocturnal as opposed to the diurnal gerbil. So unless you’re a night owl, your hamster will most likely be a sleeping furball in the middle of a cage for you.
Gerbils, however, are easily handled and tamed by their owners. They became known as the “gentle gerbil” when they were first used as lab animals. Lab employees preferred working with them over other rodents because of their gentle nature and curious little minds. Gerbils also enjoy and thrive on the company of other gerbils. While the expense of buying two gerbils may seem like a downside, the payoff of being able to watch two or three gerbils interact is worth it. Not only that, a single gerbil is a lonely gerbil. So get two, at least.
The difference between breeding gerbils and hamsters is immeasurable. Hamsters are much more likely to eat their young than gerbils. Since hamsters are solitary creatures, the male and female must be separated before the female gives birth. On the flip side, gerbils are great parents. The male gerbil stays with the female throughout the whole process and helps the mother raise their young. It goes without saying that breeding any kind of animal should be taken as a serious commitment. However, I can honestly say that breeding gerbils was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my life. The first time I bred gerbils I was only twelve years old. I still have vivid memories of my first time catching a glimpse of the little pink pups. I can remember watching them grow into the cutest little fuzz-balls I had ever seen. It is a serious undertaking, but if you are ready to consider the responsibility, you’ve come to the right place to learn more about what’s involved.
While hamsters have the name recognition, the Hamtaro cartoon, and the lovably stumpy shape, they just can’t compare to the uncountable strengths of the gentle gerbil. Have I convinced you yet? Check out next week’s article for a little trip down Gerbil Memory Lane.
Thanks for reading and happy pet keeping, Drew