Gerbils vs Rats: 7 Key Differences You Should Know [GUIDE]


Choosing a pet can be a life-altering decision for you and the creature you bring into your home. And if you’re leaning towards a smaller, more manageable pet, you’ve likely considered both gerbils and rats.

But which one would be a better fit for your lifestyle?

To help you make this all-important choice, this blog post will delve into the nitty-gritty differences between gerbils and rats. We’ll cover aspects like lifespan, social behavior, dietary needs, etc.

Quick Answer

Hey, we get it. You’re eager to know the bottom line: what separates a gerbil from a rat, and which is the better fit for you?

Here’s a nifty summary table highlighting the seven (7) unique differences between the two:

Lifespan2-4 years2-3 years
Social BehaviorGenerally socialHighly social
Dietary NeedsMostly plant-basedOmnivorous
Activity LevelsActive during the dayNocturnal
Size and Physical CharacteristicsSmaller, fluffy tailLarger, scaly tail
Habitat RequirementsSimple, less spaceComplex, more space
Health Risks and Common AilmentsLower riskHigher risk

So there you have it, a quick snapshot to help you decide. Of course, we’ll get into the deets for each point, so keep reading!

Why Choose a Gerbil or a Rat?

So you’ve got a glimpse of the differences, but let’s go a bit deeper into why you might choose a gerbil or a rat as your next cuddly companion.

Both of these pet rodents have their unique charms and challenges. So, aligning your choice with your lifestyle and what you’re prepared to handle is crucial.

Gerbils: The Daytime Buddies

Gerbils are diurnal, meaning they’re most active during the day. They’re a solid pick if you’re looking for a pet to interact with while the sun’s up.

Rats: The Nighttime Companions

Rats, on the other hand, are nocturnal creatures. They’re ideal for those who find themselves up late at night.

Are gerbils as smart as rats?

Great question! Rats are generally considered to be more intelligent and can even be trained to do tricks. Gerbils are curious and playful but may not be as quick to learn new skills.

What Are The Differences Between Gerbils and Rats

Here are the seven (7) key differences between the two;

Difference 1: Lifespan

When it comes to commitment, the lifespan of your chosen pet is a critical factor to consider. Let’s break down how long these adorable small mammals typically stick around.

Gerbils: Short but Sweet

Gerbils usually live between 2 to 4 years. It’s a relatively short commitment, which might suit those new to pet ownership or not ready for long-term pet responsibility.

Rats: A Bit Longer to Love

Rats generally have a lifespan of 2 to 3 years, but some can live even longer with proper care. They might be around slightly shorter than gerbils, but they pack a lot of personality into those years.

Which One’s For You?

Gerbils are the way to go if you’re looking for a shorter commitment. However, a rat may be your best bet if you want a pet with a personality that’ll leave a lasting impression, even if it’s just for a few years.

Difference 2: Social Behavior

The way your pet interacts with you and potentially other animals is a big deal. After all, the goal is companionship, right?

Let’s delve into the social behavior of gerbils and rats to see which might be the better social butterfly—or should we say social rodent?

Gerbils: Friendly but Limited

Gerbils are generally social creatures, especially with their own kind. However, their social interactions with humans can sometimes be limited to playtime and feeding.

Rats: Socially Intelligent

Rats are highly social animals, both with other rats and humans. They can form strong bonds with their owners and even show signs of empathy.

Are Gerbils Smaller Than Rats?

While size doesn’t directly relate to social behavior, it’s worth mentioning here. Yes, gerbils are generally smaller than rats. This could make them easier to manage, especially for younger pet owners.

The Social Verdict

A rat might be the better choice if you’re looking for a pet that will bond closely with you. But if you’re content with a friendly yet more independent pet, a gerbil could be your match.

Difference 3: Dietary Needs

You are what you eat; the same goes for your furry friends. Understanding the dietary needs of gerbils and rats is crucial for their health and well-being.

Gerbils: Plant Lovers

Gerbils primarily thrive on a plant-based diet. They love grains, seeds, and veggies. But be cautious, as not all human-friendly veggies are gerbil-friendly!

Rats: The Omnivores

Rats are more flexible with their diet and are considered omnivorous. They can eat various foods, including vegetables, fruits, and even some meats.

Which Is Friendlier, a Hamster or a Gerbil?

I know we’re talking about rats and gerbils here, but if you’re still on the fence and considering other rodents, hamsters are generally less social than gerbils. So, in the friendliness department, gerbils may win over hamsters.

Your Dietary Decision

A rat might be a good fit if you’re comfortable providing a more varied diet. On the other hand, if you prefer a more straightforward, more plant-based feeding routine, a gerbil could be the way to go.

Difference 4: Activity Levels

Let’s face it, nobody wants a pet that’s going to lay around all day—well, unless it’s a cat, but that’s a different story.

Activity levels are crucial to consider, especially if you plan to interact with your pet often. So, how do gerbils and rats stack up in the activity department?

Gerbils: Daytime Dynamo

Gerbils are primarily active during the day. They love to explore, dig, and play, making them a perfect daytime companion for those with a standard 9-5 routine.

Rats: Night Owls

Rats, however, are more of nocturnal creatures. They are most active during the evening and nighttime, making them a good fit for people who are up during those hours.

Night or Day, Who Will You Play?

If you’re looking for a pet to keep you company while you sip your morning coffee, gerbils have got you covered. But if you’re more of a night owl, then a rat would be more up your alley.

Difference 5: Space Requirements

Real estate isn’t just a concern for humans; your future pet also needs its own little “condo.” So let’s talk about how much room gerbils and rats need to live comfortably.

We’re diving into the space requirements for these small buddies.

Gerbils: The Minimalists

Gerbils don’t require much space and can comfortably live in smaller cages or terrariums. A simple setup with enough room for bedding, food, and a little play area is usually sufficient.

Rats: Room to Roam

Rats, however, need more room to move around. They thrive in larger cages with multiple levels, giving them space to climb and explore.

Your Space, Their Space

If you’re short on space, a gerbil might be the better fit for you. However, if you have a little more room to spare, a rat would appreciate the extra real estate.

Difference 6: Grooming and Maintenance

Pet ownership isn’t all cuddles and cute Instagram photos; there’s also the less glamorous side—grooming and maintenance.

Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty, the cleaning demands of gerbils and rats.

Gerbils: Low Maintenance

One of the benefits of owning a gerbil is that they are relatively clean animals. They groom themselves and don’t have a strong odor. Additionally, their cages require less frequent cleaning compared to rats.

Rats: A Bit More Hands-On

Rats are clean animals, but their cages do need more frequent upkeep. Rats might require occasional baths, especially if they get into something messy.

Are Gerbils as Smart as Rats?

While we’re on the subject of maintenance, it’s worth mentioning that rats are generally considered more intelligent than gerbils.

Their smarts might require you to engage them with more complex toys and activities, adding a different layer to their overall maintenance.

Cleanliness Conundrum

If you’re looking for a pet that requires less work in the grooming department, gerbils are a great choice. But if you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves a bit more, a rat could be your perfect match.

Difference 7: Lifespan and Health

Last but not least, let’s talk about the years you’ll get to spend with your furry companion. Lifespan and health are often overlooked factors, but they’re just as important.

So, how long can you expect your gerbil or rat to be part of your life?

Gerbils: The Short-Lived Sprinters

Gerbils typically have a lifespan of around 2 to 3 years. They are generally healthy but can be prone to certain conditions like respiratory issues.

Rats: Longer but Riskier

Rats have a slightly longer lifespan, usually around 2 to 3.5 years. However, they are more susceptible to health issues such as tumors and respiratory infections.

Is a Gerbil or a Rat a Better Pet?

That’s subjective and depends on what you’re looking for. If you want a pet with a generally longer lifespan, a rat might be a better option. However, they do come with more potential health risks.

Health and Years: The Final Countdown

If you’re looking for a pet with fewer health risks and are okay with a shorter commitment, a gerbil may be the way to go.

Conversely, a rat could be a better fit if you’re prepared for a potentially longer commitment and are equipped to handle potential health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Time for a rapid-fire round of questions you might still have. These are the ones that pop up a lot when people are deciding between gerbils and rats. Let’s dive in!

Q1: Can Gerbils and Rats Live Together?

Nope, they have different social structures and housing them together could lead to stress or even fights.

Q2: Do Gerbils or Rats Smell More?

Gerbils are generally less odorous than rats. However, with proper cage cleaning, smell shouldn’t be a major issue for either.

Q3: Which is Easier to Take Care Of?

Gerbils are generally easier to care for, especially regarding grooming and cage maintenance.

Q4: Are Gerbils Smaller Than Rats?

Yes, gerbils are generally smaller than rats, making them more suitable for smaller living spaces.

Q5: Can I Let Them Roam Free in My House?

It’s not recommended for either, but especially not for rats, who are expert chewers and might nibble on something they shouldn’t.

Q6: Are There Breed-Specific Traits I Should Know?

Gerbil breeds don’t vary much regarding care needs, but rat breeds like the Hairless Rat may require special attention.

Q7: Can They Be Trained?

Rats are more trainable than gerbils due to their higher intelligence levels.


Choosing between a gerbil and a rat isn’t as simple as picking between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. Each comes with its own unique set of characteristics, needs, and quirks.

From lifespan and health to activity levels and space requirements, there’s a lot to mull over.

If you’re a daytime person looking for a low-maintenance pet, then a gerbil could be your best buddy. But if you’re a night owl ready for a bit of a challenge, a rat could add some zest to your life.

So there you have it, the ultimate guide to choosing between a gerbil and a rat. Happy pet shopping and may your future furry friend bring you tons of joy and Instagrammable moments!

That’s a wrap! If you have any more questions or want to dive deeper into the world of small pets, feel free to explore our other articles.

How about understanding the differences between gerbils and guinea pigs? Or maybe you’re curious about how a gerbil compares to a mouse?

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