Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: More Different Than You Might Think!

Guinea pig names
© Rita_Kochmarjova/

Written by Peralee Knight

Published: March 21, 2022

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Telling the difference between Guinea Pigs and Gerbils may not be easy, as they look quite similar to each other. However, there are obvious differences between these two popular pets. When it comes to deciding whether adopting a guinea pig or a gerbil is right for you, it’s good to know the facts. Gerbils and guinea pigs have their unique characteristics, both physically and in terms of temperament. These differences can significantly impact the level of care and attention each pet needs to thrive!

Let’s take a closer look at how they differ.

Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: Key Differences

The major differences between Guinea pigs and gerbils are size, diet, behavior, and temperament.

Both Guinea pigs and gerbils are part of the rodent family, but they are quite different. Physically, it is easy to tell the two apart since guinea pigs are much larger than gerbils. However, the differences between these two popular pets do not stop with size!

Let’s explore in detail.

Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: Size

Mongolian gerbil (Meriones) as a pet

Gerbils are smaller than Guinea pigs.


Guinea pigs are between 8-16 inches long and 1.5-3 pounds on average, making them one of the larger pet rodents. They do not have a visible tail, though they have a small internal tail. Guinea pigs come in a wide variety of coat colors and patterns. They are also stockier and thicker overall than gerbils, with larger eyes and ears.

Gerbils are significantly smaller than guinea pigs, around 6-16 inches long, including the tail, and .35 to 8 oz on average. The gerbil also has a much longer tail that makes up nearly half its body length. The gerbil has much smaller eyes and ears than a guinea pig compared to its overall size. Depending on the individual breed, gerbils also come in many coat colors and patterns.

Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: Diet

Guinea pigs are herbivorous animals, which means that they only eat plant material in order to gain all of the nutrients that they need to survive. Grasses, leaves, seeds, bark, and flowers make up the majority of their diet.

Gerbils are omnivorous animals, which means they’ll eat both plant and animal material. They readily eat seeds, nuts, roots, grass, and fruit. In the wild, they’ll eat bird’s eggs, newly hatched chicks, and insects.

Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: Temperament And Behavior

pet Guinea pig wrapped in towel being pet on the head

Guinea pigs are more vocal than gerbils.


While their overall appearance is the easiest way to tell a guinea pig from a gerbil, they differ in temperament and behavior. Both pets are prey animals that need regular handling to build trust with their owner. Like many other rodents, it takes time and patience to bond. However, each is fully capable of becoming a wonderful pet.

Guinea pigs are very vocal and communicate with each other and their owners with various grunts and whistles. They are pretty intelligent and able to learn tricks with patient training. Guinea pigs are highly recommended as a first pet for older children. This is due to their playful nature and social personalities, as well as their enjoyment of being held.

Gerbils are full of energy, playful, and highly social animals. Like guinea pigs, gerbils become very attached to their owners. Gerbils also enjoy the company of other gerbils. However, it is best to introduce them to each other early and monitor them for signs of fighting.

Gerbils are far more active than guinea pigs, but they are less vocal. Gerbils are also much smaller and more fragile. This can make them slightly more difficult to train, and their interactions with young children should be monitored. Gerbils are less tolerant of being held for long periods than guinea pigs. Introductions to strange humans should be done with care, as gerbils are often nervous around humans they aren’t used to.

Guinea Pigs vs Gerbils: How To Decide Which Pet Is Right For You!

Mongolian gerbil young lying on the hay.

Gerbils are great pers for small families

©February Sweet/

Guinea pigs are highly suitable for owners that wish to handle their pets often. They are great pets for homes with children, as they love interacting with their humans. Guinea pigs crave social interaction with their owners, and lack of regular contact can make them anxious. When suffering severe isolation, guinea pigs can lose fur, become sick, or even die. The guinea pig is an excellent choice for families or an owner that can handle more than one.

Gerbils are great pets for single-person homes or small families. While they are social, they are okay for longer periods on their own. This is particularly true if you have more than one gerbil as they can keep each other company. However, like guinea pigs, gerbils become attached to their owners and become anxious without contact. Both pets need to be handled regularly. Gerbils can be quite happy and content around children, with emphasis on gentle handling.

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