Why Gerbils and Hamsters Shouldn’t Share a Home

Can Gerbils and Hamsters Coexist?

Are you a fan of those adorable little creatures, like gerbils and hamsters? They belong to the rodent family, sporting round eyes, furry bodies, and cute little paws. Popular as pets, these critters are space-efficient, low-maintenance, and entertaining. However, did you know that gerbils and hamsters are entirely different animals, exhibiting significant differences in physiology and behavior? If you’re considering having both as pets, you might encounter some challenges. So, can gerbils and hamsters coexist? This article unveils the answer, offering you practical tips and best practices for their care.

Comparing the Physiology and Behavior of Gerbils and Hamsters

Gerbils, native to Africa and Asia, are desert dwellers characterized by long tails, large ears, and robust hind legs. They come in various colors such as white, gray, brown, and black, with an average lifespan of around 3 to 4 years. Social creatures, gerbils prefer living in stable groups, displaying curiosity, enjoying exploration, digging holes, nibbling on things, and engaging in playful activities. Their diet includes seeds, grains, hay, fruits, and vegetables, requiring fresh water daily and clean sand for grooming.

On the other hand, hamsters, originating from Europe and Asia, are grassland animals with short tails, small ears, and rounded bodies. Their fur comes in diverse colors like gold, white, black, and brown, and they typically live for about 2 to 3 years. Known for their independence, hamsters prefer solitary living, avoiding sharing their territory with other animals. Nocturnal in nature, they are active during the night and enjoy sleeping during the day. Similar to gerbils, their diet includes seeds, grains, hay, fruits, and vegetables, needing fresh water daily and clean bedding made of wood shavings or paper.

The stark differences in size, fur color, tails, ears, lifespan, social nature, activity times, dietary preferences, and environmental needs make gerbils and hamsters incompatible for cohabitation, potentially leading to issues.

Potential Issues in Coexisting Gerbils and Hamsters

Three primary concerns arise when attempting to house gerbils and hamsters together:

  1. Territorial awareness and aggressive behavior: Hamsters are territorial and may display hostility if their space is invaded. Gerbils, despite being social animals, also have their hierarchies and may compete or conflict with newcomers. Combining them in the same cage can lead to fights, resulting in severe injuries or even death.

  2. Risk of disease transmission: While both gerbils and hamsters belong to the rodent family, their resistance and immunity levels differ. They may carry harmless bacteria or parasites that can be harmful to the other species. Housing them together increases the risk of disease transmission through contact, food, water, or feces, leading to infections, inflammations, diarrhea, skin issues, respiratory problems, and more.

  3. Compatibility issues due to physiological differences: Gerbils and hamsters have distinct physiological needs, including activity times, temperature, humidity, lighting, food, water, sand, and bedding. Coexisting makes it challenging for them to meet these requirements, causing interference and disturbance. For example, gerbils are daytime animals and require sand for fur maintenance, while hamsters are nocturnal and prefer wood shavings or paper bedding.

These differences underscore the seriousness of potential problems in cohabiting gerbils and hamsters, affecting their safety and well-being.

Expert Opinions on Coexisting Gerbils and Hamsters

The issue of cohabiting gerbils and hamsters aligns not only with common sense but also with expert consensus. The Humane Society explicitly advises keeping different animal species separate to prevent conflicts and harm. They caution pet owners to pay attention to the personalities and interactions even among the same species, recommending separation if signs of aggression or disharmony arise. Several other organizations and websites, including PetMD, Gerbil House, and Hamster House, share similar views on the challenges and risks of housing gerbils and hamsters together.

Real Case Analysis

The challenges of cohabiting gerbils and hamsters are not just theoretical but have practical implications. Online, real cases highlight both successful and unsuccessful attempts, providing valuable insights and lessons.

  1. Rare Successful Cases: Some instances online showcase successful cohabitation between gerbils and hamsters. However, these cases often involve specific conditions such as growing up together from a young age, forming close relationships without other companions, matching genders to avoid breeding, and providing a large, well-equipped cage with ample space, multiple entrances, and hiding spots. While these cases seem idyllic, they are rare and may not be sustainable over time due to changes in age, environment, or mood.

  2. Frequent Failures: More common online are cases of unsuccessful attempts at cohabitation. These instances often involve placing gerbils and hamsters together in adulthood, having different genders, cramped cages, and neglectful care. The outcomes are typically tragic, resulting in severe fights, injuries, and sometimes death. These cases highlight the real and prevalent risks and consequences of attempting to house gerbils and hamsters together.

  3. Analysis of Success and Failure: Examining these cases reveals that successful cohabitation depends on factors such as age, gender, cage size, and the owner’s attentiveness and responsibility. Young, same-gender, and gentle gerbils and hamsters have a better chance of getting along. A spacious cage with proper partitions, careful monitoring, and prompt action in response to any issues can reduce the risks. However, these factors do not guarantee success, and the effort required is substantial, both in terms of time, attention, and resources. Cohabitation remains risky and may not be worth the effort.

Care Recommendations and Best Practices

Given the clear challenges of cohabiting gerbils and hamsters, how should one care for them? The recommended approach is to allow them to live independently but within the same space, separated during feeding and playtime. This way, they can enjoy their individual lifestyles while satisfying some social needs through visual or auditory perception of each other, avoiding direct conflicts and harm.

Ideal Gerbil Care Conditions

If you’re considering gerbil care, the following conditions are ideal:

  • A spacious, transparent cage measuring at least 60cm x 40cm x 30cm with a ventilated lid.

  • A thick layer of sand, at least 10cm deep, allowing gerbils to dig, roll, and groom.

  • Various items like wood, stones, cardboard, or plastic tubes for exploration, chewing, and hiding.

  • Food including seeds, grains, hay, fruits, and vegetables, refreshed


  • A water dispenser with clean, fresh water daily.

Ideal Hamster Care Conditions

For hamster care, the following conditions are recommended:

  • A cage with a solid bottom, at least 60cm x 40cm x 30cm, ensuring proper ventilation.

  • Wood shavings or paper-based bedding, changed weekly, for burrowing, sleeping, and nesting.

  • A hideout or nest, either store-bought or homemade, for comfort and security.

  • A wheel for exercise, food dispenser for seeds, grains, hay, fruits, and vegetables, and a water bottle with clean, fresh water daily.

Common Space and Interaction

If you decide to keep both gerbils and hamsters, consider the following common space and interaction guidelines:

  • Keep their cages near each other to allow visual and auditory contact, preventing loneliness.

  • Schedule playtime for each animal separately in a secure, enclosed area, providing supervision.

  • Use separate food and water bowls to avoid competition and territorial disputes.

  • Keep their cages in a quiet, stress-free location, away from direct sunlight, drafts, and extreme temperatures.

  • Monitor their health, behavior, and interactions regularly, seeking veterinary care if issues arise.

Conclusion: Separation is the Key

In the end, the consensus among experts, experienced pet owners, and real-life cases strongly supports the separation of gerbils and hamsters. While some instances of successful cohabitation exist, the risks and challenges far outweigh the potential benefits. Both gerbils and hamsters can thrive independently in their carefully tailored environments, providing you with the joy of observing their unique behaviors and personalities.

For pet owners, the responsibility lies in understanding and respecting the individual needs, preferences, and characteristics of gerbils and hamsters. By prioritizing their well-being, safety, and happiness through separate living arrangements, you can ensure a fulfilling and enriching experience as a caretaker. Remember, when it comes to gerbils and hamsters, separation is the key to a harmonious and thriving pet companionship.

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