Gerbil Lifespan: Caretaking for Longevity

If you have children who have begun to beg you to give them their first pet, a Gerbil might be a good place to start. Gerbils as pets are a great learning experience for young children, as they are small, cute, and easy to care for.

Gerbils make great first pets for kids, but there are some things you should know about Gerbils before heading to the pet store with your kids to pick one out.

Such as, what is the difference between a Gerbil and a Hamster? Learning about specific care needs and possible health problems that Gerbils face is also important information to know. 

The Difference Between Hamster and Gerbil

One of the more easily noticeable differences between a gerbil and a hamster is their size. Hamsters are typically shorter than gerbils, proportionally. A gerbil has “long features” compared to a hamster. Their bodies are longer as well as their little snouts. Their facial features can be more closely compared to that of a mouse or a rat. A gerbil’s legs and tail are also noticeably longer. Considering hamsters don’t have much of a tail to begin with, tails are one of the defining features of a gerbil when being compared to a hamster. 

Gerbils also don’t have little pouches in their cheeks to stash tons of food as a little hamster does. Hamsters have been known to shove a significant amount of food into their cheeks, at times causing the size of their head to double as a result. Gerbils, on the other hand, don't have these useful little pouches. 

Other differences between hamsters and Gerbils are their behavioral or personality quirks. Gerbil owners have described their pets as being intelligent and curious about the world around them. Gerbils have also been noted to be very interested in their humans and tend to actively watch them while they are interacting in their environment around their cages. 

As much as gerbils love to watch people, they also love to interact with them. Unlike hamsters, gerbils are happy to be woken up just to be interacted with. They love to jump and climb around, and basically, just stay busy having fun and adventuring at all times. 

Hamsters are also notoriously nocturnal. Anyone who’s ever owned a hamster knows that they like to run around and make the most noise during the night. Gerbils don’t tend to be awake at odd hours of the night like hamsters do.

Gerbil Care

Gerbils are easy to care for overall, as they really only need their owner to provide a comfortable living space for them, provide food and fresh water, and of course, toys to play with. Although, if you are thinking of getting a gerbil as a pet for your child, be aware that gerbils need to be handled carefully, so your child should be old enough to understand how to be careful with them. Proper caretaking can lead to your gerbil having significant longevity and living a happy and healthy life with you and your family. 

Gerbils are sensitive little creatures, so a child who wants to hold one needs to understand not to squeeze them or handle them in a rough manner. Aside from possibly hurting the gerbil, squeezing them too hard could scare them and cause them to nip or scratch at the child. 


The number one supply that you will want to have prepared for your gerbil is a good cage. Their enclosure should be around 1 to 2 feet wide and at least 1 foot tall. Gerbils are very active burrowing creatures who, when not creating tunnels, enjoy climbing and jumping around. 

A fish tank or a wire cage are both good enclosures for your gerbil, however, wire cages may cause more of a mess as a gerbil tends to dig around a lot. Meaning they will displace a lot of their bedding, and it will fall out of the sides of the wire enclosure. A fish tank enclosure also allows for deeper bedding, which your gerbil will appreciate so that they can dig around comfortably. Providing a comfortable living space free of stressors, with lots of room to move around in also supports your gerbil’s longevity.


Gerbils are generally healthy as an animal that can live a healthy 2-4 years of life with you and your family. Most of the health problems that can occur with them are avoidable if proper precautions are taken. For example, irreversible damage can be inflicted if they are picked up by their tails. Gerbils are also very susceptible to heatstroke and heat stress if they aren’t housed in a comfortable environment. 


Gerbils should eat food that is specially formulated for their species. You can find this food at any pet store that sells gerbils and other rodents. This food typically contains a variety of seeds and other nutritious foods for gerbils, such as rodent blocks that support gerbil longevity. A good tip is to put their food in a heavy ceramic bowl so that they can’t tip it over and make a mess all the time.


If you’re considering getting your child their first pet and aren’t sure if a hamster or a gerbil is the way to go, consider the differences between the two rodents and go from there. Hamster and gerbils are both great in their own unique ways. Gerbils have a bit of a longer body frame and are always ready to play and interact with their people. They are easy to care for, and only ask for a spacious, comfortable home that they can dig around and play in. 

What is a gerbil?

A Gerbil is a small creature in the rodent family, similar to a mouse or a hamster. Although, the Gerbil has a longer tail than a hamster but has a small, compact body that is similar to a hamster.

How long do gerbils live?

On average, as a pet, a gerbil can live a happy 2-4 years of life. This is about average for most rodents that are kept as pets. That’s when they are cared for properly and shown lots of love from their adopted family.

Are gerbils good pets?

Gerbils make great pets for kids. They are especially good first pets for children. Gerbils are low maintenance, so they will not be overwhelming for a child to care for, while still teaching them responsibility.

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Written by Leo Roux

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