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Gerbils vs. Rats

When deciding which pet you should welcome into your home, it is important to make the right decision for the benefit of both you and the pet you choose. If you opt for an animal that you like and fits in with your lifestyle, pet ownership is an enjoyable experience. Therefore, it is essential to assess the pros and cons of each of the animals you are considering. If you prefer small animals, two potential options are gerbils and rats. As these are both rodents, these animals share many similarities, but they also have some differences.

Gerbils vs. Rats

Gerbils are small rodents that live in desert regions in the wild. They are a popular pet because of their cute appearance and because they are an easy pet to look after. They share many similarities with rats, which are also a furry rodent. However, rats are larger animals that live in most climates in the world, except for the arctic regions. They are less popular as pets, despite having many fantastic qualities.


As they are both rodents, there are many similarities between rats and gerbils. These include:

  • Social animals- Both rats and gerbils are sociable animals. They are both good pets for people who want to interact with their pet and they both like to live with other animals of the same species.
  • Lots of colors- Rats and gerbils come in many colors, including all shades of black, gray, and brown. This means there is lots of variety when choosing a pet.
  • Facial appearance- There are many similarities in the appearance of rats and gerbil as they share many features. They have a very similar facial appearance, and both have long tails.
  • Diet- The type of diet eaten by gerbils and rats is very similar. They both eat a predominantly dry diet, with rats eating rat nuggets and gerbils eating hamster pellets or food mixes. They both top up their diet with snacks of fruits, vegetables, and small portions of meat, egg or mealworms.


There are also many differences between gerbils and rats. These include:

  • Size- There is a significant difference in the size of rats and gerbils. Rats are much larger, and this means they also need a larger cage in which they can live.
  • Activities- The behavior of rats and gerbils is different, and this relates to their behavior in the wild. Rats are natural climbers, so they need a cage that gives them opportunities to enjoy climbing. On the other hand, gerbils love to create tunnels. Therefore, they need deep bedding in their habitat, so they can fulfill their need to create tunnels.
  • Exercise- Gerbils do not necessarily need removing from their cage for exercise; just for handling. Rats, however, do need exercise outside of their cage. Some experts recommend removing them from their cage for at least one hour every day.
  • Maintenance- It takes a little more effort to care for a rat than a gerbil. Not only do they have a larger habitat to clean, but they also need more exercise outside their cage.

Who Should Pick Gerbils

If you live in a smaller property and have limited space to keep a pet, then gerbils are the better option simply because they take up less space in your home. They are also the better option for people who limited time to dedicate to caring for their pets as they are a low-maintenance pet to keep

Who Should Pick Rats

If interaction with your pet is one of the main reasons you are keeping a pet in the first place, then rats are the best option. Of all the rodents, rats are the ones that develop the best bond with their owners and enjoy playing with humans the most. If you have the space to keep them and the time to commit, then they are a very rewarding pet.

Final Verdict

Both gerbils and rats have attributes that will appeal to different groups of people. So, for some people, gerbils are the perfect pets while others prefer rats. Which you choose can depend on what you expect from owning a pet and the space you have available to home a rodent. While gerbils take up very little space in your home, rats are the rodents that develop the best bond with their owners.


About the author


Liz Flynn is a mum of four with a background in education. An animal lover, she has owned everything from dogs to tarantulas and animals of all sizes in between and loves to write about them.

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