People often think gerbils and hamsters are easy to take care of—but like cats, dogs, and other animal companions, they need lots of love, care, and attention. Most people also don’t know that gerbils and hamsters are very different from each other. Take a look!
In their natural habitat, hamsters like to be alone. They’re nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day while we’re awake and stay awake during the night while we’re sleeping—so making friends with them can be hard.
A hamster should eat many different types of fruits, green vegetables, and seeds. Their teeth never stop growing, so it’s very important that they have hard things like dog biscuits and clean tree branches to chew on. Hamsters can live to be between 2 and 4 years old.
A 2-foot-square wire-mesh cage with a solid base is the smallest size a home for one hamster should be—roomy ones are better. Colorful plastic cages are difficult to clean, and hamsters may chew their way out!
Your hamster will need a water bottle, chew toys, soft bedding (like straw or shredded white paper), and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls make great toys.
Unlike hamsters, gerbils don’t like to be alone, and in nature, they live in families of up to 20 members. Gerbils who are kept alone become depressed. If you have the time, space, and other resources to adopt gerbils, two males or two females from the same family will be good companions for each other.
Gerbils need the same type of food and shelter as hamsters do, but make sure your gerbils have a solid exercise wheel since their long tails can get caught in wire wheels! Unlike hamsters, they aren’t nocturnal—their sleeping habits are a bit more complex. If you have some gerbil companions or plan to adopt a pair, it’s a good idea to watch them to find out when they’re most active and when they like to sleep. Don’t let hamsters or gerbils become too cold or they’ll go into hibernation. Gerbils can live to be about 5 years old.
Like all other animals, hamsters and gerbils need the right kind of shelter, food, temperature, and exercise for their species. They can also bite and carry diseases—and they DO NOT make good “starter pets.” There is actually no such thing as a “starter pet”—all animal companions require dedication, responsibility, and love, and they depend on their human to meet their every need.
Stores like Petco and PetSmart that sell live animals, including hamsters and gerbils, get them from suppliers that treat them horribly. The animals are bred in warehouses and kept in really dirty, cramped conditions before they’re sold at pet stores. Some of them die from starvation, dehydration, attacks from frustrated cagemates, or sickness and injuries. Some who get sick are killed in painful, terrifying ways.
If your family is ready to give gerbils, hamsters, or any other animals a loving home, be sure to adopt—never buy them from pet stores or breeders.