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Gerbil Vs. Guinea Pig | 10 Key Differences Between The Two

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Tim Rhodes

One primary purpose of differentiating between the gerbil vs. guinea pig would be to enable people unfamiliar with them not to mistake between the two.

Even though the two are both rodents, they have many differences, from appearance, nature, and origin, to behavior.

We will be looking at them one by one and detail to ensure you will never mistake one for the other.

If you are familiar with the two, this article will help you better understand them, where I will mention some less prominent and less noticeable characteristics.

These rodents are also highly domesticated, and more and more people are nowadays keeping them as pets.

If you are willing to do the same, in the end, we will tell you which of the two is a better pet.

10 Key Differences Between a Gerbil And a Guinea Pig

Here are the 10 key differences between a gerbil and a guinea pig.

Difference In Appearance

This is the easiest and best way to tell the gerbil vs. guinea pig apart.

I will start with some essential differences that play a significant role in telling the two apart, to some fundamental differences.

All these differences are crucial, and once you grasp them, you will always know how each one looks without asking.

Even from a distance, you could easily recognize them once you understand these key features.

Size

According to the Animal Diversity Web (ADW), guinea pigs are larger than gerbils by about an entire kilogram.

A mature gerbil will weigh from 56 g to 113 g, while an adult guinea pig weighs about 700 g to 1.2kg.

Their difference in mass means a significant difference in size where a guinea pig will appear more extensive than a gerbil.

However, just like many other animals, their sizes also depend on their sex.

Male gerbils and guinea pigs are more significant than their female counterparts.

Length

Gerbils can grow to be about 4 inches long when they mature.

On the other hand, guinea pigs are almost twice as long as gerbils, where they are 8 to 10 inches in length.

However, when measured from the tip of their nose to the end of their tail, gerbils will measure about 7 inches long.

This means that the tail accounts for almost half its entire body’s length, but the guinea pig will still be slightly longer than a gerbil.

Ears

Usually, gerbils ears are quite small, rounded, and upright, while a guinea pig has large, floppy ears.

When a gerbil hears a sound, its ears will sit upright as a response.

This is usually to figure out where the sound is coming from.

Guinea pigs’ ears will not respond to sound like a gerbil does since their ears don’t move but instead sits down on the side of the head.

This does not affect their hearing; however households, their hearing is just as good as that of a gerbil, and the only difference is their response to sound.

Legs

Although feet are not as noticeable as other features, they are also a significant difference.

Gerbils have longer rear legs compared to those of a guinea pig which are short.

You can only see this when the rodents are standing on their rear feet.

It will be harder to notice the difference if they are both sitting on their four legs.

Since a guinea pig’s legs are shorter, they will appear closer to the ground than gerbils.

As an instinctive quality, gerbils will stand up frequently on their rear legs, usually surveying their surroundings looking for food or predators.

Fur

When it comes to fluffiness, guinea pigs take the lead.

Gerbils are also fluffy, but their fur isn’t as long as that of guinea pigs.

However, their fur’s lengths depend on breeds, but no species of gerbils will have longer fur than guinea pigs.

The Peruvian guinea pigs will have longer fur than other breeds of guinea pigs.

The fur will be up to four inches long, and no gerbils breed has fur this long.

This would probably be because guinea pigs mainly originated from cooler regions, while gerbils originated from hotter areas.

Tail

An interesting fact about this feature is that a guinea pig has no tail even though it’s a rodent family member.

On the other hand, the tail of a gerbil is almost the same length as its body.

This gerbil’s tail can be shed off if it gets trapped, which allows them to escape predators.

Some gerbils, such as the fat-tailed gerbil, will use their tail as a fat storage appendage.

Guinea pigs don’t need a tail since their habitat is reasonably flat and will not require a tail for balance or grip.

Surprisingly, despite the guinea pigs not having a tail at all, they have seven tail bones, but they are so close to the animal’s pelvis that you can’t notice them.

Biological Differences

These are less apparent differences since they are internal processes and may not be readily noticeable.

Only with keen observation would you notice these characteristics since it would take time to realize them for most of them.

Gestation

Gerbils will carry their pregnancy for about 24 days before giving birth to around 1 to 8 pups.

Alternatively, a guinea pig’s gestation period is almost thrice that of gerbils.

Pregnancy in guinea pigs will last for about 59 to 72 days, after which they will give birth to a range of 2 to 4 pups.

Life Span

A lot of circumstances will affect the life span of a living thing, from nutrition to infections.

Therefore, no living thing has a definite life span.

Naturally, Mongolian gerbils usually live between two to five years, and fat-tailed gerbils will live somewhere between five and eight years.

On the other hand, guinea pigs will live for an average of four to eight years when held captive.

There is another breed of guinea pigs that live in the wild, but they do not live as long as those kept as pets.

This is probably because, due to their native environment, there are many risks and dangers.

Therefore, this breed will live up to 4 years, and the majority of them barely reach their first year, where they are most vulnerable, having no experience surviving in the wild.

Origin

Knowing where the rodents came from will help you better understand how they adapt to different conditions.

Since they come from very different places, even continents, they will adapt to conditions very differently.

Gerbils originated from the Sandy plains of Africa and Asia.

They were known as the desert rat until introduced to North America commercially, bred as pets.

Guinea pigs, on the other hand, originated from South America, particularly the Andes.

Adoption As Home Pets

Domestication of guinea pigs dates back to about 5000 and 7000 years ago, according to scholars.

As for gerbils, it was not until the 1950s that they started being kept as pets.

Guinea pigs were first kept in households not as pets but for food.

On the other hand, Gerbils were introduced to America by Dr. Victor Shwentker had imported them for scientific research purposes.

It is then that he later recognized their suitability as pets.

Differences Between Home Kept And Wild

Since we can study both wild and domestic forms in the laboratory from behavioral changes to size, the differences are pretty straightforward.

Wild guinea pigs, also known as wild guys, are smaller, more aggressive, and pay more attention to their local surroundings than domestic ones.

The breed of gerbils commonly kept as pets is the Mongolian gerbil which is calm and more friendly.

The great gerbil, which is not recommended as a pet, is very aggressive and has a huge appetite, and will burrow one’s belongings.

The Mongolian gerbil is also relatively small compared to the great gerbil, which is even more significant than a rat.

Behavior

Animals respond to change differently.

Behavior in animals could be perceived differently depending on species, where behavior in one animal could be perceived differently if it came from another animal.

Though direct communication between humans and animals is not probable, learning some of their behaviors and what they signify would better understand them.

Below are some conditions that gerbils would experience and guinea pigs and how they would respond to these changes.

Fear Or Stress

When a guinea pig is frightened, some of the behaviors may portray aggression and hiding.

On the other hand, a gerbil will stomp its feet to communicate with other gerbils.

Gerbils are pack animals hence have an instinctual way of communicating with each other to either warn them or call for help.

Excitement

Like people laughing and dogs moving their tails side to side, gerbils and guinea pigs have their way of portraying excitement.

A gerbil will stand upright with its rear legs, where its arms will be at its side.

Since a guinea pig cannot stand by its rear legs, it has another showing excitement.

It will make high-pitched squeals which sounds like whistling.

They will do this when they are happy, or they know it’s feeding time.

Their love for food is too much that they whistle to register anticipation of a sumptuous meal.

Which Are Better Pets Gerbils Or Guinea Pigs?

Gerbils and guinea pigs are, in the modern world, commonly used as pets.

But what happens when you are in a pet store, and you can’t make up your mind on which you want as your pet?

They both have their upsides and downsides, and it is by evaluating each one of them that you can come to an informed conclusion.

On the one hand, both gerbils and guinea pigs are social animals and love to play by themselves or even with humans.

It is best to adopt a male and female and place them in one big cage to interact instead of two males who can be hostile towards each other.

Gerbils will also need a lot more verticle space than guinea pigs which will need to be filled with blessings to allow them to satisfy their strong urge to the tunnel and dig.

While guinea pigs like tunneling, too, they will only require little bedding to do this.

On the other hand, guinea pigs are more common; they are mostly kept as pets.

This could be because they rarely bite, and they are calmer, while gerbils will bite and gnaw on things to keep their teeth short.

They will, however, require a more specific diet of hay, vegetables, and plenty of vitamin C.

The guinea pigs’ size, life span, and more significant space requirements make them an excellent choice for families ready to make more of a commitment.

Which One Is For You?

All two are great picks, so it comes down to your most preferred choice and the level of commitment.

You will have to spend a short amount of time with each of them, handle them, and get a feel for which personality fits you and your family.

After spending time with each one of them, then you can make an informed decision.

Do Gerbils Get Along With Guinea Pigs?

Many pet lovers will sometimes be looking to keep two different animals as pets at the same time.

For that to work out, the two animals should be able to get along with each other.

When it comes to gerbils and guinea pigs, the fact that they are two different species implies that it would be hard for them to get along.

This is an instinctual reaction where the animals will try to hoard resources for themselves, which will cause them to fight over food, water, and even space.

All animals are territorial, especially animals of a different genetic line.

They try to ensure the survival of its genetic line, and so, if another animal comes to its territory, it will fight to protect its resources from being taken away.

Gerbils and guinea pigs also mark their territories with scent, which most definitely leads to fights.

The best one can do keeping them in the same room where they won’t fight unless they play together or live in the same cage.

What Do Gerbils And Guinea Pigs Eat?

Gerbils usually eat seeds of some grasses, bulbs, and some leaves and eat fruits and vegetables as supplements.

Guinea pigs, on the other hand, don’t have an entirely different diet.

They also eat limited amounts of fresh vegetables and fruits and even high-quality guinea pig hay.

What Cannot Gerbils And Guinea Pigs Eat?

Guinea pigs and gerbils generally don’t eat the same things.

They don’t eat things that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee, and energy drinks.

Chocolate is also harmful to them since it’s difficult for them to metabolize.

They also can’t deal with gassy foods like avocados and potatoes.

Gerbils will not eat grapes, and rhubarb are poisonous to them.

What Do Gerbils And Guinea Pigs Have In Common?

Since they are from different species, one may think they don’t have anything in common but have many similarities, so that some people may confuse them.

Both of them are rodents; hence their bodies are covered in colorful fur just like other rodents.

This fur is meant to protect them from harsh conditions such as cold temperatures.

They also both have eyes that are black except for albinos, who have different colored eyes.

They are both pack animals, therefore, live in groups.

Most pack animals are very territorial, and when it comes to gerbils and guinea pigs, things aren’t different where they will both use scent to mark their territory.

They both have whiskers which are usually long, almost the size of those of a cat, and are used as sensory organs just like in all other animals with whiskers.

Final Thoughts

The gerbil vs. guinea pig’s size is their most notable difference, without a doubt.

You can tell them apart even from a distance wherein adults, the larger one will always be the guinea pig, and the smaller one will always be the gerbil.

Another significant difference is that the guinea pig has no tail while the gerbil has a very long tail, basically almost half its entire body’s length.

In conclusion, when the two are kept together, the slightly bigger one without a tail is a guinea pig, while the small one with a very long tail is a gerbil.

They also have different colors and patterns, but since we are dealing with an extensive range of colors and patterns, some of them appearing in both, it can’t be a significant difference.

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