Guinea Pigs vs. Gerbils: Which One Is Better To Have As A Pet?

Guinea Pigs Vs. Gerbils Which One Is Better To Have As A Pet

A lot of people want pets that require almost no time for grooming. Dogs need to be walked outside, cats are very needy, so a lot of people think rodents are very convenient for their busy schedules. However, rodents generally need a lot of time, especially to clean their cages.  

On the other hand, if you’ve decided that a rodent fits your schedule and lifestyle, this article is for you. This article is a comparison between guinea pigs and gerbils meant to help you figure out which one is better for your preferences and needs. 

Guinea pigs vs. Gerbils: Which one is better to have as a pet? I cannot answer this question objectively because it is all about what the owner prefers. Many people might prefer gerbils because they are a lot cheaper, however, some people may prefer guinea pigs because of their longer lifespan. I fall into the second category: I get attached so quickly and I like a pet to stay in my life as long as it’s possible. 

Please continue reading so you can decide for yourself. We are going to do a detailed comparison between these to house pets. Have fun reading!

Guinea Pigs vs. Gerbils: A Detailed Comparison

Life Span

Guinea pigs are expected to live between 5 and 7 years. On the other hand, gerbils have a very small lifespan: between 2 and a half and 3 and a half years. The age of 4 for a gerbil is rare because gerbils don’t usually make it to this age. 

This is a very sad thing because the majority of people prefer to have a pet that has a decent lifespan. We humans, get attached very quickly to our pets and 4 years cannot be compared to 7 years. Most of us would get a guinea pig (mostly because of the lifespan). 

However, there are a few people that don’t want a pet that lives too long. Maybe you want to learn how to handle responsibilities or maybe you want to practice taking care of a little pet before getting a more demanding one.

Time of Activity

Most of the species of gerbils are active during the day, so they are diurnal mammals. However, some species of gerbils are crepuscular, just like guinea pigs – this means they are most active at dusk and dawn. 

On this issue, none of them is better just because none of them is nocturnal. Nocturnal rodents like rats can be very irritating, but diurnal and crepuscular pets aren’t a problem for most people. 

However, these two crepuscular pets can be a problem if you are someone who works in night shifts or in various shifts, with this in mind maybe you need to consider having a rat as a pet rodent. But despite that, there should be no issue regarding this field. 


How easily you can handle these two rodents? These rodents have their personalities so it really depends on how lucky you are. But generally, guinea pigs are known to be very empathetic and friendly pets. They get depressed if they don’t have a friend around. They also squeak when you come home and generally when they are happy. Guinea pigs love being held, but of course, some guinea pigs are a lot shier and need a little more time to adjust with their owner. 

Gerbils, on the other hand, are known to be jumpy and very fast. This is why a lot of people could swear that it is impossible to hold a gerbil in your arms. However, other people think that gerbils are one of the most loving creatures on Earth and that they are so easy to handle. I guess it depends on their personalities. 

Cost: One-Time Expenses

  • The pet itself

Generally, gerbils are sold for $5 to $10, while guinea pigs have prices between $10 and $35 depending on the species you want to buy. However, both gerbils and guinea pigs are social animals so it’s for the best if you buy them in pairs. 

  • Cage

Gerbils need a taller aquarium, certainly not a wire cage as guinea pigs. A large aquarium might cost between $50 and $100, but you can find second-hand aquariums for about $30 to $40. 

On the other hand, a cage for guinea pigs is between $35 and $80, but you should buy a very large cage, so the price is closer to $80. There a lot of offers in pet stores such as: a small cage, food supply for a month, a water bottle, a food bowl, and bedding for just $45. 

Speaking about water bottles, they are generally between $4 to $10 and a food container varies from $8 to $15. 

  • Toys

Toys for gerbils are between $2 and $20 while the exercise balls for guinea pigs are around $15. Lucky for us, both gerbils and guinea pigs love cardboards and toilet paper rolls. Toys are not really necessary if you can give them cardboard and tunnels. 

  • Harnesses

This is an optional purchase for guinea pigs, but I feel like I need to include it. Some people buy harnesses for guinea pigs to walk them outdoors. These harnesses cost between$ 5 and $7, so they are not a fortune, but I don’t feel like they are necessary, especially because you can let your guinea pigs free in your bedroom to run for a while.

Monthly Expenses and Other Expenses

  • Food

Both gerbils and guinea pigs need balanced diets. However, gerbils need $3 to $6 for a monthly supply of food, while guinea pigs need twice as much, $6 or $12 dollars a month is not that bad, but in the long run, guinea pigs are very expensive. 

  • Vet

Do not forget to regularly visit a vet. It is enough to pay a visit to a veterinary twice a year. A regular consultation for a gerbil is $40 while one for a guinea pig is $45 dollars. 

Generally, guinea pigs are more expensive than gerbils. Moreover, guinea pigs live twice the lifespan of a gerbil. If you make the math, guinea pigs are way more expensive than gerbils however you calculate it. Guinea pigs need bigger cages, they need more food monthly and they live longer. 

Time (Social Life)

Both guinea pigs and gerbils live in groups in the wild. It is well-known that you should buy a pair of guinea pigs because they can get very depressed if they don’t have a mate. 

Gerbils recognize their family by scent and this is why a split tank is needed for gerbils that come from different families. Gerbils can attack, and even kill another gerbil which has an unfamiliar scent. 

The conclusion is that whether you decide to get a gerbil or a guinea pig, it is actually so much better to get two of them.


Guinea pig cages need to be cleaned frequently. One of the reasons behind is that they can become very smelly (to the point when you can’t sit in the same room as them). Spot cleaning is very important, it prevents build-up and reduces odor by a lot. Their cage should be cleaned once a week and their diet should be balanced. 

However, gerbils are not that smelly. Their kidneys adapted to reducing the production of waste and to conserve fluids. This happens because they are desert animals so they need to conserve everything. They produce less urine than a normal rodent, so the cage does not need to be cleaned as often as a guinea pig’s. Also, the poop is not a problem either because it is small and hard. It is not smelly and it’s easy to remove anyway. A gerbil’s tank needs to be cleaned once or twice a month depending on the number of gerbils living in the tank, the volume of the tank and some other factors. 

If a gerbil is smelly, the smell could be caused by fear or by a disease. If your gerbil has a strange odor, get him to the vet for regular consultation. 

The decision is yours: do you want a convenient pet with a short lifespan or the other way around? 

Guinea pigs are so much more expensive. However, if you plan on getting a pet, you should not see it as a burden, so the price should be more important to people who can’t afford the guinea pigs, but the can afford gerbils.

But if you are among the people that afford both, don’t get a gerbil just because it’s cheaper. Think about everything. If you are a pet lover, you will probably get very attached, and perhaps who would like a pet with a longer lifespan. 

You won’t be sorry, no matter which one of them you decide to get. 

Clarissa Moolbrock

Clarissa Moolbrock is one of the founders and editor at Guinea Pig Tube. She is also an author of "Complete Guinea Pig Care Guide: The Essential, Practical Guide To All Aspects of Caring for Your Guinea Pigs" (available on Amazon). Being a veterinary technician helping animals and sharing her experience and knowledge with other guinea pig owners is her passion. Her life goal is to popularise guinea pigs as pets and that is why she has started Guinea Pig Tube website.