Gerbils and rats are very common rodent pets. You can keep gerbils together in pair bonds and large groups. But keeping rats and gerbils in the same cage isn’t recommended.
While rats and gerbils are closely related, they’re of a different species. They can’t live together as they will fight. They also can’t play together, e.g. in the same cage. You can keep them in the same house, but make sure that they can’t smell each other.
Gerbils and rats cannot live in the same tank, but can live in the same house. If you put them together, they would fight, so it must be avoided. That’s because they would compete over food, water, and territory.
Can Gerbils and Rats Live Together?
Both species mark their territory. Gerbils do so with the scent gland on their bellies. Rats do so with urine. Both are claiming space and resources.
If you kept them in the same tank, they would both be afraid of each other until one became dominant. Then, the dominant one would bully the other. You would also notice signs of fear, such as foot drumming. According to the ASA, gerbils foot drum and issue loud alarm calls when afraid.
So, you can keep them in the same room, but not the same tank. Ensure that you clean each of your pet’s tanks regularly so that the smell doesn’t build up. Otherwise, the pair might smell each other and become distressed.
Can Gerbils and Rats Live in the Same Tank?
When gerbils encounter other species, they will compete for space and resources. The only reason your gerbil doesn’t fight you away is that you don’t compete for the food it wants to eat.
This even applies to other gerbils. Unless you allow two gerbils to bond through the split tank method, they will reject and attack each other. But you cannot pair bond a gerbil with a rat.
So, a gerbil and a rat cannot live in the same tank. If you put them both in the same tank, they would fight incessantly. They would fight over access to food and the water bottle, mainly.
Because the tank is small, the pair would likely fight until one or both were severely injured. One or both could even die. This is what happens when you put two gerbils together when they aren’t pair bonded.
Moreover, this applies both to same-sex and opposite-sex pairs. This has nothing to do with one of the pets wanting to breed, and the other rejecting it. Because they’re different species, there is no breeding drive in either.
Can Gerbils and Rats Live in the Same Room?
There is no issue with gerbils and rats living in the same room, provided that they’re kept in different cages. Each would have its own space that the other can’t infringe on. This means they would both be comfortable.
However, it would still be possible for each to smell the other. This can occur when each pet’s tank isn’t cleaned frequently. Rats are especially smelly, and the smell can permeate an entire room or house.
If the pets can smell each other, then this could be distressing. So, you should clean each tank regularly. Most of the smell of each rodent resides mainly in the bedding, because it’s absorbent. Because of the nature of scent marking, it can get on the cage bars and glass too.
You should also keep the tanks a distance apart, so that the two species of pets can’t see, smell or hear each other. Preferably, they should be on opposite sides of a room (or in two different rooms). If one cage were stored above the other, then the one on top would smell the other.
Can Gerbils and Rats Play Together?
Like they can’t live together, gerbils can’t play together. If they tried to, it would result in even more fighting. While it wouldn’t be as bad because your pets are in an open space, they still wouldn’t get along.
The issue is that playing in a pen isn’t like playing in a playground. It’s more akin to exploring than anything else. The reason your pets enjoy running around your room or pen is that they’re exploring a ‘new’ space.
When exploring a new space, you may notice that each of your pet’s scent marks more than usual. That’s because they’re marking the new territory as theirs. The issue is that both of your pets would be doing the same thing.
This would lead to more fighting, because the two pets would be fighting over the same space. One positive is that a pen is larger than a cage. So, there would be more room for both of them. But even so, it would be a bad idea to put them together.
This can happen even if you put two friendly gerbils together. When two friendly gerbils are put in a new space, they fight over dominance even if they didn’t before. So, it especially doesn’t work when the two pets are different species.
Why Do Gerbils and Rats Fight?
Gerbils and rats fight for several reasons. The central reason is that they’re different species. Two different species will fight when kept in close proximity, and if they have to share things with each other.
Each animal has two prerogatives: these are its own survival, and the survival of its species. So, when an animal has access to food and water, it wants to maintain that access. That’s why animals fight over territory.
But the picture is more complicated than that. Gerbils live in groups, forage for food together, and do so without fighting. This seems to go against that idea. However, with every gerbil foraging for food, they can keep some aside (hoarding). This helps them all survive.
Gerbils can’t take this same approach with another species. If you tried to take some of your pet’s food, for example, it wouldn’t like that. It wouldn’t understand that you could give it more. All it would see is some other animal stealing what belongs to it.
What causes the fighting is scent marking. Both gerbils and rats scent mark, using their scent gland and urine respectively. They use these scents to claim food, nesting places and more. Scent marking uses pheromones, which are unique to each animal, and vary based on species.
When an animal detects pheromones, it is usually scared away. And when two animals are in close proximity, they both try to scent mark the same area. So, this can cause fighting.
Can Gerbils and Rats Be Trained to Like Each Other?
When you get two new gerbils, you have to put them in a split cage to make them like each other. A split cage is a special cage with a barrier in the middle of it. In all other ways, the cage is the same.
If you don’t do this, and put the two gerbils together without introducing them, they’ll fight. The same applies to two rats. But after the split cage introduction, the two gerbils will like each other and won’t fight.
The split cage method involves setting up the cage the same on both sides. It needs bedding, water bottles, exercise wheels, etc. You then swap the two gerbils from one side to the other regularly, at least once a day.
This works with gerbils because they clean up in the wild. They form pair bonds, both same-sex and opposite sex. These pair bonds can last a lifetime, and if they’re the opposite sex, they will have pups.
Gerbils can’t do the same with other species. They can only do so with other gerbils. Besides that, rats don’t form social bonds in the same way that gerbils do. They aren’t monogamous and don’t have social groups.
What Are the Differences between Gerbils and Rats?
People think that gerbils and rats, and all pet rodents, are similar. Many of them are, if you’re unfamiliar with them. But each is a different species, a different shape, a different size, and behaves in a different way. The central differences between pet rats and gerbils are that:
- They are different species, which come from different parts of the world
- They behave differently
- They can’t eat the same food, because they have different micronutritional requirements
- They look completely different
These differences make rats and gerbils unsuitable as cage mates.
Do Rats and Gerbils Look Alike?
If you’re unfamiliar with rodent pets, you may mistake a gerbil for a baby rat. They have similar short and sleek fur. Both have hind legs and feet that are longer than their front ones. And, of course, they are both rodents so have a similar body shape.
But if you have owned either gerbils or rats, you’ll know that they don’t look alike.
Rats are larger than gerbils. They can reach eleven inches in total, and have a tail of seven to nine inches long. Gerbils, by contrast, only reach four or five inches of body length and four or five inches of tail length.
Rats are heavier than gerbils, too. An adult male rat weight between one and one and a half pounds. Gerbils only reach three or three and a half ounces. So, size is a major difference. Their appearances differ because:
- Rats have larger, rounder ears than gerbils do
- Rats have longer, less rounded faces than gerbils (not dumbo rats)
- Rats have longer and more obvious whiskers than gerbils
The best way to tell them apart is by looking at pictures. But there’s no way that you would accidentally put a rat and a gerbil in the same cage, because they’re so different. It’s not a mistake that you could make.
Are Gerbils Related to Rats?
Gerbils are related to rats, but only loosely. Both are rodents, but that’s as close as the relationship gets. They are both in the order ‘Rodentia’, but orders are large groupings which don’t indicate close relations.
To be more specific, rats are the species ‘Rattus rattus’. That means they’re in the genus Rattus, which is a close grouping of species that are genetically similar. There are dozens of species in the same genus, all of which are commonly known as rats, e.g.:
- Black rat
- Bush rat
- Dusky rat
- Palm rat
- Summit rat
- Eastern rat
These species are found all over the world in lots of different habitats. Some live in cities, while others live in the countryside.
The most common pet gerbil is the Mongolian gerbil, Meriones unguiculatus. That means they’re in a different genus, Meriones, which contains only a dozen or so species. They are commonly called jirds, rather than rats.
Furthermore, they live only in certain places: deserts and dry, desert-like areas. Because they live in different places to rats, this means that they aren’t closely genetically linked. They certainly aren’t closely related enough to form pair bonds and live together.
For comparison, they are about as closely related to each other as hamsters and gerbils are. So, they’re both rodents, but they’re more like cousins than siblings.
Are Gerbils as Smart as Rats?
Both gerbils and rats are intelligent pets. They’re much more intelligent than most people realize.
Gerbils can learn lots of things. They can learn tricks like sitting and rolling over. It takes time to teach them, and you have to give them treats to learn like you do with other pets.
They can also learn to distinguish between sounds. While they aren’t as good at learning names and so on like other pets are, they can to an extent. According to Nature, they can learn the difference between vowel sounds like ‘oo’ and ‘ee’.
Scientists tested their ability to do so through a game. They placed a piece of food under one of two cups: one on the left, and one on the right. When the food was under one cup, they would play a noise (‘oo’) and when it was under the other, they would play the other sound (‘ee’).
Over time, the gerbil made the association between the noise and the location of the food. Then, without any other clues, the gerbil could find the food because the noise was played.
However, it’s unclear how much this could be taught at home. The test was performed under laboratory conditions and with lots of different gerbils. The test also displayed limited applicability, because the game was simple.
Rats are smart too, though. Their intelligence is connected with their ability to find their way. Once they figure out a path, they never forget it. So, both gerbils and rats are clever in their own ways.
Can Gerbils Eat Rat Food?
Gerbils and rats cannot eat the exact same food. However, their nutritional requirements are broadly similar. You can feed each similar foods.
The reason why the two wild species need different foods is that they lived in different parts of the world. Wild Mongolian gerbils live in the steppe, which is like a desert.
This shaped the diet that the gerbil became used to. In the wild, they mostly eat leaves, seeds and grains, and vegetable roots. They don’t drink much water because there’s not much available, so get most of their water from root vegetables.
Rats are famed omnivores. They eat everything that they can find, from waste foods in cities to grains that they find on farms. In the wild, they can eat anything from berries to nuts and seeds.
But while they eat different diets in the wild, both pets have similar nutritional requirements. Gerbils need most of their food’s energy to be from carbohydrates. They only need 5% of their diet to be fat and 15% or so to be protein. Rats have almost the exact same nutritional needs.
The only issue is that gerbils have specific requirements. According to the NAP, gerbils need magnesium for brain health, or they have seizures. So, while they need similar macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate), they need different vitamins and minerals.