Questions About Gerbils

What Is the Difference Between a Gerbil and a Chinchilla?

Gerbils and chinchillas are both furry, sociable rodents that make popular pets. However, chinchillas and gerbils are distinct species, and have vastly different care requirements.

Chinchillas are bigger than gerbils, requiring a larger cage. They need lots of floor space, whereas gerbils need deep bedding for digging. Both gerbils and chinchillas are friendly animals, but chinchillas can easily be injured while handling. Though chinchillas have stricter dietary and temperature requirements, they live longer than gerbils.

We’ll go over the similarities and differences between chinchillas and gerbils. You’ll learn whether a chinchilla or gerbil would be a better pet for you. We’ll also discuss whether gerbils and chinchillas get along.

Chinchillas and Gerbils as Pets

If you’re planning to adopt a small animal, chinchillas and gerbils are both great options. There are many similarities between the two. For example:

  • They are both types of rodents, and they look fairly similar. They are both furry, with long tails and whiskers.
  • They are both friendly animals that get along well with humans if correctly socialized.
  • Both chinchillas and gerbils are hygienic pets that don’t smell much.
  • Both animals are intelligent, and can be trained. Gerbils have long been established as clever rodents that can be taught tricks and learn to navigate mazes. According to the Acoustical Society of America, chinchillas can be trained using auditory cues.

But is a chinchilla a gerbil? Not at all. Gerbils and chinchillas are distinct species, belonging to distantly related families.

Mongolian gerbils are short-haired, omnivorous, high-energy rodents that come from the deserts of Asia. They live in complex underground burrows, in large groups. They’re comparable in appearance to rats, though significantly smaller.

Chinchillas are herbivores that originate from mountainous landscapes in South America. They have thick, dense, fluffy fur and big ears. Chinchillas are as sociable as gerbils, but much larger and live significantly longer.

gerbil vs chinchilla

Gerbil vs Chinchilla: What’s the Difference?

There are many differences between gerbils and chinchillas. Not only do they differ in appearance, but they also each have specific care requirements. Here’s how they differ from each other:

Appearance5-6 inches long, with a 4-inch tail. Slim and short-haired, with small ears.9-10 inches long, with a 3-6 inch tail. Chubby appearance due to thick, fluffy fur. Large ears.
FriendlinessSociable and confident. They enjoy playing and interacting with their owners.With proper socialization, chinchillas are friendly, but can be nervous.
HandlingMost gerbils tolerate handling well. Many gerbils enjoy it.Some chinchillas tolerate handling, but many don’t. Chinchillas have fragile ribcages and are easily injured.
Cost$5 to $20 each. Must be kept in pairs. They require a lot of substrate, and 1tbsp of food per gerbil daily. Occasional treats.$80 to $300 each. Should be kept in pairs. Minimal substrate, unlimited hay and 1-2tbsp high-quality pellets daily. Occasional treats.
SmellGerbils do not smell, provided you clean the cage regularly.Chinchillas do not smell, provided you clean the cage regularly.
DietOmnivorous. Gerbil food mix supplemented with occasional fresh and dried fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and insects.Herbivorous. High-quality chinchilla pellets and unlimited hay, supplemented with occasional dried fruits and veggies. Sensitive stomachs.
Cage requirementsMinimum cage size for 2 gerbils: 20 gallons. The tank must be deep, with room for 6-8 inches of bedding.Minimum cage size for 2 chinchillas: 89 gallons with plenty of floor space. 1-2 inches of bedding.
Level of careRoom temperature cage, daily food and water. Spot-clean cage regularly, full clean every 3-4 weeks.Lots of air flow to prevent overheating. Daily food, unlimited hay, and filtered water. Clean cage weekly.
Life expectancyLife expectancy is 2 to 5 years with optimal care.15 to 20 years with optimal care.

As pets, chinchillas are higher maintenance than gerbils. They require more space than gerbils, gentler handling, and are more sensitive to diet and temperature changes.

Do Gerbils and Chinchillas Get Along?

Gerbils come from Asia, whereas Chinchillas originate from South America. Because of this, the two species would never encounter each other in the wild.

Chinchillas and gerbils are different species, and don’t speak the same body language. They can’t effectively communicate, meaning each is likely to cause the other stress.

As they’re both prey animals, gerbils and chinchillas are both instinctively afraid of unfamiliar species. They may each assume that the other is dangerous, and become defensive or aggressive.

To some extent, how well they get along will depend on the individual rodent’s personality. If your gerbils and chinchillas are both confident, they may not be afraid of each other. However, the risk is too high to warrant experimenting.

Can I Keep a Chinchilla and Gerbils Together?

If you keep both chinchillas and gerbils, each species should have a separate enclosure to live in. There are many reasons for this.

  • Chinchillas and gerbils may become stressed or fight if kept together.
  • They may disturb each other’s sleep. According to Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, chinchillas spend most of the night eating. Gerbils are usually more active during the day.
  • Gerbils and chinchillas have different dietary needs. If they eat each other’s food, they could get ill. For example, gerbil food usually contains corn, which can upset a chinchilla’s stomach.
  • Chinchillas can easily become sick when exposed to other animals’ fecal matter (poop).

Chinchillas and gerbils also require different cage setups. Gerbils need a deep layer of substrate for burrowing, whereas chinchillas need ample horizontal floor space.

Gerbilariums are usually made of glass, to prevent bedding from being kicked out. But chinchillas quickly overheat in glass tanks. They depend upon the airflow that a wire cage provides.

Both gerbils and chinchillas are sociable animals. However, they each need the company of their own species. The kindest thing to do is to keep gerbils in one cage, and chinchillas in another.

do gerbils and chinchillas get along?

Can You Get a Chinchilla Gerbil Cross?

Because gerbils and chinchillas are both rodents, you might wonder whether they can interbreed. However, there is no such thing as a gerbil-chinchilla hybrid. Chinchillas and gerbils don’t share enough of the same DNA.

Gerbils and chinchillas are different species, and they are too distantly related to be able to breed. Two animals must be the same species to produce healthy, fertile offspring.

In some cases, animals of different species, but in the same taxonomical family, can interbreed. For example, horses can breed with donkeys, as they both belong to the family Equidae. However, their offspring are almost always infertile.

Gerbils and chinchillas belong to different families (Muridae and Chinchillidae, respectively). Therefore, they can’t have any babies, infertile or otherwise.

According to the Journal of Biological Databases and Curation, chinchillas have 64 chromosomes. Gerbils have 21 chromosomes. If they tried to mate, their sperm and egg cells would not be able to combine.

There is an animal called a degu that looks a little like a chinchilla gerbil cross. It’s the size of a chinchilla, but with smaller ears and a thinner tail. However, degus are not closely related to either gerbils or chinchillas.  

Should I Get a Chinchilla or Gerbil?

Gerbils and chinchillas are different in many ways, but they both make great pets. There are pros and cons to each animal. Whether chinchillas or gerbils would make a better pet depends on what you’re looking for.

Chinchillas are more fragile than gerbils, and more sensitive to temperature and changes in their diet. A chinchilla would suit someone who is mature, and already experienced with caring for animals. They also require a lot more space than gerbils, and can be tougher to train.

Many chinchillas are naturally anxious or wary of humans, meaning that bonding can be more difficult. However, once established, a bond between a chinchilla and its owner can be incredibly strong.

Gerbils, on the other hand, are hardier than chinchillas. They aren’t as physically fragile, and they’re usually more confident than chinchillas. Gerbils tolerate being handled, but they don’t often sit still.

Chinchillas live for much longer than gerbils, with proper care. If you’d like a companion that will be around for over a decade, chinchillas are the way to go.

If you’re looking for a starter rodent, a gerbil may be more appropriate. But any pet is a big commitment, and it’s still important to learn how to care for them properly.