gerbil vs chinchilla

Should You Get a Chinchilla Or a Gerbil?

Both chinchillas and gerbils make great pets. But which is better? Are they equally easy to care for, and is one more fun to keep? Or are chinchillas better for some people, but not for others?

New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!

Both chinchillas and gerbils make great pets. But which is better? Are they equally easy to care for, and is one more fun to keep? Or are chinchillas better for some people, but not for others?

Should I get a chinchilla or a gerbil? Gerbils are better pets for children, but chinchillas are more rewarding in the long run. Chins need bigger cages but are otherwise similarly easy to care for. The main difference is that chinchillas live a lot longer (10-15 years compared to 5-7 years), so chinchillas are for more responsible people while gerbils are better starter pets.

The guide below is like a rough guide to both chinchillas and gerbils. It describes how to care for chinchillas and gerbils, what to watch out for, and how you can have fun with them. We’ll also look at who chinchillas are good for and who gerbils are good for. By the time you’re done reading, you should know which is best for you!

Should You Get a Chinchilla Or a Gerbil?

Ultimately, the only person who knows which you should get is you. But if you are going to get a chinchilla, you should only adopt one if you know exactly what to expect. That’s because they require much more responsible care.

What’s The Difference Between a Gerbil and a Chinchilla?

Chinchillas and gerbils are two kinds of rodent that you can keep as a pet. Chinchillas are larger and have thicker fur than gerbils, with larger ears and longer, fluffier tails. They come from South America high up in the mountains, while gerbils come from Asia, from hot and dry habitats. These anatomical differences don’t just mean you pick the one you think looks cuter. They have knock-on effects for the care you have to give to your pet. These may mean the difference to you between picking a chinchilla or a gerbil. They include:

  • Cage size. Chinchillas need bigger cages than gerbils because they are a) larger, and b) require space to jump around.
  • Lifespan. Chinchillas can live a decade or longer if cared for properly. Even with attentive care, gerbils rarely get past five years old.
  • Responsibility. Chinchillas are slightly more difficult to care for owing to their lifespans and specific needs, so require more responsibility. They’re therefore the better companion, and gerbils the better starter pet.

The guide below looks at each point in more depth so that you can come to an informed decision.

1) Chinchilla Cage vs. Gerbil Cage

Chinchillas need bigger cages than gerbils do. So, if you’re short on space, a gerbil would be the better choice. To adopt a chinchilla, you’ll need a cage that’s at least three feet tall and ideally three feet wide, too. To understand why chinchillas need such big cages, you have to understand where they come from. Chinchillas are from the Andes Mountains in South America. These mountains are tall, cold and dry, which is why chinchillas have such thick fur coats. But they’re also rocky, so chinchillas spend most of their days jumping from rock to rock searching for food or looking for shelter. As such, they’re naturally good at jumping, hence their long back legs. If they’re kept somewhere that they can’t jump, it makes them stressed and unhappy. Gerbils, by contrast, need smaller cages. The average gerbil cage is two feet wide and one foot deep, and doesn’t need to be anywhere near as tall. While gerbils enjoy having lots of space to live in and explore, they certainly don’t need as much as chinchillas. This is also partly due to gerbils being smaller than chinchillas. Are Chinchillas Or Gerbils Better Here? This depends on what you want from your pet. Only adopt a chinchilla if you have lots of room.

2) Chinchilla Food vs. Gerbil Food

Both chinchillas and gerbils are cheap to feed. Chinchillas can thrive on a diet of fresh hay and hay pellets. Timothy hay, in particular, seems to meet their nutritional needs well. The only mineral they frequently lack is calcium, which can be fixed either by feeding small amounts of alfalfa hay along with the timothy hay, or by giving the chinchilla a cuttle bone to gnaw on. Timothy hay and hey pellets are both very easy to find, either online, from pet stores, or from feed stores. Gerbils will live on hay, too, although owners commonly mix the hay with seeds and nuts, or dried vegetables, to provide some additional variety. As for whether this is necessary, owners disagree, but gerbil food is similarly cheap and easy to find. Are Chinchillas Or Gerbils Better Here? It’s arguably easier and cheaper to get a chinchilla’s plain timothy hay than it is to get the hay with things added that gerbils need.

3) Chinchilla vs. Gerbil Lifespan

This is perhaps the central reason why gerbils make much better starter pets than chinchillas. While they have a reputation for dying easily, chinchillas can live to a ripe old age. Longer than a decade is normal if the chinchilla in question is cared for properly. Twenty years isn’t unheard of either, although it’s not likely. The oldest ever chinchilla reached an incredible 29 years and 229 days old. Gerbils, on the other hand, don’t live anywhere near as long. While they can live longer than most people realize, five to seven years is the oldest you’re likely to see. Most gerbils pass away before then as gerbils are kept as starter pets, and children aren’t as good at looking after pets as adults. Are Chinchillas Or Gerbils Better Here? If you’re looking for a starter pet, pick a gerbil. You should only adopt a chinchilla if you’re fully prepared to care for it for a decade or longer. But if you want a companion pet, chinchillas definitely win as they live much longer.

4) How Friendly Are Chinchillas And Gerbils?

Chinchillas are friendly, curious and happy when cared for well. Your pet will grow to trust you if you’re kind to it, and if you are, it will want to spend time with you. It takes a while before chinchillas are happy to be handled, but you can handle them if you’re careful. Gerbils are friendly too, and it takes a similar amount of time and effort to gain their trust. Are Chinchillas Or Gerbils Better Here? This is one respect in which chinchillas and gerbils are basically the same.

5) Do Chinchillas Or Gerbils Die Easily?

gerbil vs chinchillaBoth chinchillas and gerbils have a reputation for dying easily, but for chinchillas at least, that reputation is partly unfounded. The problem is that many owners don’t know how to provide all the kinds of care that chinchillas and gerbils need. Many respected guides for chinchillas recommend foods, for example, that are unsuitable for them like vegetables. Improper care can cause all sorts of hidden problems like kidney disease, weight gain, bladder stones and even diabetes. One way in which this is true, though, is that gerbils are fragile. They have delicate rib cages that can break if you cuddle them too hard. If you know this, it’s easy enough to avoid doing it, but this is another reason why chinchillas don’t make a good starter pet for children. Gerbils are quite fragile, too, so should be handled with care. They’re smaller than chinchillas, but have delicate bones. If you’re worried that your child will be too excited by having a pet, and would want to cuddle and squeeze it or play with it roughly, then neither a chinchilla nor a gerbil is a good choice. Something like a puppy would be better.

Who Are Chinchillas Good For?

Chinchillas work best if you think of them as long-term companion animals. While they are one of the cutest pets it’s possible to have, you should look past their cuteness and only get one if you want a pet that will be by your side for years. A point to consider here is that chinchillas need daily care. They need to be fed hay pellets each day alongside their fresh hay, and to have their cages spot cleaned. This means you can’t leave them alone for extended periods of time. And that means no holidays unless you can have someone look after your pet. That’s less of a problem for gerbils because you can easily lug their cage to somebody else’s house, and even if your pet lives to a ripe old age, it will only be around for a few years. As chinchillas can literally live for decades, this is more of a problem.

Who Are Gerbils Good For?

While we think chinchillas are better than gerbils (obviously; otherwise we wouldn’t run a site about them!) gerbils are definitely the better starter pet. Their care needs have been explored in more depth than those of chinchillas because they’re the more popular pet, meaning there are lots of guides available either online or in book form for you to use. This also means that gerbils make the better pet for children. As sad as it is to say, if you get a gerbil and your child loses interest in it, it won’t be around for that long anyway. But a chinchilla would have a long life ahead of it in a shelter if you had to give it up.

Below, you can find our chinchilla quiz, new posts for further reading, and a signup for our Chinchilla Newsletter!
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The Big Chinchilla Quiz

Think you know everything there is to know about chinchillas...? Take our quiz and find out!

This quiz features questions on every topic of chinchilla care, from behavior to nutrition. The questions are multiple choice, and each answer is explained. Some of the answer explanations contain links for further reading, which you can click and open in a New Tab. And if you take it again, it will come up with new questions each time!

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1 / 10

Are chinchillas good pets for children?

2 / 10

Are carrots suitable for chinchillas?

3 / 10

Why do chinchillas squirm when held?

4 / 10

[PICK TWO] Your chinchilla is sitting with its ears pointing back towards its back, rather than sticking up. Its eyes are half closed. Does this mean...

5 / 10

You walk by your chinchilla's cage and notice your chinchilla eating its poop.

No doubt you have a few questions.

Is it normal for chinchillas to do that? Will it make your chinchilla sick?


6 / 10

Should chinchillas have exercise wheels?

7 / 10

Exercise balls are a cute way of giving chinchillas and other small animals exericse, right?

8 / 10

Do chinchillas need vitamins and minerals?

9 / 10

Do chinchillas need food bowls?

10 / 10

Can your chinchilla live without fleece, substrate, or other bedding? Just on the wire bars of its cage?

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New owner, don't know where to start? Or do you need a handy chinchilla reference guide? Check out our Chinchilla Care 101 eBook, or get what you need from our online store!