Gerbil vs. Mouse: Which is the Best Pet?


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Having a pet in your family is very common. There are many types of pets that you can own, from dogs and cats to birds and snakes. Rodents are also a relatively common house pet for families with younger children. Gerbils and mice are some of the more popular rodent pets most people own. But when choosing between a gerbil and a mouse, which one is better?

While both gerbils and mice make for excellent pets, parents looking to get a pet for their child might consider getting them a mouse. Mice are generally more active and are easier to handle and care for than gerbils. However, gerbils live longer and can form a bond that may last up to 5 years, giving your kids a friendship that can last for quite some time. 

As you continue to read this article, it will discuss the differences between gerbils and mice. Along with that, this article will also go over the pros and cons of owning each animal. Finally, this article will also cover the requirements to house and care for each of these animals. 


What Is The Difference Between Mice And Gerbils?

Gerbils and mice are very similar to one another. This is because they both belong to the same family of rodents which is the Muridae. Muridae happens to be the most prominent family of rodents, which encompasses every species of gerbils, mice, and rats. With that said, gerbils and mice can be confused with each other if you are not familiar with them. 

When you are going to adopt either a mouse or a gerbil, you are most likely going to end up getting either a fancy mouse or a Mongolian gerbil. Each of these species is the most popular to own as a pet. With that said, when comparing the differences between gerbils and mice, we will be talking about these two species in particular.

Behavioral Differences

Both mice and gerbils live in a sort of hierarchy in the wild. Wild gerbils have an alpha couple consisting of a male and a female. Through the alpha male and female is where all of the babies or pups are born. No other gerbils in the colony are allowed to mate and reproduce. Mice, on the other hand, live with one alpha male that controls the entire colony. Only he is allowed to mate with any number of females he chooses. 

Gerbils and mice both live in burrows. In captivity, they will make small burrows out of the bedding that you put in their cage. In the wild, gerbils burrow so much that it will affect the bacterial composition of the soil around their home. On the other hand, Mice do not burrow as deep, nor will their burrows be as complex as a gerbil colony. Some mice do not burrow at all.

Gerbils have evolved to have elongated back feet, allowing them to stand on their hind legs, which is something gerbils do consistently. Gerbils will stand on their back legs when they eat, play, or when they are scouting around for threats. While mice can stand on their back legs, they have not evolved to do so. With that said, you will not see your mice stand as often as a gerbil would.

Pattern And Color Differences

The Mongolian gerbil will typically be light brown, almost gold, like sand, with a white-colored belly. This is considered the agouti or wild coloration of Mongolian gerbils, meaning all Mongolian gerbils will have this color pattern.

However, there have been efforts to expand the color palette of Mongolian gerbils in captivity in recent years. Due to these efforts, you can now see Mongolian gerbils with darker and lighter colorations. 

Mice, on the other hand, come in a vast array of colors and patterns. Mice have brown and black fur coats, and some are even red. When most people think of a mouse, they think of the pure white albino. 

Mice also have quite a few patterns of spots that can appear across their body as well. With that said, some mice can have the same coloration as the aforementioned Mongolian gerbils, making them quite challenging to tell apart.

Pros And Cons Of Owning Mice

You have undoubtedly seen mice in pet stores and thought keeping mice as pets is a smart idea. Many of these are known as “feeder mice,” which are raised to feed other animals at the store. These mice, while still adorable, pale in comparison to Fancy Mice, which are developed specifically for use as pets. 

Fancy Mice are typically tamer, which means they will be more calm and sociable in comparison. Fancy Mice are also available in a wide range of colors. Below will be a shortlist of the pros and cons of owning fancy mice as pets.


  • Mice are very inexpensive to purchase and own. 
  • Mice are very clean animals and maintain their fur all on their own.
  • They take up a small amount of space.
  • Mice tend to be very active throughout the day.
  • Mice are very social and love to be picked up and pet, and played with
  • They do not smell awful. However, males smell worse than females.
  • Lots of colors and patterns to choose from
  • Maintenance and feeding costs are relatively low as they do not eat that much.


  • Mice have a short life span and do not live more than three years.
  • Mice are very fragile and are not good pets for very young children.
  • They get sick like all other pets and tend to develop tumors
  • Some mice can be too aggressive and be hard to handle, and can even bite

Pros And Cons Of Owning Gerbils

Gerbils are excellent pets, but they, like other creatures, have requirements that must be met regularly. There are also other expenses involved with pet ownership that you will have to bear throughout your pets’ life. Despite all of the duties that come with keeping animals, gerbils are excellent additions to households. They are adorable, funny, and will form deep bonds with their owners.

Mongolian gerbils are the most common species of gerbil that you will see in pet stores and with breeders. There are a few different colors of Mongolian gerbils that you can adopt, but not as many as fancy mice. That said, below will be a shortlist of the pros and cons of owning gerbils.


  • Gerbils are very low maintenance
  • Gerbils take up a small amount of space to house
  • They do not smell very bad (on par with mice)
  • Gerbils are very friendly
  • Gerbils do not need to spend much time out of their cage
  • They are very inexpensive when it comes to feeding and maintaining bedding


  • They do not like to be held all that much.
  • Gerbils are very small animals and do not make for great pets for very young kids.
  • Depending on the type of bedding, gerbils can make a huge mess around their cage.
  • Gerbils are very smart and tend to find ways to escape their cage.
  • Gerbils are mostly nocturnal.
  • Gerbils are very social with one another. You will need to purchase two or more gerbils of the same gender to prevent them from getting lonely and depressed.

How To Properly Keep Gerbils As Pets

Most households that keep gerbils as pets do so to teach their children responsibility and give them a friend they will have to take care of for the next few years. The benefit of owning a gerbil as a first pet comes in many forms. First, they are inexpensive to purchase and adequately house. Along with this, gerbils can only live up to 5 years, giving you enough time to know if your child can take care of a more demanding pet like a cat or dog. 

There are some things you will need to know before you commit to owning a pet gerbil. The first and most important is that gerbils are very social in their colonies. They rely on each other for company and survival. With that said, if you are planning on getting a gerbil, you should get a minimum of 2, making sure they are the same gender to prevent breeding. With that said, females tend to make for easier care as males might end up fighting for dominance of their cage.

Housing a Gerbil

© boooooooomblastandruin

Gerbils require a decent amount of space to run around and play. Not only that, but gerbils will also require quite a bit of bedding for them to burrow. With that said, a 15-gallon fish tank is a perfect tank for two gerbils. If you plan on getting more than 2, increase the capacity of the tank by 5 gallons for each additional gerbil.

You can go with a wire cage; however, this will come with a few drawbacks. First, gerbils are chewers like most rodents, and they can chew on the wire cage, which might damage their teeth. Not only that, but because of the burrowing nature, the bedding you put in the cage will get kicked around and make a huge mess around the outside of the cage.

Once every two weaks, you will want to wash your gerbil cage thoroughly. This involves removing everything from the cage and throwing out the old litter. Then, use hot soapy water to wash the cage’s interior and rinse it thoroughly with clean water. Be sure that the cage is thoroughly rinsed as soap residue can harm your gerbils. 

Food And Water

© Wayan Vota

You may purchase premixed gerbil chow at your local pet store, which will satisfy most gerbil owners. However, you may manufacture your gerbil feed by mixing hamster food and parrot feed. Fresh fruits and vegetables can also be included in your gerbil’s diet, but not too much lettuce since it might induce diarrhea. Gerbils also enjoy hard-boiled eggs, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and cheese. However, these should be fed in moderation due to their high-fat content.

Gerbils obtain most of their daily water intake from the food they consume in the wild, but store-bought gerbil chow is dry. As a result, you should always keep fresh, clean water on hand for your pet. A gravity-fed water drop is usually the best option. Even if there is still water in the container, you should replace it at least once a week. However, changing it daily is preferable.

How To Properly Keep Mice As Pets

Most parents can opt to get mice for their children instead of a gerbil for the same reasons. With that said, mice can only live up to 3 years instead of the gerbils 5. Mice are just as inexpensive to own as a gerbil and require the same amount of space. However, mice do not need a cagemate to live with as long as you give them enough time and attention. 

Housing A Mouse

© frankieleon

Mice require the same amount of space in their cage as a pair of gerbils. Thus, making sure there is enough space for them to run around and play. Mice are also more durable than gerbils, so wire cages tend to be the better option for them. Even though they are chewers like all rodents, their teeth will not get damaged from chewing on the metal wire of the cage. 

When it comes to cleaning the cage, there is something important you need to remember. Mice mark their territory, so they can become distressed if you clean and disinfect their cage too often. A simple remedy is to keep a bit of their old bedding and mix it in with the new. 

Food And Water

© Gazzagutbucket

Mice should be given a formulated rodent pellet with moderate to high protein content. Mice can eat fully balanced pellets, but this is a bland diet. Grain and seed-based mixes pique the mice’s curiosity and are easily consumed. Your mice may pick out their favorite pieces and discard the rest, resulting in an unbalanced diet. Feed each mouse two teaspoons per day. You may feed it everything at once or split it up into two feedings each day.

Giving your mice water is just as simple as providing a gerbil a source of water. Purchase a gravity-fed water bottle and stick it to the side of the cage. Remember to clean it once per week, but for best results, wash it daily.

Gerbil vs. Mouse: Which is the Best Pet?

When trying to decide which to get, there are a few things to remember. First, gerbils require you to purchase two or more, preferably from the same colony and with the same gender. Mice do not need this, but it is preferred. 

Both mice and gerbils require the same amount of food and water maintenance. Mice and gerbils also need the same amount of cage cleaning. However, gerbils will require more bedding with each cleaning so they can burrow. On the other hand, if you clean the cage too often or too well, your mice can become distressed.

If you only want one small pet, then the only option for you is a mouse. However, if you feel like you can care for a few of these animals, you can go with either mice or gerbils. 

The deciding factor is how much you want to hold and play with them. Gerbils do not want to be held and played with as much as mice do. So if you’re going to play with your animals more, then mice are the better option for you. On the other hand, if you want to watch your pets play with each other, then gerbils are the better fit.

Final Thoughts

Mice and gerbils are very similar animals, and the requirements to care for them are similar as well. With that said, hopefully, everything we have described to you above will help you choose the perfect pet.

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