A pet is for life, not just for Christmas so it is important that you are committed to looking after your hamster. But how long do hamsters actually live for and what is their lifespan?
There are many factors that may affect how long your hamster will live for, but on average a hamsters lifespan will last between 2-3 years. A hamsters lifespan varies greatly depending on their habitat, care and the species they belong to.
We love having our hamster, Oscar. He’s the perfect small pet companion, but having recently celebrated his first birthday it got me thinking – is he now halfway to old age? If so, what can we do as responsible owners to ensure that our hamster has a happy, healthy and active life?
Why do hamsters have a short lifespan?
Hamsters have such short lifespans due to the fact that they reach their “full” maturity quicker than most other animals.
Most of us buy our hamsters from the pet store when they are around 6 weeks old. This is because hamsters are born undeveloped, unable to open their eyes and with very little fur. In fact, hamsters require constant care from their parents for the first 4-6 weeks until they are fully weaned and classed as mature.
Baby hamsters get weaned at around 3-4 weeks and by 6-8 weeks female hamsters are considered sexually mature (although for some species this may take longer). Male hamsters tend to hit maturity at 8 weeks old, which is why it is important to separate them from one another at this stage – especially if they are Syrian hamsters who prefer to be solitary anyway.
A juvenile hamster tends to be full of energy, inquisitive and alert. We have noticed recently with Oscar, that he prefers to spend slightly longer in bed, takes more time to get moving and is quite happy to be cuddled rather than zoom around the room when it comes to playtime. This is because he is a hamster that is heading into old age.
On average, pet hamsters live to around the grand old age of 3 years, with a Syrian hamster being considered elderly when it hits 18months! Sorry Oscar, but you are an old man now.
Hamster lifespan by hamster type
In the wild hamsters have can live for many years – longer than pet hamsters in captivity can – providing they steer clear of predators. In fact the European hamster, otherwise known as Cricetus cricetus, can live for up to 8 years! Large in stature this hamster is double the size of a Syrian. Therefore, it stands to reason that the smaller the hamster, the shorter its lifespan.
Syrian Hamster – the most popular species of pet hamster is the Syrian. This docile hamster can grow between 5-7 inches and generally lives to be 3 years old. In the wild Syrian hamster numbers are declining due to a loss of habitat and the effects of climate change. It is therefore important that we preserve the lives of our pet Syrian hamsters for as long as possible.
Dwarf Winter White Russian Hamster – typically half the size of a Syrian hamster, these little fellows only grow to around 3 inches and have a life expectancy of 2 years. In the wild, White Russian hamsters have the ability to change their fur to white as winter approaches, in order to hibernate. Due to artificial lighting, pet hamsters tend to remain the same color.
Chinese Hamster – These incredibly small hamsters are mouse-like in appearance and although they have a tendency to nip, they can be affectionate if handled regularly. If kept in a loving home, they can thrive for around 2-3 years. Not bad for a little dude.
Roborovski Dwarf Hamster – small and speedy these hamsters have a lot of energy and are very small and cute. Despite their size, these hamsters can live up to 3 years – providing they haven’t got lost or dropped in the meantime.
Dwarf Campbell Russian Hamster – Tiny in comparison to their Syrian cousins, this species of hamster tends to grow between 3-4 inches and can lead a carefree life for around 2 years.
Factors that affect how long hamsters live
Whilst some factors are pre-determined and are therefore outside of your own control – such as good genetics and the species of hamster you have – there are factors that we can influence in order to keep our pet hamsters healthy.
These include: –
- Diet. Just like humans and other animals, too much of a good thing is bad for you and could affect your health. Therefore, it is important to feed your hamster a balanced diet with plenty of fibre and omega 3 fatty acids. This can all be found within high quality, pre-made hamster food that you can buy at the pet shop, but it never hurts to add raw, fresh fruit and vegetables to their cage for variety and gnawing.
- Exercise. Providing your hamster with lots of toys not only relieves boredom but will get them running around and being active. Wheels and exercise balls are especially important when their habitats are confined. Handling your hamster regularly will also help you build up a bond and give it additional time to hang out, outside of their cage.
- Living environment. Making sure your hamster is well cared for is an important job as an owner and can extend the lifespan of your hamster. By housing it properly, making sure it isn’t stressed and providing them with clean bedding and substrate can dramatically reduce the chances of them being ill or depressed.
How to look after your hamster as they get older
Everyone has that defining moment when they start to feel their age. For a hamster, old age starts to come into play at around a year and half.
You may start to notice with your own hamster, that as they get older, they start to slow down. They may spend less time spinning on their wheel or be less inclined to run around all night long.
Look out for little changes in your hamster’s behavior such as becoming disinterested in food and treats, sleeping more, losing weight and struggling to climb through tubes and tunnels.
As their hearing and sight diminish you might notice them getting easily spooked and startled and they may even start losing their fur.
These subtle changes are all totally normal, but if this happens overnight then you should seek veterinary advice as it could be something more sinister than old age.
In order to help your hamster cope with everyday tasks, make sure that their food and water are easily accessible, remove ramps that are too steep and try to keep the environment as quiet and calm as possible.
Hamsters (unfortunately) are not immortal, and in comparison to other pets, they have very short lifespans. This is why it is so important to make sure that your hamster stays happy and healthy and that you cherish every moment you have together.
The good news is, however, that you can help to extend your hamster’s life expectancy past their prime by providing them with good quality care, a healthy diet and an active yet clean environment.