One of the unfortunate realities of owning a hamster or most pets, is that a pet’s lifespan is much, much shorter than ours. When it comes to hamsters, most hamsters die within 2-3 years after birth. This means that cherishing your hamster is brief but rewarding. But outside of natural causes, you may be wondering why your hamster died?
Hamsters have short lifespans, but a hamster’s body is also prone to numerous viruses and bacterial infections that can lead to sudden death. Additionally, it is quite common for a hamster to die from stress-related and cardiovascular issues.
Has your hamster recently died, and you are wondering what caused it to happen? If so, this is the guide for you. We will explore why this unfortunate circumstance sometimes happens, as well as providing you with some tips to ensure your hamster lives as healthy a lifestyle as possible.
How long do hamsters live?
There is nothing worse than approaching your hamster’s cage one day to discover your pet has passed away. But it is perhaps even less well-understood how fragile these pets are, and that hamsters can die for a multitude of reasons apart from just old age.
Once you bring your hamster home from the pet store, the average lifespan for this animal is between 2-4 years on average.
If a hamster’s quality of life is in the optimal range, you can go far in ensuring they reach the 4-year threshold apart from a premature death that can come with improper care.
We were lucky that Oscar lived a full and happy life and died at the age of 3 years, peacefully in his sleep.
Can I prolong my hamster’s life?
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to keep your hamster healthy to help extend the life of your furry friend.
If there is undue stress, hamsters are believed to experience shortened lifespans since the species is already naturally stressed out and anxious animals.
You can counteract added stress by ensuring your hamster’s behavior stays normal and doesn’t constantly respond to undue stress.
If you bought your hamster from a local pet store, chances are that he/she was already stressed a great deal, so respond accordingly by taking your time to socialise your pet.
Hamster owners can also make sure your pet eats a balanced diet, has constant access to fresh water, receives plenty of exercise in the hamster cage, and all of this can help your pet lead a healthy life.
But even with taking extra care to ensure your hamster has a profound quality of life, there are some instances where sudden death and hereditary ailments can occur. Let’s take a closer look at these circumstances.
Can hamsters die suddenly?
It may be hard to grasp, but a hamster dying suddenly, specifically a Syrian hamster, is a bit more common than you may realise.
Bringing your new pet home only to find a dead hamster in its cage the next morning is both jarring and depressing. But the cause of this is wholly related to the large amount of stress that these rodents experience when moved to new environments.
In order to make the move from pet store to your home as stress free as possible, make sure you are organised. If you are unsure of what your hamster may need then we have produced a beginners guide to help you prepare for your hamster.
In the above linked-to study, Syrian hamsters may suddenly die after the day-to-day stress of pet stores collides with the overwhelming amounts of new stress that come with being moved to a whole new environment- your home.
This typically happens in less than a week and can affect other hamster types apart from the Syrian hamster.
When hamsters die for no apparent reason, stress-induced heart failure, and exposure to toxins in their new environment that may cause difficulty breathing (further compounded by the stress) are the primary factors.
A heart attack is a bit self-explanatory, but the toxins making the pet sick may have nothing at all to do with cleanliness in your home, but is actually indicative of a hamster’s sensitivity to new environments which can cause a bacterial infection.
Such infections induce vomiting and diarrhea, which leads to deadly dehydration.
And it also must be stressed that sudden death can occur from imbalances in their environment, primarily their cage.
If the indoor temperature is too cold, a new hamster can quickly develop a cold, which can be indicated by a wet nose, and this can lead to rapid death within a few hours due to respiratory distress. For more information on hamsters catching colds, check out our blog post.
Ensuring your pet’s body temperature is between 36-39 degrees Celsius is always recommended, and a heat lamp can help keep your hamsters vital signs in the optimal range.
For more top tips on how to keep your hamster warm, see our information guide.
But it cannot be stressed enough just how much of a factor increased stress plays in ensuring a short lifespan for hamsters.
Stress weakens the immune system of these rodents, as it does with any living creature, but the small size of these rodents makes it all the more deadly for them.
Make sure you slowly build up to familiarising yourself with your pet; allow them to get to know you in short, daily intervals, and always make sure they can never fall and are in an enclosed, ventilated cage.
But dying suddenly is not always the case, and hopefully, your pet can live as long as a life as possible. In the next section, let’s explore some of the causes that lead to hamster death.
Always remember that the 2-4-year threshold of lifespan is just a generalized estimate, and there are other factors that can cause your pet to die prematurely.
Natural causes of hamster death
Any qualified veterinarian can diagnose and treat health problems with hamsters, but there are some natural causes that could lead to a hamster passing away.
Many of these ailments are the same types that can afflict a fellow family member just as it could your lovable hamster playing in his/her cage.
This is because all living things have certain genetic factors that make their bloodline susceptible to varying diseases or conditions.
Whenever we hear that a hamster has died of natural causes, just as we hear this about fellow humans, the term is a generic one that is used in place of certain conditions that may have co-occurring ailments that all collide into one event that causes loss of life.
So no matter how much work you put in to keep your hamster safe, there are some conditions that simply cannot be avoided due to hereditary factors outside of our control- outside of any living thing’s control.
With this in mind, let’s go through some of the most common causes of death with hamsters. Be it old age or certain inherited diseases and conditions.
Wet tail disease
Wet tail is a disease that is almost always fatal in hamsters. This condition is a bacterial infection that gets its name from causing severe diarrhea that causes hamsters’ tails to always appear wet due to all the discharge.
Although it is not well-understood, the condition is thought to be brought on by moments of extreme stress, and unfortunately, there are very few cures or treatments available to stave it off.
Ensuring that your hamster has a stress-free environment and that no other rodents or animals are near them is a great way to prevent the condition.
We have produced a blog on wet tail symptoms and treatments for those would like to know more.
Internal bleed out
Hamsters that experience internal bleeding are hard to easily identify since these rodents do not have massive amounts of blood in the first place.
This condition can come on from a fall from a platform, inadvertent damage to the internal organs from being handled incorrectly, or other conditions such as cancer which may be undiagnosed.
If your hamster experiences weight loss, bloody stool, urine discharges, lack of appetite, inability to sleep, or any type of erratic behavior that is outside of the normal behavior of the hamster, internal bleed-out could be a strong possibility and this can lead to death.
It goes without saying that hamsters are very nervous animals. Due to their abnormal propensity to experience stressors, hamsters are also prone to dying suddenly from fright since this can trigger cardiac arrest.
Ways to ensure that you do not frighten your hamster are to avoid putting their cage in the corner of a room. Always make sure you open the door slowly and ensure that the cage is in full view of the door. It is important to minimise fright in these circumstances since a hamster does not like sudden surprises.
Hamsters will also get easily frightened if there are other animals nearby. So if you own a free-roaming cat or dog, make sure you keep the room with the hamster closed off at all times.
Hamsters are known to die from old age when there are no other underlying health conditions, and their lifespan is at or exceeding the general lifespan for hamsters.
You can tell your hamster is nearing the end of the hamster has cloudy eyes, has difficulty walking, does not eat or drink, and stays withdrawn in the corners of its cage. If your hamster has a low quality of life in this circumstance, you can discuss hamster euthanasia with your veterinarian.
There are also some other diseases that can afflict hamsters throughout their lives. A hamster can experience rapid onset paralysis due to the fragile nature of its bones and joints. This can come from exercise or even running and leaping too quickly.
Hamsters can also experience diabetes and tooth decay if their diet is not of the utmost quality. This is why it is important to always feed your rodent the finest quality of hamster food that you can. Take a look at our review of the 5 best pre-bought hamster foods.
Apart from these conditions, these rodents are also very prone to colds and viruses, so always make sure they have a warm, yet comfortable living area.
In summary, hamsters can pass away from a wide variety of different factors, and this includes the unfortunate circumstance of dying suddenly.
Although there are many things you can do to ensure your hamster lives as long as possible and stays healthy, there are some conditions that are inherited and difficult to treat.
Making sure that your hamster has a clean and large cage, the ability to exercise, as well as fresh water and high-quality food is crucial.