How long do hamsters live? The Squeaks and Nibbles team take a look at normal hamster lifespan, and how to help your hamster live as long and full a life as possible.
With good care, pet hamster life expectancy ranges from 1 to 3.5 years, depending on their breed. The correct diet, a clean living space, plenty of room to move around and exercise in, and low stress, all help hamsters to live longer.
Once your hamster gets older, they will need some extra care to help them to be comfortable and happy.
Let’s take a look at what happens when hamsters get old, why they are so short lived, and which breeds live the longest. And find out how to help our hamsters live as long and happy a life as possible.
Aging and the Average Lifespan of Hamsters
According to current sources, the average hamster lifespan is two to three years for a pet hamster. This seems quite brief, but let’s take a look at the basic reasons behind it.
Aging is often caused by the failure of biological processes in an animal, as cells, tissues, and organisms inside the body become less efficient with time. In smaller mammals, maintenance of these biological processes is less effective than with larger ones.
That’s because their bodily resources must be allocated to reproduction, which means less of those resources are devoted to maintenance.
The life expectancy of a hamster is short, in part because they live in high-risk environments where procreation is very important to a species’ survival.
Wild Hamster Lifespan
Wild hamsters are native to the Middle East, notably Syria — which is how the popular pet variety got its name. They like a warm, dry climate, and have also been found in countries like China, Mongolia, and Greece.
While pet hamsters can be found practically anywhere, wild hamsters have been on the decline. One species is even listed as critically endangered.
Largely due to the dangers of life in the wild, including predators and fluctuations in climate, a wild hamster may have an even shorter lifespan than a pet hamster.
How Long Do Hamsters Live As Pets
Hamster lifespan depends on several variables. In general, however, they do not live more than three years.
The answer to the question, “How long do hamsters live?” differs between the breeds. We’ll get into specifics on individual breeds a little later on in this article.
Many factors can determine how long a hamster lives, but the main reason that they may live longer as pets is because they are cared for and protected from predators.
Hamster Life Cycle
Hamster infants are altricial. This means they are born in an undeveloped state and require care and feeding from their parents. There are usually 4-12 hamsters in a litter, depending on which breed they are.
Infants remain pale and pink until about 2-3 days old, then become darker in pigmentation.
The eyes open at two weeks. Infant hamsters are weaned at about 3-4 weeks.
Female hamsters have been known to cannibalize their young when disturbed. They have also been known to move their young by storing infants in their cheek pouches.
Hamster Life Expectancy — As They Mature
Female hamsters become sexually mature at 6-8 weeks of age, although Chinese hamsters may become sexually mature as late as 14 weeks.
Male hamsters become sexually mature at 8-9 weeks.
Once hamsters are sexually mature, you can tell which is which by looking at their rear ends while the hamsters are vertically held with head facing up.
Males have a pointed outline due to the descended testes, which you can see in the upright position. Females have a more rounded rear end.
Hamster Lifespan — As They Age
When hamsters get older, they will slow down their levels of activity. One way of gauging this is by noting how many turns hamsters make on their wheel.
Scientists consider hamsters elderly when the number of turns drops below 10 percent of what they ran as young adults. This usually happens after about 15 months of their life cycle.
However, this varies, of course, depending on the individual hamster.
How To Tell If Your Hamster Is Getting Old
If you didn’t get your hamster as a baby, you might not know how old he is. But there are a few ways to tell when he is aging.
Your hamster will become less active. He may also stop showing interest in treats. His weight and food intake will fluctuate and be less consistent.
You may see that he is losing vision, hearing, and hair. His teeth may also work less well.
If you encounter these symptoms, make sure to move his food, water, and other items closer to where he sleeps. You may wish to remove ramps if they are too steep.
Try to keep his environment quiet, and try not to surprise him when you go to handle him. Dilute pellet food with water to make it less solid.
Factors Affecting Hamster Life Expectancy
When calculating how long hamsters live, we can look at factors influencing their lifespan.
The lifespan of any creature depends on a number of variables. These include the genes they inherit from their parents, environmental factors, chance, and lifestyle.
Some of these factors are out of your control. You may not know the genetic background of your hamster, for example.
Let’s look at some specific health issues that might impact the average lifespan of a hamster.
Hamster Lifespan And Diet
A change in your hamsters’ diet may help increase his lifespan. Scientists have found that hamsters fed either low levels of both fat and protein or high levels of both fat and protein early in life lived longest.
After the first six weeks of life, an increase in fat helped hamsters live longer. This is unusual in animals, but may be because hamsters have a foregut that modifies fat before it is absorbed in the gut.
Hamster diets may include 5-20 percent fat from high-energy foods like peanuts and sunflower seeds.
Additionally, research shows that increased intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
They can get omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from fruits, grains, vegetables, lean cuts of meat, and eggs.
Hamster Lifespan And Digestive Problems
These animals can be prone to digestive issues, causing diarrhea and wet tail. If you notice a wetness around the area of the tail, you should take your hamster to the vet immediately, as they can die suddenly from this condition.
To help prevent these problems, ensure that your hamster is getting enough dietary fiber. Fiber has been shown to help regulate lipids in hamsters, lowering their chances of heart disease.
Fiber also helps reduce inflammation, controls the metabolism, and modulates levels of angiogenic proteins that stabilize the proliferation of new blood cells.
Hamsters get dietary fiber from fruits, vegetables, and oats. However, high levels of calcium, vitamin D, and protein (above 20 percent) have led to organ injuries in hamsters. So balance is needed.
Increasing Your Hamster’s Lifespan
As we’ve seen, there are many ways to increase hamster life expectancy on an individual basis. Follow the suggestions above for a balanced diet.
Make sure your hamster gets fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Try for at least five percent dietary fat and 15 percent protein.
Buy a high quality hamster food to make sure that they have a complete diet.
Restricted food access has also helped hamsters live longer.
Other Ways To Extend Hamster Lifespan
You can extend the average lifespan of a hamster by giving your pet excellent care, housing it properly, and doing what you can to avoid sickness.
Try to provide your hamsters with stress-free living conditions. This reduces the risk that they will become ill.
Visit a veterinarian regularly. Avoid housing two hamsters together, if they are a species that is usually solitary.
Allow them to have different ways of exercising. Give them enough space to move freely. And be mindful of their safety. Avoid plastic toys.
Make sure their enclosures are clean. Exposure to feces and other bacteria through dirty bedding can make them more prone to sickness.
Hamsters And Internal Rhythms
One more important thing to enhance your hamster’s lifespan: do not disrupt your hamsters’ circadian clocks.
Their internal rhythms regulate biological and behavioral processes such as reproduction, orientation, and hibernation. Changes in their circadian rhythms can indicate aging and illness.
Studies have shown that proper regulation of circadian rhythms is a contributing factor in longevity.
Hamsters are mostly crepuscular or nocturnal in captivity. If they are crepuscular, they are most active at dawn and dusk.
Nocturnal hamsters are active at night. Because of that, you might be tempted to change their light-dark cycles to more closely match your schedule. But don’t!
Dwarf Hamster Lifespan
Dwarf hamsters have an even shorter lifespan than some other breeds.
On average, Siberian dwarf hamsters live between 18 months-2 years in captivity.
How Long Do Russian Dwarf Hamsters Live
There are two types of Russian dwarf hamster – Campbell’s Russian dwarf hamster and Russian Winter White dwarf hamster.
For each variety, Russian dwarf hamster lifespan is roughly 16 months – 2 years.
How Long Do Chinese Dwarf Hamsters Live
Chinese dwarf hamsters are also known as striped hamsters, Chinese striped hamsters, striped dwarf hamsters, or Chinese hamsters.
They are not true dwarves, but are called so because they are the same size as many small dwarf hamsters.
Chinese dwarf hamster lifespan is 2-3 years.
How Long Do Robo Hamsters Live
Roborovski hamsters are also known as Robo dwarf hamsters or Roborovski dwarf hamsters.
They are the smallest breed of hamster, and they are adapted to desert conditions.
They generally live a little longer than other dwarf varieties. Roborovski dwarf hamster lifespan is 3-3.5 years.
Syrian Hamster Lifespan
Syrian hamsters are also known as golden hamsters or teddy bear hamsters. They’re one of the most popular breeds. How long do Syrian hamsters live?
The Syrian hamster lifespan is about 2-3 years. Males seem to outlive females on average, which is unusual in the animal world.
The longest-living scientifically documented Syrian hamster lived 3.9 years.
Oldest Living Hamster
You will get different answers to this question depending on where you look.
The Guinness Book of World Records claims that a hamster in the U.K. lived for 4.5 years. There is no mention of what kind of hamster it is.
However, data scientifically gathered from zoo collections puts the maximum lifespan of a striped dwarf hamster at 5.3 years. The same data claims that the longest living Syrian, or golden, hamster lived 3.9 years.
If you do an Internet search, you will find anecdotes from many people claiming their hamsters are living longer than the research shows. Some claim that the oldest Syrian hamster on record actually lived to 6.5 years.
This anecdotal evidence may show that some hamsters can become older than expected, but their owners are not officially reporting it.
Hamster Lifespan Summary
The bad news is, you will most likely have the company of your hamster for just a few short years.
The good news is, you can help extend your hamster’s life expectancy further if you provide them high-quality care and meet their dietary and environmental needs.
How Old Is Your Hamster
Do you have a hamster? Let us know how old they are in the comments below!
References and Further Reading
- Miedel, E., VMD; Hankenson, F.C., DVM. “Biology and Diseases of Hamsters.” Laboratory Animal Medicine, 2015
- Musser, G. ”Hamster,” Encyclopedia Britannica
- AnAge: The Animal Aging and Longevity Database (2014).
- Birt, D. F. (1982), “Nutritional Effects on the Lifespan of Syrian Hamsters,” AGE, Vol. 5.
- “Hamsters,” Canadian Federation of Humane Societies.
- Fiaccavento, R., et al (2006), “α-Linolenic acid-enriched diet prevents myocardial damage and expands longevity in cardiomyopathic hamsters,” The American Journal of Pathology, Vol. 6.
- Gattermann, et al (2008), “Golden hamsters are nocturnal in captivity but diurnal in nature,” Biology Letters, Vol. 4 (3).
Girling, S. J. (2013), “Basic Small Mammal Anatomy and Physiology,” Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Pets, 2nd Edition. John Wiley & Sons.
- Holliday, R. “Understanding aging,” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, Vol. 352 (1363).
Hung, S., et al (2009), “Dietary fiber improves lipid homeostasis and modulates adipocytokines in hamsters,” Journal of Diabetes, Vol. 1.
Hurd, M. W. and Ralph, M. R. (1998), “The significance of circadian organization for longevity in the golden hamster,” Journal of Biological Rhythms, Vol. 13 (5).
Kirkman, H and Yau, P. K. S.(1972), “Longevity of male and female, intact and gonadectomized, untreated and hormone-treated, neoplastic and non-neoplastic syrian hamsters,” Developmental Dynamics, Vol. 135 (2).
- Kirkwood, T. B. L., et al (2000). “Evolution, stress, and longevity,” Journal of Anatomy, Vol. 197.
- Pitts, J. (2017), “Dwarf hamsters – how long do they live,” Health Guidance.
- Rabehl, N. (1998), “Basic data for feeding hamsters,” Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition, Vol 80.
- Weigl, R. (2015), Longevity of mammals in captivity, E. Schweizerbart’sche.