Your hamster can quickly become a new member of your family, so you likely want to make sure he lives a healthy, happy life for as long as he can. While hamsters do have relatively short lifespans, there are lots of things that you can do to potentially extend your hamster’s life far beyond that average, such as taking safety precautions to avoid accidents and making sure your hamster has a balanced diet. In this article, we are going to explore thirteen different tips that you can apply to help extend the lifespan of your hamster.
How Long Do Hamsters Live in General?
On average, hamsters live for about two to three years in captivity. However, their lifespan can vary a lot depending on their breed. For example, Chinese dwarf hamsters often live for a little less than two years, while the Roborovski dwarf hamster can commonly live for up to four years.
Other factors also affect how long hamsters live, which is why you may come across some hamsters that seem to live far beyond that average. Some people report their Syrian hamsters living for closer to five or even six years, which is significantly longer than the 3-year average.
Nevertheless, even two to three years is significantly longer than hamsters live in the wild. Many wild hamsters do not even make it to one year old because of their long list of predators and other factors like resource scarcity.
13 Tips to Make Sure Your Hamster Lives a Long Life
1. Give Your Hamster a Balanced Diet
A balanced diet is possibly one of the most important factors for your hamster’s overall health. Your hamster’s diet will affect how active he is, how he feels, and whether or not he develops certain health conditions like diabetes.
If you are giving your hamster commercial hamster food, you should read through the ingredients and make sure it has all the different nutrients that hamsters require in their diet. Hamsters are omnivores, so they need a mix of protein and things like grasses and grains to stay healthy.
You can also choose to make your hamster its own food from items that you have in your kitchen. There are certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, and even types of meat that can be really good for your hamster. Remember, if you have any concerns about what you are feeding your hamster, you can always reach out to your local vet for some advice.
Finally, you do not want to over-feed your hamster. Hamsters like to hide food, so you do not need to add food to the food dish whenever it is empty. As a general rule, you want to give a dwarf hamster a teaspoon of food a day and a Syrian hamster two teaspoons.
2. Avoid Dangerous Foods
You also need to make sure that you are avoiding giving your hamster any foods that are toxic for hamsters. Make sure you look up or talk to your vet about any new food you are planning on giving your hamster, but let’s talk about some of the more common foods that you should avoid feeding your hamster.
You should avoid chocolate, garlic, kidney beans, onion, potatoes, and tomato leaves. All of these foods are toxic to hamsters in some way and could poison and kill your hamster. There are also foods that you should avoid simply because they are not particularly healthy for your hamster, even if they will not kill him immediately, such as iceberg lettuce, nuts/seeds with a particularly high-fat content like peanuts, and fruits that have high sugar content.
3. Make Sure Your Hamster Get Enough Exercise
There are two main reasons that you want to make sure your hamster gets plenty of exercise. First, it will help him stay healthy and in shape. Just like we as humans need to exercise to stay healthy, so is your hamster. Second, it will keep your hamster happy.
Hamsters instinctively love to run. In the wild, they will run for miles every single night to find food and escape from predators. In captivity, your hamster will have that same instinctual desire to run and exercise.
The most important thing you can do to ensure your hamster is getting enough exercise is to put a hamster wheel in the cage. Make sure you get a big enough wheel, and your hamster will be able to run all he wants to get all that energy out. You can also give your hamster other climbing toys and let him out of his enclosure in a controlled, supervised space to explore.
If your hamster is not getting enough exercise, you may notice that he starts to put on weight, or he becomes fidgety or restless in the cage. A hamster that is not getting enough exercise is more likely to try to escape, chew on the bars of the cage, etc.
4. Select The Right Kind Of Tubes (or Avoid Them Altogether)
Tunnels and tubes do not have to be bad for hamsters; in fact, hamsters can actually really enjoy having things to run through, but you have to be careful about what tubes you use. First, you have to make sure that any tubes you have attached to the cage walls or top is extremely secure. The last thing you want is for a tube to drop while your hamster is in it. It can lead to pretty serious injury.
Second, you want to avoid getting any tubes that are too small. Hamsters, especially Syrian hamsters, are known for getting stuck in hamster tubes which can be extremely stressful and also extremely dangerous if you do not notice or are unable to get your hamster out.
Finally, you want to make sure any tubes that you have are not too steep and do not zig-zag too much. Tunnel systems should be simple and easy for your hamster to use, or they can quickly become a hazard that you are better off without.
5. Handle Your Hamster With Care
If you or another person picking up your hamster do not know how to properly handle a hamster, things could go wrong quickly, and your hamster could end up getting seriously hurt. For this reason, it is important to educate yourself on how to properly hold a hamster and limit the people who have access to your hamster to those who also know how to properly handle a hamster.
So how do you pick up your hamster? Well, you want to start by thoroughly washing your hands before even going to get your hamster. Then you want to make sure your hamster is awake, alert, and aware of you before going to pick it up. You never want to wake your hamster up suddenly from his sleep, nor do you want to sneak up on your hamster.
If your hamster is awake, you can go ahead and pick him up with two hands. One under him and the other making sure your hamster is secure. You should pick up your hamster while he is looking at you, so he does not feel like he is suddenly in midair. Make sure you move slowly and with control the entire time you are holding your hamster.
6. Watch Out For Other Pets Around the House
Unfortunately, other pets and animals around the house can be extremely dangerous to hamsters. Hamsters have a lot of predators in the wild. Thankfully they have less when in captivity, but other pets you have, such as cats or dogs, could become a predator to your hamster, even if they are the sweetest animal you have ever had.
For this reason, you want to make sure your hamster’s cage is secure and in a place where the other animals in your house cannot access him. Even having another animal hanging around the cage that cannot get into the cage can be stressful for your hamster, so it is better to keep them completely separate.
You also want to be extremely careful anytime you take your hamster out of the cage. Make sure it is in a controlled space where all other animals are blocked off from. You should also let everyone else in your house know you are taking the hamster out of the cage, so they do not accidentally let another animal in.
7. Get Your Hamster’s Cage Dimensions Right
Believe it or not, the size of your hamster’s cage can actually affect your hamster’s overall health. Research has shown that hamsters are healthier physically and mentally when they have a large enough cage. In smaller cages, they can get stressed out, become more aggressive, and even end up feeling rather panicked. All of these symptoms can lead to a decreased lifespan for your hamster.
As a general rule of thumb, you are going to need at least 450 square inches of floor space per dwarf hamster. Syrian hamsters are a larger breed and will need at least 620 square inches of continuous space. However, most experts agree that when it comes to hamsters, bigger is better, so if you can get a bigger cage than that minimum, you should.
If you are going to put multiple hamsters in a cage together, you are, of course, going to need to increase the size of the cage you get. Generally speaking, you want to multiply the minimum size of the cage by the number of hamsters you are putting in the cage. That means you would need 900 square inches for two dwarf hamsters, and for three, you would need 1350 square inches.
8. Get Your Hamster’s Cage Bar Spacing Right
You want to make sure that your hamster is unable to squeeze through the bars on the cage because hamsters getting out when you are unaware is the number one thing that could lead to hamster accidents.
First, if your hamster is up high on a shelf or table, he could fall down to the floor if he gets out of the cage, which can lead to serious injuries or even death. Other accidents could also occur, such as other animals finding him or you accidentally stepping on him.
Bar spacing that is too wide could also result in your hamster trying to escape and get stuck, only managing to get half of its body out of the cage. It could result in getting hurt or even dying if you do not save him on time.
For dwarf hamsters, you want the cage bars to be no more than 1/4 inch apart, and for Syrian hamsters, you want no more than 1/2 an inch spacing.
9. Clean Your Hamster’s Cage Regularly
Another way of increasing your hamster’s lifespan is to clean your hamster’s cage regularly. If you don’t, it could easily cause your hamster to get sick. Bacteria will quickly grow in an uncleaned hamster cage which will likely lead to your hamster becoming pretty seriously ill before long. Additionally, it could stress out your hamster, which is also bad for your hamster’s health and lifespan.
You should be spot-cleaning your hamster’s cage about once a day. Spot cleaning is where you remove any old food and scoop out any mess that your hamster has made throughout the day. Then, about once every week or two (depending on how messy your hamster is), you should do a deep clean where you remove everything to be washed, remove and replace all the bedding, and wipe out the whole cage. You can wash any toys and wipe down the cage with a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar to sanitize the cage safely.
10. Avoid Stressing Your Hamster With Loud Noise
One theme that you may notice throughout this list is that anything that causes your hamster to experience unnecessary stress is bad for its lifespan. This includes unnecessary noise. For the most part, hamsters are nocturnal animals, which means they sleep through the day when your house is probably the most active. If your hamster is around a lot of noise and cannot sleep, he will likely become stressed. Additionally, loud noises at any time of day can stress out your hamster.
For this reason, you want to keep your hamster’s enclosure somewhere quiet and away from loud noises and lots of activity. This is why many people keep their hamsters in a bedroom or even in a closet rather than in the living room or another space where lots of activity happens.
How can you tell if your hamster is becoming stressed in his environment? Well, there are a couple of signs to be on the lookout for. When hamsters are stressed, they can become hyperactive or engage in compulsive, repetitive behaviors. Overly stressed hamsters may also start displaying unusual habits like cage biting or become more aggressive towards you or other hamsters in the cage. Other symptoms include hair loss, excess salivation, tremors, and muscle rigidity.
11. Monitor Temperature and Humidity
Hamsters are skittish creatures that can easily be affected by temperature and climate. When setting up your hamster cage, you want to make sure that wherever your hamster is will stay at the right temperature and humidity level for hamsters.
As far as temperature goes, your hamster will be most comfortable in an air temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If it drops too much below that or rises too much above that, it can lead to the development of serious health problems. Signs that it may be too hot or cold in the cage include lethargy, sweating, shivering, loss of appetite, and increased water consumption. Your hamster sleeping out in the open may also be an indication that it is too warm.
For humidity, your hamster will do best in a cage with about 40 percent humidity. That will provide enough moisture to keep your hamster’s skin and fur from drying out, but it will not be so much that it becomes hard for your hamster to breathe or exist happily.
12. Think Carefully Before Pairing Hamsters
There are some rules when it comes to pairing hamsters since not all breeds can live together. You should never put Syrian hamsters in pairs or small groups. They should always be kept by themselves as they can become territorial and aggressive towards each other.
However, you can sometimes put multiple dwarf hamsters together. If you are going to try to do so, it is important that you make sure they have a big enough cage that they do not get territorial, plenty of food and water bowls, and that you start them together at a young age. Even with all those precautions, it is still important that you closely supervise them to make sure they do not become territorial or aggressive.
There are times when hamsters who have happily lived together for years can end up feeling territorial and aggressive in their old age, so you should always have extra enclosures on hand to separate your hamsters if need be.
Sometimes, after a few weeks, you can reintroduce them to sharing an enclosure, but other times they need to be permanently separated. If you have one troublemaker in a small group, you can also try separating him and leaving the rest together.
13. Closely Monitor For Cancers
Just like humans, hamsters can develop cancers, especially as they age. If you are able to catch cancer early and get your hamster to the vet, it will be much easier to treat. Anytime you notice an abnormal growth or bump on your hamster, you should take him to the vet.
Unfortunately, not every cancer your hamster can get is external. Other symptoms that may indicate it is time to take your hamster to the vet include depression, fatigue, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting.
References and further reading
- Biology and Diseases of Hamsters, Emily L. Miedel and F. Claire Hankenson
- Longevity and age-related pathology of LVG outbred golden Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus), S F Deamond, L G Portnoy, J D Strandberg, S A Bruce
- How Long Do Hamsters Live in General?
- 13 Tips to Make Sure Your Hamster Lives a Long Life
- 1. Give Your Hamster a Balanced Diet
- 2. Avoid Dangerous Foods
- 3. Make Sure Your Hamster Get Enough Exercise
- 4. Select The Right Kind Of Tubes (or Avoid Them Altogether)
- 5. Handle Your Hamster With Care
- 6. Watch Out For Other Pets Around the House
- 7. Get Your Hamster’s Cage Dimensions Right
- 8. Get Your Hamster’s Cage Bar Spacing Right
- 9. Clean Your Hamster’s Cage Regularly
- 10. Avoid Stressing Your Hamster With Loud Noise
- 11. Monitor Temperature and Humidity
- 12. Think Carefully Before Pairing Hamsters
- 13. Closely Monitor For Cancers