One of the first questions that people ask when getting a new hamster, is how long do they live for, so in this article, you’ll find the answer to that question for all five domestic hamster species.
We’ll also look at factors that affect their lifespan, when hamsters are considered to be old and some other interesting facts along the way.
Ready? Ok let’s get to it.
Table of Contents
How long do hamsters live?
A hamster lifespan ranges from 1.5 to 3 years depending on the species of hamster. The average lifespan of a Syrian hamster ranges from 1.5 to 2 years whilst the average lifespan of a Roborovski dwarf hamster is around 26 months.
Here’s a table to show the average lifespans for all the domestic hamster species:
|Average lifespan (Captivity)
|1.5 to 2 years
|1.5 to 3 years
|2.5 to 3 years
|US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
|Winter White Hamster
|1.5 to 2 years
The data in the table above should be considered maximum averages because the true average lifespan of a hamster has been shown by a user on the hamsterhideout forum to be just 1.5 years.
This true average was obtained via a survey carried out on the forum on a total of 338 hamsters (all species).
The survey was last updated in March 2019 and concluded that the average lifespan was around 19 months (approx 1.5 years).
The survey also concluded that 70% of the hamsters lived until at least 12 months old, 30% lived to be at least 2 years old and only 5% lived to be at least 3 years old.
What type of hamster lives the longest?
In the wild, the lifespan of the Roborovski hamster is considerably lower at just 12 to 18 months; mainly due to increased parasite load, predation pressure and extremely cold winters.
Although it is not a pet and isn’t domesticated, the lifespan of a European hamster is approximately 8 years when kept in laboratory conditions which far exceeds all other hamster species.
What was the longest living hamster?
Officially, according to the Guinness World Records, the longest living hamster was 4.5 years old and the owner was Karen Smeaton of Tyne & Wear in the United Kingdom. However, there is no mention of what the species of hamster was.
Of course, when I looked around the web, I came across different answers. When I checked out The Animal Aging and Longevity Database (AnAge), the maximum longevity of the striped dwarf hamster (Winter White) was 5.3 years.
The same source claims that the Roborovski hamster has a maximum longevity of 4.8 years and the Golden hamster, commonly known as the Syrian hamster, has a maximum longevity of 3.9 years.
On the hamsterhideout forum, one owner reported their Syrian hamster living to 4 years whilst another owner on hamster central reported their Syrian to live for 5 years and 4 months!
I’m not sure if these claims are true as they haven’t been verified, but it could be that some hamsters do live for quite a long time but don’t get reported.
However, I do think ages like these are rare and going back to the original survey carried out on the hamsterhideout forum that I mentioned earlier, the average lifespan out of all the hamsters reported was 1.5 years.
There were however a very small percentage of hamsters that lived to be 4 years old.
Why do hamsters live short lives?
Although it’s not completely understood why hamsters live short lives there are theories as to why this might be the case.
One theory is that larger animals tend to outlive smaller ones but there are some exceptions to this because birds, fish and tortoises all have relatively long lifespans. This theory was first devised by Aristotle in around 350 BC.
Another theory is the rate of living theory which was proposed by Max Rubner in 1908.
Rubner also observed that larger animals lived longer but also linked metabolism to lifespan. So the faster the animal’s metabolism the shorter its lifespan.
A remarkable discovery by scientists is that most animals are allocated a billion heartbeats over the course of their lifetime. This may explain why elephants live longer than hamsters because their heart beats slower and therefore the elephant gets more time to get its billion heartbeats.
So when you consider the metabolic rate of hamsters, which take in about 76 breaths a minute and have a heart rate of between 250 and 500 beats per minute (bpm), it becomes easy to understand why hamsters don’t tend to live very long!
How old is a hamster in human years?
According to the research paper Age of Laboratory Hamster and Human, one human year is equivalent to 13.67 hamster days. So if a hamster lives to be 2 years old, that would be the equivalent to a 53 year old human!
When is a hamster considered old?
A hamster is generally considered old when it gets into the 1.5 to 2 years age range. When hamsters reach these ages you may notice some of the following signs of old age:
- Generally slowing down and becoming less active
- Sleeping more often and/or in different areas of their cage
- Choosing to go back to their nest rather than running on their wheel
- Running on their wheel for a short periods of time before retiring back to their nest to sleep
- Gradual weight loss over a long period of time
- Hair thinning
- Fur looking more scruffy and not as shiny
- Wrinkly skin
- Decreased appetite, slower eating
- Teeth becoming more brittle (can be prone to breaking)
I must point out that although the above signs of aging are common, not all elderly hamsters show all these signs. Some hamsters when they get to 1.5 years old don’t show any signs of aging at all and are just as active as they were when they were young.
Others really show their age, look scruffy and generally look older than they actually are. Of course a lot of this comes down to genetics.
Factors that affect the lifespan of a hamster
There are many things that can affect the lifespan of a hamster. Here are the main the ones:
- Poor breeding
- Quality of care
Let’s look at each one of these in turn.
Species and genetics
Once you’ve chosen the species of hamster, of which there are five, there’s not much you can do other than care for them the best you can. Some species live longer than others, as we’ve previously seen, but genetics also play a big part in the longevity of a hamster.
Some hamsters inherit very good genetics from their parents and grandparents and can go on to live longer lives whilst others will inherit genes which will mean they live shorter lives.
Again, genetics isn’t really in your control but the chance of a hamster living longer can be increased by getting a hamster from a reputable breeder rather than a pet shop.
Diet is very important for hamsters and can certainly have an effect on their lifespan. At a basic level, your hamster’s diet should consist of a good quality hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) which is supplemented with fresh fruit and vegetables and even the odd mealworm or two for protein. Fresh food should only be given sparingly, say once or twice a week and in very small portions.
It goes without saying that you should avoid giving your hamster junk food and any other harmful foods such as onions, garlic, almonds and citrus fruits. You should also give your hamster fresh, clean water every day.
Exercise is equally as important as diet as your hamster has a lot of energy to burn. Every night in the wild they travel for miles foraging for food so providing them with a wheel (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) is the least you can do.
In addition, you should spend time with your hamster and let it roam around outside of its cage in a playpen (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) rather than a hamster ball. Making sure that your cage is large enough and has things to climb on will also help to ensure that your hamster gets enough exercise.
Hamsters are quite prone to illnesses and some of them can have fatal consequences if they aren’t treated quickly.
Hamsters can catch human colds so it’s important that you don’t handle your hamster when you’re poorly.
Diarrhea is possible in hamsters too, so look out for matted fur near their behind.
If you notice your hamster has diarrhea, you need to get it to a vet asap because they can dehydrate rapidly. Wet tail, a bacterial infection, can also cause diarrhea and can be potentially fatal if not treated immediately.
Again, look out for matted tail fur and your hamster may be hunched over in a corner of their cage and may also be irritable when trying to pick them up.
Hamsters hide their symptoms well when they’re ill (so as not to alert any predators) but they won’t be as active, they won’t be eating as much as usual, their eyes may look dull and they may have pale gums or a runny nose.
Making sure that your hamster has a nice, comfortable and stimulating environment can help to keep your hamster happy and stress-free and will definitely have an impact on its lifespan.
This means that your hamster’s cage should have a minimum of 450 square inches of floor space, sufficient substrate to burrow in, clean bedding, plenty of chews and chew toys to gnaw on and plenty of tunnels and hideouts to make them feel safe.
The cage should be kept in a draft-free room that’s light and airy and isn’t too warm or too cold.
You should also keep the cage away from any existing pets that you might have as this can stress your hamster out.
Read this article for more tips on where best to place your hamster’s cage.
Poor breeding is one of the main reasons hamsters don’t live as long as they used to. Hamsters bought from a pet shop don’t have the best genetics because of the way in which they’re bred (in rodent mills).
Many pet shops don’t care how the hamsters are bred or even how healthy they are as their goal is to sell as many of them as they can as fast as possible because they are low cost animals.
In order to get a hamster that has been bred correctly and their health is at an optimum level to begin with, you need to purchase from a reputable breeder. Your hamster may then stand a chance of reaching at least two years of age, may be even longer!
Quality of care
The quality of care that you provide to your hamster most definitely has an impact on the lifespan of your hamster. Good hamster care involves getting the previous factors right and following the tips below to help ensure that your hamster is as healthy as possible.
Caring for your hamster needn’t be complicated but there are definitely some things to be aware of and mistakes you need to avoid.
How to make sure your hamster is healthy
Here’s some tips for you to help your hamster live as healthy and happy as possible:
Provide a healthy and varied diet
This involves choosing a good quality hamster mix (Amazon, #CommissionsEarned) with plenty of variety and supplementing with fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s also important that you don’t overfeed them.
Provide opportunities for them to exercise both inside and outside the cage
Hamsters travel for miles in the wild so you should try and replicate this as much as possible for them by allowing them to roam around outside their cage in a playpen.
You should also provide them with wheels, tunnels, toys and platforms to help burn their energy off inside their cage too.
Look out for illnesses and get treatment for them before they become more serious
If you notice your hamster is ill or if you notice that it they have lost a lot weight in a short space of time, has dull eyes, diarrhea, a matted coat or has become lethargic, you should call a vet asap.
Make sure that you know what normal behavior is for your hamster so that you’ll know when something isn’t quite right with your hamster’s health. You should also carry out a weekly health check which is explained in the video below:
Provide a cage that meets the minimum size requirements of at least 450 square inches of floor space
Cage size is very important. Despite their small size, hamsters have a lot of energy and in the wild, they cover large distances (up to 5 miles per night) foraging for food, so they need plenty of room.
Using small cages can lead to bar biting, monkey barring, cage aggression, low activity levels and can cause chronic stress to your hamster.
Respect their sleeping patterns
It’s very important that you recognize your hamster’s sleeping patterns and that you don’t disrupt their circadian clock.
Hamsters alternate between being nocturnal and crepuscular which means they are most likely to be active at dawn and dusk.
Don’t simply wake your hamster up in the middle of the day because that suits your schedule as this can affect their natural sleep cycles and contribute to aging.
Wash your hands before handling
Believe it or not, hamsters can catch colds from humans, so washing your hands before handling your hamster will go a long way towards ensuring that you aren’t passing on any germs to your pet.
Hamsters have a delicate bone structure and are prone to injuries. Make sure that you avoid wire mesh wheels because they can easily get their limbs trapped in between the rungs when they are running on them.
If you have a long-haired Syrian hamster, make sure that their fur is kept trim so that it doesn’t get tangled or caught in anything.
It’s also important to realize that hamsters are short sighted and don’t judge height very well and are prone to either leaping out of your hands or falling off ledges.
Therefore, it’s recommended that whenever you’re handling your hamster that you do so whilst sitting down so that if they do leap or fall they are less likely to injure themselves.
It’s also a good idea to restrict your hamster’s cage to a single level to prevent it from falling too far inside it’s cage.
Avoid dangerous hamster bedding
When it comes to hamster bedding, you need to avoid using Pine or Cedar wood shavings as they contain phenols that can be harmful to your hamster’s respiratory system and can also irritate their skin and eyes. You should also avoid these unsafe hamster products.
Keep hamsters separated
Syrian hamsters in particular are solitary animals and should be kept in separate cages because they are very territorial and will fight.
At best they will injure each other and at worse they will fight to the death.
Although some dwarf hamsters can be ket in pairs or groups, there is still the potential for them to fight. This is especially true for pregnant females.
Female hamsters also try to establish themselves as the leader of the colony which can lead to squabbling.
Doing these things will go a long way towards your hamster living as long as its genetics and the species will allow.
Of course, it’s still important that you can keep an eye on your hamster and get them veterinary care as and when they require it.
Unfortunately hamsters don’t live very long as we’ve seen from the stats which is why it’s important that you help your hamster live to its full potential. You can do this by providing quality care and making sure that they are as healthy as they can be.
You should also make the most of the time you have with your hamster, take them out of their cage regularly, spend quality time with them and show them some love and affection.
You never know, if you get a hamster with good genetics and look after them well, they could live longer than you expect!