Hamsters normally live between 2-3 years, but it depends on the species. But generally, if hamsters are well looked after, then they generally have few health problems and few diseases during their lifetime. That’s just one of the reasons why hamsters make good pets.
Unfortunately however, old age comes to everyone, and that includes hamsters.
Hamsters start to age after their first birthday but you will only notice the signs of ages at around the 18 month mark.
But this isn’t set in stone either because hamsters age at different rates.
Some hamsters will age very quickly, over the course of several weeks. Others will age more slowly and take several months.
Some 2 year old hamsters look almost the same as they did when they were young, others look old when they are just 1.5 years old, so a lot of it is really down to genetics. Some of it will also be attributed to how well it was looked after and the quality of its environment.
The following signs of aging should not be taken verbatim. Indeed, some of these signs could be a symptom of one of several illnesses.
If you notice some of these signs materialize in your hamster over a couple of days, then chances are, the cause isn’t old age. Also, if you have a young hamster and notice some of the following signs, then it will almost definitely be a symptom of illness.
So if you are concerned about your hamster’s health, you must seek help from a local vet as soon as you can.
Let’s look at one of the first signs of old age which is weight loss.
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As your hamster gets older, it’s normal for it to lose quite a lot of weight over a long period of time. It is also normal for your hamster’s body shape to change quite dramatically.
For example, young hamsters tend to look like a furball with faces (well that’s my description in any case!). The bodies of older hamsters on the other hand tend to look more defined, with their head becoming more distinguishable than their body because of their more defined neck area.
You will also be able to feel their skin more as their hair thins out and their faces will become a lot more pointy. Younger hamsters tend to have fatter and more rounded faces.
All hamsters lose weight when they get old, but this is gradual weight loss over a long period of time. If you notice that your hamster has lost weight over a short time period, then you may need to consult your vet as your hamster may have an underlying condition.
Decrease in appetite
A decrease in appetite is a precursor to weight loss and it is perfectly normal for hamsters to eat significantly less food than when they were younger.
The reason for this decrease in appetite is because hamsters become less energetic and simply don’t do as much.
Because hamsters are less active in their old age, they don’t need to eat as much food.
Younger hamsters on the other hand will eat as much food as they can get their paws on, as is the case with our hamster Richmond, who never seems to stop eating!
So it’s a good idea with younger hamsters to control their portion sizes to prevent them from getting overweight.
You can give as much food as you like to older hamsters and this will enable them to eat as much as they can.
Another thing that you’ll notice is that your hamster won’t eat its food as quickly as it used to do. Your hamster may also struggle to eat, especially if it has dental issues like a broken tooth for example (we’ll come onto that later in the article).
Finally, your hamster will also start to hoard less food in their mouths which will also make them appear thinner. You may notice this by looking at their food bowl and noticing that there is more food in there.
Other than the inevitable weight loss and the changing shape of your hamster’s body, your hamster’s fur will also experience some changes.
For example, an elderly hamster’s coat and eyes may look dull or less shiny than that of a younger hamster which will have very glossy fur and shiny eyes.
You may also notice some thinning of your hamster’s hair in certain places and you may even notice some bald patches.
If your hamster does have a few bald patches, it may not be a symptom of old age (depending on the age of your hamster of course). It’s wise to check the skin on these bald areas to make sure that it’s not dry, flakey or red.
If this is the case, then your hamster may have other health issues and you may need to seek help from your local vet as soon as you can.
Finally, your hamster’s hair may appear rather scruffy and more matted than it used to do.
As your hamster eats less, it will lose weight and it will become less active. You may notice at this point that your hamster doesn’t use its wheel as much or even at all.
Hamsters sleep for a long time regardless of age, but older hamsters sleep even longer.
One of things you might notice with an elderly hamster is a change in their sleep routine.
By the time your hamster reaches its senior years, you will generally know what time your hamster usually wakes up at and where it sleeps, so you will likely notice any changes.
But things to look out for include sleeping more often and being more active during the day or at random times during the day. In other words, your hamster’s routine will become less predictable.
One last thing that you might notice is that your hamster’s reactions may also slow down and won’t be quite as alert.
Loss of sight
Hamsters don’t have the best eyesight as they are short sighted, but it is completely normal for their eyesight to worsen with age.
If your hamster loses their eyesight completely or partially then it won’t affect them much because they tend to use their other senses such as their hearing and smell to navigate their way around.
Blindness in hamsters can be caused by cataracts which is basically a white film that appears over the eyes and gives an almost milky appearance to their eye.
This white film starts small and starts to spread over the entire eye until they are completely blind.
The good news is that hamsters can only see a few inches in front of themselves because they live underground in the wild so having cataracts in their eyes isn’t much of a big deal to them.
As your hamster gets older their muscles become weaker and will therefore start to experience more problems in terms of mobility.
For example they might find it more difficult to climb up ladders or climb up tubes. They may find it difficult to climb up onto their platforms, climb on toys and may even struggle walking across their cage.
Some elderly hamsters may shake as they walk or even when they’re still, but this is perfectly normal.
As your hamster gets older and struggles to do the things that they would normally do, you may have to adjust their cage or even reduce their cage size as long as it still meets the minimum required size of 450 square inches.
For example, some of the things that you can do is to put items in their cage closer together. You can also remove things from the cage that your hamster can climb up or things that will be difficult for them to climb onto.
For example you could remove or lower shelves as they are more likely to fall off them. You could also move their food and water to the ground level of their cage and basically make it easy for them to get around.
When hamsters get older you need to switch to softer bedding because they can’t hold on to their body heat the same as they could when they were younger.
You want their nest to be cosy so I would consider switching to a paper-based bedding or even toilet paper.
Hamsters lose body heat when they get older and tend to get colder quicker. You should also consider adding extra substrate to help keep them warm and cosy.
It’s very important to keep the temperature in your hamster’s cage constant and comfortable, so you need to keep your cage out of direct sunlight and away from draughts.
In fact this rule applies to all hamsters not just elderly ones.
As your hamster gets older your hamster’s teeth may become weaker and more brittle. They may even become crooked, loose or overgrown.
As they become more brittle they are more likely to break and your hamster may struggle to eat, especially if they end up breaking a tooth.
If your hamster breaks a tooth then you’re going to have to help them out and adjust their diet accordingly.
One of the things that you can do is add a little warm water to their pellets and turn it into a mash which will make it a lot easier for them to consume.
You should also provide soft food that contains a lot of protein to help maintain their muscle mass.
Foods that you can give to a hamster include eggs (either hard boiled or scrambled), mashed carrots, low-fat cheese, low fat cottage cheese, cucumber, weetabix (either dry or mashed up in water), low-fat yoghurt or fresh corn.
You can also provide your hamster with baby food that contains fruit and veg, but make sure that it doesn’t contain too much fruit because the sugar is bad for their stomach.
You also need to make sure that it doesn’t contain any preservatives or unsafe ingredients such as onions or garlic.
One final thing to be aware of, is that you need to check your hamster’s teeth regularly as they age. Because hamsters don’t eat as much when they get older, their teeth may not wear down as much as they should.
Remember that hamster’s teeth grow continuously throughout their entire life and need to be kept trim otherwise they can interfere with their eating.
Heavy breathing comes to hamsters at a later stage of their life, i.e in their final days. This happens because their respiratory system becomes weaker and makes it difficult for them to breathe.
Their immune system will also get weaker as they get older and they will be more liable to getting infections.
If your hamster is quite thin then the heavy breathing will obviously be a bit more noticeable and you may notice this when they’re asleep.
You will see your hamster’s chest rise and fall quite rapidly and they may even make a rasping or squeaking sound as they breathe.
Hamsters are usually very clean animals but as they get older they will groom less because it can be difficult for them to reach certain parts of their body and it will also take a lot more effort.
If you notice this, you may want to help your hamster out.
First of all, ensure that the room is warm and use a damp cotton pad or some cotton wool and gently wipe over their coat without getting it too wet. You could do a section each day so that your hamster doesn’t get its coat too damp in one go.
If you have a Syrian hamster, you may also notice that their bottom gets soiled and this is simply because they may not be able to reach it.
Again, you can clean the area gently with a damp cotton pad to ensure that the anus and their private parts don’t get blocked, and that the caked on poop doesn’t cause skin irritation and/or infection.
It’s worthwhile noting that baby wipes aren’t a good option here because although brands claim that they are fragrance and alcohol free, they still contain chemicals which can irritate a hamster’s skin.
Arthritis is common in all mammals of a certain age and hamsters are no different. Basically what starts to happen is that your hamster will get swollen or painful joints which makes it difficult for them to walk and climb up things.
So, as mentioned above, consider removing some items from your cage, in particular, things that your hamster used to climb up to prevent any injury to your hamster.
Shying away from touching
When your hamster gets older, they may shy away from you as you try to touch them. This is because of their diminished eyesight. When you’re interacting with your hamster, always ensure that they see your hand first and allow it to smell your scent before scooping them up without making any sudden movements.
Wetting the bed
In some cases, old hamsters may start peeing in their nesting area even though they might have always used a particular corner of their cage, a potty or even their wheel!
If this is the case, you should make sure that their nesting area is clean every day to ensure that they are comfortable and healthy.
It may be a good idea to have a spare nesting area for your hamster whilst you are cleaning out the soiled area. If you do have a potty, you should still keep in just in case your hamster is close by and needs to use it.
Well that was a cheery blog post wasn’t it?! I think it’s my saddest blog post to date, but one that I think was important to write so that you at least know what to look out for when your hamster starts to age. This will enable you to help them through the latter stages of their life.
Although hamsters only live a short life, it’s important to remember the good times that you had with your hamster. Chances are that, because you’re reading this blog, that you look after your hamster well and give them a good quality of life. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and often hamsters get neglected.
So when the sad time comes, just remember how well you looked after your hamster and that your hamster led a privileged and quality life with lots of fun and love.