Hamster Lifespan: How Long Pet Hamsters Live

How Long Pet Hamsters Live

If you are considering adding a hamster to the family, you will want to do as much research as you can before taking the leap. You will need to know which species of hamster is right for you, where to purchase or adopt a healthy hamster, and how to provide the best care possible. One question that will likely come up as you are researching these pets, is the average lifespan of a hamster.

How long do pet hamsters live? The average lifespan of a hamster will be between 18 months and 3 years. Syrian hamsters tend to live longer than most dwarf hamsters, though the Roborovski dwarf hamster is typically the longest-lived of them all – living up to 3.5 years of age. At 18 months of age, hamsters are considered seniors. There are many factors that will affect a hamster’s lifespan, including species, genetic predisposition to disease, diet, and general care. 

Read on to learn more about the average lifespan of a hamster, including the differences among varieties and species, how hamsters in the wild fare against domestic hamsters, and steps you can take to give your hamster the best possible chance at a long life. 

The Age Of Pet Store Hamsters

You can purchase a hamster through a breeder. You can also adopt one from your local shelter. Most hamsters, though, are purchased at large chain pet stores. In order to determine how long your hamster will live, you will need to know how old he or she was when purchased.

Most hamsters are shipped to pet stores at around 6 weeks of age. However, many hamsters will sit in cages for a length of time before being sold (sometimes up to a few months).

If you find out how long your hamster has been for sale at the pet store and add approximately 6 weeks to that, you should have a rough estimate of your hamster’s age at the time of purchase.

Hamster Lifespan Varies Among Varieties

You may be under the assumption that hamsters come in only two varieties – dwarf and Syrian – but there are actually four different types of dwarf hamsters sold as pets. The average lifespan will vary depending on which of these five hamster species you have. Here we will take a look at these five, in order from the shortest to the longest average lifespan.

Chinese, Campbell’s, and Winter White Hamster Lifespan

Saying that there are five different breeds of domestic hamsters is somewhat inaccurate in that there are actually five different species. Out of these five, the Winter White and the Campbell are the only two species that are able to breed and produce fertile offspring (known as hybrids).

So while the Campbell’s, the Winter White, and the Roborovski may all be labeled “Russian dwarf hamsters”, these are actually completely different species of hamster. If you purchase a dwarf hamster from a pet store, chances are high that it is either a Campbell’s, a Roborovski (also called “Robo”), or a Winter White. Chinese dwarf hamsters are much rarer and harder to find.

While they are different species, what the Chinese dwarf, the Campbell’s dwarf, and the Winter White all have in common is their especially short lifespan. If you adopt one of these three species, you can expect them to live between 16 and 24 months of age.

Syrian Hamster Lifespan

The Syrian hamster is the easiest to distinguish from the other species of domestic hamster, at easily twice the size of its dwarf cousins. Syrian hamsters are also called Golden hamsters and Teddy Bear hamsters (this last name is usually reserved for the varieties with longer hair).

Syrian hamsters reach up to 5-7 inches in body length at maturity and weigh between 3 and 6 ounces on average. Syrian hamsters make popular pets and are typically found easily at most pet stores. 

The average lifespan of a Syrian hamster is between 2 and 3 years of age. They tend to live slightly longer than most species of dwarf hamster, and are less likely than dwarfs to suffer from diabetes (though they are more likely than dwarfs to suffer from other diseases like wet tail).

How Long Roborovski Hamsters Live

The Roborovski hamster is another commonly kept dwarf hamster, available at most pet stores. It is another species of Russian dwarf hamster, often mistaken for the Winter White or Campbell’s. Robo hamsters are entertaining to keep, highly energetic, but can be less receptive to handling in general.

Roborovski hamsters are considered to be the longest-lived of hamsters kept as pets. They live on average of 2-3.5 years of age, and many have been known to live as long as 4 years. 

How Long Do Hamsters Live In The Wild?

There are several species of hamsters living in the wild in dry, arid climates of the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. In the wild, hamsters typically do not make it past their first birthday.

These animals have several struggles – they are prey animals, they are small, they are solitary, and they have very few defense mechanisms. They can, unfortunately, be easy prey for snakes, foxes, coyotes, owls, and hawks. 

The Record For The Oldest Hamster

If you research the oldest confirmed hamster through the Guinness Book of World Records, you will find record of an un-named hamster out of the UK who lived to be 4.5 years old. Interestingly, however, is that there are also zoo records verifying an individual Chinese dwarf hamster living to be over 5 years of age.

To complicate the matter further, you will find much anecdotal evidence online of pet hamsters living for 6 years or longer. It is believed that records for the oldest domestic hamster are not entirely accurate – probably because most hamster families simply don’t realize what the average lifespan of their pet is and so don’t report an exceptionally elderly hamster. 

Increasing The Lifespan Of Your Hamster

The individual lifespan of a hamster will come down to both genetic factors and environmental factors. There is nothing you can do about your hamster’s genetics, and if you purchase him or her from a pet store, you will have very little information. There is still much you can do, however, to increase the potential lifespan of your hamster through the care that you provide him or her.

Providing A Proper Diet

Arguably the most important measure that you can take for your hamster’s health is providing a proper diet with the appropriate percentages of fat and protein. Though you may think it sounds fun to cook for your hamster, it is quite challenging to meet your pet’s nutritional requirements through a do-it-yourself recipe.

You will want to purchase a feed created specifically for hamsters, available online or in your local pet store. You will likely see both pellet-based food and mixed food with seeds and grains. If you feed your hamster a mix, he will pick out what he likes and ignore the rest.

This can result in a hamster that is deficient in certain vitamins or minerals. It is best, therefore, to offer the pellet-based food so that he is receiving complete nutrition. If your hamster does not seem to like the feed, try another brand – sometimes, they will readily accept a pellet of one brand over another.

Providing A Low-Stress Environment

Your hamster’s environment will play a large role in his health as well. Make sure to get an adequately-sized enclosure for your hamster; for a Syrian, this means at a minimum 24”x12” of floor space (bigger is always better though). Provide plenty of stimulation for your hamster in the form of a safe and properly–sized exercise wheel, plenty of hide-outs, and structures on which to climb. 

In addition to his enclosure, you will also want to make sure that you keep him in a room that allows him to keep his natural circadian rhythm as much as possible. Hamsters are nocturnal, and this means that keeping the enclosure in the middle of the family’s daytime action (the kitchen, for example), may cause harmful stress to your pet. Respect her need for sleep during the day and allow her plenty of quiet time. 

Hamsters Have A Short Lifespan, But A Big Impact

Though their lives are short, their impact on our lives and in our hearts is anything but. Some families decide against hamsters as pets for their children because of the heartache it will cause them when the hamster reaches the end of his life.

While it’s true that a shorter lifespan for a pet equals an earlier heartache for children (and adults, of course), the cycle of caring for and loving a pet and saying goodbye at the end of his or her life is an invaluable lesson for us all.

So while the shorter lifespan of these pocket pets may deter some from adopting them, those of us who have raised hamsters can attest to the fact that the 2-3 years of joy that they bring is well worth it in the end. You can learn more about all types of small furry friends in my recent articles here!

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