As hamsters grow old, they need more care and attention. Senior hamsters are prone to health conditions and find it challenging to move around and eat a healthy amount.
Provide constant access to food and water and ensure your hamster has soft paper-based bedding.
Senior hamsters sleep more often. While you mustn’t disturb it while it rests, you should check on it occasionally to ensure it’s okay.
What Are the Signs of Old Age in Hamsters?
While some hamsters die suddenly and without warning, many slow down and grow old.
Elderly hamsters deteriorate more quickly than many owners expect. Their behavior and appearance change during the later stages of life, highlighting their elderly years.
When hamsters grow old and deteriorate, they display the following signs:
- Dry skin
- Losing fur
- Overgrown teeth
- Difficulty walking
- Swollen and painful joints (arthritis)
- Slow and jerky movement
- Decreased activity levels
- Lack of interest in exercise
- Muscle disorders
- Weight loss
- Deteriorating vision
- Loss of appetite
- Drinking less frequently
- Pooping or peeing on itself
Some of these symptoms will make your hamster feel uncomfortable, and they’ll worsen over time. Keep checking on your hamster to ensure it maintains its quality of life in its elder years.
How Long Do Hamsters Live?
Hamsters only have short lifespans, living between 2-3 years on average in captivity. This equates to approximately one human year every 14 days hamsters live for.
However, life expectancy depends on the hamster’s species and health. Also, environmental conditions have a large part to play in how long a hamster lives.
The average lifespans for each species are documented below:
|Hamster Species||Average Lifespan||Short, Average, or Long|
|Roborovski||3 to 3.5 years||Long|
|Chinese||2 to 3 years||Long|
|Syrian||2 to 2.5 years||Average|
|Campbell’s Dwarf||2 years||Average|
|Winter White Russian Dwarf||1.5 to 2 years||Short to average|
|Hairless||6 months to 1 year||Short|
Hamsters don’t live for very long because their bodies aren’t as effective as other animals at maintaining biological processes. Over time, the cells, tissue, and organisms inside the body become less efficient, causing the animal to die. Because hamsters are prey animals, they rely on procreation to survive, which requires a significant amount of energy and resources.
This even applies to captive hamsters living alone. As a result, their bodily resources are allocated to procreating, causing them to die sooner than larger animals. Other factors cause hamsters to die earlier than other animals, including:
- Incorrect temperatures (either too hot or cold)
- Prolonged exposure to bright lights and loud noises
- Accidents and injuries, particularly from dangerous cages and wheels
- Health conditions, including wet tail and Cushing’s disease
- Predatory pets, like cats, getting hold of them and injuring or killing them
Sadly, once a hamster reaches its senior years, there’s not much you can do other than ensure it is as comfortable as possible and monitor its health to prevent any suffering due to health conditions.
How To Care for An Elderly Hamster
Hamsters significantly slow down once they reach the later stages of their lives.
Therefore, knowing how to look after an old hamster is essential in making the final months and days as happy and healthy as possible.
Keep conditions comfortable with the following steps:
Maintain a Comfortable Temperature
Elderly hamsters struggle to maintain their body temperature as well as they do when they’re young.
The optimal temperature for hamsters is 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything outside this range – whether too hot or cold – can be dangerous, particularly if your hamster has an illness.
Owners with glass tanks will need to be extra careful when caring for their elderly hamsters. That’s because, as explained by Popular Science, glass traps heat and can make things too warm for the hamster inside. However, all cages can become too hot or cold if the conditions outside them aren’t right.
Make sure your hamster’s not in direct sunlight, and use a small heater to warm the room in winter. Using a temperature gauge in your hamster’s room will help you keep conditions right.
Downsize the Cage
Elderly hamsters don’t move around so much in the later stages of life.
As a result, they don’t need so much space. In fact, having too much space can negatively impact your hamster, as it can become too tired from having to move to multiple parts of the cage.
If you notice that your hamster’s struggling to move around, transition it to a smaller cage to make life easier. However, only do this if your hamster doesn’t have much physical energy left.
When downgrading the cage, don’t go below 450 square inches of floor space (not including upper sections). This is the bare minimum size – anything smaller is unsuitable for even elderly hamsters.
Keep the Cage Clean
Keep a senior hamster’s enclosure clean to prevent bacterial growth that could make it sick.
While you don’t necessarily need to replace the bedding, aim to wipe down all plastic and ceramic accessories with soapy water once a week and frequently check for any water leaks. Mold can grow on the bedding otherwise and make your hamster unwell.
Hamsters get stressed with cage cleans because it removes their scent. However, because hamsters sleep more often, their nests must be clean and sanitary.
You can ensure this by removing urine-soaked bedding and leaving the clean substrate in the cage.
Ensure a Quiet Environment
Hamsters don’t like too much noise at the best of times.
Elderly hamsters because even more stressed out by excessive sound, so you must keep the environment as quiet as possible to ensure your hamster can get the sleep it needs to conserve its energy.
This may involve moving its cage to a more peaceful part of the house.
Remove any Unnecessary Accessories
As mentioned, elderly hamsters slow down and spend more time sleeping than playing.
Hamsters with muscle and joint issues struggle to get around, so removing any unnecessary accessories, like the wheel and tubes, is wise to prevent injuries. Doing this will help your hamster get around its enclosure more easily.
Similarly, level out the cage to reduce the number of heights your hamster needs to climb. It likely won’t have the energy to pull itself up onto things, so it’ll benefit from having a flat environment to roam around in. It’s best to make these changes gradually, though, to minimize stress.
Show Your Hamster Affection
When hamsters become old, it’s not long before they pass away.
That’s why you’ll want to shower your pet with as much love and affection as possible. Not only does this benefit you, but as Physiology explains, hamsters release a neurochemical called oxytocin when touched, making them feel comfortable and relaxed.
Many hamsters enjoy being picked up and held, but this could change in the later stages if your hamster suffers from a health condition. Gauge your hamster’s mood before interacting with it.
If you cannot handle your hamster physically, you can sit with it and talk to it in a soft, gentle voice instead. Your hamster will take comfort from your presence and will know you’re there keeping it company.
Feed Your Hamster Treats
When your hamster gets older, you can be more relaxed with the treats you feed it. You can also help increase your hamster’s waning energy levels with some healthy fruits and vegetables. After all, eating treat foods is better than not eating at all.
Other nutritious and easy-to-eat treats include:
- Boiled or scrambled egg
- Plain cooked chicken
- Mealworms and crickets
Encouraging your hamster to be more active by using its favorite treats will help it exercise.
It may not feel well enough to play, but even coming out of its nest and walking to the treat provides enough movement to keep it healthy. However, like all diets, be sure to feed your hamster treats in moderation and offer a balanced variety.
What Do Old Hamsters Eat?
Old hamsters tend to eat the same as young hamsters, although they don’t eat quite as much.
Senior hamsters become far pickier about what they eat as they age. As a result, some hamsters need softer foods to help them eat more and retain energy.
Examples of hamster-safe soft foods include:
- Porridge cooked with water and free from added ingredients, like sugar and salt
- Fresh vegetables, like carrot, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, and cucumber
- Chicken cooked without oil or salt
- Plain cooked eggs
- Cooked wholegrain pasta
- Steamed brown rice
- Pureed baby food with hamster-safe ingredients and no additives or preservatives
While soft foods are a good addition to an elderly hamster’s diet, they shouldn’t replace scientifically formulated pellets and a high-quality seed mix entirely.
Similarly, restrict these foods by feeding only a small amount each day.
What Do Old Hamsters Need in Their Cage?
Cage organization is vital during the final stages of a hamster’s life.
Old hamsters are less likely to move around and explore, so they don’t need as many things as young hamsters. That said, they still need to maintain a quality of life.
Make sure your hamster’s enclosure has the following things:
Old hamsters need soft bedding, like shredded paper or aspen shavings. As they get tired more quickly, they sleep more often, so paper-based bedding keeps them comfortable.
It’s a good idea to reduce the amount of bedding you have in your hamster’s cage to make it easier to make burrows. This also makes it easier for you to check on your hamster.
Don’t change your hamster’s bedding too often. Because they don’t eat as much, older hamsters tend not to leave as many droppings.
This means you can get away with spot cleaning your hamster’s cage more frequently while doing fewer large cage cleans. The benefit of this is that it minimizes stress as hamsters also don’t like being disturbed while they sleep.
Food and Water
Hamsters need constant access to food and water. Fresh water is particularly important for preventing dehydration in old age.
Most hamsters will have a small stash of food that they can munch on in their burrows, but they’ll be less likely to emerge for water. Therefore, make the water bottle or bowl as easy as possible for your hamster to reach.
If you’ve previously scatter-fed your hamster, now’s the time to start putting it into a shallow dish to make it easier for your hamster to access.
While scatter feeding offers mental and physical stimulation, it can wear tired and weary hamsters out.
Senior hamsters have difficulties keeping their teeth short. Because they don’t eat as much as young hamsters, they need chew toys to help them gnaw their teeth down to a comfortable length.
Wooden toys are best, as they’re natural and replicate items hamsters would find in the wild. Plastic items are dangerous as they can be ingested and become impacted in the digestive tract.
You only need to make small tweaks to a senior hamster’s care, but making these changes can help your hamster maintain a good quality of life.