The Syrian hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) lives for around 2-3 years, assuming they can avoid sickness while very young. Males tend to outlive females, but their lifespan remains short.
Signs of old age in golden hamsters usually manifest at around 18 months. Certain changes will arise in the hamster’s appearance and demeanor at this stage.
Older hamsters are less energetic, sleeping more and exercising less. An aging hamster will likely protest being handled and be less concerned with grooming and keeping its cage clean. The hamster may also find breathing tougher, even gasping for air.
Age will take a physical toll on the hamster. Its fur will become finer and thinner, it may develop cataracts, and it could experience dental issues like brittle or overgrown teeth.
What Age Do Syrian Hamsters Live To?
A golden hamster lives for 2-3 years, but its lifespan could be cut short if it grows unwell. According to the Journal of Small Animal Practice, wet tail is a leading cause of mortality in hamsters.
Equally, a Syrian hamster that enjoys good health and exemplary care may live a little longer. However long the hamster lives, you’ll start seeing signs of old age at around 18 months.
What Are The Signs of Old Age in Hamsters?
Once a hamster celebrates its first birthday, it’s already middle-aged. Once 18 months pass, the hamster is approaching the end of its life. Here are some common signs of hamsters aging:
Crankiness and Irritability
The first sign of aging is a shift in temperament. A hamster that previously welcomed handling may become opposed to being picked up, possibly even nipping and biting.
All hamsters grow more cantankerous as they age, so avoid handling them unless it’s unavoidable. The hamster likely wants to rest, and handling may even be uncomfortable if it struggles with arthritis.
Reduced Physical Activity
Young hamsters are tiny balls of energy, always on the move. Once a hamster reaches 18 months of age and beyond, you’ll notice a sharp decline in vitality.
The hamster will show less interest in its exercise wheel and likely cease exploring its cage. This lack of activity is a warning sign that your pet is approaching the end of its life.
Another element of this winding down is that the hamster will spend more time sleeping. Expect the hamster to go to sleep earlier and rise later.
Facilitate this need for rest by ensuring the cage remains warm, dark, and quiet.
Difficulty Moving (Arthritis)
Older hamsters may develop arthritis. However, Arthritis and Rheumatism stated how hamsters active in early life are less likely to endure arthritis later.
If the hamster has arthritis, it’ll be increasingly painful to move. The hamster will walk gingerly, declining to climb cage bars, and is unlikely to run on an exercise wheel.
A hamster living with arthritis needs easy access to its basic needs. Move all food, bedding, and water to the bottom of a cage, ensuring it can reach these resources without climbing or negotiating obstacles.
As a Syrian hamster enters seniority, its fur will become finer and fall out, exposing dry skin patches.
You’ll initially notice this fur loss around the hamster’s underbelly, hips, and hind legs. Eventually, it’ll spread across the body. This can be aided with Vitamin B supplements and protein-rich foods.
Help the hamster stay warm while it loses fur by piling extra bedding in a cage.
You’ll likely need to change this daily, as the hamster may start to urinate in its bed, but other cotton wool or equivalent will help stave off respiratory infections.
Lower Hygiene Standards
Hamsters have strict grooming routines. As it grows older, you’ll notice less grooming activity. The fur may become matted and unruly because it’s unable or unwilling to groom itself as much.
This may be due to arthritis, making it painful for the hamster to contort itself into the positions required to groom. Lend a hand with grooming by using unscented animal wet wipes.
The hamster’s cage will become less tidy as it ages. Older hamsters will urinate anywhere in a cage, not limiting their eliminations to a particular spot. Your hamster may even start peeing in its bed.
You’ll encounter fewer droppings in an elderly hamster’s cage as it eats less.
Young hamsters can be comparatively gluttonous, eating heartily and regularly stuffing their pouches with food to hoard around a cage. As hamsters age, they eat little and become fussy about food.
Initially, this will be due to reduced physical activity. As it’s not running on its wheel or climbing its cage walls as much, it’ll burn less energy and require fewer calories for energy.
Continue feeding an older hamster as much as you did when it was young, allowing it to eat what it enjoys and as much or as little as it desires.
As a consequence of eating less, your hamster will likely lose weight.
As per Physiology and Behavior, the metabolic rate of an aging hamster will remain stable as it moves less. A hamster will burn calories while sleeping, even if they’re not replaced.
You’ll notice physical changes. Where it was once a spherical ball of fur with facial features, its body shape will become more defined with age, such as a prominent neck and thinner, pointier face.
The teeth of an older hamster can grow brittle, causing pain when it tries to eat hard foods. This may also result in the hamster failing to file its teeth appropriately.
Manage dental pain by switching a senior hamster to a softer diet.
Older hamsters often experience eye concerns. Sometimes, they manifest as stickiness around the eyes, making them hard to open. The hamster will need help cleaning its eyes when it wakes up.
Many senior hamsters develop cataracts in the eyes. This will be a white, milky film that covers a hamster’s bright, black eyes. Cataracts will restrict a hamster’s vision until it’s completely blind.
Hamsters are short-sighted, which means cataracts won’t impact their quality of life much. The hamster will still rely more on its senses of smell, hearing, and touch to negotiate the world.
Remove any dangerous obstacles from a cage and increase bedding levels in case of falls.
As per Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, hamsters are obligate nasal breathers. If a hamster is breathing through the mouth, something is amiss with its respiratory tract.
At the end of a hamster’s life, breathing becomes increasingly difficult. It may start squeaking, rasping, and gasping for air, and you’ll notice its chest rising and falling faster than usual.
How To Care for An Older Hamster
You can improve the quality of life of senior hamsters by doing the following:
- Keep the hamster cage somewhere warm, dark, and quiet to encourage sleep.
- Only handle your hamster when necessary.
- Spot clean the cage more often, making up for the hamster’s inability to do so.
- Aid your hamster with grooming, especially around the bottom.
- Provide blankets and bedding to make up for thinning fur.
- Remove obstacles from a cage so beds, food, and water are easily accessible.
- Maintain an appropriate diet.
Neurobiology of Aging also explains that providing a female hamster with Selegiline can prolong her lifespan. Not all veterinarians will administer this drug based on the expense and limited rewards.
While it’s sad that golden hamsters have such a short lifespan, they often cram lots of adventure into their time. Provide the best possible care, and learn how to comfort a dying hamster in its remaining days.