Hamsters have short lifespans because smaller animals endure more metabolic stress than larger animals.
They have fast metabolisms to keep their body temperature stable. A high metabolism releases free radicals, which break down the body at a cellular level, causing hamsters to age more rapidly.
On average, hamsters live for 1-2 years. Some breeds exceed this life expectancy, like Roborovski hamsters at 3 to 3.5 years, while Chinese dwarf hamsters’ lifespan is just 1-2 years.
Why Do Hamsters Not Live Long?
Hamsters don’t live long because small animals experience high levels of metabolic stress. This breaks down an organism’s cells rapidly, causing accelerated aging.
Have you noticed that the smaller an animal is, the shorter its lifespan? Elephants and whales can live for 50+ years, while rabbits, cats, and medium-sized dogs live for 7-10 years on average.
Smaller animals like hamsters, hedgehogs, and gerbils don’t usually live for more than 2-5 years because their bodies have to work harder to maintain their optimal temperature.
The smaller something is, the sooner it’ll cool down or heat up. So, it’s easier for smaller animals to get hot or cold quicker than larger animals.
Warm-blooded animals (endotherms) like hamsters constantly regulate their body temperature. A faster metabolism helps with temperature regulation, but it comes at a cost.
A faster metabolism means that hamsters produce more free radicals, which are cellular species that are part of the cellular metabolic process.
If an excess of free radicals is released, it causes oxidative stress to the body.
Oxidative stress breaks the body down by accelerating cell death. It damages an organism’s DNA, causing them to age faster, which is why hamsters have a short lifespan.
Do Hamsters Live Longer in The Wild?
Wild hamsters live even shorter lives, as they’re small creatures with many natural predators. They also have to deal with food and water shortages and extreme weather conditions.
Many small animals are prey, such as parrots. Yet, parrots live much longer than hamsters. This, in part, is because parrots have high intelligence, sound instincts, and acute senses that allow them to survive.
Hamsters don’t have those same survival instincts and physical characteristics. In a life-threatening situation, a hamster is more likely to freeze on the spot than run away to safety.
Hamsters never developed good survival skills because evolution didn’t deem it necessary. Hamsters mature and procreate as early as 4 weeks old, and female hamsters can have litters with 5-8 pups.
Evolution doesn’t need hamsters to live long lives. It just needs hamsters to live long enough to procreate faster than their numbers diminish.
Which Hamster Has The Shortest Lifespan?
The hamster species with the shortest lifespan is the Chinese dwarf hamster, which usually lives 1-2 years in captivity. They’re one of the smallest hamsters and only weigh 1-1.5 ounces as adults.
Chinese hamsters are popular due to their diminutive size. However, if you want a hamster that you can take care of for several years, you probably shouldn’t get this species.
Can Hamsters Live Longer Than 2 Years?
The Syrian hamster, which is among the bigger species, can live for 2 to 2.5 years with optimal care.
However, first-time hamster owners often find that their hamsters die quickly. Sometimes, this happens due to sub-optimal care or because the hamster was already old or seriously ill.
Ensure that the business/person selling you the hamster can verify its age. Sometimes, breeders and pet stores sell hamsters much older than advertised to move them on.
You take the hamster home expecting it to be healthy, only to die a few weeks later. If this happens, you should get a necropsy report from a veterinarian to find out how it died.
Why Do Some Hamster Species Live Longer Than Others?
Certain hamster species live longer than others due to their genes and hibernation time.
According to Free Radical Biology and Medicine, mammals with a specific gene network can regulate their body’s response to oxidative and non-oxidative stress.
This means that the biological process that causes rapid aging in hamsters (oxidative stress caused by free radicals) can be resisted. Without cellular oxidation, hamsters can live longer.
The other reason is hibernation. According to Harvard Medical School, the process of aging slows down when hamsters hibernate. The longer the hibernation period, the longer the lifespan.
Syrian and Roborovski hamsters hibernate for around 3 days a year. Chinese hamsters, the species with the shortest lifespan, hibernate too, but a lot less.
They wake up multiple times during hibernation, and their sleep is disrupted. Hamster species with a more sporadic approach to hibernation live shorter lives.
How To Increase A Hamster’s Lifespan
There are ways to lengthen a hamster’s lifespan slightly. Even considering the oxidative stress they experience, hamsters in captivity live very short lives.
Neglect, inadequate living environments, dietary issues, and poor handling can significantly shorten a hamster’s life. However, you can extend your pet hamster’s longevity:
- Feed your hamster a nutritious diet.
- Don’t overfeed your hamster to avoid obesity.
- Provide clean and fresh water to avoid dehydration.
- Spot clean the cage regularly, changing out any soiled bedding.
- Ensure that your hamster gets sufficient exercise.
- Avoid breeding due to the strain placed on the body.
- Provide enrichment, such as tunnels and running wheels.
- Give your hamster a stress-free life in a relaxed home.
- Check for diseases and illnesses, such as respiratory issues and wet tail.
If you have a male and female hamster, the most effective way to extend the female’s life is by separating her from the male to avoid pregnancy.
According to Biology of Reproduction, hamsters that go through pregnancy live shorter lives than those that don’t because pregnancy and giving birth take a heavy toll on the body.
Focus on providing your hamster with foods rich in vitamin E, as it’s a common deficiency. According to The Journal of Nutrition, hamsters can fall ill within 4-18 weeks if they lack vitamin E in their diets.
Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant that enables hamsters to fight off oxidative stress. Here are hamster-safe foods that are a good source of vitamin E:
- Sunflower seeds
- Collard greens
To help your hamster live a stress-free life, get it a good-sized cage where it can run around freely. Play with your hamster daily to alleviate boredom and stress.
Avoid housing hamsters together because they’re territorial and will fight. The stress of this social aggression will make your hamster unhappy and shorten its life.