Furry Little Creatures Behold!
This question is both easy and difficult to answer. There’s of course the “right” answer; the expected lifespan, but then there’s reality.Regular hamsters (big hamsters like teddies) have an expected lifespan of 3 – 5 years.
Dwarf hamsters live up to 3 years. Russians tend to live only about 2, while Siberians and “fake” dwarf hamsters (Chinese, Taiwanese, etc…) live about 3. Roborovski dwarf hamsters life spans are more volatile and live anywhere from 1 to 3 years.
All of the above is assuming the hamster lives in good condition.
Then there’s reality…
Working at a pet store, I’ve learned many things about pet life expectancy both in-store and from customers. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say his or her hamster “lived a long time. It lived for 6 months / a year”. Here are some of the things that can affect a hamster’s lifespan drastically.
Hamsters are extremely territorial and as such may fight each other when they don’t get along. While dwarf hamsters will typically only fight enough to injure, teddies will sometimes fight to the death. If you want your hamster to live long, it’s best to have just one hamster per cage.
Robo dwarf hamsters, however, will coexist peacefully. For them, you can have 2 or 3 per tank with no problems.
Sometimes customers have hamsters that fight, but don’t kill each other. Do they take them to a vet? Not always… Then they wonder why that animal died later on. Wounds can get infected; it’s important to give medicine to an injured hamster.
Wet Tail and Diarrhea
This is mostly for non-dwarf hamsters. Dwarf hamsters don’t seem to get wet tail and diarrhea that much. However, this is an easy killer for the bigger hamsters. If left untreated, or poorly treated, it can kill a hamster in a matter of days. Not only do the hamsters need medicine, but they’ll also need to be force fed fluids as they will be too weak to drink enough liquids to stay alive.
Causes of Wet Tail and Diarrhea are stress, poor hygiene, overfeeding of vegetables, and poor water quality. This is especially true in-store when new animals come in, as the stress of traveling almost guarantees one will be sick, and possibly infect others, the next day after it has arrived.
Lack of Excercise
This is one I often hear from customers: the wheel was too loud so I removed it. Well, hamsters need exercises or they get fat, and that’s just as bad for them as it is for us. If you’re going to remove the wheel at night while you sleep, fine, but then make sure there’s a wheel when you’re not sleeping. Also consider having a hamster ball to let your hamster roam around in during supervised play time.
Not having chew sticks
Hamster teeth grow forever and ever. In their natural habitats, they’d be surrounded by trees and other hard materials to gnaw at and grind their teeth down on. If they don’t have some kind of hard, safe material to chew on, their teeth will keep growing and will buckle over. When that happens, they’ll have difficulty eating and will starve to death unless you go to a vet to have their teeth clipped. Don’t ignore having chew sticks if you want your hamster to live and if you want less vet visits.
Not paying attention to cage condition
Many people get those plastic-bottom cages. Hamsters that are determined enough can, and will, chew through and get out. This is why it’s actually best to have a tank (like a reptile tank or an aquarium tank). However, all it takes is to occasionally check the cage to see if the hamster has started chewing through. If caught early, you can do something about it by either getting a new cage, or putting an obstacle in front of where the hamster starting chewing. A hamster that gets out can eat and drink unwanted substances and die, among other things.
Not cleaning thoroughly
Cleaning isn’t just removing old bedding. You have to wash the ENTIRE cage (including the top, side, tubes, wheel, wires, etc..) with warm soapy water. Every few months, you should also consider bleaching the cage for a full 24 hours. Then you should soak it in water for 24 hours, remove all the water, then resoak it in brand new water for another 24 hours. This will disinfect the cage from bacteria that builds up, and the soaking process will remove the bleach. Make sure it’s fully dry before putting anything else in.
Hamsters live 3-5 years while dwarf hamsters live 2-3 years and robo hamsters live 1 – 3 years. This is assuming hamsters receive good care. Bad care often leads to hamsters only living a few months.