Hamsters make great pets that are low maintenance, tons of fun, and enjoyable to play with every day. The saddest part of owning a hamster is unfortunately when their time comes to an end.
And because it’s important to be the best owner you can be up until the very end, there’s a lot you should know about your hamster’s life expectancy and their eventual passing.
That’s why in this article we’re going to cover all of the unfortunate topics related to a hamster’s death, including their life expectancy, common causes for the death of your furry friend, and more.
So while we want to always provide helpful information, this article will be a little bit sadder, but still contains lots of great info to help you cope with their eventual passing.
Here’s what we’re going to be covering in this article. Feel free to click any of the links below to be taken directly to that section:
Or keep reading into our first section where we cover the average life expectancy of a hamster.
Life Expectancy of a Hamster
While we all wish hamsters could live forever or at least as long as the rest of us, unfortunately they live much shorter lives relative to people and some other animals.
The average life expectancy of a hamster is about 2 to 3 years. If your hamster is healthy and has good genes, they can live to be 3 – 4 years old and vice versa if they are ill or prone to sickness, they may live even less than 2 years.
Compare this to dogs or cats that have a life expectancy of 10 – 20 years, hamster’s have very a very short time on Earth. That is often why medical procedures and advancements haven’t quite reached hamsters yet.
While we won’t comment on the moral aspect, generally it’s not considered feasible to invest thousands of dollars in treating cancer or other serious diseases if only to prolong a hamster’s life by a few months.
So if you own a hamster or are thinking of getting one, keep in mind their short life span of only 2 -3 years is quick for you, but for them it’s everything they’ll ever know.
Common Causes of Death
A hamster’s life is delicate and while they only live 2 – 3 years, they are susceptible to many types of diseases and illnesses that can cut their life short.
Some of the most common causes of death for a hamster are:
- Old age
- Wet tail
- Getting attacked
- Stress and anxiety
And in the following sections, we’re going to be provide more information on each of the causes listed above. While you can’t prevent a hamster’s eventual passing, you can be proactive in keeping them healthy and avoiding many causes of an early demise.
First, let’s talk about old age.
Passing soundly of old age is about the best option you can hope for when owning a hamster or any other pet. It means they lived a full life as long as they could and didn’t pass early due to injury or something else.
The most common signs of a hamster dying of old age are that they become slow moving, less active, they may not eat or drink as much, and they become less playful.
While a lot of those symptoms tend to overlap with other common causes of death, the biggest indicator of old age is that your hamster has lived for at least 2 – 3 years and they are otherwise completely healthy.
It would be wonderful if hamsters and our other pets could live forever, but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that and the best we can hope for is that our furry friends live as long as their lifespan allows.
Wet tail is a serious condition that can be fatal to hamsters. It is essentially diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration, infection, and other serious health conditions.
This condition can be identified by soft or liquid brown stool or staining near the rear end. If you notice your hamster having diarrhea, you need to get them treatment from a trained veterinarian ASAP.
Wet tail treatment costs anywhere from $50 – $150 depending on the severity of the case, your location, veterinarian, and more. You can read more about it in the article below.
Without treatment, wet tail can be fatal for your hamster within only 48 hours. That’s why a quick diagnosis and treatment is so important to keep your hamster kicking for more time.
Infections are dangerous for hamsters because of their delicate immune systems and tiny bodies. Even a small infection in the eye or from a cut can have devastating consequences if it spreads to other ares of the body when left untreated.
Also, if left untreated, infections can lead to abscesses, which require surgical removal from a trained veterinarian and if untreated can lead to serious health complications.
Infections can come from a wide variety of places, such as dirty cages, bites from other hamsters, cuts from falls or their metal cage or toys, and more.
If you notice any cuts, bleeding, abscesses, or any other physical abnormality on their body, you should take them to a veterinarian ASAP to get checked out.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, hamsters are prey animals in the wild, meaning they get hunted by other animals. They are also territorial and generally live alone in the wild. That means two things.
First, if you hamster gets exposed to other animals, such as cats or dogs, they may meet an early demise. Cats are predators and hamsters are their exact type of prey, so you should keep them separate at all times.
Even having a cat near their cage can cause stress and anxiety, which is another cause of death that we’ll talk about below and is covered in the following article.
Second, hamsters should generally live alone and not with other hamsters. Because they are territorial, they may get into fights and scratch each other, leading to cuts that become infected and spread throughout their body.
Hamsters living with other animals is generally a no-go because of the reasons listed above.
There are two types of tumors that can affect a hamster and other small animals: malignant and benign. Benign tumors are generally safe and only harmless lumps of fat that can often be left alone if they aren’t causing your furry friend any pain.
On the other hand, malignant tumors are the dangerous ones, which are also known as cancerous. If your hamster develops a cancerous tumor, they may not have long to live.
And because hamsters have a relatively short life span of only 2 – 3 years, there isn’t often much to be done, especially if the cancer has spread.
The most common treatment is surgery to remove the tumor, which often costs between $50 and $200. And because the cancer spreading can be fatal, the sooner the tumor is caught and removed the better.
As a result, you should always be checking your hamster for any physical abnormalities that may indicate the presence of a malignant or cancerous tumor. Your vet can provide a complete diagnosis and treatment plan.
Abscesses are a build-up of pus underneath your hamster’s skin and they can be fatal if left untreated. They generally rise from infections as a result of infection, poor hygiene, or even a diet that is lacking in necessary nutrients and vitamins.
These abscesses will often cause physical pain in your hamster and if not treated before the infection spreads, they can lead to an early death.
The generally treatment plan for an abscess is to puncture, drain, and clean the area to prevent any spread of the infection. This treatment often costs between $25 and $100.
You can read more about hamster abscesses in the article below:
If you notice a lump on your hamster’s skin that is accompanied by redness, swelling, and sensitivity, you should take them to a vet right away to get a complete diagnosis.
Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety are an interesting cause of death because your hamster won’t die directly as a result of stress, but more indirectly.
Feeling stressed or anxious leads to increased levels of cortisol in their body and high levels of this chemical for an extended period of time can be fatal.
Cortisol increases blood pressure and heart rate, which can be helpful in terms of fight or flight. But if your hamster experiences the elevated cortisol for extended periods of time, their high blood pressure and heart rate can put them at risk of heart attack or other cardiovascular problems.
A few environmental factors that can lead to increased levels of stress and cortisol include:
- Loud noises
- Little privacy
- No exercise
- Other animals, such as hamsters or cats
- Lack of wheels or toys
- Too much light
As a result, it’s important to give them an environment that is comfortable and keeps them stress free to live a long and happy life.
Overeating is another cause of death that isn’t very common or well-known to hamster owners. However, if you are feeding your hamster too much food, they’ll likely eat it with no real concern, especially if it’s a delicious treat.
But eating too much can cause your hamster to become bloated or dehydrated. They may not exercise as much as they should and become lazy, which can lead to a weakened cardiovascular system and overall decline in health.
As a result, you should only give your hamster 1 – 2 tablespoons 2x per day of a well-balanced diet. That means a majority of specially designed pellets that include all the nutrients and vitamins they need, as well as supplemented with occasional fruits and vegetables that are safe for them to eat.
While your hamster may dine like they’re at a one-hamster buffet, you need to regular their food intake to keep them happy and healthy.
Signs of a Dying Hamster
So far we’ve covered the life expectancy of hamsters and the most common causes of death. We’ve also talked about why it’s important to uncover any potential health issues sooner rather than later.
The sooner a tumor, abscess, infection, or unhealthy behavior is identified, the sooner it can be remedied and the likelihood of survival increases.
That’s why it’s important to be able to identify the signs of a dying hamster and take steps to resolve any issues with a trained veterinarian immediately.
The most common signs of an unhealthy or dying hamster are:
- Eating less
- Stop eating
- Not playing
- Prolonged inactivity (except when hibernating)
- Diarrhea, also known as wet tail
If your hamster is experiencing any of these signs, they likely correspond to one of the common causes of death listed above and should be attended to as soon as possible.
Being proactive is always the best approach when it comes to your hamster’s health and prolonging their relatively short lifespans.
How Long Does it Take a Dying Hamster to Die
The time it takes a dying hamster to die depends on what they are going through. The most common causes of death and the length of time it takes to pass are listed below:
|Cause of Death||Time to Pass|
|Wet tail||48 hours|
|Infections||3 – 7 days|
|Tumors||1 – 2 months|
|Abscesses||2 – 4 weeks|
|Stress and anxiety||2 – 3 months|
|Overeating||2 – 5 days|
Why do Hamsters Die so Easily
It’s generally known that hamsters die in odd ways. So much so that there’s a reddit thread documenting the precarious positions our little furry friends find themselves in and there are lots of interesting answers. But there are a few reasons as to why this seems to happen so often.
Hamsters tend to die so easily because they are small prey animals with delicate immune and digestive systems, and most importantly they have boundless curiosity, which gets them into precarious and life threatening situations.
While they are adorable creatures, they live in a world that is very dangerous to them. They have lots of predators, even inside homes, such as cats and dogs. They also don’t do well with other animals and will fight even other hamsters in the same cage, as noted above.
And hamsters have a lot of curiosity. They’ll explore, nibble on, and run behind just about anything and everything in their immediate area. That means wires, getting under carpets, couches, washing and drying machines, outside, and more.
While it’s a sad day if a hamster passes, if they die in some odd or weird way, it’s most likely due to their extremely curious nature.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few of the most commonly asked questions when it comes to the end of a hamster’s life:
No, hamsters don’t play dead on purpose, but you may find them laying still because they are sleeping or hibernating, also known as torpor.
Hamsters with tumors often live for 1 – 2 months before they die. However, not all tumors are fatal and the sooner a tumor is identified and diagnosed, the more likely your hamster is to survive.
No, hamsters do not bury themselves before they die. They do like to burrow and hide under their bedding, but it’s not something they do before dying.
Yes, hamsters can die from stress, which increases cortisol levels resulting in high blood pressure and a higher heart rate. Those conditions put them at a higher risk for heart attack or stroke.
And there you have it! There’s so much to know about hamsters and life threatening illnesses, diseases, and precarious positions that our little friends are susceptible to and we hope this article has provided enough information to keep you fully informed.
Being proactive about your hamster’s health is the best way to help them live a long, happy, and comfortable life. Feeding them the right foods, regular vet checkups, and identifying any life threatening signs is vital to keeping your hamster alive for their average lifespan of 2 – 3 years.
If you ever suspect something is wrong or off with your hamster, please consult a trained veterinarian for the most up-to-date and specific wellness advice for your furry friend.