The life cycle of a hamster is usually complete by the time this charming little pocket pet reaches his third year. Some hamster breeds live a little longer than others, but none of them live long enough in the opinion of those who love and care for them.
One of the factors that determines the life expectancy of a hamster is the type of hamster he is. The other factors are genetics and how well he is cared for. The Chinese hamster, Campbell's and dwarf winter white only live from 12 to 24 months. Syrian hamsters, also called golden or teddy bear hamsters, live about 24 to 36 months, and the Roborovski hamster takes the award for the hamster with the longest life span at anywhere from 2 to 3.5 years. As with every rule, there are exceptions, and some lucky hamsters have been known to live longer than the average lifespan, with some living long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday.
A baby hamster is called a "pup." At birth, it is pink, naked (without fur) and blind. A pup is completely defenseless and reliant on his mother. In approximately a week, he will begin to grow fur and teeth. After two weeks he can see, is able to move about on his own and has a fully developed fur coat, albeit somewhat short. Hamster babies can be weaned at the two-week mark, and this is a good time to begin handling pups intended for life as a pet. At 4 to 5 weeks of age, pups should be removed from the cage, otherwise their moms will turn against them.
Adolescence and Reproduction
Since hamsters only live a few years, adolescence comes quickly. Hamsters reach sexual maturity between the ages of 4 to 6 weeks, and males generally mature faster than females. However, a female should not be bred if she is under 10 weeks old because smaller and younger mother hamsters have a higher incidence of stillborn pups. The optimum age for a male to breed is 14 weeks. The gestation period is anywhere from 15 to 25 days, depending on the type of hamster it is. For example, the gestation period for a dwarf hamster is 18 to 25 days, while the gestation period for a Syrian hamster is 15 to 18 days. When birth is imminent, the pregnant hamster will be restless and begin to bleed from the vulva, an indication that the body is getting ready for delivery. Litter size also varies from one species of hamster to another. A Syrian hamster can have anywhere from 5 to 10 pups, while a dwarf hamster may have between four and six pups.
Hamster moms can get pregnant again within 24 hours of giving birth, so unless you are breeding them, it's wise to separate the parents as soon as the pups are born. Hamsters can become sterile at about 12 to 14 months of age, and if they are not bred prior to that, breeding a female hamster later in life could be detrimental to her health because it is hard on her pelvis and hips. With good care, solid nutrition and veterinary care when needed, pet hamsters can have a nice, long life cycle whether they are bred or not. Breeding hamsters is only for those who will take the responsibility seriously as it can be time and budget consuming.
syrian hamster on abstract white background image by Maximillian-Setislav from Fotolia.com
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.