Tiny, toothy and full of personality, hamsters are domesticated members of the rodent family that fit in your hand. They make entertaining, low-maintenance companions. Provide yours with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise and a comfortable environment, and she could live up to three years.
Hamsters have been known survive to the ripe old age of 4, but most hamsters won't live that long. The Syrian hamster, a larger species that is the most popular pet hamster, usually lives two to three years. The average life span of dwarf hamsters, such as the Chinese, Siberian and Roborovski hamsters, is about one to two years, but some may live as long as three years.
Care and Feeding
As with all pets, a healthy lifestyle generally increases your hamster's longevity. Hamsters need appropriate food, fresh water and quality bedding to stay healthy. Purchase hamster mix that contains seeds, protein pellets and corn at your local pet shop. Supplement her diet with fresh carrots, lettuce, spinach and the occasional almond. Attach a bottle with a drinking tube to her cage so she always has access to water. Change the water every few days to ensure freshness. Cover the bottom of her cage with shredded paper, which makes excellent bedding and encourages her to nest and burrow.
The Right Environment
A roomy wire cage with a solid bottom will give your hamster space to burn her infinite energy. Provide her with an exercise wheel and toys to keep her busy. Paper towel and toilet paper tubes make inexpensive tunnels for her to explore. Place a small piece of tissue in her cage and she will shred it to make extra bedding. Offer hard, untreated wood blocks or dog biscuits to gnaw on. Her teeth keep growing all her life so she needs plenty to chew on to keep them the right size. Provide a cozy, private sleeping and rest area, such as an overturned box with a small door opening. But don't expect your petite pal to rest when you do. Lively, quick and mostly nocturnal, hamsters will keep you up all night with their antics and exercise routine. Place the cage in a room other than your bedroom if you want a good night's sleep.
Signs of Illness
A hamster's tiny lungs are prone to respiratory disease. Your pet can catch a cold from you or from a light draft, so avoid handling her if you are sick and keep her enclosure appropriately warmed -- 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 -- and draft-free. If your tiny friend has hair loss or alopecia, she may have a form of mange; get her to your vet ASAP. If you notice that she has diarrhea, has matted fur around her tail and seems irritable, she may have a common disease called wet tail. Sadly, hamsters with this illness usually die within seven days of its onset, according to the Michigan Humane Society. Always consult your vet if you suspect your hamster is ill.
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Based in Los Angeles, Mary Helen Berg has been writing about pets, travel, families and parenting since 1989. Her work has appeared in publications such as "The Los Angeles Times" and "Newsweek." Berg holds a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.