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By Michael Arbeiter

As you consider whether or not to purchase a hamster, one question you may want to consider is how long your adorable new friend will be a part of your family for. Learn more about how long most hamsters live, and what you can do to ensure that your new, cuddly creature will live a full, healthy life under your roof, below.

How Long do Hamsters Live?

A hamster’s lifespan is a good deal shorter than that of most other common household critters, and any of the five species of domesticated hamster will generally live for two to three years, says Claudie, "The Hamster Whisperer" and proprietor of the Westchester Rescued Hamster Haven. Any hamster that is a year and a half old is considered elderly, she says, and how much your hamster shows his or her age will depend on a number of things, including their individual personality and energy level. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help your hamster live a healthy, fulfilling life.

Keeping Your Hamster Healthy

The easiest thing to keep in mind when caring for your hamster is consistent hand washing.

“Hamsters can actually catch colds from people,” Claudie says, “but what’s just a plain old cold for us can quickly turn into a bacterial respiratory infection in a hamster.” Thorough sanitizing shouldn’t be a practice exclusive to pet owners inflicted with the sniffles. “Even if [you’re] not sick … it’s important to wash your hands because you could be carrying germs in from the great outdoors and not even know it,” she says.

Injuries are just as pertinent a concern as ailments when it comes to hamsters. While hamster cages are meant to be veritable safe havens, they may bear unknown dangers. Hamsters have been known to break their legs and feet in wire wheels, Claudie says, and wire mesh wheels can be just as dangerous. Purchase only solid-surface wheels for your hamster and make sure your hamster has appropriate chew toys (like soft wood blocks) and hamster toys available to prevent unwanted chewing on wheels. If there are any metal or wire surfaces in your hamster’s habitat, longhaired hamsters should be trimmed so their fur does not get tangled or caught.

It’s also important to be particular about a hamster’s bedding; Claudie suggests avoiding cedar and pine shavings and opting instead for unscented paper-based bedding. Wood shavings can be potentially dangerous to small animals and can cause eye irritation, skin irritation and respiratory irritation, she explains. On top of this, the ubiquitous aromas of scented bedding can disorient a hamster. “This is a little animal that has bad eyesight, so they depend mostly, perhaps, on their scent of smell,” she adds.

A hamster’s poor eyesight can come into play in other ways a prospective owner will want to watch out for. Hamsters can only see a few inches in front of their faces, giving them a poor sense of height and making them more prone to taking flying leaps out of your hands. “And if you’re standing up when you’re holding a hamster, they can drop or jump out of your hands very suddenly,” Claudie says. Hamsters are very excitable and don't handle stress well. They may jump or bite if startled and can also develop stress related diseases, such as proliferative ileitis. As such, it is recommended to remain seated on the ground or a large couch while calmly handling your fuzzy friend and keep your hamster’s habitat to just a single level to prevent it from falling from inside its home.

Perhaps most important is the question of cohabitation. In general, hamsters should be kept singly. Despite claiming the cuddly moniker of “Teddy Bear hamsters,” adult Syrian hamsters will resort to extreme violence were it to cross paths with another (even a member of its own family), and other breeds, including the Campbell’s dwarf hamster, Roborovski hamster, and Djungarian hamster (also known as the Siberian hamster or the Russian winter white hamster), have been known to fight each other, particularly pregnant females.

Even if your hamster lives alone among unscented bedding and safe, solid wheels, it’s always important to keep an eye on him or her and provide them with the appropriate veterinary care throughout his or her life.

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