If you’ve got hamster and you think he is getting old, you should check out a few signs. My Teddy is a year and a half when I am writing this, so some of these signs I’ve seen in him.
Others I’ve seen in other hammies I know, particularly Oscar (family friend) who was a very gentle and mellow hammy.
So let’s see when hammies are old, and what signs to look for, and how to care for your old friend. Here are the signs you should look out for.
1. Your hammy is close to his 2nd birthday
Usually hamsters live 2-4 years, with Roborovski living the longest. A hamster, regardless of type, is considered old when he’s close to his second birthday. He may live much longer than this, or might not even reach his second birthday.
But, that’s the majority of the cases. This is not to say that hamsters die of old age around 24 months, but that’s when they’re about 80 years old (in human years).
As with humans, some hamsters live a very active life even in their old age, and some quiet down for the last 30 years of their life.
For example my Teddy is a Syrian male, and he was born mid-July 2017. At the time I’m writing this he’s a year and half old, and he has slowed down, and plays less.
He’s not 2 weeks away from his end, thankfully we still have some time together. But, he is way past his young adult life.
Still, there are other signs you need to watch out for, in conjunction to the age of your hamster.
2. His fur is starting to look sparse and matted
A hammy’s fur is usually bright, clean, possibly shiny, and always put together. Well, now that your hamster friend is becoming a senior, he might get a bit lazy or forgetful.
So if his fur becomes a bit ruffled or matted, this is why.
Older hamsters might also start to lose their fur. Hamsters are born blind, and bald, and unfortunately some hammies end up like that in their old age. You might start seeing bald patches in your hamster’s fur. Or it might just become sparse, and the hairs themselves will not be as soft and shiny as before.
They’ll be rather matte, and coarse. They might also change color. For example my Teddy has a bit of silver hairs around his ears, where there wasn’t that color before.
This will sound funny and/or gross, but it reminds me a lot of the ear hair some seniors get. Except it’s on top of his ears. He looks a bit like a madman.
Do keep in mind that your hamster’s fur could also be looking bad because of a skin condition, which is very probably in his old age. So while fur loss isn’t a definitive sign of old age, it’s still worth noting.
3. Eye problems occur, especially cataracts
Hamsters, like humans, can develop cataracts in their old age. This is because the composition of the inside of the eyeball naturally starts to break down. As such, the eyes will become milky, and unfocused.
A hamster usually has bright eyes, even if they’re such a dark color. Most have black eyes, but I’ve seen hammies with red eyes, dark red eyes, midnight blue eyes too.
You’ll notice your hamster has cataracts by the whiteness of his eyes. It might start out as a single white spot, and extend to the rest of his eye.
Other eye problems might occur (more on that here) but the most common one of the loss of eyesight.
Don’t panic if this happens to your hamster. In truth hamsters barely use their eyes in the first place. They’re notorious for not seeing well, and are very poor with judging distances or depth. You can find out more about hamster eyesight here.
The point is that a hamster without eyesight can lead a perfectly normal life. He will still react to sound and smell, and will recognize you.
4. Far less grooming than before
A hamster is usually a very clean, well groomed creature. You’ve probably noticed your hamster is grooming himself whenever he is not eating or running in his wheel.
Cleanliness is very important to hamsters, since this is what keeps their scent to a minimum, thus attracting no predators.
So, when your once very clean and shiny hammy starts to get a bit dusty, and doesn’t clean himself as much, he is getting old.
Old hamsters don’t clean themselves as much. Partly because they can’t reach ever place anymore, and partly because they kind of don’t care.
Especially the back of their heads, that’s a place you’ve probably seen your hammy tug at and comb like crazy. That requires the most effort, as well as twisting to the side to clean his flanks.
Those probably don’t happen anymore. As a result, your hammy might get a bit smelly. This is especially true for the hamster’s rear-end. You might find his rear soiled from time to time, without there being an infection, or wet tail.
You can help your hammy by using a clean cotton bud, dipped in a bit of warm water, and cleaning that area. You will need several cotton buds. Do not soak the buds, they need to be moist but not drenched.
5. Your hammy has lost most of his appetite
An old hamster will change his eating patterns too. While usually he would eat a commercial hamster mix, with grains, seeds, and a few vitamins, now he will be picky.
This happens with most hamsters, and my Teddy is starting to leave the hard, dry grains in his food bowl more often. He’ll go for softer foods like walnuts, carrots, boiled brown rice, broccoli, and so on.
He does still hoard food, and I find grains there as well. But he doesn’t eat them as much as before. He simply doesn’t eat as much as he used to.
Your hammy might be the same, and it can have several explanations. One of them could be that his teeth can’t deal with hard food as well as before. Another could be that grains can’t be digested as well, so he will need softer food.
You should still keep his usual food mix, but only keep it to half. The other half replace with cooked, softer food like a bit of plain omelet or egg white, steamed broccoli, steamed brown rice, a bit of boiled plain chicken or even porridge.
For more info on which foods are safe for hamsters, you should check out this safe and unsafe food list.
About porridge, it should be cooked in water, plain with no salt, sugar, or any other condiments. Half a teaspoon of porridge or more than enough. Keep it on the dryer, lumpier side of porridge.
6. Lack of energy, less playtime
An old hamster is a tired hamster. You could say he;s gotten lazy, but that’s not particularly true. Hammies are bundles of energy, and the only reason they even stop running on their wheel or playing with their toys is because they’re starting to get tired.
No amount of extra sleep will get them bouncing back through their cage. It’s just something that comes with old age.
For example my Teddy used to be a runner. My God he’d run the night away and wake us up with his squeaky wheel. When it wasn’t squeaking it was bumping against the cage, he was running so hard with his little hamster feet.
Now I haven’t had to oil the wheel in several months. He does get into it, gives it a few spins, and follows my hand into the wheel if i hold it in front of the wheel.
But on his own he won’t do much running or playing around anymore. He’s starting to turn into an orange fluffy potato, sitting on his hind-end, blinking at me.
Even so, he’s still got some energy in him.
7. More sleep and resting time
Another thing that comes with a lack of energy is more sleep. Yes, hamsters will sleep a lot even as adults. But as seniors, you’ll see even less of them.
Unlike human seniors, who seem to not be able to sleep as much as they used to, hamsters will spend significantly more time sleeping than before.
They still wake up and run around, eat, pee, spin the wheel a bit. But they go back into their nest soon enough.
My Teddy used to be up around 9 PM, and start his usual rounds. Now he’s up earlier around 7 PM, for about an hours, then pops back into his nest.
Which he moved out of his hideout, by the way, and now nests under the first floor of his cage. Which is transparent, and I can see him sleeping there. He does groom and eat in his nest, but he sleeps so much more.
So if this happens with your hamster friend, don’t worry. He’s trying to rest, and catch up on some sleep. It won’t help him much, since his body is slowly breaking down and he is not a young hammy anymore. But he is still healthy, even in his old age.
8. Shaky, unsure walking about the cage
A hammy is not the brightest creature, but he normally doesn’t bump against the cage. However an old hamster will start to slowly lose control of his footing. His feet will be weaker, and some joint or bone problems might occur.
Problems like arthritis, for example, will make it harder for your friend to travel from one end of his habitat, to the other.
He might stop in his tracks more often, or seem to trip. This will be present n very old hamsters usually, since it’s a sign that the body is very worn out.
9. Dental problems, teeth break easily
A major problem with hammies is their teeth. They’re constantly growing, and need to be constantly filed down. An old hamster is often going to avoid the hard, dry grains in his food mix.
This can lead to overgrown teeth, and other teeth-related problems. Dental infections can be more common in a senior hamster.
Normally a hamster’s teeth get filed down when the hamster eats something very hard, like grains, or chews on something wooden. Like his chew toys, or possibly his hideout.
An old hamster that’s avoiding hard surfaces for his teeth probably already has dental problems, but they will become worse with overgrown teeth.
If this is the case, I recommend taking your hamster to a veterinarian. He will be able to file down, or clip the hamster’s teeth to an appropriate length.
Another problems with teeth is that they might break more easily in senior hamsters. A broken tooth can lead to a infection more easily, and is painful for the hamster himself.
Dental problems can make eating a chore for your hammy, and you will need to add softer food to his food bowl.
10. His cage is less clean, needs cleaning more often
Usually a hammy’s cage is pretty clean. Aside from the odd droppings and seed shells, there isn’t much to clean. There is the pee corner, and if you’ve put a small litter box there then that’s easy to clean too.
But a senior hammy will not keep just one pee corner. He will go on other places in his cage, and on his very old age will also pee in his nest.
This is something hamsters – adult, healthy hamsters – never do. The whole point of having a pee corner is to keep the smell as far away from their nest as possible. This is done to keep predators from figuring out where the nest is.
So an old hammy not using his pee corner is in his final stages.
This will mean that you’ll have to clean the cage and change the bedding much more often. You can find out more about that here, including which beddings are safe for your hamster.
11. You notice less droppings in his cage
Less droppings are related to less eating. If your hammy is not eating as much, he won’t be passing as much.
This can also be because of blockage along the intestines. Constipation is not uncommon in seniors, both human and hamsters, and is one of he reasons you might notice significantly less droppings in your hammy’s cage.
If this is the case for your hammy, make sure you bring him to a vet. He will know what to do to help the hamster’s gut, and if there is anything to be done in the first place.
12. Your friend might protest when picked up
If your friend was usually calm and okay with being picked up, he might protest now. Nothing personal, it’s just that he is tired and would like a nap.
As a senior he’s always tired, and would like a nap. It could also be that something inside of him is hurting, or he might have a sore part of his body. Hamsters aren’t the most expressive when it comes to pain, so you might not notice for a long time.
13. His general shape will change
By this I mean that whether he was a chubby or slim hamster in his youth, now he will be oddly shaped. One of the first things you will notice is his neck.
Usually his cheek pouches kept his neck fluffy and puffed. Now however his neck will be noticeable, and a bit on the skinny side.
In fact the entire muscle structure will start to shrink and shrivel, and the skin will start to become thin and sag in places.
Of course, your friend is still furry and this will be harder to tell. But you can still make out the general shape of him, and whether it’s starting to look bony or not.
His eyes might look like they’re bulging too, since your friend’s face won’t be as full or fluffy as before.
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Caring for a senior hamster
Your hammy has been by your side, all his life. Now that he’s getting old it’s important to make his final days as comfortable as possible.
There are a few things your can do to make it easier for your friend, and here they are.
Also, if you’re looking for a general supply list with what your hamster will need throughout his life, here it is.
Add softer food to his diet
An old hamster will have trouble eating. Not only that but he will also become a picky eater. However most hamsters won’t say no to a piece of cooker chicken or a bit of porridge. Here’s a rundown of the foods you can add to an old hamster’s diet:
- Porridge – cooked with water, not salt, sugar, any condiments. Keep it on the dry, lumpy side. Half a teaspoon per day is enough.
- Steamed veggies like carrot, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus
- Cooked chicken or fish, plain, no oil
- Cucumber slice
- Cooked egg white, plain
- Steamed brown rice or wholegrain pasta
These are all in conjunction with Hammie’s regular food. So feel free to make it a sort of half and half mix of his commercial food and these softer options.
Be warned that he might ignore the commercial food if you give him too much cooked food, and you’ll end up creating an imbalance in his diet.
Continue interacting with him
A senior hammy, even on that can’t see very well, or at all, still needs your presence. Pay with his like before, bu expect him to not come out as often.
Talk to him whenever you see him, and generally pay attention to the creature that brought you so many cute moments.
He might be old and shaky now, but he was a maniac tearing the exercise wheel when he was younger. Remember that hamster, and honor him.
Even if he’s not as active as he used to be, he might be easier to pick up, if he usually was very fussy about it.
Keep his habitat/room comfortable
Keeping your hammy’s habitat clean and warm makes things much easier for him. While a healthy, adult hamster will only need a cage cleaning about once per week, a senior might need it twice per week.
However this is only if you notice a strong smell coming from his cage. If everything is okay, you can keep the cleaning schedule as it is.
Do remember that cleaning the cage is stressful for the hamster. Even if you put him in a transport cage while you clean his usual cage, he will know something has changed.
Hamsters are sensitive to smell, and a freshly cleaned cage will have much less of his smell than before. For that, you should keep a bit of his old bedding and nesting material in the cleaned cage, to make things more familiar.
Another element if the temperature, which should be a 20-23 C/68-75 F range. That’s the most comfortable range for hamsters, and will keep your hamster friend happy and warm.
Make sure the cage is away from any drafts, and won’t be in direct sunlight either.
Any objects in the cage that require climbing like a rope or a high bridge should probably be taken out, since they can become dangerous. Especially if the hamster has also become blind or is a daredevil like mine.
When hammy passes away
At one point, even with all your efforts to make things comfortable and cozy, you friend will unfortunately pass away. While painful, try and focus on how well you took care of him.
The feedings, the playtimes, the funny faces, even the annoying bar chewing. Your hammy was your furry little friend, and no other hamster will replace him.
Even if you do end up getting another hammy, they will have a different personality, and be their own hamster.
Honor your late friend, and say your goodbyes. You’ve done all you can for him, and now it’s time for him to rest.
A word from Teddy
I hope you found what you were looking for in this article. Us hammies don’t have a very long life, but I know we can make you happy. I hope the hammy you have is feeling well, and is as happy as a hammy can be.
If you want to know more about us hamsters you should read the related articles below. You’ll find out how to care for us and keep us healthy.