Most hamster species live for 2-3 years on average, so they get old faster than many other pets. As hammy goes their lifecycle, are they going to be in extra pain and discomfort? Should you handle and care for them differently? We’ve done lots of research to provide you answers to these sensitive questions.
Caring for an old hamster has its own set of responsibilities. You have to tend to their joint pain, keep their teeth healthy, and help them manage life with cataracts and other diseases and illnesses.
If you have a hamster that’s at least two years old, you’re going to want to start prepping for care in their older age. In this guide, we’ll tell you what to do to make your hammy as comfortable and happy as they can be.
How to Care for an Old Hamster
All hamsters are fragile due to their small size. Senior hamsters are even more vulnerable. Just like us, as they age, hamsters experience many physiological changes. These can include the following –
- Sight, hearing and other hamster senses become less sharp.
- Bones become weaker and more prone to arthritis.
- The digestive system may have a harder time processing some foods.
- The immune system weakens making the body more susceptible to a variety of infections.
Old age definitely brings its own set of difficulties. However, a mindful owner can help make those last months safe and satisfying for the aging hammy.
Let’s take a look at some of the care practices and how they need to be adjusted.
Cleaning the cage
You should already clean your hammy’s cage daily. You don’t want to get lax with this now as your hamster enters its senior years. This is the most important time to prioritize a clean cage.
Why? Older hamsters are far more likely to develop illnesses and diseases. Their immune systems are aging right along with them and cannot fight off foreign invaders as well as they once could. A cage that is covered in urine, feces, or other messes is all it takes for hammy’s health to take a turn for the worst.
That means you should remove soiled bedding and visible contaminants when you see them. More thorough cage cleanings where you wipe down the cage and replace all food, water, and bedding are important but should not be carried out too often as they are stressful to hamsters.
Feeding a senior hamster
Speaking of food and water, older hamsters have to eat, too. You might have to change your hamster’s diet in their senior years. Their chompers are not what they used to be, after all. To get a gauge on hammy’s oral health, take a look at their teeth. Are their incisors aligned? If the answer is yes, you can continue feeding your hamster their standard diet.
If you notice a misalignment, this could be due to malocclusion. This is a condition that can affect hamsters and people alike. With a malocclusion, the jaw can become almost locked because of the misalignment. If your hamster’s teeth grow too long, a malocclusion can also occur.
In severe cases, this condition can prevent your hamster from eating since they won’t be able to open their mouths all the way. That’s why, at the first sign of oral health issues with a hammy, you should contact your vet and possibly change your hamster’s diet. Follow your vet’s advice regarding any change of diet. If they’re still not eating or can’t eat, take the hamster back to your vet, as a malocclusion or other oral health problem is likely.
In terms of drinking, sometimes as they mature, you might notice your hammy sucking on their water bottle more often. If this is the case for your pet, then make sure you refill the bottle before it’s completely empty.
Read more: Vet care for hamsters.
Cage Item Arrangement
The way you once organized your hamster’s cage may not work now that they’re older. Toys and activities should be in plain sight, as should food and water. If your hamster has to climb or make an effort to reach what they’re trying to get to, then you have to move it so it’s more convenient.
In their older age, your hammy probably has joint pain. They’re also not nearly as active as they once were. Try to make life easier on them so they don’t have to exude a great effort. That sometimes means switching enclosures. If, for example, you had an enclosure with more than one story, you might think of moving hammy to a single-story cage. This way, everything they need is close by.
While senior hamsters do not have bountiful energy like they did when they were young, they can’t forego all exercise. Make sure your hamster has a good quality wheel, even if he or she seems to be using it less frequently. If you notice that your hamster has stopped using the wheel altogether, talk to your veterinarian. There are ways to help a hamster overcome the pain and improve his or her quality of life.
Also, avoiding movement may be a symptom of something more serious, so your veterinarian will probably need to see your hamster for an overall assessment.
Exercise is important but should always be supervised. Overexertion at this age can be dangerous for your hamster, so keep an eye on them to ensure they’re not pushing themselves too hard. Using a hamster ball is questionable even with young hamsters – and best avoided with senior hammies, especially if they’re not already used to it.
How to handle an older hamster
Like what happens when we people age, daily aches and pains become a part of life for an old hamster. Your hamster might not be super fond of being handled if they ever were. They’re scared their pain will be exacerbated.
If you think your hamster may be in pain when you handle them, again, consult with your veterinarian. Don’t assume “it’s just old age”. It may be something that’s entirely treatable. Or at least manageable, to minimize your pet’s discomfort and pain.
You know your hamster best, so use your judgment and limit handling as may be necessary. Be patient. Even if your hamster got the “all clear” from the veterinarian. When you do handle your hamster, be gentle and aware of their possible limited sensory input. Your hamster may find hearing or seeing you approach more challenging.
Start by talking to them, keeping your voice down so you don’t disturb them. Then, slowly, reach for your hammy. Don’t leave them loose in your hand. Cup them softly or use your other hand to brace them.
You never know when a hamster will try to wriggle out of your hands, so make sure you keep the distance to the surface under your hands short. An elderly hamster is far more likely to become injured from a fall.
After playtime or cage cleaning is done, you’ll have to put hammy back in their cage. When you do, make sure you lower them completely to the floor of the cage and then let them go.
Disease/Pain Prevention in Older Hamsters
We already mentioned that older hamsters often have joint pain, but it doesn’t stop there. Senior hammies can also develop illnesses and diseases that make their lives difficult. We discussed one earlier, malocclusion.
Another condition older hamsters can get is cataracts. This is a vision issue that can affect us, humans, too. With cataracts, white clouds form over the eyes. As a hamster owner, you might even be able to see these clouds, especially since hamsters’ eyes are normally very dark. A small cataract can become bigger, eventually spreading over the whole eye until the hamster can’t see.
Once your hamster turns a year old, they could get arthritis. This can worsen as they turn two or three. The symptoms of arthritis include jerky motions, favoring less painful limbs when walking, slower movements, and joint pain.
Amyloidosis is another one to look out for. This condition affects the internal organs, causing them to swell up. Your hammy’s tummy will look large and distended. If not treated fast enough, amyloidosis can cause liver and/or kidney failure, so take your hamster to a vet immediately.
Although not as serious as the other conditions we’ve covered, hammies can also get dry, flaky skin as they get older. This will often be accompanied by a thinner coat. Sometimes bald spots develop, which isn’t abnormal.
Dry skin isn’t necessarily a problem. If your hamster is obsessively scratching or rubbing at the bald spot, you can either feed them cod liver oil or take them to the vet. It’s more common for male hamsters to develop this problem over females. The dry skin is a reaction to a drop in testosterone production as they age.
The bottom line
Have a good veterinarian who’s qualified to treat exotic pets such as hamsters. Work with him or her throughout your hamster’s life and even more so as your pet ages. Set up routine checkups as may be necessary and provide your senior hammy with the best possible care during her or his golden years/months.
Older hamsters are often slower and achier, but they still have as much love as they did in their earlier years. By providing them with the best possible care – including being on the lookout for geriatric diseases and illnesses – you can make the last year of your hammy’s life pleasant and less painful.