Hamsters Are a Popular Pet, but Why Do They Die So Easily?

Alex West - Author

Dec. 15 2023, Published 8:20 a.m. ET

A child playing with a hamster in a ball
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Hamsters are almost always inbred.
  • They come with innate health issues and many aren't cared for properly.
  • Hamsters have a life expectancy of 18–36 months.
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Some furry friends are more work than others, so hamsters have become the family go-to when the kids need something a little bit more low maintenance than a cat or a dog. While they're surely cute and definitely loveable, hamsters come with a major drawback, too.

Unfortunately, their life expectancy is only a matter of months — 18–36 months to be exact. While some hamsters can live for several years, many households tend to find that their hamster dies pretty easily.

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A girl holding a hamster for a blessing by a priest in Ontario, Canada, on Sept. 30, 2023
Source: Getty Images

Why do hamsters die so easily?

Cherish your memories with your hamster while you can because chances are, it won't be for long. Like all pets, the hamster had to be domesticated from the wild. According to NPR, the hamsters in pet stores all trace back to one lab. As a result, the species became incredibly inbred.

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Inbreeding in any species comes with the risks of terrible health issues and birth defects. In the case of the hamster, this breeding caused some major heart disease. As commercial breeders continue to attempt to keep up with demand, they only perpetuate more health issues.

So, the hamster you take home is already prone to disease and innate health problems. Plus, hamsters don't handle stress well. In fact, too much stress will put extra strain on their already weak heart. If children are playing with the hamster too harshly, this could cause a heightened chance of death.

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In addition to these health concerns, it isn't uncommon for owners to pretty much just be bad at taking care of their pets. Without doing proper research, many people bring the animals into their home, stuff them in a cage, and just feed whatever packaged food is marketed to them the best.

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However, like any animal, there are definitely some best practices for taking care of hamsters. "Feeding your hamster an improper diet, such as high-sugar or high-fat foods, can lead to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues, which can shorten their lifespan. A balanced diet of commercial hamster pellets, fresh vegetables, and occasional treats is essential for a long lifespan," explains Hepper.

Part of taking care of a hamster is making sure it has proper access to water. Hamsters can get dehydrated very easily, especially if their bottle gets clogged without you knowing it. This can lead to organ failure.

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Hamsters can often get territorial or show signs of aggression. If multiple hamsters are in a singular cage, especially one that is too small or cramped, they may begin fighting, which can lead to injuries or death.

Sometimes it can seem like a hamster dies out of nowhere. It's a common grievance among hamster owners that, while they try to do everything right, their hamster randomly passes away.

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One concern they may be overlooking is parasites. Worms and other pests are often harder to detect which might leave owners stumped when things suddenly go wrong.

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The British Hamster Association warns to look out for "dry and scaling skin, hair loss, dandruff, frequent scratching, and scabbing," according to Mom.

In the end, if you want to buy a hamster, be sure to research thoroughly how to take care of it properly. Although their lives are relatively short compared to other small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, hamsters are fun pets even if it's for a shorter amount of time.

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