Looking after the Elderly
In order to properly take care of your hamster, it is important to address the changing needs of your pet as he ages. The needs of a senior hamster are quite different those of a young hamster or pregnant female.
Hamsters have an average lifespan of 2 to 3 years. This means that when a hamster is aged 15 to 18 months, he is considered to be middle-aged. A hamster who is over the age of 2 is considered to be a senior hamster.
Senior hamsters are more susceptible to illness than younger hamsters. Keeping his living area clean is always important and a key to maintaining good health, but as your hamster ages it becomes even more crucial to make sure you clean his cage at least once per week. Instead of doing a thorough disinfecting and washing of your pet’s cage once a month, you might want to consider doing it every 2 or 3 weeks in order to prevent disease-causing organisms from reaching a critical level.
As your hamster gets older, you might notice changes in activity levels and behaviour. This is normal and not a cause for concern unless you notice other signs of illness or that your pet is in pain. If you notice that your senior pet is ill, notify your vet right away.
Older hamsters can develop painful joints as they age. If it seems like your pet is having difficulty moving, make sure that you remove anything from the living area that might be used for climbing, as this might be frustrating for your pet.
Cataracts can develop in some older hamsters, and this will cause the eye to look milky. Eventually it can cause blindness, but this does not need to affect the hamster’s quality of life, and most hamsters do not seem to be discouraged by this development. (Hamsters are extremely nearsighted anyway and can only see for a few inches in front of them, even when they are younger.)
Older hamsters can develop problems with their teeth, which can interfere with eating. Check your pet’s teeth from time to time to see if the incisors still meet properly. If they do not, this is a condition called malocclusion and can lead to death by starvation. A vet can treat this condition.
Senior hamsters can also have teeth that become more fragile. This can lead to weight loss and starvation. If you think that your hamster has an issue with this, try offering soft foods such as cereals, pastas and rice.
A hamster’s fur also thins as it ages. Be sure to provide plenty of warm bedding so that they do not become chilled. You can even provide special nesting material (sold in pet stores) that is designed to provide a warm area to sleep.
Finally, take care not to introduce new hamsters to your older pet. Not only are older hamsters less likely to accept a new hamster, they could be mistreated by or contract an illness from the newcomer.