Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Aging Hamsters

By Catya
Catya is a judge with the California Hamster Association. She shares her experiences in hamster ownership from a high school student's perspective.

aging hamster in bedding
As my hamster Clare aged, she lost her color.
aging hamster eating
Photos Courtesy Catya
Molly the hamster enjoys food that has been specially softened.

Hello again, everyone! I hope you all had a good Easter and Passover. I enjoyed the spring break from my busy schoolwork, and took the opportunity to spend more quality time with my hamsters. These days, my hamsters need more time than ever.

During the heyday of my research project and breeding program, around two years ago, we had litter after litter of pups. Pups need a lot of special care. It was so much fun to take care of the hamsters when they were brand-new and small! (well … smaller anyway) Watching the pups make their first wobbly forays out of the nest took my breath away every time.

Now, almost two years later, they are not so young anymore, but they still need care. Taking care of older hamsters is actually a lot like taking care of pups — you have to make sure they have a lot of soft foods, because their teeth aren’t so good anymore, and you have to make sure they have enough soft bedding to keep them warm, because their coat might not do the job. I’ve had several of my hamsters go pretty much completely bald as they got older! I have a heating pad that I put under the hamsters’ cage and turn to the lowest setting at night.

A couple of my elderly hamsters have had trouble with achy joints and lost flexibility. Sometimes, they can’t clean themselves properly anymore. When that happens, I’ll help them groom by petting them softly with a baby toothbrush. Before my hamsters started aging, I never thought a Roborovski would sit totally still in my hand, but one of them — Cassiopeia — did! She was a feisty girl her whole life, but when she got old, she and I came to an understanding. When I brushed her fur, she sat peacefully in my hand and made little contented noises.

As my hamsters have gotten older, I’ve noticed that they help take care of each other! Vespa and her children are a perfect example of this. Her daughters bring her food, let her get the best treats first, and let her pick the coziest spot in the nest to sleep in. I’ve seen this before with Teddy and Clare, too. Teddy was younger than his mate Clare, and when she got old, he took very good care of her. In her old age, she developed osteoporosis and broke her leg, and Teddy was an absolute trooper about it. He brought her things so she wouldn’t have to get up. When she slept, he let her elevate her leg by resting it on his head! He sat still, even if he was awake, so that she could rest.

Taking care of older hamsters might not seem as exciting as taking care of pups, but I still love it. I feel so privileged to be able to share my hamsters’ whole life cycle, in all of its ups and downs, and to watch them show such extraordinary care for each other.

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Reader Comments
I have a Chinese dwarf hampster that is really old. What kids of soft foods can I feed him? He will no longer each lettuces, carrots or his hamster food. He seems hungry, He picks up sunflower seeds and holds them to his mouth but then puts them down. I am concerned about him. Please give me some advice. I want to keep him as comfortable as possible.
jenny, malvern, PA
Posted: 11/9/2010 6:20:29 PM
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