A 1969 film about Anne Boleyn, "Anne of the Thousand Days," depicted the short reign of King Henry VIII's second wife. Your hamster's life span is similarly short. It might not be as dramatic as the Marquess of Pembroke's, perhaps, but it won't be without memorable occasion.
Most hamsters can breed at the age of 3 months, but some females come into their initial heat earlier. The estrous cycle lasts four days. The male usually mates with the female at night. Females don't want the males around after copulation. A litter of five to nine pups arrives after a 16 day gestation period. Between two and 18 days after weaning, the female goes into estrus again. If she breeds continuously, she'll give birth every couple of months.
Newborn hamsters weigh between 2 grams and 3 grams -- they're very tiny. At birth, they're hairless, deaf and blind, but they do have teeth. It's important not to disturb the babies and their mother for at least a week after the pups are born. That's because female hamsters are prone to eating their young if they're bothered by people or other animals. Sexing hamsters is relatively easy, as the male's testes are large and noticeable, but you probably won't see them until the babies are about 4 weeks old. Babies can begin eating solid food at the age of 1 week. They open their eyes and begin seeing and hearing by 18 days. Between the ages of 3 weeks and 4 weeks, baby hamsters are ready for weaning.
While you can keep young hamsters together, by the time they reach sexual maturity, hamsters should live alone. Otherwise, you're inviting rodent mayhem. That's guaranteed of Syrian hamsters, the "larger" type, but you can try keeping pairs of dwarf males or dwarf females together, although you must be ready to separate them if hamster squabbles ensue. Although most hamster species don't care much for each other, they can be friendly with people if they're socialized right. They're crepuscular, so play with them in the evening and early morning rather than during the day. Provide your pet plenty of toys, including tunnels, a hiding place and an exercise wheel.
Your hamster's prime occurs before his first birthday. At that point, your hamster heads into old age. Geriatric hamsters are prone to all sorts of ailments, most of which aren't curable. That doesn't mean you don't take your pet to the vet when he appears ill, but expect symptom management rather than a cure. Hamsters can't tolerate most antibiotics. According to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, amyloidosis is the leading cause of death in hamsters, occurring when protein deposits form in various internal organs. Other common diseases of aging hamsters include cancer, kidney and liver disorders, and stomach ulcers.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.