When choosing a new pet, always consider its lifespan, and whether you’re prepared for the commitment. Most pet rodent species only survive for a few years. However, some rodents live longer than others.
The longest living rodent pet is the chinchilla. With proper care, chinchillas can live for 10 to 20 years. Degus and guinea pigs come in second, with both rodents frequently reaching 5+ years of age. The rodent with the shortest lifespan is the mouse. Pet mice have an average life expectancy of 1-2 years.
If you’d like a rodent that will be with you for over a decade, a chinchilla is the best option. If you can’t commit to caring for an animal for that long, choose a rodent with a shorter lifespan. As gerbils live for 3-5 years, they’re a great intermediate option.
How Long Do Pet Rodents Live?
Rodents make popular pets for a number of reasons. They’re sociable and intelligent animals, and are simple to care for. The main upside is that they’re relatively small, and don’t take up much space. But one of the downsides to keeping a pet rodent is their short life expectancy.
Compared to larger pets, the majority of rodents (such as mice and hamsters) don’t live very long. You can expect most pet rodents to survive for a few years at most, depending on species. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Rodents make great pets for people who can’t commit to a decade or more of care.
Pet rodents live significantly longer lives than wild rodents. This is because wild rodents often fall victim to predators, starvation, extreme temperatures, disease, infections, and parasites.
Captive rodents live in controlled environments and rarely face such dangers. But even with exemplary care and an optimal diet, most rodents succumb to old age within a few years.
In most cases, the larger the rodent, the longer it will live. For example, rats live longer than mice, and guinea pigs live longer than rats. This doesn’t apply to all rodents, however. Gerbils are smaller than rats, and yet they outlive them by 2 years on average.
If you want a rodent, you must be prepared to say goodbye to your pet within a short time. As mentioned, there are some rodent pets that live long lives, such as chinchillas.
Why Do Rodents Live Short Lives?
Here are the reasons why rodents have shorter lifespans:
- Size. Smaller mammals, for the most part, have much shorter lifespans than larger ones. A mouse may only live for a year, whereas an elephant can live until the age of 70
- Heart rate. The faster an animal’s heart beats, the shorter its lifespan. Rats have a heart rate of 330-480 beats per minute, and live for 2-3 years. The heart of a Galapagos tortoise beats 6 times per minute, and it lives for over 100 years
- Age of sexual maturity. An animal doesn’t need to live a long life if it can breed from a young age. It only needs to survive long enough to raise the next generation
If you compare rodents to humans, it’s easy to understand why they don’t live very long. We reach sexual maturity in our teenage years, and usually have one baby at a time. Gerbils can breed from 9 weeks of age, and have around six pups per litter. They can get pregnant again within a few hours of giving birth.
So, in terms of evolution, it doesn’t matter if a gerbil dies young. By its first birthday, a gerbil could already have grandchildren or great-grandchildren. Its DNA will be passed on even if it only lives a short time.
According to the University of Liverpool, animals with longer lifespans have special proteins that allow their cells to repair themselves. This means that their bodies can better cope with the process of aging.
Which Pet Rodent Lives the Longest?
All pet rodents live longer as pets than they would in the wild. But not all pet rodents have the same life expectancy. In general, the larger the rodent, the longer it will live.
The table below lists the average lifespans of the most popular pet rodents. It also lists the maximum lifespan, based on the oldest recorded individual of each species.
|Pet Rodent||Average Life Expectancy||Maximum Lifespan|
|Mouse||1-2 years||7 years|
|Hamster||2-3 years||4 years|
|Rat||2-3 years||7 years|
|Gerbil||3-5 years||8 years|
|Guinea Pig||5-7 years||14 years|
|Degu||5-9 years||11 years|
|Chinchilla||10-20 years||29 years|
According to Science Magazine, the rodent with the longest lifespan ever recorded was a male naked mole rat. It was 28 years old when it died in 2002, and still holds the record for the oldest rodent in the world. But naked mole rats can’t be kept as pets, as they’re too difficult to care for.
Two rodent pets that live long lives are the guinea pig and the degu. Degus and guinea pigs regularly live for over 5 years in captivity. With proper care, they may live for 7 years or more.
But the pet rodent with the longest lifespan is the chinchilla. If you treat your chinchilla well and keep it happy and healthy, it may live for 20 years.
If you’d prefer a pet rodent with a short life expectancy, opt for a mouse or a hamster. They rarely live longer than 2 years, even with optimal care.
How Long Do Pet Mice Live?
Mice are the smallest rodents you can keep as pets. At their full adult size, they typically measure 4 inches from head to the base of the tail. Because of their small size, mice have the shortest lifespan of any pet rodent.
With adequate care and husbandry, a pet mouse will live between 1 and 2 years on average. Although mice are mostly healthy pets, they are prone to developing cancer. Mice are far too small to operate on, so a veterinarian can do little to help a sick mouse.
In the wild, most mice live for around 5 to 6 months. Predators are the main cause of death for wild mice. But despite their short lifespan, mice have no trouble surviving as a species. They can reproduce from 6 weeks of age, and can have another litter 25 days after giving birth.
According to MDLinx, the oldest pet mouse lived to the age of 7 years and 7 months. The second oldest was a laboratory mouse, who lived to be 4 years old.
To ensure your pet mouse lives as long as possible, keep it happy and healthy. Feed it a balanced muesli-style diet, with occasional veggies and animal proteins, and give it unlimited clean water. Never keep a mouse alone, as loneliness can cause extreme stress on the body, resulting in an earlier death.
How Long Do Hamsters Live as Pets?
Hamsters also have extremely short lifespans compared to other pet rodents. However, most breeds of hamsters live for slightly longer than mice do, with proper care.
There are several species of hamsters which can be kept as pets, and they all have slightly different lifespans. The average life expectancies for each pet hamster breed are as follows.
|Type of Hamster||Average Lifespan|
|Syrian hamster:||2-3 years|
|Campbell’s dwarf hamster:||2-2.5 years|
|Winter white dwarf hamster:||1.5-2.5 years|
|Roborovski hamster:||3-4 years|
|Chinese hamster:||2.5-3 years|
Pet hamsters are extremely sensitive to stress, and can die before their time if not cared for properly. Hamsters require a lot more space and exercise than most novice pet owners realize.
A Syrian hamster, for example, requires a minimum of 1,500 square inches of floor space. If its home is smaller than this, it will become stressed and unhappy. This can lead to depression, unhealthy behaviors and illness.
The oldest pet hamster on record was 4.5 years old. There have been reports of older hamsters than this, but none have been verified.
Wild hamsters live shorter lives than pet hamsters. This is because they are at risk of hostile weather conditions, predation, infection, and illness.
However, one wild species, the European hamster, is an exception. They can live up to 8 years in the wild. Unfortunately, they can’t be kept as pets, as they’re a critically endangered species.
What Is The Lifespan of a Pet Rat?
Pet rats are similar to mice in terms of personality. Both animals are highly intelligent, social creatures, and make good pet rodents. However, rats are much larger than mice, and they live longer. At its full adult size, a rat can reach 11 inches in length, excluding the tail.
Wild rats typically live for less than a year, due to predation and environmental hazards. But domesticated rats live, on average, for around 2 to 3 years. Interestingly, this is around the same lifespan as a Syrian hamster, despite rats being so much larger.
The most common cause of death for a pet rat is respiratory disease, such as pneumonia. To help your pet rat live as long as possible:
- Avoid using dusty bedding, such as sawdust
- House your rat in a well-ventilated cage, rather than a glass tank
- Clean the cage regularly to avoid a buildup of ammonia
- Ensure your rat lives a stress-free life, as stress can bring on illness
The world’s oldest pet rat, Rodney, lived to an astounding age of 7 years and 4 months. While this is unusual, many pet rat owners report their rats living to 4 or 5 years of age.
How Long Do Gerbils Live?
Gerbils are friendly, intelligent, and sociable animals. They’re also one of the least smelly pet rodents, as they don’t drink much and rarely go to the toilet. Gerbils live longer than rats and hamsters, but not as long as guinea pigs or degus. The lifespan of an average gerbil is 3-5 years.
There are two species of gerbils kept as pets: Mongolian gerbils and Dupresi gerbils (or fat-tailed gerbils). Mongolian gerbils are commonly sold in pet stores, and come in various coat colors. Fat-tailed gerbils are very rare in the U.S.
Although they’re 1-2 inches smaller than Mongolian gerbils, fat-tailed gerbils have a slightly longer lifespan. Mongolian gerbils can live up to 5 years with good care, while fat-tailed gerbils can reach 8 years.
Whatever gerbil you have, the most important factor in determining its lifespan is how well you care for it. Gerbils need a large cage, a healthy, varied diet, and lots of mental stimulation.
Because gerbils are intelligent animals, they can easily become bored and stressed. Stress can cause illness and premature death. Give your gerbil at least 6 inches of substrate for digging, plenty of toys, and time outside the cage. Gerbils also need the company of their own kind to prevent them from becoming lonely.
What Is the Lifespan of a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs are related to cavies and capybaras. Despite their name, guinea pigs aren’t related to pigs, and they don’t originate from the country of Guinea. They are descended from wild cavies living in the Andes Mountains in South America.
Adult guinea pigs range from 8 to 12 inches in length, making them one of the biggest rodent pets. They also have one of the longest lifespans of all pet rodents. You can expect your pet guinea pig to survive for 5-7 years, as long as you care for it properly.
Interestingly, pet guinea pigs can’t survive in the wild at all. This is because they are a completely different species to wild guinea pigs and cavies. Wild species of guinea pig typically live for 1-4 years.
Pet guinea pigs need constant access to hay, to keep their teeth healthy and short. They also need fresh vegetables, because they can’t naturally synthesize Vitamin C as many other rodents can.
Certain breeds of guinea pigs may live for longer than others. Skinny pigs (hairless guinea pigs) tend to have longer lifespans, while long-haired guinea pigs don’t live quite as long. The oldest guinea pig ever recorded was 14 years and 10.5 months old when it died in 1979.
How Long Do Degus Live as Pets?
Common degus, often simply called degus, originate from Chile. Despite their name, degus aren’t common rodents to keep as pets. They are considered ‘exotic’ animals because of their rarity. It’s illegal to own a degu in Alaska, California, Connecticut, Georgia, and Utah.
Degus are roughly the same size as rats, but look most similar to gerbils. Like gerbils, they love to burrow, but they require a much bigger cage for doing so. Degus have one of the longest lifespans of all rodents.
A captive degu can live for 5-9 years in a suitable environment. Some owners have claimed to own degus reaching 11-12 years. However, these reports are unconfirmed.
Like almost all rodents, wild degus live significantly shorter lives than pet ones. A degu in the wild may live between 1 and 4 years, on average. Degus are prey animals, and their natural predators include foxes and birds of prey, such as buzzards.
One of the biggest problems with owning pet degus is veterinary care. Veterinarians typically have experience with only the most popular rodents, like rats and guinea pigs. Because degus are relatively rare, it can be hard to find help for them if they become sick.
How Long Can a Chinchilla Live?
Chinchillas are instantly recognizable with their dense, velvety fur, and thick fluffy tails. They are one of the largest pet rodents, reaching a length of 9-15 inches (excluding the tail) at full size. Out of all rodents that can be kept as pets, chinchillas live the longest.
A pet chinchilla should live an extremely long life. You can expect your pet chinchilla to live between 15 and 20 years. Even wild chinchillas often reach 10 years of age.
However, your chinchilla may even surpass this estimate if you treat it well, and feed it a healthy diet. The oldest pet chinchilla ever, according to Guinness World Records, was named Radar. He was over 29 and a half years old when he passed away in 2014.
The reason chinchillas live so long, compared to similarly-sized rats, may be because they develop more slowly. A chinchilla doesn’t reach maturity until it’s at least 8 months old. Rats, on the other hand, can reproduce from 6-10 weeks.
Owning a rodent with a long lifespan is a huge responsibility. You must commit to providing your pet with food, care, and attention for at least a decade. If you’re not sure how your own circumstances may change, opt for a rodent with a shorter lifespan.
Do Male or Female Rodents Live Longer?
Along with your pet rodent’s species, its sex can also have an impact on how long it lives. In most animals, females typically live longer than males. But for some species, the reverse is true, or there are no sex differences at all.
According to Cell Metabolism, female rats typically have a longer lifespan than males. Across many studies, female rats have been shown to live around 2% – 15% longer, on average.
In hamsters and guinea pigs, it’s the other way around. Male hamsters and guinea pigs usually live longer than females. The difference isn’t extreme, still depends mostly on the care the animal receives.
When it comes to mice, degus, chinchillas, and gerbils, sex differences appear to be nonexistent. Some studies of mice claim that females live longer, whereas others claim that males outlive females. In reality, there is no real difference in their lifespan.
What’s more important is how well you care for your pet rodent. This will have a much larger effect on its longevity than whether it’s male or female. Diet, temperature, stress levels, and exercise opportunities can all influence a rodent’s lifespan.
How to Increase Your Pet Rodent’s Lifespan
No matter your rodent’s species, it’s important to care for it correctly, to ensure it lives a long life. Here’s what you can do to maximize your pet rodent’s lifespan:
- Feed it a healthy diet. This will depend on your rodent’s species, so do your research. For example, gerbils require a balanced diet containing grains, veggies, nuts, seeds, and insects
- Supply unlimited fresh, clean water. Empty, clean and refill the water bottle daily
- Use an appropriate substrate (bedding). Avoid dusty bedding, such as sawdust, and anything containing harsh chemicals or fragrances
- Choose a large cage or enclosure and fill it with plenty of species-appropriate toys and activities. This may include exercise wheels and chew toys
- Offer plenty of playtime outside of the cage, as rodents need exercise
- Always keep rodents in bonded pairs, as they are social creatures and become stressed if housed alone. Hamsters are the only exception.
- Clean your rodent’s enclosure regularly, using a pet-safe disinfectant, to avoid bacteria and ammonia buildup
Stress can shorten a rodent’s life, so always keep your rodent in a calm environment. Loud noises, excessive handling, and the presence of other pets may all trigger stress. Don’t allow young children (under 12) to handle your pet rodent, as they could accidentally cause an injury.
Examine your pet daily to check that it’s in good health. If you notice a change in behavior or any sign of illness, take it to a vet for a checkup.