11 Pets with a 5 Year Lifespan (or less)

Why 5 years?

There are many reasons why people might seek short-lived pets. There are a surprisingly small number of pets that have around a 5 year life expectancy, but such a trait is in high demand from first time pet owners who aren’t interested in making a vast long-term commitment or parents seeking a temporary source of enrichment for children. Short-lived pets can also be used as ‘starter animals’ for kids hoping to prove themselves by providing exemplary care in order to acquire higher maintenance animals like dogs in the future.


As long as the animal is provided for, there is nothing inherently wrong with seeking animals for the above purposes. Most animals can live surprisingly long lives with good care.

It is common for many species of parrots and tortoises to outlive their owners with a lifespan of 50+ years, so opting for animals with limited longevity is not only beneficial, but essential for owners who cannot make big commitments, such as if they will eventually depart for college but still want the experience of a pet while waiting.

Beware however of the unfortunate misconceptions that many people have about certain animals, such as goldfish, that do not have short life spans, but instead are often poorly cared for and die prematurely. Scroll to the bottom for the full list.

Roborovskii Dwarf Hamster
Roborovskii Dwarf Hamster | Source

Lifespan Data

  • Average 2-3 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 5 years
  • Max age reported: 7 years

Fun caging

Pet dealers make it easy to make hamster enclosures more enriching.
Pet dealers make it easy to make hamster enclosures more enriching. | Source


Probably one of America’s most popular small pets, but unfortunately perhaps bought too often for small children where suitability is suspect, hamsters generally are very short-lived animals with a lifespan that doesn’t exceed 4 years. Hamster longevity varies by species, but on average, 3 years old is what most well-cared for hamsters can hope to achieve.

All hamsters are nocturnal, so while they are popular pets to buy for small children, they may become irritable from excessive handling during their sleep time hours. They make a lot of noise at night, which can be counteracted with silent spinners.

A few tidbits on hamster care:

  1. Provide a large cage, even for dwarfs. It is common for pet dealers to sell cages that are under the recommended size for the active rodents. Remember that in the 'wild', hamsters are highly active animals that can cover miles in one night. While an exercise wheel satisfies most of this, hamsters shouldn't be kept in cramp conditions such as is provided by the standard CritterTrail cage. Some owners have made simple cages out of Ikea shelves.
  2. Feed a varied diet, and remember that dwarf hamsters are prone to diabetes, so they require diets low in sugar. One commercial diet that is recommended as the base is Hazel Hamsters.
  3. Create a complex environment. Add ramps, levels, tunnels, and anything else that keeps the enclosure from being a barren square. Hamsters love to tunnel so material supporting this is essential. Also consider the many enrichment choices offered in pet stores, including attachments to your pets cage to various rooms.Multiple chewing toys are also a must, and occasional treats help to keep things interesting.
  4. Go on Youtube and search through the numerous videos addressing hamsters products, hamster care, and creative ideas to make the pet experience more interesting for both hamster and owner. Be sure to research beyond this article as well.

Hamster species

  • Syrian Hamster: 2 - 2.5 years
  • Campbell Dwarf Hamster: 1.5 - 2 years
  • Winter White Dwarf Hamster: 1.5 - 2 years
  • Roborovskii Dwarf Hamster: 3 years (2 years in the wild, longest lived)
  • Chinese Dwarf Hamster: 1-1/2 to 2 years

  • Average 3-4 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 5 years
  • Max age reported: 9 years


Bettafish (Siamese Fighting Fish)

Bettas are extremely popular fish that are often kept in horrendous conditions within chain pet stores and Walmarts. On average, it is likely that they don't survive a few months in captivity, even though with the proper care they can live around 3 years, with some individuals exceeding this number.

  1. Tank size: Do not keep these fish in the small bowls that they are typically sold and marketed in. The planted jars are also completely unsuitable for them. Bettas might 'survive' in this size for a short period of time, but that is not an optimal quality of life for these fish. They should be housed in at least a 2 gallon aquarium, but 5+ gallons is ideal.
  2. Feed a proper fish food. Supplement with frozen blood worms.
  3. Water quality conflicts is likely the main reason fish die often in captivity, so proper filtration and water changes must be carried out. This is more imperative for small tanks that bettas are generally kept in. Temperature must be adequate as well, and maintained.

Females can be housed in the same tank without aggression.
Females can be housed in the same tank without aggression. | Source

Life span Data

  • Average roughly 4-5 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 5-8 years
  • Max age reported: 14 years

Guinea Pig

Another widely popular small pet is the guinea pig, and requiring a simple diet and enclosure, these animals do make good pets for people unsure about their long-term pet keeping abilities and young children, provided they are willing to clean cages at least every other day.

These animals generally reach an age around 5, but it is not uncommon for well-cared for individuals to exceed this number, so if you must have an animal that won't be around after 5 years, this isn't the animal for you.

It has been reported that long-haired varieties of guinea pigs have shorter lives.


A few tidbits on guinea pig care:

  1. Feed a healthy diet. As with all animals, guinea pigs will generally live longer if consideration is given to what they eat. Guinea pigs should have a high quality pelleted diet as well as Timothy hay or orchard grass (not alfalfa hay). The diet should contain or be supplemented with vitamin C in the form of oranges, kiwi, parsley beet greens, and others.
  2. Guinea pigs are social. So it might help to have more than one animal, being sure to pair animals properly according to gender, and the personality of the individual. Sometimes males fight, so monitor the situation and be aware. They should also consistently have some cuddle time with their owners.
  3. Caging should be appropriately sized. C &C cages are popular choices that provide ample room and are the easiest to clean. Many owners add attractive ledges that lead to secondary levels for even more exploration room.


Life span Data

  • Average: 5 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 6-8 years
  • Max age reported: Claims of 13 for veiled and around 8 for panther


There are two species of commonly kept chameleons that have expected lifespans of 5 years and under; the panther chameleon and the veiled chameleon. Female panther chameleons have an even shorter lifespan (3 years) if they are used as breeders (most owners buy males for their colors).

These animals require advanced care in comparison to the other animals on this list, being specialized lizards that are prone to stress.

Unfortunately for chameleons, they live a high stress life which eventually takes a toll on them. In the wild, their lifespans are reduced to around 3 years for males and 2 for females.

Beautiful Ambilobe panther chameleon
Beautiful Ambilobe panther chameleon | Source
Veiled chameleon
Veiled chameleon | Source

Care tips

  1. Research these animals thoroughly before considering them, and set up their cage in advance before bringing the animal home. They are not inexpensive, depending on how much you're willing to spend for a short-lived pet ($200-$400 range).
  2. Chameleons require a varied diet of insects (at least 5 species) that have been fed a nutritious diet.
  3. Babies require smaller housing before being moved to a specialized tall vertical screen cage around 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Other aspects of husbandry that require research: lighting, humidity, live plants (for climbing) and potential health problems.

Life span Data

  • Average: 2 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 3 years
  • Max age reported: 7 years



It's not really a shocker that mice are short-lived, being small and high-strung.

If you want a temporary pet, mice seem to fit the bill, and no worries about the possibility that they might live past 3 years, as this is extremely rare.

There are various varieties of mice, but for the most part, they will not live longer than a mere two years. Non-domesticated mice might live longer, possibly to 5 years.

Many strains of domesticated mice are prone to health conditions such as tumors and immune deficiencies. Mice are the model organism of choice used by scientists to explore these conditions in the laboratory, so there is a wealth of longevity studies that mouse keepers can explore.

As with the other species on this list, diet, stress reduction, and a healthy environment are paramount to aiming for a 3 year life span for your pet mouse. Mice, like other small rodents, are very active, so do not underestimate the size their enclosure should be.

Zebra mice
Zebra mice | Source

Life span Data

  • Average: 2-3.5 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 4 years
  • Max age reported: 7 years, 4 months


Fancy Rats

The second most popular model organism in research are rats, and they too have plenty of longevity committed to them.

Rats possess an unappreciated intelligence and do make wonderful pets. They form emotional bonds with their owners and are quite playful over what you'd expect from rodents of this nature. They can even be trained to use a litter box and perform tricks. Do not short them out on the best care just because of their unfair reputation and persecution.

Rat longevity is improved mainly by genetics, but quality of life and nutrition also play important roles.


Life span Data

  • Average: 5 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 6-8 years
  • Max age reported: 12 years


Zebra Finch

Zebra finches are the shortest-lived commonly kept pet bird species, barely making this list as their minimum expected lifespan with good care starts at 5, but could be as high as 10 years.

It is also possible that these small birds can live even longer. They are generally low-maintenance pets, feeding on seeds (other birds, such as cockatiels, should not be fed diets like this).

These birds are not interactive pets so their permanent caging must allow for plenty of flight room so the birds can get exercise. There should be one pair per cage.


Life span Data

  • Average: 3-5 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 6-10 years
  • Max age reported: 10 years


Domesticated Hedgehogs

Despite their appearance, hedgehogs are not rodents. They are also not related to porcupines. The white and grey species that are normally seen in the pet trade are referred to as African pygmy hedgehogs, and they are actually hybrids. Despite extensive breeding in captivity, this species maintains strong similarities with their wild cousins. This should be taken into consideration when deciding on an enclosure, methods of handling, and exercise requirements. Cancer is a common cause of death in older hedgehogs.

  1. Weight gain due to lack of exercise can shorten a hedgehog's lifespan and promote fatty liver disease. A means of exercise must be provided, and the cage must be large. Not all hedgehogs will use hamster wheels.
  2. Stress: Do not handle often, and when handling, be gentle and aware of the stress this might cause.
  3. Feed a balanced diet to promote longevity.

Baby hedgehog
Baby hedgehog | Source

Life span Data

  • Average: 4 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 5-6 years
  • Max age reported: 8 years

Short-tailed Opossum

These animals look like rodents but are actually marsupials like kangaroos, possessing a prehensile tail. These solitary animals are insectivorous, but in captivity they eat prepared foods supplemented with various animal protein sources.

Their dispositions vary, requiring a patient owner that can tame them down. They too can also exercise with a correctly-sized hamster wheel.

Life span Data

  • Average: 6 months-5 years depending on the species
  • Well-cared for + luck: 2-5 years


As one would guess, this is a very uncommon pet, and not for beginners to marine invertebrates. By the time most octopuses reach adulthood (which is when people keep them as pets), they have at best a year's time left to live.

Unfortunately, despite the considerable effort one must make to successfully care for them, they are short-lived, but perfect for the adventurous, advanced aquarium enthusiast that doesn't want to make a long-term commitment. Octopuses are famous for being intelligent, and indeed, they require escape-proof tanks.

Some people keep the deadly blue ring octopus
Some people keep the deadly blue ring octopus | Source

Life span Data

  • Average: 3-4 years
  • Well-cared for + luck: 5 years
  • Max age reported: 8 years


Just like with rats, mice, and hedgehogs, longevity with gerbils depends on genetics and quality of care. Gerbils require similar environments to hamsters, but they are also primarily diurnal, meaning they will synch better with a human's schedule.

  1. House gerbils in at least a 20 gallon aquarium with plenty of the recommended bedding. They love to burrow and tunnel, so provide inches of the material.
  2. Feed a premium gerbil food and supplement with fresh vegetables.
  3. Handle careful and make sure they get plenty of exercise.


Other pets

A few other pets have lifespan averages a little above 5 years, such as rabbits, prairie dogs, anole lizards, flying squirrels, chipmunks, and ferrets.


Pets that DO NOT live 5 years or less

  • Goldfish (10-15 years)
  • Hermit Crabs (30 years)
  • Small parrots (budgies, cockatiels, parakeets) 15+ years
  • Small snakes (15+ years)
  • Turtles and tortoises (40+)
  • Iguanas (20-25 years)
  • Common pet frogs (15+ years)

More by this Author

Comments 29 comments

DrMark1961 profile image

DrMark1961 2 years ago from The Beach of Brazil

Interesting topic, since there are people out there who do not want long lived pets. I remember my first Jackson´s Chameleons, and being so disappointed when they died so young. (This was years before all of the great info available on the internet.) I worry that my Tegus will outlive me but am glad they are around for a long time.

Voted up and interesting.

Meisjunk profile image

Meisjunk 2 years ago from Pennsylvania

Great article, and well-written! I love your gray bulleted points for lifespan. My eyes went right to them, and it would be easy scrolling for people!

I've had a betta fish and a mouse, and I loved having each of them. The fish unfortunately disagreed with my cat. =3 I'm hesitant to get another one, but they're so lovely! I'll probably give in.

Voted up and awesome and interesting. =)

jantamaya profile image

jantamaya 2 years ago from UK

Great idea for a hub. Voted up. I have a rescued 10-year-old dog. When you take an older rescued dog, they won't have a huge life span either. So around 5 Years - I hope...

tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 2 years ago from California

Beautifully put together article. Nice work. Voted up and interesting.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks Dr.Mark, the internet is an amazing resource, but it can be a double-edged sword. Gee, I didn't think you were at an age where a tegu could outlive you, based on your photo.

Meisjunk-- Awesome, I was experimenting with that. Maybe get a 10-gallon tank with a screen top and reptile latches...

jantamaya, great idea, but dogs are so human-like sometimes, losing them can be painful. Hopefully your dog will enjoy many more years, adopting an older dog is a wonderful deed.

tirelesstraveler-- Thanks!

grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

I didn't know there were so many pets that people could have that live short lives. We had hamsters, but they age so quickly and sadly, they aren't as cute as when they were young. Having a pet that dies young requires a lot of love and commitment, even when they age very quickly. Great hub with lots of interesting and helpful information.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks grand old lady, you are correct!

ZookeeperByNature profile image

ZookeeperByNature 2 years ago

I remember having hamsters as a kid and being so disappointed when they died. (even though the little buggers would never be tame, which is what I get for buying from petco. Still loved them though.) Since then, I've figured I'd rather take on the commitment and have my pet to enjoy for many years to come, and if nothing too disastrous occurs in the span of my lifetime, hopefully my first ball python will be there to witness all my major life events haha.

Anyway, a good article as usual, Melissa. I was unaware that chameleons had such short lifespans; I'd half expect them to live for well over 10 years. For those of us who commit as much as possible to our animals for as long as possible though, do you think it'd be possible to write an article on some long lived pets? That would be wonderful.

Also, I've encountered another subject recently I'd like your insight on. I've noticed many animal rights groups claim to be animal welfare organizations when they are anything but advocating for true animal welfare. Do you know of any real animal welfare groups that actually do advocate for responsibly keeping animals, such as pets, livestock, and zoo specimens? It'd be great if you can give me any information on this topic, seeing how there's not much clarity in the ongoing animal rights vs animal welfare debate and with the onslaught of more and more laws popping up every year, it'd be great to get some information on this. Thanks!

IJR112 profile image

IJR112 2 years ago

So sad about the guinea pigs! I love them!

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Hi Zookeepers, I don't know, it depends on what you mean by long-lived. Maybe an article about pets that live at least 50+ could be interesting. Nothing comes to mind for the second question, I'll let you know if I think of something!

TrudyVan profile image

TrudyVan 2 years ago from South Africa

Hello there. wow what an awesome hub.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks TrudyVan

marieloves profile image

marieloves 2 years ago from Canada

Great hub, Melissa! I always wanted a hedgehog because they are so cute.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Thanks marieloves

Rozalyn Winters 2 years ago

This is really well written and informative. I grew up with hamsters and the Habitrail tube system. It was so much fun to make cool quarters for my furry friends (love that pic!!) but the cleaning of those systems was quite a lot of work--lots of nooks and crannies. :-)

I agree that you need to be careful about the age you start kids with these critters, not only for care-taking reasons, but also to be sure the child can cope with their shorter life-span. I recall being very upset having coming home from school one day, and finding out that my most favorite pet had passed away.

Parents need to handle these situations gently and with care. Keeping small pets is one way to help children learn about the circle of life, especially for city-kids who aren't exposed to farms, etc.

Penny Sebring profile image

Penny Sebring 2 years ago from Fort Collins

My favorites of this group were always the fancy rats. They are so friendly and smart. I enjoyed training them when I lived where I was allowed to have them. If they ever become legal in my town, I'll be one of the first people to bring them home!

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Penny Sebring-- Rats are illegal where you are? Wow.

Rozalyn Winters-- Yes, I remember the gunk that would get trapped in Habitrail products. We kept a few hamsters in my childhood.

Rozalyn Winters 2 years ago

Yes--the cleaning was a real pain--but it was worth it. :-) I think the hamsters really enjoyed all the different rooms. They'd specify places to store their food throughout and every single one loved to sleep in the smallest box that was perched out of the top of the unit. I think it made them feel safe and cozy.

I was wondering about the illegal rats as well. That is really a bummer, Penny. We had fancy rats growing up and they were awesome pets--so intelligent, you could train some of them to come to their names! I'm thinking of getting my son a couple of them soon. I hope the laws change there--I never knew there were places that rats were illegal as pets. :-)

Penny Sebring profile image

Penny Sebring 2 years ago from Fort Collins

Only albino pet rats are allowed anywhere in Alaska, and no rats at all allowed in Anchorage. The government up here is concerned about them escaping and becoming a danger to the ecosystem.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Penny Sebring-- My goodness, how silly. Not to try to make light of exotic pets and their relationship with the ecosystem, but if we haven't seen any outbreaks within the continental U.S. with domesticated rats despite IMMENSE popularity as pets, including in the warm regions (Florida, Texas, Louisiana), how do rats have a snowball's chance of proliferating in Alaska? I doubt any domesticated rat would stand a chance against the real invader, Rattus rattus (the black rat). I'm betting you have domesticated cats running around outdoors though, right Penny? This stuff drives me mad.

Rozalyn Winters 2 years ago

Wow. Who knew? They do make awesome pets. I'd have to agree, I don't think the docile fancy rat would stand a chance against the wild black rats.

Breck123 2 years ago

Just checked Alaska's regulations on exotics. Your right, rats are banned! Yet, they allow large pythons, alligators, and crocodiles..... Now don't get me wrong, I believe that anyone has the right to own whatever they want, but I mean, if your going to allow large reptiles, why ban rats?

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 2 years ago from New York Author

Breck123-- Now that's funny. Large snakes are legal, but their FOOD isn't. Good, maybe that will make people unable to feed rats live. On a more serious note, those reptiles would never survive a New York winter, so they certainly wouldn't last in an Alaskan winter, but I don't think domesticated rats would either.

ZookeeperByNature profile image

ZookeeperByNature 2 years ago

But now this begs the question - can frozen rats still be shipped and used as reptile food in Alaska?

Penny Sebring profile image

Penny Sebring 2 years ago from Fort Collins

Yes they can, and live albino rats can be used for food everywhere by Anchorage itself. There really aren't any wild or feral populations of reptiles other than turtles. Not only does the cold winter get to them, but the fact that there is very little sunlight during the winter months also causes problems for their survival.

dez 16 months ago

remember if you want a pet that wont live more then 5 years, you can also adopt an old cat or dog. Older pets make great pets and are usually easier as they come pre-potty trained. :)

Penny Sebring profile image

Penny Sebring 16 months ago from Fort Collins

Also excellent advice! Older pets need great homes too.

Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa A Smith 16 months ago from New York Author

Dez that's an excellent suggestion, wish I thought of that.

Kate Bowles 14 months ago

Great article, full of good information. My daughter is a sophomore in high school, and wants a pet, so short lifespan will be ideal for us.

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