12 Pets with the Shortest Lifespan

Smaller animals usually have a shorter lifespan than larger ones for various reasons. However, they’re still deserving of love and make excellent pets.

Feb 25, 2024By Monika Dimitrovska
pets with shortest lifespan

Some people prefer short-lived pets over long-lived ones for various reasons.

Unfortunately, there’s a small number of domesticated animals with a lifespan of 5 years or less, such as hamsters, lizards, certain fish, and guinea pigs.

The advantage of short-lived pets is they’re excellent starter pets for families, especially children who should learn responsibility.

All in all, adopting a short-lived pet isn’t a bad thing as long as the animal is cared for. The good news? Most of the pets that we’ll cover below can live a bit longer with proper care.

Pets with a Short Lifespan

holding a mouse
Image credit: auenleben from Pixabay

Typically, smaller animals, such as rodents, fish, and lizards, have a shorter lifespan than larger ones because of their evolutionary makeup. However, this isn’t necessarily the case with every species.

Smaller animals don’t survive long in the wild, so their bodies evolved in ways where staying alive for longer wasn’t vital because it was unnecessary.

For instance, wild mice and rats live fewer years because they’re prey. So, they didn’t have any reason to develop stronger cells and biological abilities to deal with physical and environmental stress.

Moreover, researchers assume that animals with a faster metabolic rate typically have a shorter lifespan. Regardless of why they don’t live longer, they still make incredible pets. That being said, let’s discuss some of the pets with the shortest lifespan.

1. Hamster (1-3 Years)

hamster in a cage
Image credit: Alex Konokh from Unsplash

The hamster is one of America’s most popular small pets, with a short lifespan.

Although longevity varies by species, hamsters can, on average, live up to 3 years with good care. The only downside is that they’re typically nocturnal animals, hence noisy at night.

Moreover, we encourage new hamster owners to research hamster care before buying one because they’re not low-maintenance pets.

2. Fish (1-5 Years)

betta fish in a tank
Image credit: Huy Phan from Unsplash

Most fish live fewer years because of bad water conditions in their tanks or being kept in small tanks. However, certain fish don’t live long, even when cared for properly.

For instance, Mosquitofish live between 12 and 18 months, while fish breeds for first-time owners like tetras, guppies, betta fish, mollies, gouramis, and platys live about 3-5 years.

Most people prefer betta fish or guppies because they’re some of the most colorful pet fish species out there.

Luckily, you can extend the life of your fish by setting up a spacious fish tank and cleaning it often. You should also change the water frequently and maintain a species-appropriate temperature.

Fun fact: If cared for properly, fish can bond with people.

3. Guinea Pig (5-7 Years)

guinea pig in a tiny shopping cart
Image credit: rubyclement from Pixabay

The guinea pig is one of the most popular pets for families with children. They’re great pets for individuals unsure about their pet-owning abilities and young kids, given they’re up for the daily task of cleaning their cages.

Different breeds of guinea pigs can live up to 5 years, but some can live even longer if cared for properly. However, short-haired varieties of these creatures have even shorter lives.

Note: Guinea Pigs are low-maintenance pets but also experience specific health issues.

4. Chameleon (3-7 Years)

holding a panther chameleon
Image credit: Andrew Itaga from Unsplash

The two species of chameleons with a lifespan of 5 years and under include the veiled chameleon and the panther chameleon. They’re also one of the best lizards for first-time owners and families with children.

Female panther chameleons have a shorter lifespan than males (three years) if they’re used as breeders. Nevertheless, most people prefer male panther chameleons because of their vivid colors and longer lifespan of 7 years.

The only downside of owning chameleons is that they require extensive care, unlike the other short-lived pets on this list. They’re also stress-prone and live even shorter lives in the wild.

5. Zebra Finch (5-10 Years)

zebra finch standing on a branch
Image credit: Nick Stafford from Pixabay

Zebra finches rarely make lists of pets with the shortest lifespan because their minimum expected lifespan starts at 5 years. They could live up to 10 years with proper care and even longer, like most birds, so keep that in mind when choosing a pet bird.

The positive? They’re low-maintenance birds as they only consume seeds, unlike other popular pet birds like cockatiels. Additionally, they aren’t interactive birds, so you should provide a spacious cage for enough exercise and DIY bird enrichment toys.

6. Domesticated Hedgehog (4-6 Years)

domesticated hedgehog
Image credit: Amaya Eguizábal from Pixabay

Many people confuse hedgehogs for rodents, but they’re not. They’re actually mammals of the subfamily Erinaceinae, in the eulipotyphlan family Erinaceidae.

Most people adopt African pygmy hedgehogs. They’re hybrids with a lifespan of around 4-6 years. Moreover, despite extensive breeding in captivity, these hedgehogs resemble their wild cousins. So, consider this when choosing a setup, handling methods, etc.

Note: Some states prohibit owning hedgehogs, so check your local laws before getting one.

7. Short-Tailed Opossum (4-6 Years)

short tailed opossum
Image credit: BowmanStudios from Pixabay

Short-tailed opossums resemble rodents. However, they’re actually marsupials. These solitary animals have a prehensile tail and consume prepared foods supplemented with various animal protein sources.

They can live up to 4 years and require a patient person to tame them. If they’re well-cared for and lucky, they can live up to 5-6 years.

8. Gerbil (3-5 Years)

gerbil in a cage
Image credit: Heiko Stein from Pixabay

Hamster vs. guinea pig vs. gerbil, which is better? Many people can’t decide between these rodents because they’re all adorable.

Gerbils can live between 3 and 5 years with proper care. These adorable creatures live in environments similar to hamsters. However, unlike hamsters, they’re diurnal, so they can better sync with their owners’ schedules.

9. Green Anole (4-8 Years)

green anole sitting on a branch
Image credit: Berri Berrinche from Unsplash

The Green Anole is a stunning lizard that can change colors. It’s also known as the American chameleon, and with proper care, the green anole can live between 4 and 8 years. Proper care includes optimal heating, ventilation, and lighting conditions.

If left in a cold and damp environment, these lizards usually become ill. Moreover, if not fed properly, these low-maintenance lizards can develop a metabolic bone disease.

10. Octopus (8 Months-2 Years)

octopus on a white background
Image credit: seok gyu kang from Pixabay

Some individuals prefer specific species of octopus over fish in their home aquariums. Unfortunately, these smart creatures have a short lifespan. For instance, the Caribbean dwarf octopus only lives 8-10 months, while others can live up to 2 years.

The only downside of owning a pet octopus is that they’re high-maintenance and costly because they require specific water conditions and various live diets.

11. Rat (1-3 Years)

rat pet
Image credit: Nikolett Emmert from Pixabay

Many consider rats as dirty and destructive creatures that carry diseases, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

They’re very smart, affectionate, and low-maintenance pets. And rats are actually vital in today’s world for various reasons.

The only downside is their short lifespan. With proper care (enough physical and mental exercise, a healthy diet, and a clean cage), rats can live between 1 and 3 years.

Note: They’re social animals, so they prefer living with one or more rat friends.

12. Mouse (1-2 Years)

mouse standing on a table
Image credit: Alexa from Pixabay

Mice only live between 1 and 2 years, but you can extend their lifespan by keeping their cage clean, as they can’t handle ammonia buildup from their urine. Moreover, keep their cage between 65 and 80°F as they’re temperature-sensitive.

Like rats, they’re social and prefer living alongside other mice. However, keep males separate, as they can become aggressive toward each other.

There’s no downside to owning mice. They’re low-maintenance and cheap, which is why scientists use mice for lab research.

What’s Your Pick?

a person holding a small lizard
Image credit: Clint McKoy from Unsplash

Deciding on a pet involves weighing the pros and cons, especially when it comes to their lifespan.

Personally, I’d rather not have a pet with a lifespan under 5 years because saying goodbye is tough for me.

However, I get why some prefer pets with shorter commitments. It all comes down to personal choice – what’s your pick?

Monika Dimitrovska
By Monika Dimitrovska

Monika is a pet enthusiast and seasoned copywriter with a tech degree. She loves writing, but her heart belongs to her two mixed dogs, Buba and Bono, a mother-son duo. Bono’s siblings found loving homes, sparking Monika’s advocacy for neutering and deepening her curiosity about animal care.

But Monika’s pet family doesn’t end there. She also has two cockatiels and two rescue cats, proving her home is a haven for creatures big and small.