The paper presents a Hamiltonian approach for extracting the dynamic instability parameters of homogeneously deforming dielectric elastomer actuators subjected to an unequal biaxial prestress, and driven by a suddenly applied electric load. The approach relies on setting up the balance between the kinetic, strain, and electrostatic energy at the point of maximum overshoot in an oscillation cycle. The equation of the stagnation curve, obtained by invoking aforestated statement of energy-balance, is operated upon by the condition of instability to determine the instability parameters. The underlying principles of the approach are elucidated by considering the Ogden family of hyperelastic material models. The approach is however portrayed generically, and hence, can be extended to the other hyperelastic material models of interest. The estimates of the dynamic instability parameters are corroborated by examining the saddle-node bifurcation points in the time-history response obtained by integrating the equation of motion. A parametric study is conducted to bring out the effect of unequal biaxial prestress, and the trends of variation of the critical electric field and the thickness-stretch on the onset of dynamic instability are presented. A quantitative comparison with the static instability parameters reveals that the dynamic instability gets triggered for electric fields that are lower than those corresponding to the static instability. In contrast, the maximum stretch experienced by the actuator at the dynamic instability is significantly higher than that at the static instability. The crucial inferences can find their potential use in the design of DEAs subjected to a transient motion. © 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd.