Hey Pet Parents & Pet Lovers,
It can be pretty scary when you find your little one not moving, especially if it’s a little one that is unable to tell you if they are feeling down or sick. Unfortunately, this seems to be fairly common for hamster owners, so why is that? Are they sleeping for a long time? Are they dead? Are they hibernating?
You might be surprised, but your hamster is still fully capable of hibernating, just like one would in the wild!
What is Hibernation?
Hibernation (also known as torpor, denning, brumation or aestivation when in warmer climates) is a process that helps protect animals in seasons where resources such as food tend to be scarce. In the wild, it is the process that would help determine whether the animal lives or dies. Dependant on the location or species of the animal, they may choose to hibernate in different seasons (not just winter.)
How does an animal prepare?
All animals will slow their metabolism down. This begins triggering their body to reduce in temperature, which will follow with their heartbeat slowing down as well as their breathing which will cause them to enter a “comatose-like” state. This is why you can easily mistake your hamster as dead, especially if their breaths are small and you can’t see their lungs expand. This is done to preserve as much energy and inner resources as possible. Think about all those chubby squirrels you see right before winter, they have to save all of their energy/fat to make sure that they survive the long 3-5 months.
Are animals always safe during hibernation?
Unfortunately not. When hibernating animals are actually most vulnerable. This is due to the fact that they are not able to “wake up” easily and move if something is to attack them. (Keep this in mind if you’re trying to get your hamster to stop hibernating. I will cover ways to reverse the process further in the article but don’t try to move your hamster or “wake it up.”) If the animal becomes buried in their burrow they will not be able to dig themselves out and unfortunately, this is a common way that hibernating creatures die.
But my hamster is never outside, why would it hibernate?
It’s as simple as the temperature in your house is too low for the hamster. It’s been a long-term debate whether or not hamsters naturally hibernate in the wild (since they are in areas that don’t normally drop too much in in temperature.)
What’s the temperature which hamsters hibernate?
The temperature must drop to below 40 °F or 4.4 °C
Wait, so hamsters in the wild don’t actually hibernate?
Well, yes and no. Hamsters in the wild go through the classification of “torpor.” This meaning that they are never truly hibernating, but are in a deep sleep. It takes about 24 hours for a hamster to reach this state.
So, I admit my house was super cold and my hamster’s not moving… do I have anything to worry about?
Sadly yes. You’re going to have to make sure whether or not your hamster has also caught hypothermia. Hypothermia usually happens when the temperature has dropped too quickly or unexpectedly, which could potentially happen when living in a house, especially if the cage is close to a window. Because this leaves no time for the hamster to prepare and get their bellies filled, they can easily get sick.
What would a Hamster need to do to prepare?
Well, similar to most animals like bears they would have to eat lots and gain lots of weight, they’d need to build themselves a nice & warm “hidey-hole”, and they’d need to gather lots of food for safe keeping.
How long would this take a wild hamster?
It would take a hamster the full year to prepare for hibernation. Crazy, huh? You would think that it would take a few weeks or a month at most, but no! These little guys need to spend the year getting enough fat to burn during their dormant months.
So how can I prevent my Hamster from Hibernating? What are some of the signs?
- Your hamster will Shake or Shiver
- Your hamster will go limp when you try to pick them up
- You will not be able to detect their heartbeat
- Your hamster will burrow itself into its bedding
- Your hamster will be curled up in a “protective area”
- Your hamster may look like it is in a comatose-like state
- You will not be able to see them breathe (or they will be breathing too quickly)
- You will notice your hamster is not eating as much, hasn’t drunk anything or hasn’t pooped or peed recently
You’re going to want to make sure you take your hamster to the vet immediately if you see any of these signs. You may also slowly want to raise the temperature slowly to see if they wake up. You’re going to want to make sure that the temperature in the house is around 65-75°F or 18.3 to 24°C. This is true for Syrian Hamsters, Roboroski Hamsters, Dwarf Hamsters & Russian Dwarf Hamsters. (Although Dwarf & Russian Dwarf Hamsters can take up to 80°F or 26.7°C.)
My vet doesn’t provide services for Hamsters, so I’m on my own. How long will my Hamster Hibernate?
As long as your hamster hasn’t caught hypothermia, you may have to wait a few days for them to fully return to normal. Make sure during this time to check the temperature frequently. Slowly raise the temperature of your home to the proper temperature and do your best to avoid shock. You may also want to gently warm up your hamster with a small blanket or by holding them close to your body. You will want to be very careful and will want to do this for about 30-minutes. Remember, they’re in a very vulnerable state and you don’t want to harm them. If you’re feeling brave, you can try a hot water bottle, but don’t put your hamster too close to it as that will put them into shock. I would strongly suggest against using a heating element to rapidly warm up your hamster. It will put your hamster into a shock and may, in turn, kill your hamster. If your hamster has hibernated for longer than 24-hours you will have to take your hamster to the vet, especially if they have not prepared for hibernation. An unprepared hamster may end up being dehydrated or may become malnourished. If you are worried about your hamster being hydrated you can drop a few drops of water into their mouth to keep them hydrated. Again, be very careful with this. You may also want to provide more bedding for your hamster. Make sure you don’t suffocate them but make them feel as comfortable or warm as they can be. Carefresh Complete Pet Bedding is the most popular bedding and one of the softest, although Living World Wood Aspen Shavings is also fairly popular.
My Hamsters eyes are open, is that normal?
Yup! Hamsters will hibernate (or even sleep) with their eyes open, half-open, partially open or even closed. It’s scary to see at first, but you’ll get used to it!
I’m freaking out! I really can’t tell if my hamster is dead!
Take a breath and go grab yourself a mirror. It’s an old trick doctors and vets have used for years. Place the mirror close to your hamster and see if there’s an condensation. If there is, you’re fine! Feel free to gently stroke your hamster’s face to see if they twitch at all. You can also put a bit of bedding on your hamster and check back after a while to see if it has moved. Just because your hamster is hibernating doesn’t mean they aren’t going to move in their sleep. Your hamster’s body may be stiff, but it should not be completely solid.
Last Pieces of Advice
You’re going to want to make sure this doesn’t happen again, so make sure you find a more suitable room for your hamster friend to live. Grab a thermometer and make sure that the temperature doesn’t get too low. Make sure your hammy friend isn’t near a window or a room that gets too cold. (For example, for some reason our bathrooms are ALWAYS freezing, while our kitchen remains a warm temperature. Some people recommend reptile heating pads, however, I’m fairly uncomfortable with them. The only reason is that a lot of them don’t have an auto turn off and you can’t control the temperature. I would only use these as a last resort if you cannot find a suitable room for your little friend.
I’m wishing you the best of luck in this hard time! Please feel free to let me know how things go for you.