You wake up one fine morning and as you’re making your way through your usual morning routine, you take a peek into your pet hamster’s cage. The sight that awaits you leaves you in distress. It seems as though your pet hamster has passed away. You go into a frenzy thinking about how this could have happened. The little furball was perfectly healthy the night before. He enjoyed his meal thoroughly and was active. You rack your brain trying to figure out if you missed any signs that something was wrong. And oh God, what will you tell the kids?
Before you start going into a state of absolute frenzy and panic, we would recommend you take a deep breath and calm down. Once you’re calm, the next thing you’ll need to do is open your hamster’s change and examine the little furry creature because you might just come to discover that your pet isn’t actually dead, it’s just gone into a deep long slumber. Yes, hamsters do hibernate and they do so unannouncedly.
Why do hamsters hibernate?
Depending on the breed, genes, and/or the environment, some hamsters hibernate, and then are some that don’t. Those who do hibernate can be classified into two groups: permissive and obligatory hibernators.
Obligatory hibernators have to hibernate every winter according to their body clocks, irrespective of the environmental conditions. Whereas, permissive hibernators hibernate depending on the conditions around them such as their food supply and temperature. Given the right conditions, permissive hibernators will go into a deep slumber in any given season.
Syrian hamsters are permissive hibernators and as per research by the British Hamster Association, the biggest contributing factor to a Syrian hamster going into hibernation is cold temperatures and the second factor is light.
So a hamster kept in the cold and dark will hibernate as opposed to one that is kept in the cold but with good strong light for more than 12 hours a day. So to prevent your permissive hibernator from going into hibernation make sure they’re nice and warm and in a nicely lit room for at least 12 hours a day. It also helps to handle them regularly.
Syrian hamster’s ideal body temperature range is 65 to 75 degrees and once the temperature drops below that, it starts to get too cold for your hamster and so their natural reaction is to hibernate to preserve their energy. Hibernation will lower your hamster’s heart rate to conserve their strength and energy to survive in weather conditions that they aren’t equipped to survive in. You don’t want your Syrian hamster to hibernate because they can end up dying from exposure to the cold temperature or dehydration.
On the other hand, dwarf hamsters that come from colder climates don’t seem too affected by the cold and thus don’t seem to hibernate.
What are the warnings signs that my hamster might be going into hibernation?
Even the most attentive pet owners are prone to making mistakes and so if as a hamster parent, you forget to close a window on a particularly windy day or forget to turn the heater on, it can lead up to conditions that are potentially dangerous to your hamster. Even just a few hours of cold weather couples with no food or water will cause your hamster to go into hibernation. However, there are a few telltale signs your hamster might show before going into their slumber.
You may notice that your hamster is less active than usual or might not be too keen on playing with you. You may also notice them building a large and deep nest and you may also notice them burrowing deep into their nests. You may also notice them shaking or shivering. These are the most obvious signs and you should take precautions to prevent hibernation.
How do I know that my hamster is hibernating and isn’t dead?
To be certain that your hamster is in deep sleep and isn’t dead you’ll need to look out for the following signs:
- Are they breathing? You’ll need to watch very closely because a hamster suffering from hypothermia will take very shallow and infrequent breathes, as infrequent as one breath every two minutes.
- When you stroke their whiskers do they start to twitch?
- Are their cheek pouches warmer than the rest of the body?
- If you can’t figure out if your hamster is breathing then check for their heartbeat by placing your forefinger and thumb on either side of their chest above the elbows. Apply a bit of pressure and after a minute you’ll feel their pulse if there is one.
- Try moving them to a warmer spot and observe if the change of temperature makes them stir.
These are signs that your hamster is in hibernation. However, if you try to check and still can’t figure it out, consult with your vet. They will be able to guide you in the best way as to the state of your hamster.
However, if your hamster is extremely rigid and isn’t moving at all, that is the most obvious sign that they have passed away. Don’t rely on your hamster’s body temperature to conclude its status. When in hibernation, their body temperature drops considerably and they are cold to touch so this is in no way an indicator that they are dead.
My hamster is in hibernation, what do I do?
If your Syrian hamster has slipped into hibernation, don’t waste time taking it to the vet. A major complication that arises as a result of hibernation is hypothermia so make sure you do everything to keep your furball warm. Wrap it up in a warm cloth and gently massage it to wake him up. If they do wake up give them a couple of drops of water to stop them from becoming dehydrated.
If hibernation isn’t uncommon in your breed of hamster there are a few precautions you’ll need to take. Since they occasionally wake up to eat, make sure you leave fresh food and water as well as nesting material within their reach. Also, make sure that they are kept in a warm room to stabilize their body temperature and so that they aren’t using up their energy to keep themselves warm. As long as they aren’t in any danger and are in a warm room, you can let them sleep.
However, it is always a good idea to take your hamster to a vet and make sure you’re well prepared for a possible hibernation before it actually happens. Your vet will be able to guide you according to the breed and their requirements and you’ll be able to avoid any unfortunate encounters.
Pets are like babies and need all the proper care and attention you can give them. Slip-ups are only natural they shouldn’t haunt you. However, you should also be fully aware of your pet’s needs and should be able to food