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Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Last Updated - June 5, 2022

Will your pet hamster hibernate? Not as you commonly understand "hibernation." In fact, hibernation mode can be life-threatening to a hamster! Below, we'll talk about what hibernation means to a hamster and the steps for preventing hamster hibernation.

What Is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a tool that animals use to survive when cold temperatures hit and resources are scarce. It helps them conserve energy, burn fat as body temperature drops, and their breathing and heart rate slow down considerably.

When we think of hibernation, we typically think of what is known as "obligatory hibernation." Animals that do this, such as bears and squirrels, fatten themselves up during the summer months and hibernate in a safe place during the winter months.

If hamsters hibernate, it's called "permissive hibernation." This type of hibernation can occur at any time of the year when an extreme environment means that they need to save energy. Sure, this can happen when it's cold, but it can also happen if it's too hot or there's not enough food or water.

This hibernation state is sometimes called a "torpor," and it's more like a deep sleep than true hibernation. It can last for a few hours to a few days, but any longer than that can lead to death. This is because permissive hibernators don't spend a whole season preparing for the torpor - in fact, they often will lose weight as the environment stresses them to the point of entering hibernation. They will die of hypothermia, dehydration, or starvation if they stay in that state too long.

Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Yes. But it's a sign of deep stress, and pet hamsters should never be in conditions that would cause a state of permissive hibernation.

Why Would A Pet Hamster Hibernate?

Temperature

The most common reason that pet hamsters enter into permissive hibernation is when the temperature is too cold. This could happen if you live in a cold climate and your hamster feels cold. The ideal temperature for a hamster's environment should be kept between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If a pet owner keeps their home colder than that, or a power outage or furnace trouble causes the indoor temperature to dip, it may induce a state of torpor. This could take anywhere from a single day of cold temperature or a prolonged period reaching one to two months.

Light

Pet hamsters could also enter hibernation if they aren't given enough light and are instead kept in the dark environment. Hamsters need to be exposed to strong light for at least 12 hours a day.

Food

If food isn't always available, this can cause hamsters' instinct to hibernate. In the wild, hamsters will eat more and put on more weight, so when it comes to hibernating, they can use fat as energy.

Do All Pet Hamsters Hibernate?

Syrian hamsters, also known as golden hamsters, were originally from deserts. They evolved to use this passive hibernation to keep themselves safe during the sudden cold conditions of the night. If you have a domesticated Syrian hamster, take an extra step to create an ideal environment to keep your furry friend feel comfortable when the weather is very cold. This type of hamster is more likely to hibernate than other species.

Dwarf hamsters and Russian dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, hail from cold climates and are less likely to hibernate

Why is Hibernating Bad For Hamsters

Hibernating can be dangerous for domesticated hamsters. Why? In nature, like all true hibernators, wild hamsters will use their natural instinct to look for 'warnings' from weather and temperatures. This gives the wild hamsters the time to prepare for when winter is coming so he/she can pack on fat, build a safe and warm nest that can last months.

Domesticated hamsters or captive hamsters as pets typically go into hibernation mode suddenly resulting from an accident. For example, you left the AC on all day or forgot to turn the heat on while you left for the day. In response to this (up to 24 hours), your hamster will go into hibernation mode with limited resources. And if he goes into hibernation mode for more than a day, it can become more and more dangerous.

How To Tell If Your Hamster Is In Hibernation Mode?

Part of being a responsible pet owner is knowing the signs of hamster hibernation and being able to tell it apart from sleeping. Look very closely at your hamster and watch its breath. A hibernating hamster will take short, uneven breaths and is even limp when you pick him/her up. Hamsters do not hibernate with eyes open and will have some stiffness.

hamster

Is My Hamster Sleepy Or Hibernating?

Hamsters are primarily nocturnal and will sleep, burrowed into their bedding, for 6 to 8 hours during the day. Spend some time noticing what the normal sleep routine of your hamster is. You won't notice deviations from normal if you aren't aware of what normal is.

Take notice if your hamster seems to be more lethargic, less active, and is sleeping more than 12 hours a day. The shift into torpor may be gradual, and your hamster may still wake up briefly to eat and drink. You might notice shivering, shaking, and burrowing deeper than usual, or building a bigger nest using extra bedding.

If you notice any of these signs, consider the location of your pet's habitat. Is there a draft coming under a door or window? Are they too close to a poorly-insulated window during winter? Are they getting enough light during the daytime hours? What is the temperature of the room? You can act quickly to prevent having a hibernating hamster on your hands!

Is The Hamster Hibernating Or Dead?

How to tell if your hamster is hibernating or dead? A hibernating hamster's body will slow down so much that it may seem to be in a coma or dead. The heart beats only four times a minute, and a hamster may go 2 minutes between breaths, so it can be hard to find signs of life. Never use body heat as an indicator. Here are some ways to check:

  1. Hold a spoon in front of your hamster's face for at least 3 minutes. If it fogs, even slightly, the animal is still breathing, and there is respiration.
  2. Stroke your hamster slightly. Hopefully, you'll see their whiskers twitch as a nerve response.
  3. Gently insert a pinkie into their cheek pouch. It should be slightly warmer than the rest of their body.
  4. Gently stretch your hamster's legs. They'll feel stiffer than normal, but they should still be able to be stretched a little. If they can't be moved, rigor mortis has likely set in, which is a sign that your pet has died.

Note that a hamster's eyes are not indicative of hibernation! Hamsters can hibernate with their eyes fully open, half-closed, or fully closed.

How To Care For a Hibernating Hamster

Short Hibernation Period

If your hamster hasn't been in a state of hibernation for more than a day, you can likely step in quickly to revive it. Likely, the cause of the hibernation was an environment that was too cold, so remedy that situation first. While you move through the steps below, call your veterinarian.

Warm the habitat and keep it well-lit for at least 12 hours. Do not use artificial heating elements on or near your hamster - going from too cold to rapidly hot can cause other issues.

  1. While the habitat is warming, wrap your hamster in a warm cloth or use your own warm body temperature to warm it slowly. A hot water bottle would also work.
  2. Massage your hamster gently, both body and limbs, to get the blood circulation going again.

It can take as long as 3 hours to bring a hamster out of hibernation, but once your little buddy is fully awake, he will likely be just fine. If there is anything in your furry friend's behavior that worries you, it's best to take them to the vet for a check-up.

Extended Hibernation

If your hamster has been in a period of torpor or hibernation for more than 24 hours, a simple warm-up with a massage would not be enough to bring your hamster back to good health. Dehydration and malnutrition can occur during extended hibernation. It's best to bring your hamster to the vet as they can administer fluids, nourishment, and medication if needed. Regardless, never jolt them out of torpor or hibernation.

If you are unable to bring your hamster to the vet, much more work and care is needed to save your hamster.

Hydration

Use a dropper or eyedropper and administer one or two drops of clean water at a time. Do not give your hamster too much water immediately, as it won't be able to tolerate it. Repeat this set every few minutes to make sure he/she is getting water.

Food

Once your hamster wakes up, feed your hamster food that is easy to digest, and then feed it his/her usual food once she returns to normal. You may even need to feed her/him fatty foods if she/he has lost weight during hibernation.

Warmth

Determine the reason that may cause your hamster to hibernate. Is it because the house is too cold or too hot? If so, change the cage location.

Try to raise the temperature of the habitat very gradually and gently. Provide extra bedding for warmth and comfort. Never rapidly raise their temperature and forcibly pull them out of hypothermia or hibernation.

Light

Hamsters can suffer from the seasonal affective disorder. Make sure your furry friend is getting enough light to help bring it out of its hibernation state.

Massage

Use your finger and gently massage your friend to get the blood circulation going. You may need to do this more than one time a day.

Conclusion

Now that you have learned about hamster hibernation and the dangers, you will need to do your best to prevent hibernation from occurring and keep your hamster safe and healthy. Your furry friend will be very happy with proper temperature control, light, food, water, and resource availability.

lara grisko the pet staff

About the Author

Lara Girsko

Doctor of veterinary medicine with extensive experience in animal welfare with a strong interest in feline medicine and plans to pursue ABVP-Feline specialty board certification. A key member of many local veterinary associations and avid reader of animal related science journals and studies.

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