Do hamsters hibernate? Hamsters do hibernate but for different reasons than we commonly believe. It is not a natural response to the change in seasons but something more concerning.
Let us uncover the real cause behind hamster hibernation and find out how you can safely wake up your hibernating pet.
2 Types of Animal Hibernation
Before discussing hamster hibernation, let us talk about the 2 common types of hibernation in animals. Because of their near similarity, one is often mistaken for the other.
Continue reading to find out their differences and know which type does hamster hibernation fall under.
1. True Hibernation
True hibernation aka obligatory hibernation is a seasonal occurrence that generally lasts throughout the winter.
It only occurs in certain animals such as squirrels, bats, and woodchucks. They fatten themselves up during the summer and then find a safe area to hide and go into a deep sleep during the winter months.
2. Permissive Hibernation
Contrary to common belief, most hamsters are not true hibernators and they belong to this category. Referred to as torpor, permissive hibernation is commonly induced by extreme environmental conditions, particularly excessively cold temperatures.
Now you might be wondering: “What temperature do hamsters hibernate?” The ideal temperature for hamsters is around 65–75 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3–23.9 °C). If it drops below this range, there is a high chance that they will go into torpor.
Other factors also contribute to the development of permissive hibernation including:
- Low exposure to light for extended periods
- Lack of food and water
- Poor housing conditions (e.g., insufficient bedding)
In relation to this discussion, let us answer the question: “When do hamsters hibernate?” Torpor is not brought on by natural seasonal rhythm. Thus, this type of hibernation can occur anytime in hamsters, may it be summer or winter.
Certain Hamsters Are More Prone to Hibernation
Not all breeds of hamsters share the same type of hibernation. European hamsters are considered true hibernators because they sleep for long periods during winter.
Dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, are less likely to hibernate since they can handle cold weather. They only enter that state when their environmental conditions force them to do so.
“Do Syrian hamsters hibernate?” is frequently asked by many pet owners. Wild Syrian hamsters hibernate to survive cold desert nights. Thus, in captivity, they are more likely to go into hibernation than other breeds when temperatures drop too low levels.
Gender also plays a role in hamster hibernation. According to research, female hamsters spend less time in torpor since they adjust their hibernation according to their food storage.
In comparison, males prefer to go into prolonged torpor to save up more energy.
The Dangers of Hibernation in Pet Hamsters
“Do indoor hamsters hibernate?” Indoor hamsters can hibernate but be warned that this is not an ideal situation for them to be in.
Torpor tends to occur in pet hamsters by accident. For instance, some pet owners unknowingly leave them exposed to low temperatures, which triggers their bodies to go into hibernation.
The sudden environmental change does not give indoor hamsters enough time and resources to prepare. Hence, it can consequently lead them to slip into a prolonged state of torpor to conserve energy.
If hamster owners fail to improve their pet’s living conditions, fatal consequences are bound to happen. Extended hamster hibernation can result in severe dehydration or hypothermia.
Now that you know the risks of prolonged hibernation, you might be asking yourself: “How long will a hamster hibernate for?”
Typically, hamsters in captivity hibernate for about 2–3 days. In some cases, they can remain in hibernation for about a week, which is not ideal.
Most Common Signs of Hamster Hibernation
What does a hibernating hamster look like? Hibernation causes your pet hamster’s metabolic processes to slow down to keep them from expending too much energy.
Here are some indications that a hamster is in torpor:
- Slow and nearly undetectable breathing and heart rate
- Food and water are most left untouched
- Low body temperature but slightly warm cheek pouches
- No signs of urination or elimination
We often come across the question: “Do hamsters hibernate with their eyes open?” Yes, hamsters can hibernate with their eyes open.
However, this is not a definite sign of hibernation. They may also have their eyes open when they are in a normal state of sleep.
Another common thing hibernating hamsters do is build bigger nests in their cage to keep them well hidden. Some might even go unnoticed because they burrow deeper into their bedding for protection and warmth.
For this reason, hamster owners should check their pets regularly, especially during colder months to ensure nothing is amiss.
4 Ways to Check If a Hamster Is Not Dead but Hibernating
Hibernating hamsters are often mistaken by their owners as dead because of their unresponsive state. In fact, there have been many instances where people accidentally buried their hamsters alive, thinking they were dead.
This is where the important question: “How can you tell if your hamster is hibernating?” comes into mind. Here is what you can do to confirm that your hamster is simply in torpor or hibernation, not dead.
1. Carefully look for ear and whisker twitches.
Hamster hibernation does not completely render your pet immobile. You will catch its ears or whiskers twitching as it sleeps. Gently stroke them to make your hamster carry out these reflexes.
2. Check your hamster’s breathing.
If you are wondering: “Is my hamster dead or hibernating?” checking its breathing is one of the sure-fire ways to know that it is alive. A hibernating hamster’s breathing rate will be slower than normal. It can even be as little as one breath every 2 minutes.
Assess your hamster’s breathing by holding a mirror or spoon close to its nostrils. If the item fogs up, it means your pet is breathing.
3. Listen to your hamster’s heartbeat.
Much like breathing, your pet’s heartbeat will be very faint and far apart. Although difficult to detect, it is not impossible.
If you have a stethoscope, you can easily check your hamster’s heartbeat. Another thing you can do is carefully hold it close to your ear and listen closely to its chest.
Or put your thumb and forefinger on each side of its chest and apply gentle pressure, just enough for you to feel a pulse. However, do not push too hard as it can injure your hamster’s body.
4. Gently move your hamster’s limbs.
A hibernating hamster’s limbs can become stiff due to the temperature dropping. However, the rigidness should not reach a point where their appendages cannot be moved.
If you can flex your pet’s arms and legs without exerting too much effort, then it is still alive.
Since we have mostly talked about signs that a hamster is alive but in hibernation, let us move on to the tell-tale clues of a dead hamster.
So what does a dead hamster look like? A dead hamster often curls into a foetal position. Its limbs will be very stiff as a result of rigour mortis. Other hints you should look for are the absence of heartbeat and breathing.
How to Rouse a Hibernating Hamster
Can you wake a hibernating hamster? Yes, you can wake a hibernating hamster to prevent it from slipping into prolonged torpor. However, this should be done with caution and care.
Here are some tips you can follow to awaken a hibernating hamster:
Increase the room temperature.
Relocate your hamster’s cage to a well-ventilated room with no draughts. Then gradually turn up the thermostat to the ideal temperature for hamsters. Keeping your pet exposed to light for a minimum of 12 hours is also necessary.
We discourage using a heating pad, hair dryer, or hot water bottle on your hamster. Their heat might cause burns or heatstroke, so stick to the safer method that we have shared above.
Give your hamster a massage.
Massaging your pet encourages better blood circulation and helps warm up its body. Cover your hamster gently with a blanket and rub its limbs lightly to get its blood flowing.
Your body heat can help warm up your pet, so hold your hamster close to you whilst giving it a massage. Note that it can take 2–3 hours to wake it from hibernation.
Once your pet awakens from hamster hibernation, limit the amount of food you offer as it cannot tolerate heavy meals.
Water should be given in moderation too. Only administer 1–2 drops of water at a time using an eyedropper. Do not forget to place more bedding in its cage where it can burrow in for warmth.
Seek the vet’s help if your hamster does not wake up after 24 hours despite providing a warm environment and stimulation. Supportive care such as IV fluids will be provided by the vet to help restore your pet’s condition.