Do Hamsters Hibernate? Signs, Duration and Death

Hamster inside cage

Before buying a hamster it’s a great idea to do some research into whether hamsters actually hibernate, and if so for how long?

Do hamsters hibernate? Pet hamsters will start to hibernate when the temperatures go too low or if their food supply is low and is a survival technique to keep them alive. 

If your hamster goes into hibernation please don’t come to the conclusion they are dead! If you lightly touch them or stroke them they should show small signs of life. Read on for more information into the reasons behind why and when hamster hibernate.

Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Chinese Hamster Curled upYes. Hamsters can hibernate, both in the wild and in captivity. There are two forms of hibernation: obligatory and permissive.

Obligate hibernators will hibernate annually, irrespective of how cold it is or how much food is available. Animals that are obligate hibernators include black bears, ground squirrels, and European hedgehogs.

Permissive or facultative hibernators enter dormancy when they are stressed from low temperatures or a lack of food (or a combination of both these factors!)

Certain species of hamsters, such as the Syrian hamster, are able to hibernate under certain conditions. This makes them permissive hibernators, which means they only enter torpor when they are not eating enough or are exposed to extreme cold weather.

When Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Hibernation in animals typically occurs when food supplies are low or the temperature drops to low levels.

Temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 degrees Celsius) can cause your hamster to sleep and be more lethargic than usual, whereas temperatures below 50 or around 40 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius or 4 degrees Celsius) could trigger hibernation.

Temperatures that are much lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit could cause your hamster to develop hypothermia.

How Long Do Hamsters Hibernate For?

When hamsters are hibernating in the wild and are left to their own devices, they typically remain dormant for two to three days. However, if the temperature is extremely cold, then they could hibernate for a week or a little longer.

If you notice your hamster is hibernating, then it is not recommended to leave him sleeping for more than 24 hours. This is because you don’t want him to go too long without food or water.

Torpor is similar to hibernation, but it is a more short-term solution for your hamster. Hamsters can go into torpor when they are extremely cold.

Being in a state of torpor raises your hamster’s body temperature and slows down his metabolism. This lets him conserve energy and warm up.

Torpor only lasts for a few hours so you might not notice whether your hamster has experienced it.

Going into torpor is not dangerous and will not hurt hamsters, but it does mean their environment is too cold.

Signs That Your Hamster Is Hibernating and Not Dead

Seeing your hamster motionless and laying incredibly still can be worrying, and you’d be forgiven for thinking your furry friend has passed away.

A hibernating hamster can look strikingly similar to a dead one, but there are some signs to look out for to differentiate between the two.

Movement

Although hamsters in hibernation appear lifeless, they will still move very slightly. Look out for twitching, or the occasional jerk/tremble. You might have to watch very closely to see these movements!

You could also gently stroke your hamster’s paws and whiskers to see if they twitch.

Breathing

When your hamster is hibernating, their breathing and heart rate is slowed down tremendously. On quick examination, your hamster will most likely look like they have stopped breathing altogether.

However, if you peer closer, you should be able to spot some signs that your hamster is still breathing. Look at his chest to see if you can see it rising slightly.

You should also your hamster’s whiskers or his nose, as these may twitch. Additionally, you could move close to your hamster to see if you can detect any breathing sounds.

Body Temperature

Even though your hamster’s body temperature drops in hibernation, they will still retain some warmth. Touch your hamster to see if you can feel any warmth. A dead hamster will be completely cold.

Some areas on your hamster will feel very cool to touch, but certain parts should still retain a bit of warmth. Try touching (very gently!) around his cheek pouches as these should be one of the warmer areas.

Limp Body

Picking up a hibernating hamster can feel like picking up a dead one as they are motionless and limp. However, a truly dead hamster will feel hard and stiff when you pick him up. This is because rigor mortis will have set in.

Rigor mortis occurs in bodies after death, typically within a few hours, and causes the muscles and joints to stiffen and set in place.

A hibernating hamster will feel limp, but not stiff. You should be able to move his joints and limbs, which you will not be able to do with a dead hamster.

How to Care For Your Hamster When They are Hibernating

Hamster curled upHere are some tips for caring for your hamster when he is hibernating. Alternatively, if you suspect your hamster is in a state of torpor, then these tips will also work.

To wake up your hamster from hibernation, you should pick him up and hold him against your body. The warmth from your body will gradually and gently warm him up. You should try holding him against you for at least thirty minutes.

Alternatively, you could use a hot water bottle or heating device to warm up your hamster.

Fill a hot water bottle with hot (not boiling) water and wrap it in a towel or blanket. Place your hamster on top of the hot water. Make sure he is not direct contact with the hot water bottle to prevent him from overheating.

If you don’t own a hot water bottle, you could use a plastic bottle or container instead.

If you own a heating pad, place a towel or blanket over it and place your hamster on top of it. Around thirty to forty-five minutes should be enough to warm him up to and bring him out of hibernation.

You will need to make sure the heating device is safe to use on hamsters. Reptile heat mats can be used for hamsters, so these are a good tool to invest in.

Make sure you set the temperature of the heating pad to around ninety degrees Fahrenheit (or thirty-two degrees Celsius). If the heating pad’s temperature cannot be altered, then use your best judgement and make sure it is not too hot for your hamsters.

Difference Between Hibernating and Hypothermia

Hypothermia in hamsters occurs when their body temperature drops to dangerously low levels. This is usually when hamsters have been exposed to cold conditions for long periods of time (over twenty-four hours).

When a hamster is in hypothermic shock, it is extremely dangerous as they have no resources in their bodies for survival. This means hamsters experiencing hypothermia typically do not live very long.

Hamsters can develop hypothermia when temperatures drop way below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius).

Some examples why your hamster could go in hypothermic shock include escaping his cage and getting lost outside (or inside a very cold room!), and being exposed to a draught, such as an open window for a long time. This is especially true during winter or cold months.

Preventing Hypothermia

Hypothermia is serious, so you should make sure you are always putting in measures to prevent it from happening to your hamster.

If you believe your hamster’s hibernation was triggered by being exposed to low temperatures, then you will need to provide him with plenty of bedding and make sure the room he lives in is warm enough.

This might mean turning on the central heating or using a portable heater in your hamster’s room, or by placing him into a room that is warmer.

However, never place your hamster or your hamster’s cage directly next to a radiator or heater! Your hamster needs to be warm, but you don’t want him to overheat as this can be fatal.

Providing your hamster with lots of bedding, especially if the weather gets cold, will make sure he doesn’t get too chilly.

If you suspect your hamster’s hibernation was caused by a lack of food or water, then make sure you give him an abundance of food and fresh water to wake up to. Some treats which include healthy fats might be good to give to your hamster to give him some extra energy.

Good fatty treats include sunflowers seeds and peanuts. Make sure you don’t overfeed your hamster with fatty treats as you don’t want him to become overweight.

You should make sure your hamster’s habitat is not near any draughts or vents to make sure he doesn’t get too cold, especially when it is cold outside. Draughts could come from an open window, so make sure you keep them closed in extremely low temperatures.

You Can Use Hamster Temperature Monitors

To keep track of the temperature of the room your hamster lives in, you could use a temperature monitor. Using a temperature monitor will allow you to know straight away if your hamster is being subjected to low (or high) temperatures, which means you can quickly put in measures to stop your hamster from going into hibernation or developing hypothermia.

Thermometers are inexpensive and can be a good tool to use to make sure your hamster room is within his preferred range. You can simply place one on the wall or near to your hamster’s habitat.

Most types of hamsters are from desert climates, which means they cannot endure extremely low temperatures. You should aim to keep your hamster at around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (or 18 to 24 degrees Celsius).

Temperatures between this range will make your hamster much happier and more comfortable. When your hamster is stressed, he is vulnerable to a lot of illnesses, so it’s crucial you avoid stressing him out as much as possible.

A happy hamster is a healthy hamster!

Safe Heating Devices

You can use a heating device, such as a heating pad or heat mat to help keep your hamster’s cage warm during cold weather.

Safe heating pads for hamsters are ones that are used for reptiles. You should be able to find these at your local pet store in the reptile section or online.

Heat mats used for reptiles are safe and reliable as they are already designed to be used on cages/tanks for animals. They’re a good device to purchase (and not too expensive!), especially if you live in an area that’s prone to extremely cold weather.

These heat mats can be placed underneath your hamster’s cage to provide warmth. You will want to make sure the bottom of your hamster’s cage also has a section that isn’t touching the heat mat. This is so your hamster has a section of their cage to rest if they are too hot or need to cool down.

You can also use heat mats to warm up your hamster directly if he is hibernating or in torpor. Just make sure you put a piece of fabric between the mat and your hamster.

Make sure you don’t put the heat setting on your mat too high. Low or medium should be plenty warm for your hamster.

Heat mats for reptiles let out gradual and gentle heat, so it’s unlikely they will burn the bottom of your hamster’s cage. However, it’s always a good idea to check the heat mat regularly to make sure it is not getting too hot.

Heat emits from the heat mat slowly and gradually, so your hamster is not suddenly exposed to high temperatures, which could shock him. Instead, it is mild and slow to give your hamster some extra comfort and coziness in cold months!

Related Questions:

How do you know if a hamster is hibernating or dead? When you touch your hamster (stroke them or slightly touch them) they should show some signs of life.

What are the signs of a hamster hibernating? Your hamster’s breathing will have slowed, they will be limp and their body temperate will be lower.

What temperature is too cold for hamsters? You should keep your hamster between a temperature of 65 to 75 Fahrenheit. Colder temperatures can cause them to go into hibernation.

Charlotte Silcock

Charlotte lives in the United Kingdom and has worked in animal shelters looking after small animals. She owns a hamster as well as a dog and a cat and hopes to spread her knowledge about rodents to help other pet owners.

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