Signs Your Hamster Is Dying: Behavior, Eating Habits and Appearance

Losing a pet is never an easy experience but it is an inevitable part of having a pet and with hamsters having a lifespan of 2-3 years, you need to be prepared for your hamster’s death.

Knowing the signs that your hamster is dying can give you a chance to make his finals days more comfortable or to make a decision to put him to sleep if he is in too much pain. In some cases, it can even give you a chance to save your hamster from dying.

In this article, we will cover all the signs that indicate that your hamster is dying and how to prevent it if possible and if death is inevitable, we will give you a few tips on how to make your hamster’s last days as easy as possible.

A Change in Your Hamsters Behavior

Hamster in their cageTry to spend 10-15 minutes a few times of day just observing your hamster. You will quickly learn his habits, how much he sleeps, how much he eats and drinks, how active he is, etc. Do this at different times of day to get the sense of his daily routine.

When a hamster is feeling sick, you will be able to notice significant changes in his behavior. That’s why it is important to spend time with your hamster regularly and to observe his behavior daily. If you don’t do that, you may not be able to recognize changes in his behavior.

What to Look For?

Changes in the hamster’s daily routine and activity levels are a good indication that something is wrong. The usual daily routine hamsters involves cleaning themselves, nesting and exercising and if you notice that your pet is not doing these things, he may be in pain.

Hamsters are very active, so if your hamster seems lethargic, spends a lot of time in one spot and doesn’t seem interested in playing, it can be a sign that he is sick. Your hamster’s movement may be slower than before and he might sleep more than usual if he is feeling sick.

Keep in mind that hamsters are nocturnal, so they are more likely to be active during the night and sleep during the day. If you think that your hamster sleeps too much or all the time, it can signal some health issue.

However, this can also be hibernation because hamsters hibernate when it’s cold for a long time. Hibernating hamsters will be in a very deep sleep and have shallow breath. If you suspect that your hamster is hibernating, increase the room temperature and ensure that your furry friend has food and water when he wakes up.

Your pet may also become aggressive and prone to biting if he is experiencing pain or discomfort and doesn’t want to be bothered. He might refuse to approach your hand, which can be indicative of some problem if he is usually friendly.

If your hamster’s changes in behavior, especially his activity levels, don’t return to normal, visit your vet to determine the cause. He may be dying but he might also just be sick and need medical treatment.

They are Eating Less

Hamster EatingHealthy hamsters eat multiple times throughout the day. While hamsters mostly sleep in the daytime, they will often wake up to eat. But even though hamsters eat often, they don’t actually eat that much. For example, an average hamster will consume around two tablespoons of food on a daily basis.

It can also be difficult to track how much is your hamster eating. While there may be no food in their bowl, it can mean that your hamster is a hoarder, like many hamsters are. They will fill their cheek pouches with food and hide that food around their cage.

With all this said, you should still be able to tell how much is your hamster eating. And if you notice that he is eating less, keep a closer look over his eating for a couple of days. If he stops eating altogether, take him to the vet straight away.

Gastrointestinal Illnesses

Dying hamsters will often suffer from some kind of gastrointestinal distress or illness. Many of them will experience pain in their stomach, which is one of the reasons why they might eat less and stay inactive.

Of course, GI problems are often not a sign of impending death, so take your hamster to the vet if you notice some of the symptoms. These symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and loud stomach noises, which basically sounds like the stomach growling humans experience as well.

Wet Tail – Check For Diarrhea 

Diarrhea can be particularly dangerous in hamsters because it is often caused by an illness called wet tail. Wet tail is a life-threatening stomach infection often associated with stress and commonly caused by a number of bacteria.

This disease usually affects younger hamsters, particularly when they are at 3-8 weeks of age. It can be fatal if left untreated, often within 24 to 48 hours after symptoms appear.

The name of this disease comes from the fact that accompanying diarrhea can be so severe to make the hamster’s tail and surrounding area dirty. Look at the base of your pet’s tail to see if there’s a wet substance similar to mucus.

If you suspect that your hamster suffers from wet tail, get him to the vet immediately. He will treat your pet with antibiotics and possibly IV fluids if your hamster becomes dehydrated.

Change in Appearance

If your hamster is sick or dying, you will probably be able to spot numerous changes in his appearance such as changes to their skin, fur, eyes and weight.

Let’s take a look at the most common changes you can expect.

Check Your Hamster’s Skin

Changes on the hamster’s skin are often indicative of some health problem, especially infections which can cause redness, swelling, and even abscesses. The skin will also be flaky and sometimes dry when an infection is present.

Dry or dehydrated skin can also be a sign of some other problem. Check your hamster’s loose skin by lifting it over his shoulders and letting it go. When you do this, the skin should go right back into place. If the skin is dehydrated, this will not happen.

Skin problems can lead to scratching, so if you notice that your furry friend is scratching a lot, get him to the vet to get his skin checked out.

Check Your Hamster’s Fur

Skin infections often affect the hamster’s fur as well. His fur should be shiny and full and if you notice that your hamster is losing fur at an alarmingly fast rate, it could be a symptom of infection or some other disease.

Keep in mind that hamsters will have a thinner fur as they age, that’s normal. However, losing a lot of fur at once is not. You should also check the fur around your hamster’s belly and tail. If it seems matted or feels wet, that can also indicate an infection.

Changes in the Eyes

As your hamster gets older their eyes will start to change. In old age, their eyes may start to get more matte and they may get sticky eyes.

Sticky eyes is quite a common problem in hamster’s older years and is when a piece of dust or bedding gets stuck in their eye when they are sleeping. This then causes their eyes to get stuck together when they wake up. You can help them out by using a small piece of wetted cotton and gently use it to wipe their eyes.

Although it generally affects older hamsters, it can affect younger ones too.

Look for Other Changes in Appearance

Check your hamster’s face, eyes and mouth for any changes because they can also indicate that a health problem is present. Pay particular attention to runny nose, puffy cheeks, and red eyes because they can be a sign of a common cold.

When a hamster starts to reach late maturity they will begin to get thinner and their baby face will start to disappear. One of the most noticeable changes is that their neck will start to stand out more. When they are younger it’s hard to see where their neck ends and stomach begins but as they age this will become more distinctive.

The neck will start to change early so don’t panic if you see this happen.

While catching a cold is rarely a threat to your hamster’s life, it can become a serious condition if it persists. In this case, visit your vet to treat the problem before it turns into something more dangerous.

Other changes in appearance that may signal a serious health condition or dying include enlarged or swollen abdomen, bulging or squinting eyes and even excessive urination.

Difficulty Breathing

Hamsters that have some serious health problem will often have troubles breathing normally. In fact, respiratory infections are probably the most common illness besides wet tail in hamsters.

Pay attention to symptoms of labored breathing, such as wheezing or huffing. This is often a good indicator that your hamster is dying. Other breathing problems like heavy and noisy breathing may indicate a respiratory infection or some other life-threating problem, like pneumonia.

Take your hamster to the vet if you notice breathing problems that won’t go away and you may be able to prevent the development of a fatal health problem. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Blood in Their Discharge

If you notice any bloody discharge coming from your hamster’s ears, nose, eyes, mouth or anus, it could mean that he is very sick and close to death.

Visit your vet to determine the cause and potential treatment plan since bloody discharge can be an indicator of many health issues.

How to Look After Your Dying Hamster

If your hamster is dying, it is imperative to try to make his final days as easy as possible. You can achieve this by doing a few things.

Keep Them Comfortable

Chinese Hamster Curled upIt is important to make your furry friend comfortable in his last days, or even if he is just sick. So, if you have multiple hamsters in your habitat, separate the sick or dying hamster. They will be more comfortable and you will allow your hamster to rest and stay away from stress. This will also prevent the spread of the disease further if your hamster’s problem is contagious.

This isolated habitat should be located away from other pets, family members and noise of any kind. It should also be in a place without any bright lights. The cage should be big enough and comfortable, even if your hamster doesn’t move much.

Let Your Hamster Rest

When a hamster is very sick or dying, he needs comfort and rest. Don’t pick up your hamster often because you may disrupt his rest.

Also, if you try to pick him up, he may even become aggressive, especially if he is in pain and doesn’t want to be disturbed.

Keep in mind that sick hamsters may try to exercise, which can lead to injury. Your pet needs his rest at this time, so don’t put an exercise wheel in his cage if he is sick and try to limit his movement otherwise.

Keep His Cage Clean

While you don’t need to clean your hamster’s cage that often if he is sick or dying because you will disrupt his rest and may introduce stress and anxiety, you will still need to do it occasionally to make sure that his cage is clean.

If you have multiple hamsters and plan to separate the sick or dying one in another habitat, clean it thoroughly with soapy water or you can use a bleach solution (just make sure to fully wash it out). You should also clean the original habitat as well to minimize the risk of getting sick for the remaining hamsters.

Don’t forget to clean your hamster’s food and water bowls as well.

Keep Your Hamster Warm

Sick hamsters will often refuse to eat or drink and that can make them feel cold. Some may even go into hibernation, which is not a good thing for domestic hamsters.

You can put plenty of toilet paper in his cage and he will use it to make a nest where he can rest and get warm. Use unscented paper and tear it into strips before you put it in his habitat.

Another thing you can do is put a heating pad in his habitat. You can also use a heat lamp to warm the cage up. If you use a heat lamp, put a small house in your hamster’s habitat so he can escape the bright light.

Make sure that your hamster is warm but not too hot. Try to keep the temperature at around 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit (20-29 degrees Celsius). If you overheat the cage your pet can become stressed from the heat or even suffer from a heat stroke.

If your hamster lets you hold them for warmth and comfort. Wrap them in a small towel and get the hamster close to your body. They may curl up and sleep depending how much they trust you.

Provide Enough Food and Water

Even though your hamster is likely not going to eat or drink much if he is sick, you still need to make sure that he has plenty of fresh food and water available. In fact, you should try to get them to eat and drink small amounts.

To do this, put his food and water bowls close to him, preferably close to his nest. Some hamsters will feel lethargic or won’t have enough energy to come to their bowls. This way, your pet can eat without moving too much.

Try to feed your hamster high-protein foods. Protein can help your hamster get his strength back and recover if that’s possible.  Some good choices include tofu, scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, yogurt with probiotics, bread soaked in milk and small bits of cooked chicken.

If they still aren’t eating you could try feeding them some food by giving it or placing it right next to them.

Perhaps more important than getting enough food for an ailing hamster is getting enough liquid to stay hydrated, especially water. Make sure that your hamster always has a source of fresh water. You can also feed him fruits that have a lot of water in them, like pears and apples.

Help Your Hamster Eat

If your hamster won’t eat or drink even when you provide him with all the food and water, you may try to feed him by hand or syringe to ensure that he gets the vital liquids and nutrients.

Put small pieces of food on your hands to see if your hamster will take it. Be patient with him and give him time to eat. You may try to stroke your furry friend and talk to him to make him more comfortable as you try to feed him.

If this doesn’t work, you can try a 1cc syringe to give your hamster liquids and baby food. Put the syringe in the corner of his mouth, just behind his front teeth and depress the plunger.

Consider Euthanization

Sometimes, there is nothing you can do to help your hamster. When death is inevitable, you might want to take euthanization into consideration, especially if your hamster is in pain and you don’t want to see him suffer.

Euthanization is when you get a vet to put your pet down because they are in so much pain.

While this decision is never easy, it is often right. Putting your hamster down is often the best thing for them. Work with your vet to decide when the time is right and how to do it.

Related Questions:

How do you save a dying hamster? Once your hamster has started to die from old age, there isn’t much you can do. Move your hamster to a quiet warm location and try to make sure they are comfortable.

What causes a hamster to die suddenly? Cardiomyopathy can cause your hamster to die suddenly. It is a disease on the heart that can affect hamsters of all ages.

Do hamsters die with their eyes open? It depends, hamsters have been known to die with their eyes open and also with them closed.

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.

Recent Content