Many people often wonder if hamsters hibernate. In the hamster groups that I am a part of, I hear this question all the time. There’s been many stories of people preparing to bury their little hams only to find that they are alive! Hibernation is quite rare in hamsters, although it can happen.
This article will be taking you through the question of “do hamsters hibernate”. We will be looking at why hamsters hibernate and how to distinguish between a hibernating hamster and a sleeping one. We’ll be showing you how to care for your hibernating pet and how to prevent this from happening in the first place.
What is hibernation?
So, what is hibernation? Hibernation is an evolutionary tool that allows animals to stay alive even when they are low on supplies and in danger. This often happens if an animal is low on food or if they are at a certain temperature. It means that the animal can save energy which could prolong their life during the period where they are most at risk.
You may often hear about bears and other large mammals hibernating. Often animals collect a large amount of food in the summer and then hibernate during parts of the winter. This allows them to consume less energy and stay alive! This type of hibernation is called obligatory hibernation. It’s something that these animals often do every year which enables them to survive
The other type of hibernation is called permissive hibernation and the main difference is that it is not governed by the seasons. This is the type of hibernation that hamsters undergo. It can happen at any time and usually happens due to the adverse conditions that we mentioned earlier. It helps them save energy until the threat is over. Therefore it is not something that should be occurring with pet hamsters!
Do hamsters hibernate?
As stated before, hamsters absolutely can hibernate. However, it is not something that should be happening. Wild hamsters may undergo this form of hibernation as they face much more adverse conditions than our little furry friends do! It can enable them to survive in the harsh deserts, but our hamster habitats are nothing like that! So they can hibernate, but they really shouldn’t be!
What breed of hamsters hibernate?
Syrian hamsters are much more likely to hibernate than Robo or Dwarf hamsters. This is because of their wild environment where the desert nights would be extremely cold. Syrians will have to go into this state to survive the night, luckily these conditions shouldn’t exist in a pet’s environment! Robo and Dwarf hamsters can hibernate but it is unlikely as they did not originate from extremely cold climates.
Why do hamsters hibernate?
So why do hamsters hibernate? We’ve covered the fact that hamsters really should not be hibernating if they are domesticated. So what are the main reasons why our pets decide to do it?
The primary reason for your pet hibernating is the temperature. This is going to be the case for 99% of these instances as it can be hard to figure out what the right temperature for your hamster is. If your hamster’s cage is below 65F then it can cause hibernation to occur due to your pet being too cold. The cold has to be constant and it could even take months for it to occur.
The real danger here is if the temperature dramatically drops and your hamster has to go into emergency hibernation. If your hamster isn’t prepared then going into hibernation can cause real danger for them. Therefore take extra care to avoid drafts in the house.
Lack of food
A reason that I hope doesn’t cause any hibernation with our pets is lack of food. Hams in the wild will go into hibernation if there’s a lack of food but that should never be a problem if they are pets. Make sure to constantly check their food and water bowls to ensure that they have enough food. If you are out of food and awaiting delivery, see if you can give them some household treats to tide them over. Carrots, cabbage and pumpkin seeds can help until your food arrives.
Interestingly, the lighting in your hamster room can also play a part in hibernation. Dark conditions can result in hamsters hibernating so make sure that they are exposed to light at least 12 hours a day. You should be trying to mimic their natural conditions as much as possible!
Signs that hibernation could occur.
It can be hard to figure out when our pets are simply sleeping or hibernating. You need to figure out this difference to avoid the mistakes that would come with misidentification. Hamsters will sleep during the day and will get out of bed to play around 6-9pm. Although this may change depending on the hamster.
See if your hamster is building up a bigger nest. This can be a sign that they are trying to regulate their temperature. Hamsters are extremely clever animals and will add and remove bedding from their cage to get the perfect temperature. Is your hamster sleeping longer? If your hamster is old then this may just be a normal sign of ageing but if you have a young hamster then this can be a point of concern.
Check the room that your hamster is in. Is there a draft? Do you keep a window open at night? Have you recently moved your hamster’s cage? These are all questions that you should be asking yourself when you are wondering if your hamster is hibernating. Use a thermometer to check to see if it is too cold (Below 65F/18.3C).
Is your hamster hibernating or dead?
There’s been plenty of news stories about people who thought that their hamster was dead, but they actually turned out to be just hibernating! This is quite rare but it can still happen. Hamsters can easily appear dead to the naked eye as they sometimes only breathe every few minutes. Their heart rate is unnoticable as well. So how do you know that your hamster is still alive?
You can stroke your hamster and see if there is a reaction. Hibernating hamsters may still respond to stimuli, their whiskers may twitch if you stroke them. You can also see if your hamster’s cheek poach is warmer and you can strech your hamster’s limbs. A dead hamster will be stiff and unmoving but you should still be able to move the limbs of your hibernating pet.
In the end, if you watch your hamster carefully you should be able to see signs of life. Hamsters will breathe and they may move slightly.
Caring for your hamster
So, after all this, do you think that your hamster is in hibernation? If so, there’s a lot of things that you need to do to protect them. Hibernation can be incredibly dangerous for a hamster and you need to be cautious in order to prevent illness and death.
The most important thing to look at is duration. The ways to care for your hamster differ depending on how long they have been hibernating.
If your hamster has only been hibernating for a short amount of time, around 24 hours, then you can rewarm them. This can wake your pet if done quickly. Take your habitat to a warm area or heat the area where the cage is. Keep the lights on and ensure that all of the basic provisions are present for your pet.
Consider massaging your hamster to allow blood to move around the body. This can take a while and it is perfectly fine to take a break.The most important thing is the passive elements that are helping your hamster to wake up. Heat and light are the core components. Don’t heat them up too fast though as this can cause more problems than it solves. Raise it gradually.
You can hold your hamster in your arms as well. This can help as your natural body heat will heat up your hamster slowly. Make sure that you are in a warm and bright room though.
Long hibernations, more than 24 hours long, can be dangerous for your hamster. These situations can be harder for you when it comes to waking them up. Hamsters who have hibernated for a while are at risk of:
- Dehydration. Your hamster is not drinking water which can result in severe health problems.
- Malnutrition. Your hamster isn’t eating either. They aren’t getting any nutrients into their body.
If the above methods don’t work for waking up your hamster, take them to a vet. No amount of hamster blogs can replace the crucial advice and treatment that a vet can provide. Extended hibernation can lead to death for your hamster.
So, we know that hamsters hibernate and we know that it can be dangerous. So what can you do to stop it? The good news is, you can do a lot to effectively remove the risk of hibernation. As stated previously, the best thing you can do is ensure that your hamster’s habitat is at the right temperature. This is between 65F and 75F.
As well as the constant temperature, you need to ensure that rapid changes in the temperature don’t occur. Don’t open windows near your hamster’s cage and move your pet from any rooms that have drafts. If you have climate control, keep it at a constant temperature in your hamster’s habitat. Don’t mess around with it. Also ensure that they have food, bedding and water. This is vital to prevent hibernation.
If you do all of this, it is extremely unlikely that your hammy will hibernate. It’s simply not something that they do unless they feel like they are in danger!
Conclusion – Do hamsters hibernate?
So. Do hamsters hibernate? Yes. This has been the longest blog post that I have done on this blog, but this is because of how important the issue is. Hamster hibernation is rarely understood and therefore it can lead to a whole host of tragedies. The best way to prevent your hamster from hibernating is by regulating the temperature of your pet’s room. Hammies are extremely susceptible to changes in temperature and fixing this can prevent hibernation as well as other health conditions.
Has your hamster ever hibernated? Got any expert advice? Let us know in the comments!