3 Reasons Why Hamsters Hibernate (and What to Do)
Hibernation in hamsters is a natural survival mechanism characterized by inactivity in an attempt to conserve energy. Cold and food deficiency are some of the reasons why hamsters hibernate.
During hibernation, the hamster lowers its body temperature, heart rate, and breathing. The hamster feels cold and it’s difficult to detect its heartbeat or breathing patterns.
This confuses many owners about whether the hamster is dead or hibernating since the signs are very similar. However, you can easily tell when a hamster is hibernating by holding a spoon or a mirror near its nose. When the spoon or the mirror fogs up it means that the hamster is breathing therefore alive.
This article will outline reasons why hamsters hibernate and what to do when your hamster is hibernating.
Reasons why hamsters hibernate
The common reasons why hamsters hibernate include exposure to low temperatures, staying in dark for long and reduced access to food and drinking water.
a). Exposure to low temperatures
Hamsters in the wild are likely to hibernate in winter when there are lower temperatures. Although rare, domesticated hamsters may also hibernate when room temperatures fall below 20° for extended periods.
Hamsters whose cage is placed near the walls, windows, or doors have higher chances of hibernating. This is because the cold weather from outside can get into the hamster’s body triggering hibernation.
b). Staying in dark for long
Keeping your pet rodent in darkness for too long is one of the reasons why hamsters hibernate. Hamsters are nocturnal animals and this may convince you that keeping them in darkness will be more beneficial. However, hamsters require both light and darkness in equal measures per day for them to flourish.
When hamsters stay in pitch-black environments, they cannot see clearly. This means they cannot get involved in their daily activities including eating. This eventually drives hamsters into hibernation.
c). Insufficient food and water supply
Lack of food and water is a major reason why hamsters hibernate when kept as pets. When a hamster has reduced access to food, it has no means to generate more energy. Hamsters are very active animals and therefore require more food to produce energy. An inefficient supply of food and water can therefore send the hamster into hibernation in order to conserve some energy.
What to do when a hamster is hibernating
Most pet owners panic when their hamsters hibernate since it looks like it has died. Instead, you should try to take the hamster out of hibernation. Having known some of the reasons why hamsters hibernate makes it easier for you to revive the pet.
Some of the things you can do to help a hamster that is hibernating include cuddling it, making food accessible, or visiting a vet if the hamster does not respond.
a). Cuddle the hamster
Cuddling is the best way to revive a hamster whose hibernation is triggered by cold temperatures. While you can use other heating methods such as heat pads or warm bottles, your natural body heat is ideal for hamsters in hibernation.
While cuddling the hamster, you can also tickle the pet to allow blood to circulate better thus reducing inactivity.
b). Give your hamster more food
Giving your hamster protein-rich foods can significantly reduce the chances of the hamster hibernating. When a hamster has a sufficient supply of food, it has enough energy therefore no need to hibernate. High protein foods are recommended since the protein can be broken down when a hamster really needs energy yet no food is available.
c). Visit a veterinarian
While it is normal for hamsters to remain inactive during hibernation, sometimes it could be a sign that your hamster is dying. Long periods of inactivity could mean that the hamster is dehydrated, weak, or suffering organ failure.
Domesticated hamsters can stay in hibernation for a period of between 3-5 days. If the pet remains inactive after this period I recommend you visit the vet for further diagnosis.
What is the difference between hibernation and torpor?
Hibernation in hamsters is a state of minimal activity or slow metabolic process that allows them to conserve energy for a couple of days. Torpor on the other hand is a temporary state of inactivity in response to temperature changes in routines such as hamsters’ feeding time.
Is it OK for my hamster to hibernate?
Although it’s not common for domesticated hamsters to hibernate, these pets naturally do so to conserve energy. Hibernation in pet hamsters could be triggered by cold temperatures or an inefficient food supply.
Can you wake up a hibernating hamster?
You can wake up a hibernating hamster by creating a warmer environment for it. This may mean adding warm blankets to its bedding, cuddling it, or using artificial sources of heat.