7 Signs a Hamster is Dying (Plus How to Help Them)
Losing a pet is one of the most painful experiences any pet parent will ever have to go through.
It’s a painful experience because our pets become part and parcel of the family and we become attached to them just like we would any other family member.
In the case of hamsters, they live an average of 2 to 3 years, and the time comes when you know they’re about to die and there is little you can do to prevent it from happening.
But how can you tell if a hamster is dying? Below we will highlight tell-tale signs of a dying hamster. On top of that, we will also focus on:
- Signs a hamster is already dead
- How to care for a dying hamster
- How to know if a hamster is dead or hibernating
- Causes of sudden hamster death
- Whether to let your hamster die naturally
- What to do with a dead hamster
- Whether all hamsters hibernate
Signs a Hamster is Dying
Hamsters, due to their small size, have delicate health, and even a small injury, stress, and minor illnesses can be fatal. If your hamster is about 3 years old, has an injury, is ill, or is stressed, you should seek veterinary help for him.
Below are 7 signs of a dying hamster to be on the lookout for.
1. Difficulty breathing
A hamster having trouble breathing could be suffering from a life-threatening condition. Respiratory infections are one of the most common illnesses hamsters suffer.
Look out for signs of labored breathing such as huffing or wheezing. A dying hamster will also present other respiratory symptoms such as heaving and noisy breathing. These symptoms could be an indication of life-threatening pneumonia.
It’s advisable to rush your hamster to a local veterinary clinic if you notice any breathing problems.
2. Significant behavioral changes
Hamsters are habitual pets and they stick to their daily routines just like we do unless something is wrong.
For example, hamsters love to groom themselves, exercise, and nest. If you notice your hamster has abandoned his daily routines, there’s a high possibility he’s in pain or sick.
Pain can cause a hamster to become aggressive and fearful to touch in a bid to avoid more pain. If the hamster is suffering from wet tail, he’s likely to experience lethargy, spends more time in one spot, movements will become slower, and will not be interested in playing.
You might also notice a ruffled or unkempt coat, which is a result of failure to groom itself.
Being nocturnal, hamsters will be active at night and sleep during the day. They also sleep for a specific number of hours. However, if you notice your hamster sleeps too much or all the time, there is likely a health issue that needs checking.
You should, however, know when your hamster is in hibernation. This often happens during cold seasons. A hibernating hamster will be in deep sleep and will have shallow breaths.
If your hamster is hibernating, it’s ideal to increase the room temperature and ensure he has enough food and water ready when he wakes up.
3. Refusal to eat or drink
Another behavioral change to look out for is significant in appetite and refusal to drink water. Lack of appetite is a common sign of sickness in hamsters.
If a hamster is dying, he will be disinterested in eating or drinking water. You’re likely to notice marked or rapid weight loss and signs of dehydration.
It’s advisable to have a veterinarian check your hamster to identify the actual reason behind this behavior.
4. A significant change in appearance
A sick or dying hamster is likely to present numerous physical changes, including changes to the skin, eyes, fur, and weight.
a). Changes in hamster’s skin
A change in a hamster’s skin appearance is often indicative of a health problem. Some infections cause redness, swelling, abscesses, and dryness.
Skin problems can cause itchiness, which will make a hamster constantly scratch himself. This is a sign you need to visit a veterinary clinic for examination.
b). Changes in hamster’s fur
Skins infections often affect the hamster’s fur as well. While healthy skin is characterized by shiny, full fur, a hamster losing fur at an alarming rate or the fur’s color and texture experiencing significant change means something is not right.
Changes in fur appearance or sudden loss of fur is often a symptom of a skin infection or an underlying disease. Check the hamster’s fur around the tail and belly and if it feels wet or seems matted, a skin infection could be the cause.
Keep in mind that aging hamsters experience thinning of the fur, which is normal, but still an aging hamster should not experience sudden fur loss.
c). Changes in hamster’s eyes
An aging hamster will have issues with his eyes, including getting sticky or becoming more matte. You will have to help clean his eyes regularly especially after they wake up.
Although this is a common problem with aging hamsters, younger hamsters can experience the issue too, especially when sick.
d). Other physical changes
There are other physical transformations hamsters go through when they’re about to die of old age. Aging hamsters begin to get thinner and their necks will become distinct.
Identifying where the neck starts and ends is hard when a hamster is young but this changes as they age. Other signs to look out for include swollen or enlarged abdomen, squinting or bulging eyes, and excessive urination.
5. Excessive diarrhea
Diarrhea in hamsters can be quite a life-threatening problem. It is caused by an illness called wet tail, a life-threatening stomach infection that can kill a hamster within 48 to 72 hours if left untreated.
The disease is precipitated by stress and largely affects younger hamsters aged less than 2 months. The name “wet tail” comes from the fact that diarrhea can be so severe that it makes the hamster’s tail and surrounding area wet and dirty.
A common sign of wet tail in hamsters is the presence of a wet substance similar to mucus at the base of the tail. You should seek immediate veterinary assistance if you suspect your hamster is suffering from this illness as it can be fatal.
6. Changes in vital signs
Changes in vital signs is another sign a hamster is dying. Apart from breathing being disjointed and jerky, the hamster’s heart rate will feel slower and body temperature will drop.
The pet’s capillary refill time will also increase while its mucous membranes will take a little more time to regain their normal color.
If the hamster is suffering from severe oxygenation problems or has been poisoned, the mucous membranes may appear whitish or bluish in color.
7. blood-tinged discharge
Another common sign a hamster could be dying is a bloody discharge from the ears, nose, eyes, mouth, or anus. This is often a sign of a fatal disease that can easily claim your hamster’s precious life.
How to Look After a Dying Hamster
Once you determine that your hamster is dying, ensuring his final days are as peaceful and stress-free as possible should be a priority. Here are a few ways you can take care of a dying hamster.
1. Keep them at optimum temperature
Aging or sick hamsters struggle to regulate their body temperatures. If the ambient temperature drops too low, the hamster may go into a state of hibernation. This is not ideal as it may lead to hypothermia, which can be fatal.
On the other hand, extremely high temperatures can cause the hamster to suffer from heatstroke or heat stress, which can also be life-threatening.
You can do the following to protect the hamster from extremely low or high temperatures:
- Maintain the hamster’s room temperature between 69°F to 72°F (20°C to 22°C). Make sure the room temperature does not go below 60°F (15°C) as this will prompt them to enter a state of hibernation.
- Place plenty of plain, unscented toilet paper in their cage. Make sure you tear the toilet papers into small pieces. The tissue paper will keep them warm and provide them with a comfortable spot to rest.
- During cold seasons, you can opt to use a heat lamp to keep the room warm. Make sure the hamster cage is large enough to allow the hamster to escape the heat if need be. You can also have a smaller hamster house inside the large cage the hamster can use as an escape from direct light. Make sure you monitor the room temperature and that it does not go above 77°F (25°C) to avoid heatstroke.
- Another way to keep your hamster warm is by gently holding them against your body while wrapped in a small towel. However, some hamsters can become aggressive and start to bite, especially when in pain.
- Do not expose the hamster to direct sunlight. Keep the hamster cage in a part of the house that’s well ventilated and shaded.
- Consider using a wire cage instead of a glass cage. This ensures the hamster is kept in a well-ventilated cage, which reduces the chances of the temperatures going too high.
2. Keep them hydrated
While ensuring your dying hamster is eating, keeping them hydrated with fresh water is more important. While a hamster can go for days without food, a dying hamster will probably experience a more painful death if they are dehydrated.
Hamsters need approximately 10 ml of water (2 teaspoons) per 100g of their body weight. You can calculate how much water your hamster should drink per day based on those estimations.
To check if your hamster is dehydrated, we recommend you do or check the following:
- Check his eyes. If they appear sunken, droopy, dry, or dull, the hamster is probably dehydrated
- Check his tongue and if it’s swollen then it’s indicative of severe dehydration. This calls for immediate veterinary assistance
- Check the hamster’s water bowl. If the water level hasn’t changed since the last refill then it probably means the hamster hasn’t been drinking and could be dehydrated
- If there is less or no urine/wet patches on his cage, or the urine is has a deep dark-tinged coloration and strong odor, the hamster could be dehydrated
To prevent your hamster from becoming dehydrated, we recommend you do the following:
- Give them foods rich in moisture content such as cucumber, apples, or watermelons. Make sure to peel the apple and get rid of cucumber and watermelon seeds. You should, however, moderate the amount your hamster consumes because too much can cause diarrhea.
- Entice them to drink water by placing their favorite treats such as a dollop of peanut butter on the drinking tube of the bottle. Your hamster will inadvertently get a mouthful of water as he licks his delicious treat.
- You can attempt to nurse them by gently pressing the water bottle into their mouth. However, if the hamster does not seem to like this then it’s best to stop immediately.
- In case the hamster refuses to drink water for 24 hours, it is best to contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible.
3. Provide them with enough food
While some dying hamsters can refuse to eat, ensuring they have enough food near them for whenever they feel like eating is important.
Put his food bowls close to him. This is important because a lethargic hamster will find it easy to eat without having to stand up and move to where the bowl is.
It’s recommended to feed your sick or dying hamster food rich in proteins. Protein-rich foods will boost his strength and can even help in recovery.
4. Provide them with a clean, calm place to sleep
Comfort is paramount when it comes to caring for a dying hamster. Ensure he has a clean, calm, quiet place to sleep. Noise, dirt, and too much light can act as stress triggers for hamsters.
It’s also advisable to keep the dying hamster in his own cage to give him the comfort and peace he needs. This also helps minimize the risk of transmission of contagious diseases to other hamsters.
You should also remove all the wheels, tubes, and climbing toys from the cage unless you feel the hamster is still strong enough to use any of them.
5. Provide pain management medication
If a dying hamster is in pain, pain management medications will help make his final moments less painful. You should, however, only use medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
Do not use pain medications meant for other pets, such as cats and dogs, because you run the risk of making the situation worse for them than it already is.
6. be there for your pet’s final moments
Sometimes there is nothing much you can do to stop your hamster from dying. In such a situation, being there for them is the least you can do.
As death approaches, your company can become an invaluable source of comfort and security for your pet. This is often the case when your pet is strongly attached to you.
Some pets even prefer to sleep close to their owners in their final days. However, you shouldn’t force this especially if you notice your pet prefers to be left alone.
7. Consider euthanizing your pet
Sometimes choosing to euthanize a pet is the best goodbye gift you can ever give them, especially if they are suffering from chronic pain and medications aren’t helping.
You should talk with your veterinarian to determine if this can be an ideal option based on your pet’s condition.
Is My Hamster Dead or Hibernating?
You might be forgiven to think that a limp, cold, motionless hamster is dead. However, hamsters go into hibernation mode when the temperatures drop too low and they get too cold.
Hamster hibernation can last a few days or even a week, so do not be quick to assume your hamster is dead. Unfortunately, hamsters do not store extra calories or enough water to survive a hibernation state, especially if the temperatures remain too low for an extended period, like several weeks.
A hamster in a hibernation state can easily suffer from hypothermia (the body losing more heat than it can produce), which is fatal. The best you can do is keep the room temperatures high and their cage warm to prevent this from happening.
On the other hand, if the hamster is stiff and unresponsive, even in warm temperatures, then it’s likely he’s dead.
So, how can you tell if your hamster is not dead but hibernating? Here are a few things to check and ways to confirm.
1. Check if the hamster is breathing
During hibernation, the breathing rate slows to as little as one breath every 2 minutes. Take your time to carefully observe whether he’s breathing rather than jumping to premature conclusions.
2. Check for the hamster’s heartbeat
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if the hamster is breathing, which necessitates checking for a heartbeat. Place your forefinger and thumb on either side of the hamster’s chest and gently apply some pressure without hurting him.
After a minute or two you’ll feel a pulse, which indicates the hamster is still breathing but is in a hibernation state.
3. Feel the cheek pouch
Another thing you can do to check if the hamster is still alive is by feeling the cheek pouch to identify if it’s still warm. The cheek pouch should be warmer than the rest of the body, an indication the hamster is alive.
Keep in mind that the hamster’s body temperature will drop to match the ambient temperature. For example, if the environment temperature is 18°C, the hamster’s body temperature will drop to match that.
4. Look out for a twitch
A hibernating hamster is still responsive, but only to some degree. You can confirm this by gently stroking the whiskers and checking to see if he twitches, which is a sign he’s still alive.
Signs Your Hamster is Dead
These are the most notable signs that indicate a hamster is dead.
1. Being in the fetal position
One of the most basic ways to tell if a hamster is dead is to check if they are motionless and in the fetal position. In the fetal position, the hamster’s head will be close to their front paws and laying on one of their sides.
The back paws will also be close to the front paws while the tail will be tucked in. The hamster will also be curled up a lot more than when in a sleeping position.
You can be a lot sure your hamster is dead if you find him in this position at a time they’re usually active, such as at night since hamsters are nocturnal and sleep during the day.
2. The body will be stiff (rigor mortis)
Rigor mortis is the state where the body becomes stiff once the pet dies. The muscles will become stiff and the body feels harder than it usually is.
Every part of the body, including the limps and head, won’t be easily moved and will feel as though the muscles and joints got locked up.
To confirm if rigor mortis has set in, try pushing a single of the hamster’s body. If the whole body moves and is stiff then rigor mortis has set in and the hamster is dead.
3. Being completely unresponsive
Another indication that a hamster is dead is being completely unresponsive. He won’t react to you picking them up, rubbing their body, or gently poking them.
If the hamster is not hibernating, the quick reflexes should jolt them into responding to touch. But if this isn’t the case then it’s likely your hamster has passed away.
You should, however, take time to confirm this because a hamster in hibernation can only display minor responsiveness and its body will still be soft and not stiff.
4. There is no heartbeat
Lack of heartbeat is also an indicator that a hamster has passed away. A hibernating hamster might seem dead to the naked eye but still has a heartbeat and display minor reflexes.
To check if your hamster has a heartbeat, place two of your fingers on either side of his chest, apply gentle pressure, and wait for up to two minutes to tell if there is a pulse.
If no pulse is present and the hamster is stiff and unresponsive, it is dead.
5. No signs of breathing
It’s easy to see when a hamster is breathing because it does so at a fast rate. The chest area will be moving up and down, which indicates the hamster is alive.
You won’t see any of these once the hamster dies. However, you need to take more time to check for breathing if a hamster is in hibernation.
A hibernating hamster has a slow breathing rate and the heart also beats very slowly, about one heartbeat every 1-2 minutes.
To know the hamster is hibernating and not dead, the body will be flexible and display minor reflexes when touch or moved. The same cannot be said when he’s dead.
My Hamster Died suddenly, Why?
A hamster can die suddenly due to stress, wet tail, toxic cleaning chemicals, heatstroke, pneumonia, or boiler/heater fumes. Make sure your hamster lives in a stress-free habitat with a clean, spacious cage and under normal room temperature.
One common problem is the fact that a hamster can die suddenly without even the pet owner spotting any symptoms of impending death.
Here we highlight a few things that can cause sudden death to a hamster.
Hamsters are among the most sensitive pets we keep in our homes. They are less flexible to change and get anxious pretty easily.
Hamsters can suffer a lot when exposed to stressful situations such as extremely dirty cages, sudden temperature changes, excessive or rough handling, and too much noise.
Health problems can also arise when the exposure happens over an extended period of time, and some can be fatal.
2. Wet tail
This is a stress-related health issue that occurs when stress allows the normal gut flora to overpopulate the hamster’s bowels, eventually causing diarrhea.
If left untreated, the condition can lead to death within 48 to 72 hours. Signs of wet tail you should look out for include:
- Foul odor
- Excessive sleeping
- Decreased appetite
- Unusual temper
- Folded ears
- Walking with a hunched back
3. Cleaning chemicals
Cleaning a hamster cage is something that should be done at least once a week, or twice if the hamster urinates too much.
While cleaning is essential to keeping your hamster healthy and happy, some cleaning chemicals can pose serious health risks.
Make sure to properly clean the cage, rinse it with plenty of clean water, and allow it to dry before returning hamster things inside.
You should also ensure the hamster is only returned into the cage once it’s dry. Additionally, do not leave cleaning chemicals lying around the cage.
Heatstroke can also be another reason your hamster died suddenly. Hamsters do not respond well to extreme changes in temperature and can suffer heatstroke when exposed to temperatures above 72 °F (22 °C). This can be potentially fatal.
To prevent this from happening, make sure the hamster cage is placed in a shaded place rather than near a window that receives direct sunlight.
Signs of heatstroke in hamsters include:
- Moving sluggishly
- Body trembles when touched
- Lying flat on the cage floor
If you spot any of these signs, the first thing to do is place the hamster in a cooler area away from direct sunlight. You can then place a damp towel over its body or spray him with cool water. This will lower the body temperature and bring him back to life.
Once the hamster is okay, rehydrate them with small amounts of watery foods or fruits. You can also seek veterinary assistance if you feel the condition is concerning.
Although pneumonia is not common in hamsters, it is often fatal when it does occur. The disease result from exposure to bacterial and viral infections. Environmental issues such as unregulated temperatures, dirty cages, and droughts can make matters worse.
You should look of for the following symptoms of pneumonia in hamsters:
- Dull coat
- Respiratory distress
- Constant coughing and/or sneezing
- Nasal and ocular discharge
Fumes from a heater or boiler can also be fatal for hamsters. These little creatures have well-developed olfactory systems, and fumes can turn out to be a health hazard for them.
Make sure your hamster is not exposed to any fumes as it can instantly kill them.
Related Questions About Dying Hamsters
Let’s answer a few questions about dying hamsters, shall we?
1. How long do hamsters hibernate?
Hamsters generally hibernate for 2 to 3 days. However, a hibernating hamster can stay in torpor hibernation for longer, which increases the chances of suffering from hypothermia. Keep the hamster’s cage and the room warm to prevent hypothermia and make sure they have food and water ready when they come out of hibernation.
2. Do hamsters hibernate with their eyes open?
Hamsters can hibernate with their eyes open, half-closed, or completely closed. A body of a hibernating hamster should be flexible and still has reflexes. In case the body becomes stiff, is in the fetal position and the hamster is completely unresponsive, your pet has died.
3. Do all hamsters hibernate?
Not all hamsters can hibernate. Hibernation can depend on breed, genes, and/or environment. There are two types of hibernators. Permissive hibernators hibernate depending on conditions such as temperature and food supply. Obligatory hibernators, on the other hand, always hibernate in the winter based on their body clocks, regardless of environmental conditions.
For example, Syrian hamsters are permissive hibernators and can hibernate in any season as long as the right conditions exist. The biggest trigger of hibernation in Syrian hamsters, and most other permissive hibernators, is cold temperatures while the light is a secondary contributing factor.
This means a permissive hibernator kept in a cold and dark place is more likely to hibernate than a similar breed kept in a cold place but with strong sunlight. Therefore, the best way to prevent permissive hibernators from hibernating is by keeping the room warm and with enough light for at least 12 hours a day.
4. Should I let my hamster die naturally?
It’s okay to let your hamster die naturally unless he’s in too much pain. If your hamster is suffering from chronic pain and medications are not helping, it might be ideal to consider euthanizing your pet. Only use euthanasia as the last resort.
5. What to do with a dead hamster
You should bury a dead hamster underground at least three feet deep. This ensures they do not get unearthed by other animals. Different states have varying pet burial laws, so be sure to check them, as well as the local zoning laws on pet burials.
6. How long before a dead hamster smells?
A dead hamster can smell terrible within three days. However, if you live in high-temperature zones, this can happen within a day or two. It’s best to dispose of dead hamster bodies by burying them at least three feet deep underground or by cremating the body.
Final thoughts on dying hamsters
We have probably highlighted the most important things about dying hamsters in this article. Now you how how to tell if a hamster is dying, how to comfort or care for a dying hamster, signs a hamster is dead, why a hamster could die suddenly, and other related questions.