Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Do you want to play with your hamster, but it’s not waking up? Do hamsters hibernate? 

Well, the wild ones do hibernate when the temperatures get cold. But hibernation at home can be a housing problem for your little friend, like poor housing conditions or cold temperatures. 

These are some reasons that will make your hamster go into torpor, which is a condition similar to hibernation. Most owners get shocked to see when their hamster starts sleeping excessively or doesn’t make a movement at all.

So, let’s begin our discussion by stating some facts about this torpor and then mention a few other associated aspects. 

Facts About Hamster Hibernation / Torpor

Here are a few facts that you need to understand about these hamsters to know them better. 

Most of them are not true hibernators

Well, most of the hamsters are not true hibernators. Hibernation is a period in which the animal doesn’t do much activity. It only occurs in some species of animals, primarily because of the limited food supply and low temperatures. 

Their body’s metabolic processes slow down significantly as they have reduced expanding their energy, and the animal enters in the state of deep sleep.

Those animals that are true hibernators can survive the period where they are experiencing low temperatures and scarce food along with water supply. However, hamsters mostly don’t live in areas where the temperatures get too harsh, so they naturally don’t hibernate. 

But many species don’t even hibernate, and they go through a process that is called torpor. It’s a lengthy response to an animal or cold weather similar to hibernation, but it doesn’t last long. 

If your little friend is sleeping a lot of hours or days in a week, especially during colder temperatures, it’s going through torpor. Some experts even use the terms torpor” and hibernation” interchangeably.

hamster sleep

Torpor behavior varies based on hamster species

All hamster species don’t display the same signs of hibernation. Out there in the wild, those European hamsters are true hibernators. They will spend entire winters in prolonged hibernation periods. 

Dwarf hamsters are a lot less likely to hibernate, while Syrian hamsters are facultative or permissive hibernators. So, they won’t hibernate in typical conditions, but they will do so if the environment requires them.

Females also hibernate for shorter periods as compared to their male counterparts. If you understand the hibernations traits of your hamsters according to their breed and sex, you will be able to identify their hibernation periods under home conditions. 

Hamsters’ environmental conditions at home for hibernation

You need to closely assess its environment to understand whether your hamster is in hibernation/torpor or not. The most significant factor influencing its hibernation is temperature. 

The ideal temperature of hamsters ranges between 65F to 75F. Anywhere below this temperature and your hamster will feel too cold, and it will enter in torpor. 

Therefore, you need to keep your hamster’s cage in a warm room and provide it with plenty of dry but fresh bedding. Make sure the room in which you place its bedding is not too hot. 

This room must also be adequately ventilated. But it shouldn’t have too many cold drafts from the air conditioning units or windows. This might make the environmental condition way too cold for your little friend. 

Apart from temperature, there are other factors that you need to keep in mind as well. For example, your hamster’s food and water supply, along with the light and dark cycle daily, might also influence the torpor behavior of your hamster. 

If you have noticed that your hamster has entered torpor, then address the environmental factors that might allow you to get it out of torpor and return to an active and normal state.

Why Do Hamsters Slip into Hibernate? 

Not all hamsters hibernate, and this can be based on breed or even genes. Hibernators are of two kinds; obligatory and permissive. 

Obligatory hibernators always hibernate as per the winter days and body clocks. Their hibernation has nothing to do with environmental conditions.  

On the other hand, permissive hibernators only go to hibernate due to less favorable environmental conditions. It means that they slip into hibernation if they notice a sudden drop in temperature around the or in the food supply. 

Syrian hamsters are permissive, and they hibernate based on their environment. As per a study conducted by the BHA, colder temperatures are always a trigger for Syrian hamsters to hibernate. Apart from that, light is another contributing factor.

According to this study, if you keep a hamster in the dark and cold area for 12 to 24 hours, it is more likely to hibernate than a hamster kept in bright light. 

Hamsters’ Hibernation Signs & Causes

Wild hamsters can be susceptible to cold temperatures, and they immediately go into hibernation. The same thing is with domestic hamsters as well if there is a drop in temperatures. But here are a few signs that your master will show if it has slipped into hibernation. 

Several hamster owners worry that they are severely ill when they find out that their little friend is hibernating. However, if you have never seen your hamster going into torpor before, the symptoms can be quite alarming for you. 

Slow breathing 

You will notice your hamster’s breathing has slowed down significantly. With a glance, you might notice that it has died. But with a closer inspection, you will notice that it’s breathing.

Limp

During hibernation, the body of your hamster will feel lifeless, but it will remain limp. If it had died, your hamster’s body would have become stiff as rigor mortis sets in. 

Food craze

Just before it goes into hibernation, you will notice that your hamster is overeating food to store fat from the food and go into a deep slumber. So, if it has consumed a lot of food and then goes into a deep sleep, your hamster is hibernating. 

Some other signs

They act lethargic, very sleepy, and completely listless. You might also notice that your little friend might also start shivering when it comes out of hibernation or torpor. 

A hamster in its hibernation can be aroused with a gentle touch or stimulation or by increasing the temperature. But it will fall back to sleep if you leave it untouched. 

This will especially be the case if the temperature remains too cold. In this state, your little hamsters might not eat or drink too much and consequently. They won’t defecate or urinate that much either. 

Cold temperature

Another sign that your hamster is hibernating is that its feet, tail, and nose have become cold. As a result, the overall body temperature of your hamster will also drop. Again, this is to conserve energy during colder times. 

If you think or suspect your hamster is in a state of hibernation, you might get it out of its hibernation by increasing the room’s temperature and providing it with proper food. 

But make sure that you don’t apply heat to your little friend directly. You might end up causing burns to your little friend if you expose it directly to any heat source. 

You can take your hamster’s cage to a warmer area. As you see, your hamsters are a bit more active give it some food. If it doesn’t feel active during this time, you need to seek some veterinary assistance immediately. 

The vet will treat your hamster with medication and fluids. Your vet will also help you rectify your husbandry to ensure that such a hibernation episode doesn’t occur again in the future. 

Torpor can be due to husbandry issue

Though hibernation in hamsters is a natural response to a temperature drop in the environment or decline in the food supply. But this is something your hamster shouldn’t be experiencing in an ideal husbandry condition. 

If your hamster enters its torpor, you might need to examine the current housing conditioning and fulfill all its needs. For example, the temperature should be right, its cage and bedding should be proper, and similar is the case with its food and clean water supply. 

Dangers Associated with Hibernating Hamsters

Hibernating hamsters are vulnerable to a few things. For example, they can be mistaken for being dead, so you might bury a live one that might die due to starvation later on after feeling the warmth from the ground. 

Another danger associated here is dehydration. This is because hamsters do not drink during their hibernation. Therefore, you will need to provide them with lots of water but in controlled amounts. 

Your hamster will be starved as well when it wakes up. It won’t be just hungry but starving when it wakes up, so you need to provide it with some food as well. 

Apart from that, your hamster is at risk of even death if it is exposed too long to sub-zero temperatures outside. It won’t survive. 

Is My Hamster Hibernating or Dead? 

During the cold days of the year, a hamster can hibernate, slowing down its metabolic rate. As a result, you might notice that its body temperature drops as it becomes difficult to tell whether your hamster is hibernating or is dead. But there are some ways to check a few signs of life in your hamster’s body. 

Mind the room’s and cage’s ambient temperatures

Hamsters only hibernate or torpor in colder temperatures. So, if the temperature of the cage is over 20C, your little friend is not going to hibernate. 

However, if you have placed the cage in a colder section of the room, you can increase the temperature and bring it into the 20s, and within a few hours or a couple of days, your hamster will wake up. 

See if your hamster is breathing or not

If the environment is cold enough for your little one that you might think it should have gone for hibernation, check any breathing signs. 

You need to watch your hamsters very closely for this because, during hibernation, the breathing rates of your hamster also slows down significantly. On average, they might take a breath every couple of minutes.

Check its heartbeat

If you are unsure about your hamster’s breathing, you can check its heartbeat. This can be pretty difficult to find, but you will only have to place your finger and thumb on both sides if your hamster is around the chest area right above their elbows. 

You will only need to apply the same pressure as if you were stopping your hamster from running away and not hurting it. Then, in just about a couple of minutes, you will feel the pulse. 

Never use its body heat as any indicator

You might notice your hamster’s body is pretty cold during its hibernation, especially its feet and tail. This happens when its body temperature drops to match its environment’s temperature. So, a drop in body temperature is not a problem here. 

But if your hamster is unresponsive and rigid even in warmer temperatures, it might have died. In case of any concern regarding your hamster’s health, you need to contact your vet immediately. 

What Needs to be Done for My Hamster’s Winter Care? 

winter and hamster

Your hamster might not leave your house out in the cold during winter, but they have a luxurious indoor lifestyle that might overlook winter care. Here is some of the advice to assist you in providing your hamsters with good winter care. 

Keep those cold drafts clear

You need to make sure that you keep those cold drafts at bay because even the slightest of drafts might make your hamster catch a cold. 

Make sure to keep their cage away from any doors or windows. But at the same time, don’t expose them to direct heat, or it might cause burns. It’s all about consistency here. 

Adding extra bedding 

Hamsters love to bury themselves in their bedding, and for that, they love borrowings. So, therefore, you can put a bit more in their homes, especially on those cold days but change it for them daily. 

Be careful of any fumes

You need to make sure that there are no fumes in the area. Stoves and fires can cause fumes to gather in your home, and these fumes are hazardous for you, pets, and you. Make sure you place their case in an area that is adequately ventilated as well. 

Will My Hamster Go for Torpor?

Out there in the world, hibernation is the state that allows different species of animals to reduce their body activity to cope with low temperatures and limited food supply. Unfortunately, this is a state that most domestic hamsters might not even witness. This is because homes have artificial lights and warmth.

If you live in a colder climate or your home is prone to feeling cold, you might notice that your hamster is showing some signs. For example, they might seem to shiver, become lethargic, lose interest in their drinks and food, and have a cold nose, feet, and ears. 

If the temperature of the room or the cage drop to 4C, then you will notice that your hamster has become all of a sudden completely unresponsive.

Now, this can be a pretty frightening experience. You need to carefully check and see whether your little friend has passed away or just entered torpor

How to Get Your Hamster Out of Its Torpor? 

Like all other animals that hibernate, hamsters provide themselves with a better chance to survive in the long and cold winter months by hibernating. 

In the wild, hamsters go into hibernation when the temperature drops down below 4C. Therefore, you need to keep this in mind as a hamster owner. 

Before you take steps to bring it out of hibernation, you just need to make sure that it has gone into hibernation or has died. Then, as we have mentioned above, you can check its breathing, heartbeat, or even body warmth. 

It’s time to bring it back from hibernation after confirming that your hamster is alive and just as gone into hibernation. There are a few steps that you can take here in this regard. 

Go with your body heat

You need to pick your hamster up and hold it against your own body. This way, you will provide it with your body heat. Keep doing this for at least a house and look for any changes in the behavior or if it becomes active or not. 

Use a hot water bottle

You can use a hot water bottle and wrap your little friend in a towel with a hot water bottle. But make sure that the bottle is not directly in contact with the hamster and that it doesn’t get too hot for your hamster inside the towel. This will help its body to warm up and will allow it to come out of hibernation. 

With a heating pad

You can also use a heating pad and place your hamster on it. Just preheat the pad up to 32C for about 45 minutes. This pad will allow your hamster to warm quickly and come out of hibernation.

Give it some warm milk

Another way of doing it is to give your hamster some warm milk, but only after showing some activity signs. Even if it is partially active, you can use a medicine dropper to provide it with some warm milk. 

How to Prevent Future Torpors?

There are various ways for you to prevent future torpors as well. You need to provide them with the right kind of environment because hamsters in their home environment don’t hibernate in most cases. But it’s a much more frequent occurrence in the wild.

Provide it with enough water and food

If you want to prevent your hamster from going into hibernation, you need to ensure you provide it with a lot of food and clean water. In various cases, hibernation kicks in to conserve energy when there is not enough water and food. So, make sure it has enough food and water to stay active. 

Provide it with warm bedding 

Bedding in the cage will insulate the hamster and will protect it from the cold. Therefore, you need to provide it with plenty of warm bedding to prevent it from hibernating. If your hamster is hibernating, make it cozier and more comfortable for your little friend. 

Give it some fattening diet

With more body fat, your hamster will not go into hibernation. Therefore, you can feed on more fattening food. This includes peanuts, avocado, and sunflower seeds. But be careful because even a small quantity can go along with the tiny bodies of these hamsters.  

Be more proactive during winters

You have to be mindful that your hamster is getting enough activity and food during those colder months. The room temperature needs to be warm as well. You can always go for some extra bedding and provide it with more fatty food to prevent it from going into hibernation. 

How to Take Care of a Hibernating Hamster?

If you notice your hamster is sleeping, you need to leave them in isolation and rest. But if a hamster is hibernating, provide it with a different level of care. First, you need to determine how long it has been that your hamster is hibernating? 

If hibernating for around 24 hours, you need to warm it up again to bring it out of hibernation. First, you need to warm up their cage and put some light around it for about 12 hours. Also, make sure that there is rough food and water for your hamster. 

If you can’t warm your hamster’s cage up, you can wrap your hamster in a small blanket or your hand and rub them lightly. 

This will allow the blood to flow through their tiny veins quicker, making them feel warm. Keep in mind not to raise their temperature too high too fast and keep them out if any direct touch.

In most cases, hamsters only hibernate for about two to three days. After that, if they continue not to have enough water and food and light and warmth, they can stay in hibernation for even longer periods. But if they remain in hibernation for longer, then it becomes pretty dangerous.

Waking Up a Hibernating Hamster

You have to remember that you don’t need to be sudden in your approach to wake them up from their hibernation. You need to do it gently and slowly. Doing so will wake up naturally, which is mild on their physical and mental health. Here are a few steps that you can carry out, 

Pick it up and massage it

One effective way to wake a hamster from its hibernation to warm it up is by slowly massaging it. But keep in mind that you will have to do this for a few hours, but the massage doesn’t need to be continuous. You can keep it in your chest pocket for doing this as well. After a few hours of being warmed up, your hamster will wake up all by itself. 

Raise the temperature around your hamster

Another way to wake it up from its hibernation is to increase the room temperature and make it warmer. Apart from that, you can also use warm water bottles or a warm towel for the same purpose. 

Don’t use direct heat

Also, make sure you don’t use direct heat to warm your hamster up. Otherwise, it will cause burns. Don’t expose your hamster to direct heat in any manner at all. 

FAQ

Wrap Up

Hamsters hibernate, but they only do so if their cage or room temperature falls below 20C. Apart from that, low light and a low supply of water and food also cause them to slip into hibernation. 

To make sure your little friend doesn’t hibernate, you need to keep their room warm and with at least 12 hours of light and provide them with fresh food and water.

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