Do Hamsters Hibernate?

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Hibernation is an evolutionary survival technique that animals use to stay alive when it’s too cold or when water and food are scarce. Essentially, most animals slow down their metabolism, breathing rate, and heart rate to conserve energy when temperatures drop below the optimal level.

Although animals such as bears, box turtles, hedgehogs, and bats hibernate during winter, the bugging question for many pet owners is, do hamsters hibernate? The answer to this question is yes. Hamsters also hibernate when it’s too cold or when water and food are scarce.

The first category of animals eat plenty of food in the summer and accumulate fat in readiness for winter. This is known as obligatory hibernation.  On the other hand, Hamsters fall into the category of permissive hibernators, which means they hibernate only when environmental conditions force them to save energy. 

When and Why Hamsters Hibernate?

Unlike other animals, hamsters don’t hibernate based on a natural seasonal rhythm, such as in winter. For these creatures, hibernation may occur any moment when the temperature drops below optimal.

Wild hamsters are likely to hibernate more than pet hamsters since the latter enjoy artificial heating and warmth provided in a home. However, sometimes hamster owners may overlook or forget to do crucial things such as failing to turn on the heater or letting their home get too cold during the night when hamsters are most active. These may expose our little furry friends to conditions that may induce energy saving and then hibernation. 

Ideally, pet hamsters should live in an environment where temperatures range from 18.3 °C (65 °F) and 23.9 °C (75°F). If the temperature keeps dropping, here are signs that may indicate that your pet hamster is struggling with coldness:

  • Continuous shivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Longer sleeping hours or lethargy 
  • Freezing of exposed parts, including the nose, ear, and feet

Signs of Hibernation

If the temperature in the hamster’s cage or your home drops below 4°C, it may send the animal into a state of stupor, making it unresponsive. Although this can send shivers to your spine and make you anxious, there are a few signs you can check out to confirm that your hamster has slipped into hibernation and it’s not dead. These include: 

  1. Watch for body movement. When a hamster is hibernating, it enters into a deep sleep but still maintains subtle movements. Any observable activity may be an indication that your furry friend is just hibernating. 
  2. Check their body warmth. When a hamster is dead, it loses all the body heat and becomes cold. If you still detect some warmth on the hamster’s body even when deep into the stupor, this is a sign that the creature is probably hibernating. 
  3. Check whether they are breathing. When hibernating, a hamster will still be able to breathe, even though it will be slower than usual. If you hold the animal close and place your hand on the chest, you’ll be able to see whether it’s breathing or not. 

How to Save Your Hamster from Hibernation

Once you confirm that your pet hamster has slipped into hibernation, the first thing you should do is to stay calm. Then look for a way to raise the temperature in the environment. It would help if you warmed up the hamster by wrapping it with a warm cloth or holding it close to your body. Try to gently rub its back or massage its limbs to wake it up. Once it regains consciousness, offer it warm fluids and food. If it still looks weak or unresponsive, visit your vet for professional help.    

How to Keep Hamsters Warm? 

  • Provide some extra bedding – Adding some bedding allows your pet to burrow when the temperatures are low to get some extra warmth – this is extra important for smaller breeds
  • Keep the hamster cage away from drafts – Move the cage from the door, window, or any opening since the slightest breeze can affect the hamster.
  • Get rid of fumes from your home – Exposing hamsters to wood-burning stoves, fires, and pans can be detrimental. So, ensure that your hamster is in an environment it’s not constantly exposed to fumes. 

Bottom Line

Although hamsters hibernate in the wild in response to cold temperatures, this is not something your pet hamster should do, especially when you provide ideal husbandry condition.

If you see your hamster hibernating, this is a sign that you need to look into his housing condition and reassess his diet to ensure his needs are met.