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When Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Last Updated: 03.04.20


Even if little critters like hamsters are easy to care for, you still need to have a hamster diet list so that you can make sure that your pet receives the right nutrients. Also, if you notice that your pet is not moving while looking as if he or she just sleeps, that could be a sign of hibernation.

Many pet owners are afraid that their pets might be dead when they just hibernate. To tell the difference, see below the necessary information on this topic.


Hibernation – a natural process

During winter months, when temperatures drop, it is natural for some wild animals to go into hibernation. This process is nothing unusual, and it just looks like the respective animals sleep, when it’s actually something else.

During hibernation, the metabolism rate slows down, and so does the cardiac rhythm, which is why a hibernating animal may look like it’s actually dead. Hamsters are not crazy about cold temperatures, and that is why, when the temperature of the environment drops, they might go into hibernation.

As a pet owner, you need to understand that such a process is perfectly natural for hamsters. If the temperatures in your house are too low, that could be reason enough for your pet hamster to start hibernating. Of course, when you see your pet hibernating for the first time, you might become scared that he or she died. Don’t jump to conclusions and see first if there are signs of life.

Temperature – an essential factor

As already mentioned, cold can play a significant role in whether a hamster starts hibernating or not. You should know that the ideal temperature for a hamster is between 65F and 75F. In case the temperature in your home drops below 65F, that could create the conditions for hibernation.

Sometimes, you might not be aware of this thing happening. Maybe the hamster cage is placed in a room with cooler temperatures, and you didn’t pay attention to the changes that might occur with the coming of the cold season.

Also, there could be other temperature-related circumstances that allow the hibernation to start. For instance, even if the temperature in your home is overall adequate, the hamster cage might be in a cooler corner.

Since most pet owners place pet cages in areas that are less trafficked to allow hamsters to enjoy their sleep during the day, they might not be aware of such issues. If that happens, and the temperature dropped below 65F, there are things you can do to help your hamster out of hibernation.

That said, you should bring the temperature over 65F gradually, and you will see that, within a few days, and sometimes even faster, your hamster will finish hibernating and be his or her cute fluffy and energetic self again.


Check for signs of life

The first reaction many people have the first time they see a hamster hibernating is to believe their pet died. But there are many differences between a pet that’s hibernation and one that passed away. It is up to you to identify the signs of life and interpret the situation correctly.

A hibernating animal will still breathe, although the rhythm is much reduced. In hamsters that are hibernating, a breath every two minutes is usually the norm. That means that you will have to watch your hamster carefully to see if he or she is still breathing. Remember that the breathing becomes very infrequent so you will need to have some patience.

Another thing you can try to see if your hamster is just hibernating is to touch his or her whiskers gently. Usually, your pet will twitch when he or she feels something that touches the whiskers in this manner. Hamsters’ whiskers are very sensitive, and it is why touching them will cause a reaction even in a hibernating animal.

You can also check for a pulse and a heartbeat. Although just like breathing, it can be difficult to tell if there is still a pulse and if the heart is still beating, with a bit of patience, you will be able to identify whether your pet is hibernating or not.

Here is what you should do. First, you will need to grab the hamster’s chest between your thumb and a second finger and do it gently. Within a minute or so, you should feel a pulse. Remember that even if a sign of life doesn’t appear to be present, you should insist on finding one, as it will be enough to tell you that your hamster is not dead.

The cheek pouch is usually warmer than the rest of the body, and that’s yet another sign that your hamster might have just found the temperature around too cold to remain awake. General body heat is not a good indicator most of the time, as the cooling body of a hamster that passed away might fool you.

Also, the hamster’s body, when you keep it in your hand, should be completely stiff. While it might not be as pliable as when the pet is awake, it shouldn’t be solid, either.

What can you do for a hamster that’s hibernating?

For a pet owner, seeing their fluffy companions in such a deep slumber may feel disturbing and upsetting. Don’t forget that hibernation is a completely natural process, and there’s nothing to fear. There are some things you can do to help a hamster while he or she is hibernating, in case you don’t want to raise the temperature and have him or her wake up.

For starters, you should know that hibernating animals do wake up from time to time, mainly to eat and drink water. For that reason, it is essential that you leave fresh food and water in the hamster cage, where they can be accessed easily. Replace them so that they don’t go back.

Another thing you can do as a responsible pet owner is to bring warm nesting materials inside the cage. The hamster will find them when he or she will wake up and might use them to create a warmer environment. This is the most natural way to have a pet come out of hibernation.

According to specialists, there is nothing wrong with pets that are hibernating. Even more, they recommend letting hamsters hibernate and wake up on their own. It is vital that you keep the temperature in the room with the hamster cage stable so that your hamster doesn’t suffer from hypothermia.


A few other things to know about hibernation in hamsters

After learning about hibernation in hamsters in general, it is time to refer to a few things that can influence this process. For instance, not all hamsters hibernate, and it all depends on breed, genes, and other factors.

Veterinarians can tell you that there are practically two categories of animals that hibernate. One category includes so-called permissive hibernators, while the other includes obligatory hibernators. By these names, you can quickly tell what the main differences are. Let’s break them down.

Syrian hamsters are included in the category of permissive hibernators. This means that if the temperatures drop too low, they can simply start hibernating. It is not something related to seasons or what weather is outside.

Besides cold, lack of sufficient light might also make Syrian hamsters believe that it is the right time to go into hibernation. While you need to offer your hamsters good conditions all around, make sure that you don’t keep their cage somewhere dark and cold.

There should be enough light in the room where the hamster cage is located. The light should be on for at least 12 hours. Otherwise, you might trigger the hibernation process in your pet, whether you intended to do that or not.

Another thing that might surprise you is that some hamsters tend to hibernate with their eyes open. That could be quite scary at first, but, if your hamster is still alive and just hibernates, there’s nothing to worry about.




Irina Ionescu

As a long-term learner and animal lover, Irina helps her readers find the best products and accessories for their pets, as well as the latest training techniques, tips & tricks on how to handle animals.

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