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Why Do Hamsters Die Suddenly?

Last Updated: 27.02.20


If you’ve just gotten a new hamster and you are looking for the right house and accessories to ensure his or her proper care, then our other article on this matter might come in handy, so don’t hesitate to check it out.

However, if you already have some experience with these adorable little pets, then you might ask yourself, as many other hamster owners do, “What causes hamsters to suddenly die?”. The truth is that when you decide to welcome a pet into our home, no matter his/her size, you are committing to taking care of it the proper way (or at least most of us do).

That’s why many times hamster owners have a hard time explaining themselves what went wrong with their little pet that caused its death. These little rodents are known for being particularly high-maintenance, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t need special attention when it comes to certain aspects.

Unfortunately, many times hamsters are affected by things that might not seem so obvious and the resulting health issue or even death could be prevented. Other times, no matter what we do, the little fellow might have a genetically inherited health problem, and in these cases, there’s no real solution, especially if the pet parent is not aware of it.


Some useful information

Being rodents, hamsters are prolific animals that don’t have a very long lifespan. Unfortunately for them, they are also very popular among pet owners, particularly when parents want to purchase a first pet for their children. This leads to a high demand on the market, which in turn translates to little investigation over the source of hamsters that make it into pet shops.

Not every person involved in animal breeding has the best intentions at heart, therefore knowing where to buy a healthy hamster is of crucial importance since otherwise, you might get a sick pet. It’s well-known that pet stores can many times offer animals that come with various health issues, especially since they tend to be kept together or bought from unreliable sources.

In case you are certain you want to get a pet, you should look for a private breeder who does this out of passion. Seeing the parents as well beforehand is always a good policy since even if you are not an expert, you’ll be able to tell if they are kept in proper conditions and if they are (at least from what you can see) healthy animals.

Another aspect of vital importance for hamsters is the food they eat. A balanced diet is, of course, what you should aim for every day. Ensuring a healthy mix of pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables is an ideal approach, but many times we might be tempted to show our affection by giving these little guys tasty treats quite often.

While this is not necessarily a cause for sudden death, it can become one in case of contamination. Any new element added to the diet should be gradually introduced so that it doesn’t lead to significant digestive issues that could have an undesired outcome. Furthermore, replacing and removing uneaten food is a critical part of taking care of your hamster.

What about the environment?

The bedding you are using for your hamster is another element that can definitely impact his or her health. According to some reports, cedar can be harmful to animals, and hamsters might look like strong and determined creatures, especially given their active personalities, but they can be rather sensitive to their environment.

On the same note, any type of bedding that contains a high level of phenol should not be used for small pets, in general. Moreover, hamsters like a fresh space, which means that you need to clean the cage at least once every few days. Otherwise, mold and toxic ammonia can build up within the substrate, and you can only imagine what this leads to.

On the other hand, even though you regularly clean the cage and, from time to time, you do this in a more thorough way, using warm water and soap, you should never use harsh chemicals. Substances such as bleach or vinegar might seem like a good idea to be used if they are diluted, but you can never be sure what impact they are going to have on your hamster’s health.

Instead, you can use specially-made products that are pet-safe, and you can ask your vet or the local pet store for more information on what the appropriate solution could be for your furry friend’s cage. Ideally, even when you use these products, you should rinse the cage and other items with clean water, so that no residue or scent is left on them.

Other aspects need to be considered as well, such as the location of the cage. Is it in direct sunlight or next to a boiler or stove? If so, then your hamster might be too warm or fumes might reach him or her. These rodents are particularly susceptible to the air’s quality, the main reason being their sensitive olfactory capabilities, which make the respiratory system vulnerable.

Congenital problems

Besides the elements that you have control over, such as the level of sanitation or their environment, there are other causes that can lead to a hamster’s sudden death. Heart diseases, such as cardiomyopathy, are quite common in hamsters. One of the reasons behind these issues might be the fact that they tend to be inbred.

As you probably can imagine, such a breeding approach leads to genetically based issues. Unfortunately, these are not very treatable, especially given the average size of hamsters that makes any type of intervention a tricky one.

Actually, there are certain vets who steer clear of treating such small animals, so if your hamster ever deals with more serious issues, you should do a bit of research beforehand and take him or her to a specialized vet.

Going back to heart diseases for a bit, let’s take a closer look at what cardiomyopathy is. This disease affects the heart muscle and makes it become weak, meaning that it can no longer circulate blood through the entire body as it should.

This, in turn, leads to various problems including fluid build-ups in the lungs, or pulmonary edema, and reduced oxygen exchange within the blood cells. The external symptoms can include poor appetite, weakness, and overall difficulty in getting around. Hamsters can suddenly die from blood clots that form because of abnormal circulation.

If you notice that your hamster drinks significantly more water, then it might be a sign that the body sees the low levels of oxygen and interprets them as dehydration, thus activating the thirst center.

Besides the heart, other organs can be subject to congenital issues and thus failures, such as the kidneys or the liver. However, these cases are much less common when it comes to hamsters, compared to other species.

You might not be able to see the symptoms right away, especially since hamsters are nocturnal animals and we often miss seeing their activity and, subsequently, any changes that might appear in their behavior. Moreover, even though these rodents look funny and cute, they do a great job in hiding their illnesses from us, just as they would when living in the wild.




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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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