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Hamsters thought to be dead could be in a hibernation-like state

Nemo the hamster keeping warm this winter. Photo credited to Helen Atkinson.

By Aston Lamb

IF YOU believe your hamster is dead this winter you may want to think twice as they could be in a hibernation-like state, animal experts have warned.

When temperatures drop too cold for hamsters, it is possible for them to go in to a state called ‘torpor’ which can be fatal if not treated correctly.

Stephen Robertson, qualified veterinary surgeon and company director for Yorkshire Vets, said: “If you think that your hamster has gone into hibernation, it is first important to make sure that the hamster has not died. A hibernating hamster will retain its body temperature and will continue breathing, though this will be slower than normal.

“To bring a hamster out of hibernation, warm it up with a heat pad, or by placing it near a hot water bottle. It is important to make sure that your hamster does not get too hot, however, so direct contact with a hot water bottle is not advised.”

Some mistakenly prepare to bury their hamster, only to find them awake hours later due to them warming up.

Lizzie Thompson, manager of Furrytails Hamster Rescue in Shropshire, said: “I have heard tragic stories of people thinking that their hibernating hamster is dead. The main difference to look for is the presence of rigor mortis as a hamster in torpor will feel cold. If unsure, I recommend checking with your vet before burying them.

“I have hamsters in 18-25C all the time, even at night. If the temperature drops below 15C, there is a real danger for them to go into torpor. Domestic hamsters have lost the ability to recover from such state on their own due to breeding so it is very important to immediately warm a hamster, if you find them in a hibernation like state.”

If you believe your hamster is in torpor it is very important to provide them with a heat source whilst preparing to take them to the vets to ensure the best chance of survival.

Bryony Curtis, admin of Facebook group Hamster Care Group UK said: “Vet treatment is essential as soon as possible if a hamster goes into torpor to have any chance of saving their life. They may need oxygen or other emergency intervention and monitoring whilst waking up which cannot be provided at home.

“A vet will slowly warm them up, provide oxygen, and emergency intervention if needed, this just can’t be done at home.”



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