Do hamsters hibernate?
Hamsters do hibernate by we call this a state of torpor when living conditions become extreme. It is very rare that Dwarf hamsters enter into life-saving deep sleep, only wild European and Syrian hamsters can experience successive periods of torpor or permissive hibernation in case of extreme cold or lack of food.
Hamsters go into torpor, they do not hibernate
Hibernation is when the animal minimizes its energy consumption by reducing its cellular activity, breathing, heartbeat and body temperature.
Bears, for example, go into hibernation every winter and prepare for it by fattening up. They hibernate when the days get shorter and the temperatures drop.
They judge that the energy they will spend to look for their food will be greater than the calories they will benefit from this rare food they will find! They will therefore prefer to enter into hibernation until the end of winter.
Unlike other animals that hibernate, hamsters just experience periods of torpor that can last 100 hours and sometimes a week.
The hamster will then wake up for 12 hours to enter again in a new phase of torpor until the climatic conditions improve (temperature +20°C) and the hamster can finally get out of its burrow and go foraging.
What do hibernating hamsters look like?
A hibernating hamster will curl up in a ball and give you the impression that it has gone into a deep sleep. Its body will remain limp to even though it will not show any reaction when you touch him.
When you hold a hibernating hamster in your hand, you will feel that his paws are cold (5°C/40°F), as well as his other extremities, ears, tail, nose and lower body in general because he is drastically pumping sound to his extremities and lower body.
His body will nevertheless remain limp, and you will still feel him breathing but very slowly and his heart will only beat once every 6 to 10 seconds.
The difference between hibernation and torpor
What is the difference between the torpor of hamsters and hibernation in other animals, see Brumation in reptiles?
Hibernation is seasonal and generally lasts throughout the winter, the animal that hibernates will not wake up to eat or drink until better days come.
When the hamster goes into torpor, it is generally for short durations, from 10 hours to 100 hours.
The hamster will then wake up, inspect its environment if the climate has improved or not yet! if the temperature has exceeded 65°F or it is still cold. If not, he will eat and drink a little, arrange his nest and fall back into torpor for 10 hours or more.
So, Brumation (for reptiles and amphibians): they can wake up and drink or eat. Torpor is for a short period, the animal could forage and eat, while hibernation, it’s for the whole period of winter and the animal that hibernates will only use to survive its fat reserves.
Do all hamsters hibernate?
The hamsters do not hibernate as I said before but put themselves in torpor, but we will just use this term sometimes.
Do Dwarf Hamsters Hibernate?
Dwarf hamsters do not hibernate naturally, they are used to low temperatures during winter, so they hibernate in their natural habitat (in Russia and China) only on very rare occasions.
They can stay in their burrow and feed on their food stock but it will be necessary that their burrow passes under 4° C so that the process of torpor starts, but generally their burrow remains often above 15°C.
But in captivity, I have seen a Dwarf hamster hibernate, the experiment lasted 10 hours and the wake up 3 hours.
Speaking of which, I do not advise you to push your hamsters to hibernation, you can easily kill them, they are not ready to hibernate if they are not born in the wild.
The torpor process takes place over several hours and if you rush your hamster by lowering the temperature quickly, it will catch a cold and then slowly die of hypothermia.
Finally, it is known that female hamsters (sows) hibernate for shorter periods than male hamsters.
Female hamsters that raise baby hamsters never hibernate, they never give birth during seasons of dearth or lack of food in their natural habitat.
Which hamster breed hibernate then?
European hamsters are known to hibernate during winter snowstorms and when temperatures drop below zero degrees Celsius.
Syrian hamsters can experience periods of torpor and can hibernate if temperatures drop below 40˚F/4˚C, as they can only tolerate temperatures between 15°C and 26˚C (60°F-78°F).
So, Syrian hamsters are permissive or facultative hibernators, it is they who decide to go into torpor a kind of winter snooze, while Dwarfs hamsters experience a life-saving hibernation (torpor, life-saving deep sleep) during extreme climate and a lack of forage and food conditions during which they risk dying.
What time of year do hamsters hibernate?
Hamsters, like other animals that go into hibernation, do so during the coldest part of winter when days get shorter, food is scarce, temperatures drop and predators are hungry.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, your hamster could go into hibernation in winter, that is from December to February, or even during the first half of March when temperatures are freezing.
What are the conditions for a hamster to go into hibernation (torpor)?
You must know that a domestic hamster which hibernates or enters in torpor is an alarm that its conditions of life are not OK! you must make a check up of all its needs, especially on the side of its diet and its bedding as well as the temperature of its environment!
Hibernation is a survival mode, when temperatures drop especially in the burrow (less than 40 ° C / 4 ° C), the days become shorter and food becomes scarce, hamsters decide not to go out and huddle in their nest and put themselves in torpor for periods that can last a week each, and separated by just 12 hours of waking.
The hamster will then go into torpor for a week, then wake up for half a day, eat and drink some of its food stock and the nearest water pool, arrange its nest, check if the temperature is still low and fall back into its torpor until the heat wakes it up from its torpor and ends its hibernation.
Daylight and hamster hibernation
The amount of daylight is a factor that can decide whether your hamster will hibernate or not.
If you put your hamster in a room where daylight doesn’t come in, like leaving him there and going to work, and as soon as you forget to give him enough food or the temperature in the room just starts to drop, he’s likely to go into hibernation thinking that the days have shortened and a harsh winter is coming.
So you also need to make sure your hamster gets his daily dose of daylight if you want him to avoid hibernation.
How do hamsters hibernate?
The body temperature of hamsters is 37°C and their heart beats 400 beats per minute.
When the hamster is in torpor, it will lower its body temperature to 5°C and its heart will beat only 10 beats per minute.
During this state of torpor, the cells of the hamster do not divide anymore, and the connections between the neuronal cells in its brain will slow down in order to lower its energy consumption.
Hibernating hamster can only feel vibrations and monitor air temperature to know when it will be better to stop hibernating and finally wake up from his torpor.
How long can hamsters hibernate for?
Domestic hamsters generally go into a first short period of hibernation for two to three days, but if at his wake-up, his living conditions remain difficult, he will prolong his state of torpor for a week, he will then wake up from his hibernation for half a day and if you have not improved his living conditions (plenty of food and temperature +20°C/68°F), he will go back into hibernation after just 12 hours, this time for a whole week!
Can a hamster hibernate with eyes open?
Yes, hamsters can hibernate with their eyes half open or completely open, they do this sometimes when they are sleeping too, it’s because of their survival instinct in order to react if a predator comes near them!
If on the other hand, if your hamster doesn’t wake up and has his eyes wide open and on top of that he has become completely cold and rigid when you touch him, check his breathing and his heartbeat, he could unfortunately be dead and is already in hamster heaven with vast green meadows and without any predator!
Should I let my hamster go into hibernation?
Is it better to let a hamster go into hibernation? The answer is a categorical NO because hibernation is a response to an emergency situation and it is not a free choice of the hamster.
Your hamster cannot go into hibernation and will only do so as a means of survival and against its own will, so you must do everything you can to prevent your hamster from going into hibernation or simply going into a prolonged state of torpor.
Should I wake up my hamster if it hibernates?
Yes, absolutely, especially if it is in its first day of hibernation, provided that you follow the advice I have given in this article to not risk complicating the health of your hamster.
How to get a hamster out of its hibernation?
You must begin the process of waking your hamster immediately when you discover that it is in torpor, otherwise it will risk dying of cold (hypothermia), hunger or dehydration because hamsters in captivity do not know how to overwinter and are generally not physiologically ready to do so!
To wake up your hamster which is in torpor, it is necessary to start by activating its sympathetic nervous system (caresses on the head), that will last 3 hours so that it wakes up by using 25°C
During this time after one hour, his cells start working again, he will need more oxygen and you will see him breathing, he will also unblock the blood vessels that he observed under the diaphragm and his front legs too
It will send blood to its head and neck which will then shake to warm up its upper body and finally send warm blood to its intestines and lower body.
He will be unable to coordinate his movements for 20 minutes after his awakening because the neuronal connections of the brain are not all back in service yet
After waking up, he will not eat much during the next 12 hours, he will also rebuild his nest to start another period of hibernation or stop this process completely if the weather improves and the days of hunger are over.
How do I interrupt my hamster’s torpor process?
If you discover that your hamster has gone into torpor, for example if you forgot to close the window during a cold night, you are obliged to wake your hamster from its torpor.
You have to warm him up gradually to avoid heat stroke, otherwise, you will warm up his blood while his heart is not yet ready which will cause a heart failure.
Start by closing the window and gradually increasing the room temperature by a few degrees every 10 minutes until the temperature reaches 25°C.
You can occasionally take your hamster in your hand and stroke it gently to reactivate its brain and stimulate it to wake up.
You can also give him a little massage on his back to help the blood flow to his back legs.
The wake up of your hamster must be prolonged on at least 3 hours, if not you risk to cause him problems! The key word when waking a hamster from its slumber is “gradually”.
After your hamster is out of its torpor state, you will then feed it with a syringe (on the side of its mouth), give it some Electrolyte (or mix 1 cup of warm water + ½ cup sugar + 1 teaspoon of salt) for 1 to 2 minutes and this every 30 minutes.
Then make sure the temperature of the room stays between 15°C and 26˚C (60°F-78°F), your hamster still has something to eat and his daily dose of daylight, don’t put the curtain on the window during the day to let the light into the room.
Remember you should never warm your hamster up quickly by subjecting it directly to a heat source such as with a heating pad or hair dryer!
You can just warm up some water, put it in a bottle and put it near its enclosure if you don’t have other sources of heat, and once your hamster has woken up, you can then take it in your hand and hold it against your body to warm it up, avoid asphyxiation! and avoid holding it for more than 5 minutes, the process must be progressive.
What to do to avoid that your hamster goes into torpor (hibernation)?
If you have a Dwarf hamster, avoid exposing him to temperatures below 4°C, but if it is a Syrian hamster, it will begin to show signs that it prepares to hibernate as soon as the temperature passes below 15°C.
To prevent your hamster from thinking about hibernating, you should not only make sure that he still has his daily food ration, but also increase the amount of food you give him during the cold days, but also give him more protein foods and seeds that contain oil so that he warms up from the inside.
The last thing to do is to never put the curtain on the window of the hamster’s room in order to let the daylight enter the room and you can even leave the light of the room on during the day when the sky is overcast and the sun does not appear.
Is my hamster hibernating, sick or dead?
It is easy to tell if a hamster is dead or just in a state of torpor. Here is how to check if your hamster is in hibernation, in torpor or sorry to say it, dead! :
- A dead hamster will become rigid after 20 to 30 minutes of its death.
- A hamster in hibernation, will of course become almost like a dead hamster (5°C), but you can still see its whispers moving if you pay attention, its heart beats 10 times every minute.
- You can also check if your hamster is still breathing by putting a teaspoon near his nose, wait a minute and if he is in hibernation you will see a little mist on it! Proof that he is still breathing even if discreetly!
- Check for your hamster’s heartbeat with your finger on his chest, just above its elbows. Do not put too much pressure, it will be a little difficult to feel his heart beat but you will get there with a little concentration, if your hamster is in hibernation, do not expect 400 heartbeat per minute! Just a 5 to 10 beats per minute or so.
- Finally, if the temperature of the room is not below 20°C and your hamster is cold, you will notice rigor mortis and it will not move anymore! It’s unfortunately dead!
Are hamsters stiff when they hibernate?
Nope, a completely stiff hamster is a dead hamster, that’s for sure! A hamster that hibernates does not become rigid and stiff, means that rigor mortis is in place and that your hamster is unfortunately dead!
Is the state of torpor dangerous for my hamster?
Hibernation or torpor can save the life of a wild hamster because it will help it to pass the winter even if it has only made a small stock of food.
Wild hamsters are also adapted to this state of torpor and prepare themselves well before hibernating because it is a process that takes time.
But hamsters in captivity don’t know how to hibernate, they are never ready to go into torpor and this state of torpor will always surprise them!
Your hamster should not go into torpor because it may die of cold, dehydration or starvation, constipation.
Why? Because the torpor has probably surprised him and he has only responded to a natural need, triggered by the rapid drop in temperature.
Your hamster may not survive this period of torpor if it lasts more than a day or two when he may have left for a whole week of torpor with a body not at all prepared to this state of thirst, youth and deep sleep without movement!
You must therefore avoid that your hamster hibernates or goes into torpor or you must wake him up as soon as you discover that he has gone into hibernation.
Only European wild hamsters can be induced to hibernate to save their lives by saving energy so that their food supply will help them survive the long winters.
Syrian Hamsters are accustomed to the fluctuating temperatures between morning heat and nighttime cold, so it is rare that they hibernate or go into torpor in their natural habitat in Aleppo, Syria, but it is common for them to go into hibernation if they feel the cold when they are in Europe or here in North America, so be vigilant during the winter.
Dwarf hamsters, Chinese, Winter White or Roborovski almost never go into torpor because it takes a temperature below 4°C to start the hibernation process, but it is better to avoid that your hamster experiences temperatures below 15°C.
Finally, if your hamster goes into torpor and you don’t know what to do! I explained above but it is better to take him to the vet to assist him and push him to wake up while keeping him under observation to avoid problems.
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