Reasons of hamster hibernation
As the temperature drops and your heating kicks into high gear, it’s tempting to take a duvet day (or two!). That appears to be what our hamster Oscar is doing. Because he’s a little more sluggish than usual, rousing him from his bed to play each day takes a little longer – it’s like having a teenager in the house. Is this something to be concerned about?
Hamsters hibernate to survive extreme weather conditions, fluctuating food supplies, or long periods of darkness. If your pet hamster hibernates, he or she may suffer from dehydration or hyperthermia.
I did some research into ways we could prepare to ensure that our hamster Oscar does not go into hibernation mode during the long winter months.
Types of hamster hibernation
It is believed that there are two types of hibernation that animals employ.
- Seasonal hibernation. In the wild, animals such as bears and squirrels fatten themselves up over the summer months when food supplies are plentiful, in order to see them through the harsh winter period.
- Permissive hibernation. As its name suggests, this type of hibernation can happen at any time throughout the year as a direct effect of sudden changes in the environment such as temperature or lack of nourishment. This type of hibernation generally only lasts for a few hours or a couple of days.
Pet hamsters can enter permissive hibernation (a deep sleep rather than a listless state), but because they have not prepared for it as most animals do, there is a real risk that they will suffer from dehydration or hyperthermia.
Do all hamsters hibernate?
Pet hamsters should not need to hibernate if they are fed and watered on a regular basis and kept in a cool cage in the summer and a warm cage in the winter.
If the temperature around them falls below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, your hamster may become drowsy. If the temperature continues to fall below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, your hamster may become lifeless and enter permissive hibernation mode.
Syrian hamsters are thought to be more prone to hibernation than other breeds because they originated in desert regions where they would need to hibernate in order to survive the bitter, icy nights. Dwarf and Russian hamsters, on the other hand, are well adapted to cold conditions and, due to their thicker, longer coats, are less likely to feel the need to hibernate.
How many hours do hamsters sleep for?
A happy, healthy hamster should sleep 8-12 hours per day. This usually happens during the day, though some hamsters are more sluggish than others and may enjoy a long nap.
As long as you know how much sleep your hamster needs to replenish its energy reserves, the length of time they sleep should not be an issue. However, if they suddenly begin to sleep for much longer periods of time or begin shivering and shaking while in their nest, they may become depressed.
How do you know if your hamster is hibernating?
If you watch for warning signs that your hamster is attempting to hibernate, you may be able to avoid the situation entirely. After all, there’s nothing more upsetting than peering into a hamster’s cage while it’s hibernating – they appear lifeless to many!
Signs that your hamster is on the verge of permissive hibernation include:
- Starting to build a bigger nest or burrowing deep into their substrate for extra warmth.
- Not eating or drinking regularly.
- Uncontrollable body shuddering.
- Their heart rate and breathing starts to slow down.
Hopefully, hamster hibernation is a situation that you should never have to encounter but if you do look through the cage bars one day and see that your hamster is motionless, it may be difficult to tell if they are hibernating or if it has actually died.
Ways in which you can tell your hamster is hibernating include:
- Picking your hamster up to check for signs of life. One way you can do this is by holding a mirror or spoon up to its face to see if it mists. This way you can tell if they are breathing.
- Stroking and cradling your hamster to see if its whiskers twitch or body moves at all.
- Feeling for body warmth. A hibernating hamster will maintain a warm body temperature though it might be slightly cooler than usual.
- Seeing if your hamster’s limbs are limp enough to manipulate and move around. A completely stiff hamster is most likely a dead one.
How to wake up your hamster from hibernation?
If your hamster is hibernating, it is important that you take extra care of them and do not jolt them out of torpor too quickly.
You could try slowly rewarming them with your own body heat, a heat pad, or even near a hot water bottle.
You should also ensure that they have plenty of light.
Finally, you could massage them with your fingers to stimulate blood circulation. If this does not rouse them, you should seek veterinary assistance.
How to stop hamsters hibernating?
Because coldness is the most common cause of hibernation, there are some simple steps you can take to address this.
Moving the cage to draft-free areas, adding extra bedding, and ensuring that they are well fed with fatty foods are all sure-fire ways to keep your hamster warm when it’s cold outside. Please read our informative blog for more information on how to keep your hamster warm in the winter.
Because hamsters can suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, you should make sure they get plenty of sunlight to avoid depression or anxiety, which can lead to the onset of permissive hibernation.
Regular play and handling will not only keep them active, but will also alert you to any potential health issues.
Oscar’s mood has improved significantly since cranking up the central heating, adding more bedding to his cage, and ensuring that the blinds are open so that light floods into his room. He will happily bound out of bed for a crunchy carrot, chocolate drop, or cuddle now that he can open one eye and assess the situation. And, while I don’t believe hibernation was ever a real concern, I do believe we need to be more proactive in adapting to the colder weather next winter to keep Oscar from developing SAD.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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