Knowing how to tell if your hamster is dead or hibernating is critical. Why? You might have heard all those stories of hamster owners who almost buried their small animals alive because they thought they were already dead.
Since some hamsters do hibernate during extremely cold weather, you may be forgiven if you assume that being motionless and cold is a sign that your hamster has died.
How can you tell if your hamster is only in a hibernation state or is dead already?
Discussed below are some ways and tips to help you determine if you have a hibernating or dead hamster.
How to Tell If Your Hamster is Dead
First, let’s begin with the telltale signs that your hamster is dead.
Your Hamster is Lying in Fetal Position
It is probably the easiest and most common way to tell if your hamster is dead. Dead hamsters are going to be motionless and will also be in the fetal position. With this particular position, the animal will be laying on the side with its head near the front paws.
The back paws and the front paws will also be noticeably close to each other while the tail is tucked in. A dead hamster will be curled up significantly more compared to the usual sleeping position.
When you see your hamster being in this particular position, particularly when these animals are most active just like at night, you can almost be sure that your pet is already unfortunately dead.
Your Hamster is Totally Unresponsive
If a hamster is completely unresponsive, it is almost always a sign that it is dead. However, you should still take the time to confirm and check that your pet is totally unresponsive. This is because hibernating hamsters also show little to no reflexes at all even if you stroke them.
If your hamster has a stiff body, is in the fetal position, and is unresponsive, it is very much likely that your pet has already passed away.
Your Hamster Has No Signs of Breathing
The breathing rate of hamsters is quite fast, making it easy to notice every time they exhale and inhale air. But you will see none of these if your hamster is dead.
If a hamster is only in a hibernation state, it will still display signs of breathing although these will only be very minute. This is why it is important to spend more time doing the necessary confirmation because your hamster may be only hibernating.
The breathing rate of a hibernating hamster is quite low, only as low as a single heartbeat every 2 minutes.
Your Hamster’s Body is Stiff
Rigor mortis is the state in which the body turns stiff after death. The muscles of a dead hamster will turn stiff, with the body feeling harder than it normally is. All parts of the body of the hamster should no longer be able to move easily.
To check if it is really the case, you can try to push one part of the body of your hamster, like the forelimbs. When you do it and the entire body of the hamster moves instead of just the forelimbs that you pushed, it only indicates that your hamster already died, and rigor mortis already set in.
Your Hamster Has No Heartbeat
The absence of a heartbeat only means one thing – your hamster is dead and is not just hibernating. It is important to learn how to check the heartbeat of your hamster to confirm whether it is hibernating or not. Your hamster is already dead if it is unresponsive, is not breathing, and has no heartbeat.
How to Tell If Your Hamster is Hibernating
Now that you know how to tell if your hamster is dead, it is time to watch out for signs that it is only hibernating:
Your Hamster is Still Breathing
Your hamster is hibernating if he is still breathing. The breathing rate of a hamster that is in hibernation tends to slow down to just a single breath every 2 minutes.
You should take your time carefully and closely observing if your hamster is still breathing. This could mean one exhalation or inhalation every minute or two.
An easier and simpler way to do it is to hold a mirror near the nostrils of your hamster. If you notice a tiny accumulation of mist on the mirror after several seconds or a maximum of 2 minutes, it only means that your hamster is still breathing.
Your Hamster is Twitching
A hamster may still continue manifesting some minute reflexes even when it is hibernating. To check this, stroke the whiskers of your hamster and check to see if your pet twitches. When you notice your animal twitching, it means he is alive and is only in a hibernation state.
Your Hamster Has a Warm Cheek Pouch
Another great way to confirm if your small animal is only hibernating is to feel the cheek pouch which is supposed to be warmer compared to the other parts of your pet’s body.
The body temperature of a hamster in a hibernation state will drop enough to keep up with the ambient temperature. But despite this, the cheek pouch will continue to stay warmer than the animal’s external body parts.
Your Hamster Has a Heartbeat
If your hamster still has a heartbeat, it only means that it only hibernating and not dead. However, it might be a bit tricky to tell if your hamster still got a heartbeat because their breathing will slow down to lessen energy usage.
Put your thumb and forefinger on either side of the chest of your hamster. Apply some gentle pressure then wait for 1 to 2 minutes. When you feel a pulse, it means your hamster is in a hibernation state and is still alive.
The Bottom Line
If you are still unsure if your hamster is dead or hibernating even after all the information above, you might want to get an expert opinion from the nearest vet.