Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Angelina Childree, LVT
By Angelina Childree, LVT. Reviewed by Melissa Witherell, DVM on Apr. 4, 2024
Hamster sleeping cozy

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In This Article

Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Hibernation is a state of deep rest some animals enter to conserve energy. During hibernation, the animal’s body becomes inactive—the heart rate and respiration rate slow, and the body temperature declines.

But what if your hamster is inactive in their cage? Do hamsters hibernate? Here’s what to know about hamster hibernation—and how you can tell whether your hamster’s hibernating or dead.

Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Hamsters can enter a state of hibernation, but domesticated hamsters rarely enter true hibernation. Since hamsters have been domesticated, they no longer have to adapt to a changing environment as they would in the wild. But hamsters may enter a state of hibernation called torpor.

Whether or not a hamster hibernates can vary by species. Some hamsters, like European hamsters, are true hibernators in the wild. Meanwhile, Syrian hamsters may enter hibernation in certain conditions. Other species, like Dwarf hamsters, typically do not hibernate but may enter a related state of hibernation called torpor.

Hibernation vs. Torpor

Obligatory, or true, hibernation occurs when certain species become fat in the summer months and hibernate in the winter months. Pet hamsters do not truly hibernate.

Torpor is a state of hibernation that typically only lasts a few hours or days. A hamster can enter torpor when their environmental conditions (commonly temperature) are poor.

Sometimes the words torpor and hibernation are used interchangeably, because both torpor and hibernation result in slowing of the heart and respiratory rates and a decrease in activity and body temperature.

If a hamster enters torpor, it may only end when conditions improve. An extended torpor could result in death of the hamster due to dehydration or hypothermia.

When Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Hamsters dont have a specific time of year when they truly hibernate. Rather, certain circumstances may make them enter torpor.

Common conditions that may cause hamster hibernation in torpor:

  • Fewer hours of light

  • Food restriction

  • Exposure to temperatures under 41 degrees F (the most common cause of hamster torpor)

Pet hamsters housed near areas with drafts may be more at risk of entering torpor. Always place your hamster’s enclosure in an appropriate area of the house, away from doors or windows.

Make sure your hamster has plenty of beds and hideouts to keep warm.

Is My Hamster Hibernating or Dead?

Hibernating hamsters in torpor may be mistaken for deceased animals because their bodies are so inactive.

If you suspect your hamster is hibernating, monitoring is essential. A hamster's body temperature is typically between 98.6–102.2 degrees F. It will drop while hibernating, so it’s normal for them to feel cool. Use a non-contact thermometer to evaluate the core body temperature of your hamster.

Check your hamster's heart and respiratory rates. A hamster's heart beats from 200 to 500 times a minute, and hamsters usually breathe about 50–135 beats per minute. When hamsters enter a state of hibernation, they sometimes can scare parents because they don't appear to be breathing.

How To Check Your Hamster’s Heart and Respiratory Rates

  1. Gently put your forefinger and thumb under your hamster’s arms so you can feel their chest

  2. Using a timer, count how many times the heart beats in a minute

  3. Alternatively, count how many times the heart beats in 15 seconds and multiply it by four

The same method can be used to count your hamster's respirations (breaths).

How Long Do Hamsters Hibernate?

Hamsters typically hibernate for three to four days in the wild. Female hamsters generally hibernate for shorter periods than male hamsters.

Hamsters will start to come out of a torpor state when they are exposed to warmer, ideal temperatures. Hamsters typically are comfortable in environments between 65–75 degrees F.

Hamsters can enter a state of hibernation, but domesticated hamsters rarely enter true hibernation.

Is It Bad for Pet Hamsters to Hibernate?

While it can be normal for wild hamsters to truly hibernate, a pet hamster that enters torpor is indicative of a care issue. If your hamster is going into a state of hibernation, their environment may be too cold, not have enough daytime light, or they may think food resources are running low.

If you are concerned about your hamster’s hibernation or torpor, it’s always best to consult a veterinarian.

How To Wake Up a Hibernating Hamster

If your hamster is in a state of torpor, gradually improve the conditions, including temperature and light, to safely revive them. If the torpor has lasted less than a day, increasing the body temperature may be all that is needed.

One good way to gradually warm your hamster is to cup them in the palm of your hand and let your body temperature gradually warm their body. You can also wrap them in a slightly warm cloth. External heating elements are not recommended, as these will raise their temperature too rapidly.

Underlying illness can also make hamsters appear to be in a state of hibernation, so monitoring is crucial. If your hamster is not reacting to stimuli on the whiskers and cheek pouch, won't wake up once warm, or is stiff and rigid, seek immediate veterinary care. 

Hamster Hibernation FAQs

Do Syrian hamsters hibernate?

Syrian hamsters are known to hibernate in certain environmental conditions.

Do Dwarf hamsters hibernate?

Most species of Dwarf hamsters will not typically enter a state of hibernation.

How can you tell if a hamster is hibernating?

Hibernating hamsters look like they’re in a deep sleep, sometimes even making pet parents believe they have died. Hibernating hamsters will feel cold and have minimal heart and respiratory rates.

Can you wake a hibernating hamster?

By slowly and safely warming your hamster you may begin to wake them up. Usually, after a few hours, hamsters will awaken.

Why is my hamster not moving?

That’s to preserve energy. When in a hibernated state, the body does minimal work to conserve energy reserves. If your hamster is not moving and hibernation has been ruled out, they may be dehydrated, ill, or injured. Always take your hamster to the veterinarian if they are not moving, to rule out medical issues before assuming hibernation.

References

Carpenter J, Harms C. Carpenter’s Exotic Animal Formulary. 6th Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2022:557.

Sirois M. Laboratory Animal and Exotic Pet Medicine. Third Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences; 2022:181.

Hibernation | Zoology. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Frohlich J. Hamsters – Exotic and Laboratory Animals. Merck Veterinary Manual. 2021. Accessed March 20, 2024.

Surviving the winter. The Open University/OpenLearn. Accessed March 20, 2024.

References


Angelina Childree, LVT

WRITTEN BY

Angelina Childree, LVT

Veterinarian Technician


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