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Is My Hamster Dead? 8 Signs Your Hamster Has Passed Away

By Eddie Chevrel


Updated on

Losing a pet can be a devastating experience. However, with animals such as hamsters that can go into hibernation, you always want to make sure that your hamster has actually passed before dealing with the body or starting to grieve.

In this article, we are going to go over eight different signs that can help you determine whether or not your hamster has actually passed away or if he is just sleeping or in hibernation. You will also find answers to some other related questions such as what to do if your hamster is in fact hibernating and how to deal with your hamster’s body if he has passed away,

8 Ways To Know That a Hamster is Unfortunately Dead

1. Rigor Mortis

One sign that your hamster has died rather than gone into hibernation is if rigor mortis set in. Rigor mortis will not set in if your hamster is in hibernation or sleeping. If rigor mortis has set in because your hamster has died, he will feel stiff to the touch. The muscles tighten up, and the whole body will feel harder than what you are used to. If you try to move your hamster’s limbs, they will not move easily.

You can check for this by gently touching or pushing a part of your hamster’s body. If, when you do this, your hamster’s entire body moves rather than just the part you push or poke, it is most likely because of rigor mortis and your hamster has passed away.

2. Fetal Position

hamster sleeping in cage

When a hamster dies, they usually go to the corner of the cage or into one of its huts and curl up into the fetal position. A hamster in the fetal position will be laying on one of its sides, with their head near its front paws and its back paws curled up towards its front paws. For most hamsters, this looks significantly different than the positions that they sleep in. When a hamster is just asleep, they usually are not quite so curled up, and they do not typically sleep on their sides.

It can also be helpful to remember that hamsters are usually very active at night, in the evenings, and early in the morning because they are nocturnal animals. If you notice that your hamster is lying in the fetal position at a time when they are usually active, it is most likely a sign that something is wrong.

3. No Breathing

If you are checking your hamster’s breath to see whether or not your hamster is alive, you need to be very careful. This is because hamsters can slow down their breath dramatically. Sometimes they will only take a breath every minute or so. They usually do this when they are in hibernation. If your hamster has, in fact, died rather than gone into hibernation, it will not take a single breath even if you watch for several minutes.

If you believe your hamster has stopped breathing, get close to the cage and monitor them for several minutes. Any slight raising and lowering of the chest can indicate that your hamster is breathing, even it seems really shallow and rare. If your hamster is not in hibernation but is still taking really slow and irregular breaths, you should take him to the vet immediately.

4. No Heartbeat

Similar to breathing, if you can not find any evidence of a heartbeat, it could be a sign that your hamster has passed. A heartbeat is not something you can just observe with your eyes, so you will really need to physically check for one.

To check for a heartbeat, you are going to want to feel his chest. Take two fingers (your pointer and middle finger) and press gently down on his chest. Doing this should allow you to feel a heartbeat. It can be helpful to practice on a hamster that you know is alive and active to ensure that you can find a heartbeat.

Keep in mind that if your hamster has gone into hibernation, the heartbeat will slow down from the normal, very active heartbeat your hamster has when awake and active. Because of this, if you can feel any heartbeat, even if it is extremely slow or faint, your hamster is still alive.

5. Cold Body

If you are going to use your hamster’s body temperature to determine whether he is alive or not, you need to be sure that your hamster has not gone into hibernation. When a hamster goes into hibernation, its body temperature will lower to the temperature of the surrounding room or area. This means that your hamster could feel cold to the touch and still be alive. Because of this, feeling cold to the touch should not be the sole factor to reach a conclusion.

However, if you have determined that your hamster is not in hibernation and he still feels cold to the touch, it means that he has likely passed away. To check your hamster’s body temperature, gently touch the bottom of his feet, belly, or anywhere on his body where your hamster’s skin is exposed.

6. Increasing Room Temperature Does Not Change A Thing

Hamsters typically go into hibernation when it starts to get cold. That means if your heat breaks or you lose power during the winter, and the temperature inside of your house starts to cool off significantly, your hamster could go into hibernation.

Because of this, it is important to increase the room temperature if you think your hamster is dead to figure out for sure whether the signs that you are noticing are actually due to your hamster passing away or if your hamster slipped into hibernation. Even if you think the room is warm enough, try elevating the temperature a little bit.

Increasing the temperature in the room will allow you to double-check any of the previous signs that you have mentioned. If your hamster starts to come out of hibernation due to the increase in temperature, you will notice the heartbeat speed up, more regular breathing, and that he feels warmer to the touch. You will likely start noticing these changes before your hamster even wakes up and starts moving around.

On the other hand, if your hamster is not in hibernation and has, in fact, passed away, there will be no change to your hamster’s condition as you warm up the room.

7. Not Reacting To Touch Or Noises

In the wild, hamsters are pretty close to the bottom of the food chain, and they are aware of it. Because of this, they tend to be very reactive animals which is why most hamster care instructions will tell you to be very slow and quiet when approaching a hamster, especially a new hamster. However, you may want to stop following these instructions when you are trying to figure out if your hamster is alive.

Start by gently poking, petting, or touching your hamster to see if he responds. Even a sleeping hamster will usually respond to touch, though a hamster in hibernation might not. However, be careful because touching a sleeping hamster can result in you getting bit.

You can also make a loud sound to see if your hamster reacts or responds. Once again, a hamster who is sleeping will likely respond though there is a chance a hamster in hibernation will not.

8. There Were Previous Signs That Your Hamster Was Dying

While it is possible for your hamster to die without showing any signs that he is aging or getting sick, it is rare, so when trying to determine whether or not your hamster has died, you should consider previous signs and symptoms that you may have noticed.

The first and perhaps most obvious is if you have a diagnosis from a vet for an illness. There are a few different common illnesses that your hamster may get diagnosed with, including digestive problems and respiratory infections. If the illness that your hamster has is not treatable, your vet should be able to provide you with a time frame.

You should also consider your hamster’s age and lifespan. Syrian hamsters have a lifespan of three years, Roborovski hamsters have a lifespan of about four years, and Chinese, Campbell, and Russian Dwarf hamsters all have lifespans of about two years. While nearing that average lifespan does not guarantee that your hamster is going to die soon, it is a sign that your hamster is aging and could be approaching the end of his life.

Other symptoms of sickness can be a sign that your hamster is dying even if you do not have a diagnosis. The symptoms include things like diarrhea, coughing, and lethargy.

What To Do If Your Hamster Is Not Dead But In a State of Torpor

If your hamster is in a state of torpor, not dead, you want to start by warming up the hamster. You can start by warming up the room. Using a space heater can be extremely helpful, but do not put it too close to your hamster. You want to warm him up gradually and not cause him to overheat.

You can also hold your hamster with your hands or hold him close to your head to use your body heat to warm him up. As you hold your hamster, also gently massage your hamster to help restore blood circulation.

As your hamster is coming out of the state of torpor, you should provide him with food and water because he will be very hungry and thirsty. If your hamster goes into a state of hibernation due to a sudden switch in temperature, he will not have the time that he has in the wild to prepare fat reserves. Make sure you introduce water slowly with a syringe to make sure your hamster can drink it safely.

Finally, you should take your hamster to the vet. A vet will be able to check out your hamster to make sure that he is completely healthy. He will be able to make sure your hamster has enough food and water, do not have any symptoms of hypothermia, and is not showing any other dangerous symptoms.

What Do Hamsters Generally Die Of?

Hamsters usually die of one of four main things: age, disease, accidents, or care. Let’s start with age, as it is the simplest to understand. Hamsters have relatively short life spans (ranging from two to four years depending on the species), and many domestic hamsters die of natural causes and old age.

Next, your hamster could develop a fatal illness. Hamsters are susceptible to a number of different illnesses. Some are more serious than others. While things like teeth problems will generally not kill your hamster, some respiratory infections can, especially if left untreated.

Third, hamsters are small animals, and they can be difficult to hold and handle. If a hamster falls from your hands or off of something, it could result in serious injury or death. Accidentally stepping on a hamster can also be fatal.

Finally, if a hamster is overly stressed, does not get enough good, is unable to exercise, or does not have a clean environment, it can shorten the lifespan of your hamster significantly.

What Should I Do With My Dead Hamster’s Body?

There are a few different things that you could do with your hamster’s body after he passes away. Perhaps the most common is burying the body. You will want to dig a hole at least two feet deep to make sure that wild animals do not come and dig it up.

You can also choose to get your hamster cremated if you prefer to do that rather than burying the body. This does usually cost money, especially if you want your hamster to be cremated on its own so you can keep the ashes.

Finally, if your hamster dies at the vet or you do not want to deal with the body on your own, often vets will take care of the body for you for free or for a small charge.

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About Eddie Chevrel

Eddie Chevrel is an animal journalist and the founder of ThePetSavvy. He's very passionate about exotic pets and spends most of his free time doing research, meeting, and interviewing people working with animals. Learn more about The Pet Savvy's Editorial Process.