Over the winter months it’s perfectly natural for a hamster to go into a state of hibernation. During hibernation your pet’s metabolic rate will slow, and this can make it difficult to know whether it’s simply hibernating, or has become ill or died.
If you are worried about the health of your hamster, you can safely check for signs of life:
1. Consider the ambient temperature
Hamsters only hibernate in cold temperatures. If the temperature of your hamster’s cage is over 20°C then it isn’t very likely it’s started to hibernate. If the cage is next to an open window, or in a particularly cold corner of the room, increase the temperature gradually to over 20°C, and within a few hours to a few days your hamster should wake up.
2. Check if your hamster is breathing
If it is cold enough for your hamster to have been hibernating, look for signs of breathing. Watch very closely for several minutes, as during hibernation the breathing rate slows to as little as one breath every two minutes.
3. Check your hamster’s heartbeat
If you can’t tell whether your hamster is breathing you might need to check for a heartbeat. This can be difficult to find, but to do this, simply place your forefinger and thumb on either side of the hamster’s chest just above the elbows. Apply the same amount of pressure as you would if you were trying to stop your hamster running away without hurting it. After a minute or so you should start to feel a pulse.
4. Don’t use body heat as an indicator
Don’t worry if your hamster feels cold. During hibernation your pet’s body temperature will drop to match the environment, so coldness isn’t always a cause for concern. If your hamster is also rigid and unresponsive, even in a warm temperature, however, it may have died.
If you are concerned about your pet’s health, it is advised that you contact your vet.