Hamsters have a fairly short life expectancy so it’s important to prepare yourself for the process and to be aware of the signs that indicate that your hamster is dying.
Hamsters normally live for 2-4 years, so it’s important to know the common signs of death in order to be aware of when a hamster might be close to its time. A hamster can die suddenly, but it is also common for a sick hamster to die within a period of days or weeks.
Here is a list of specific signs that might mean your hamster is close to death and some other information and tips to help you through the process of losing your pet.
Signs to Look for
- Loss of appetite and thirst – When a hamster is dying and its body begins to shut down, it will stop craving food and water. Hamsters normally need to be fed once a day, so if your hamster’s food or water supply doesn’t change at all over a 24-hour period, that may be the first sign that your hamster is not feeling well.
- A change in their behavior or becoming less active – Hamsters are generally quite active in their early life, and it’s not uncommon for them to slow down slightly at around 1.5 or 2 years of age. If you notice a significant change in your hamster’s behavior and energy levels, your hamster may be dying of old age.
- Wetness around the tail of diarrhea – Wet tail is a stress-related disease. It is caused when stress allows the normal gut bacteria to overpopulate your hamster’s bowels, eventually causing diarrhea. It can often be treated with antibiotics, but even with treatment, a hamster can die within 48 to 72 hours.
- Huddling in a corner – It is normal for a hamster to sleep a lot, but if you find your hamster huddling in a corner for an extended period of time, it might not be feeling well.
- A ruffled or unkempt coat is caused by failing to groom itself – Young, healthy hamsters keep their coat smooth and well-groomed, so an unkept or matted coat is another indication that your hamster is experiencing a loss of energy and could potentially be sick or dying
- Sneezing, discharge from the nose or eyes – If your hamster is making frequent noises that they rarely would otherwise such as sneezing, wheezing, or has liquid coming from their nose or eyes, these are all potential signs of age-related sickness.
- Hair loss (often a sign of parasites or allergies) – Shedding is normal for healthy hamsters, but sick/dying hamsters may also start to lose large amounts of their hair in tufts or patches, and start to go bald.
- Not moving out of its house to be clean – Similar to huddling in a corner, if a hamster does not move out of its enclosed house space to clean itself or use the bathroom in a separate part of its enclosure, the hamster may be ill.
- Labored, choppy, or noisy breathing
- Diminishing pulse – A dying hamster’s pulse will begin to slow
- Rapid weight loss – Healthy hamsters usually have a good amount of fat on them and it’s normal for them to look a little chubby, so if you suddenly notice a stark difference in your hamster’s weight, they may be close to passing away.
With these symptoms and behaviors in mind, it’s important to remember that each animal is individual and that experiencing any of these symptoms does not always mean that your hamster is close to death. It’s always possible that a pet will regain its health, even after exhibiting one or more of these symptoms, especially if your hamster experiences one of these symptoms earlier in its life.
How Long the Signs Occur Before Death
Because each animal is different, there’s no set timeline regarding the decline of health or how long it takes for a hamster to pass away. Some hamsters may experience sickness for a few days and then recover with the help of a veterinarian’s visit, while others may experience sickness for a short period of time before passing away.
One hamster owner reported their pet passing away just 2 days after showing a decline in energy levels and a loss of appetite. It is not rare for a hamster to pass away suddenly and within a matter of days or hours.
Hamsters die within 2-4 years. Their life expectancy is very short. After only one year they are considered old, and after 18 months they will need special care. You can give your hampster extra care, but they will still die within a few years. Since their life goes so quickly, the period of their dying is short as well. (Source)
What Causes a Hamster to Die Suddenly?
A variety of issues can arise when a hamster is not properly looked after. Here are a few things that can cause your hamster to die suddenly:
Stress: Hamsters are very sensitive to stress and anxiety, which can be provoked by a sudden change. If a hamster is exposed to stress such as an extremely dirty cage, too much handling or rough handling, or sudden changes in temperature for a prolonged period of time, this can cause major health issues, some of which can be fatal.
Transmitted Diseases: Animals that come from pet shops are often mistreated and housed in appalling conditions. This causes stress, which in turn can develop transmitted diseases such as a wet tail, pneumonia, and others, so it is best to get your hamster from a reputable breeder and not to buy a hamster from a pet store.
Hamsters are also at the bottom of the food chain, so as a survival mechanism they are good at hiding physical problems that they may be experiencing. That may mean unknowingly buying a hamster that may be dying.
If you only want to get a hamster from the pet store, observe closely the hamster you would like to get as well as all of the other hamsters they are sharing a cage with. If your hamster or any of the others are hunching in a corner, have unhealthy-looking coats, sunken eyes, are lethargic, or have a wet tail, they may have an undiagnosed disease.
Symptoms to look for before buying a hamster are:
- Foul odor
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive sleeping
- Walking with a hunched back
- Folded ears
- Unusual temper (biting or nipping)
Pneumonia: Pneumonia is not common in hamsters, but it can be extremely contagious. This illness occurs when a hamster is exposed to bacterial or viral infections, coupled with environmental stresses such as a dirty cage, sudden low temperatures, no water, etc.
If your hamster has developed pneumonia you may see the following symptoms:
- Dull coat
- Loss of appetite, weight loss
- Sneezing, coughing
- Irregular breathing
- Discharge from the nose/eyes
Dirty Cage: Hamsters are very clean animals, and have a very clear line between where they sleep to where they go to the bathroom. If your hamster’s cage is rarely cleaned, they will not be able to tell where the sleeping area is and where the toilet is. This will cause a lot of stress in your hamster and could potentially lead to developing stress-induced diseases like wet tail.
Heatstroke: Hamsters should not be exposed to extreme temperature changes. If a hamster is exposed to temperatures above 72 °F, it can suffer from heatstroke. It is dangerous for them to be next to a window that receives direct sunlight. If you see your hamster moving sluggishly, lying flat on the cage floor, if they are limp and/or trembling when touched, your hamster could potentially be suffering from heatstroke.
If you notice any of the above signs, immediately place your hamster in a cooler area. Place them on a damp towel, or gently spray them with cool water. Any of these actions should revive your hamster fairly quickly. Once your hamster wakes up, make sure you rehydrate them with small amounts of watery foods, or water if they take it. It is also recommended to call your vet for any advice.
Fumes: Due to their small size, hamsters are often placed out of the way. Many owners do not realize that hamsters have a very well-developed olfactory system and that fumes from a boiler or heater can be deadly to them, so it’s important to keep your hamster somewhere they won’t be in danger.
Caring for a Senior Hamster
As your hamster gets older, you may notice a decline in its physical activity. They may become slightly more lethargic, or sleep for longer periods of time. Here are a few suggestions regarding ways to keep a senior hamster comfortable as they near their final stages of life.
Feed Your Hamster Soft Foods – Older hamsters have more trouble eating. Here are a few ideas of foods to feed a senior hamster that will be easier for them to consume:
- Porridge – cooked with water, sugar, any condiments ( no salt). Keep it on the dry, lumpy side. Half a teaspoon per day is enough.
- Steamed veggies like carrot, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, or asparagus
- Cooked chicken or fish, plain, with no oil
- Cucumber, watermelon
- Cooked egg white, plain
- Steamed brown rice or wholegrain pasta
Continue Giving Them Attention: Hamsters cannot see very well or even at all as they get older, and they also might spend more time in their hamster house sleeping, but when your hamster does come out you should give them lots of love and attention, especially if your hamster is the type that likes to be held. Older hamsters are often more willing to be held than younger, more active ones so you could see whether or not your hamster is fussy about being held.
Keep his habitat/room comfortable: Ensuring that your hamster’s home is clean and warm makes things much easier for them. A healthy, adult hamster will only need their cage cleaned about once a week, while an older hamster might need it twice per week.
Keep in mind that cleaning the cage is stressful for the hamster. Hamsters are sensitive to change and smell, and a freshly cleaned cage will have much less of their scent than before. Keep a little bit of their old bedding and nesting material in the cleaned cage so things feel more familiar to them.
Make sure the cage is away from any drafts and won’t be in direct sunlight, and that the room is at a comfortable temperature. As your hamster ages, remove objects in the cage that require climbing, since they can become dangerous.
Dying vs. Hibernating
If you feel your hamster and they are cold and still, this does not automatically mean that they have passed away. It is possible that your hamster could have started hibernation. But unlike animals that hibernate in the wild, hamsters are not built to do so. Pet hamsters cannot store enough water or calories during cold weather to survive a hibernation state, and as a result, will die if allowed to hibernate.
If your hamster has a breathing rate as slow as one breath every minute, is unresponsive to your touch, and/or feels cold; it needs to be revived as soon as possible. You can revive your hamster by placing a heater in the room to bring the room temperature to 69 °F – 72 °F (20 °C to 22 °C). You can also gently wrap them in a towel and put them close to your body and warm them that way. Once your hamster is revived, offer them a little water and food and contact your vet.
Hamsters’ lives are very short-lived, so if you get attached easily, this may not be the pet for you. They become old after one year and could die after their second year. There are signs to look for, but they die very quickly once those signs occur. They will need extra care and attention if you want your hamster to live longer than expected.