Hamsters pretty much remain in their cage at all times, so it can be difficult to know whether you need to make any changes to their care and wellbeing over winter.
Over winter, hamsters are perfectly capable of hibernating. They do this to save body heat during the coldest months of the year. However, domesticated hamsters will rarely go through hibernation due to the artificial heating and lighting in their home setup.
Will my hamster hibernate?
Most domesticated hamsters will not hibernate. Hibernation usually starts if the temperature of a hamster’s living environment reaches 4.5°C or below. For most homes in the UK, this isn’t going to happen.
However, hamsters are able to hibernate, so there is a possibility your domesticated hamster will go through this. Therefore, it is key to know what to look out for. Some may think their hamster is sleeping, ill or may have died if they aren’t aware that hibernation is a possibility.
You need to be able to spot whether your hamster is feeling cold or struggling with the temperature. They may:
- become lethargic
- sleep for long periods
- stop eating and drinking
- feel cold to touch, especially their feet and nose
In the eventuality that your hamster has become unresponsive, you need to determine what has actually happened. Have they gone into hibernation, are they ill, or have they passed away? Ask yourself three questions:
- Are they moving at all? Look for subtle movements, like slight twitching. Hamsters will go into a deep sleep before hibernating
- Is their body warm? Even a hibernating hamster will feel slightly warm. However, a hamster that has died will feel completely cold to touch
- Are they breathing? You may be able to see breathing movements from their chest or stomach area. You may also hear slight breathing noises, or even feel their breath if you hold them close to you
What to do if your hamster is hibernating
The first thing is not to panic. Because it is a completely natural process, it doesn’t signal that anything is wrong – they are just a bit cold!
By increasing the temperature of the area around their cage, they should naturally wake. Aim for around 20°C. Do this slowly, as it could be dangerous if they suddenly get too warm. They should gradually wake up on their own, after between a few hours and a few days.
If so, leave food and water out for them. Also, change their bedding and keep everything fresh for them. Keep an eye on them to ensure everything seems okay and that there is nothing suspicious about their behaviour once they have woken.
Contact your vet if you have any questions at all. You can also contact an online vet if this is easier than travelling.
How to keep your hamster warm in winter
If your home is prone to getting a bit chilly, there are plenty of tips you can follow to ensure your hamster remains warm and comfortable.
Keep them clear of draughts
Is their cage near a window or a door that is opened frequently? Move their cage to somewhere a bit more sheltered. But keep them away from heat sources, too – don’t place them directly next to a radiator thinking this is the best way for them to stay warm.
Consistency is important. If possible, they should stay in the same place all year. This will mean also keeping them out of direct sunlight in summer. Also, don’t place them near natural fires – the fumes and smoke can be dangerous for their little lungs.
Use extra bedding
Hamsters love to burrow. A deeper layer of hamster bedding will mean they can bury inside for extra warmth. It all will need changing regularly though, so be aware you may have to buy more.