Is my Hamster Dead or Alive?

Is my hamster dead or alive

I came across a story where a hamster owner thought they might have buried their hamster alive after possibly mistaking a sleeping hamster for a dead one. It turned out they were not alone. The thought of being buried alive is awful and the doubt if their pet was buried alive will stay forever. Both the hamster and the pet owner don’t deserve to have their time together end like this, therefore I wanted to share with you, how you can be sure your hamster is dead, to avoid this tragedy from happening to you and others. 

Is my hamster dead or alive? When hamsters hibernate, they can look like they are dead, and some hamster owners have mistaken a sleeping hamster for a dead one and buried them alive. To avoid this tragedy, check for the following signs:  

1. is your hamster breathing?  

2. Do you feel a heartbeat?  

3. Can you get any kind of response from your hamster?  

4. Warm your hamster up by placing on a heating pad or in a blanket 

If the answer is no to all 3 checks, it’s understandable to fear the worst. But before you start preparations for burial, wrap your hamster in a warm blanket and turn on the heating, or place your hamster on a warm heating pad. A hibernating hamster will wake up when the temperature goes up.   

But even then, wait a couple of hours to see if your hamsters body turns stiff and cold. While this is not nice, it’s a sure way to avoid a sleeping hamster being cremated or buried alive. 

Is my Hamster Dead or Alive?

Signs of a dead hamster 

There are some important signs which tell you that your hamster might be dead and if you are unsure whether your hamster is hibernating or dead, look out for these signs to guide you and to prevent burying a hibernating hamster. I suggest watching for more than one sign to ensure your hamster is dead. 

  • First, you will want to check if your hamster is breathing. You can do so by watching its chest closely to see it go up and down. When your hamster is awake their breathing is quite rapid, however when they are hibernating their breathing will slow down significantly, therefore it’s important to watch your hamster for a while to make sure you don’t miss possible breathing. 
  • While sleeping hamsters can be comfortable on their side, many dead hamsters curl up when dying into a position that’s called the fetus position. This means their body is curled up on its side with the head towards the front paws and the back legs and tail tucked in under the body as well.  
  • You might want to lift your hamster of see if you can get a reaction by touching it and talking to it. Sick and dying hamsters don’t have much energy and they might be very unresponsive, but still alive. Try and provoke them but be gently because if your hamster is ill, you don’t want to stress it out. 
  • While you are holding your hamster, you can see if you can feel a heartbeat by resting your hamster’s chest on two fingers. With a bit of luck, you will feel a heartbeat. If your hamster is weak or ill their heartbeat will be faint so, take your time to be sure.  
  • If your hamster feels cold to touch, you might assume this is a clear sign of passing, however, the temperature of your hamster’s body will drop significantly during hibernation, so you can’t take a cold body as a sign on its own.  
  • A dead hamster will initially feel like its asleep but after a couple of hours your hamster will feel cold and stiff. This means rigor mortis has set in. When you gently push an area on the body of your hamster and the body does not dent in on that spot, but rather the whole body moves, then rigor mortis has set in.  
  • To make matters more complicated, rigor mortis does not last, and the body of a dead hamster can become floppy again. If you were out for the day, you might have missed this stage and you could still be at a loose end.  
  • Another important sign to look out for are the nail beds of your hamster. Blood cloths will center here after death which will turn them dark colored or black.  
  • Check off all signs mentioned above to be absolutely sure your hamster is not gone into hibernation. If in doubt, place your hamster on a cloth on top of a warm heating pad. If your hamster is hibernating, he will wake up when the temperature goes up. 

What does a dead hamster feel like? 

When a hamster dies its body will still feel warm and it probably looks like your hamster is fast asleep. Once rigor mortis sets in, the hamsters muscles stiffen, and the hamster will start to feel stiff. The body will also be cooling down. When a hamster feels cold to touch and has a stiff body, you can be certain the hamster has passed away.

However, your hamster’s body will not stay stiff and after rigor mortis, your hamster’s body will go soft again. So, if you miss the rigor mortis stage, it will look like your hamster is sleeping.  That’s why it’s so hard to see if your hamster is dead or alive, i.e., hibernating. Follow the steps above to double check your hamster has died.  

Will a dead hamster warm up? 

A dead hamster will not warm up. When you put your hamster on a warming pad, you can find out if he’s hibernating or dead, as a hibernating hamster will quickly wake up when warming up. If your hamster has indeed passed away, the body might feel slightly warmer because of the pad, but will quickly cool down when removed.  

Can hamsters die from stress? 

Yes, hamsters can die on the spot from extreme stress but most of the time your hamster will endure stress for a period of time and develop stress related illnesses. Stress can reduce your hamster’s life significantly and it’s something you really want to avoid. Read more about stress in hamsters here.  

Why did my hamster play dead? 

Hamsters are prey animals and in the wild they don’t have many defense options, however one of their defense strategies is playing dead as most predators will not eat dead animals. If your hamster is displaying this behavior, something is seriously wrong with your hamster. It could be that she is depressed or severely stressed. Or even extremely scared.  

Why would a hamster die suddenly? 

If your hamster appears to have died suddenly, most often it has died of old age. As hamsters have a short lifespan compared to us, so it’s easy to forget how old your hamster already is, in hamster years that is! However, there are many other reasons why your hamster could die suddenly.

It could be that your hamster is severely ill or hurt but doesn’t show clear symptoms. In the wild, a hamster would try to disguise illness and injury so it’s not always easy to see. Stress is also a silent killer which could lead to stroke and heart disease. 

Can hamsters die and come back to life? 

Dead hamsters don’t come back to life; however, some hamsters look like they are dead but are either playing dead or are hibernating. You can bring hibernating hamsters ‘back to life’ by warming up their body. A hibernating hamster will wake up at warmer temperatures. If your hamster is playing dead, then this will only last for a small period of time and your hamster will start moving again by himself. Once your hamster has actually died, it will be final and all you can do then is say goodbye and remember the good times you had with your pet friend. 

How do you revive a dying hamster? 

If you think your hamster is dying you can make your hamster comfortable by placing him on a warm heater pad. Place a soft cloth on the pad to make your hamster more comfortable. You can also heat the room up to 20oC to 23oC (69oF to 73oF). This will help if your hamster is breathing slowly, feels cold to touch or doesn’t respond to anything. Sometimes this will revive your hamster, however, if your hamster is dying, then rest assured that you are doing all you can and are making his dying hours more comfortable.  

How long does it take for a dead hamster to go stiff? 

It takes 2 to 3 hours for rigor mortis to set in and for your hamster’s body to go stiff after death. Your pet’s body will feel cold to touch and when you press your finger on his body, there is no indent, instead your hamsters whole body moves. When rigor mortis has set in, it’s easy to confirm your hamster has passed away. The stiffness of the body is not a permanent state, and after a while the body will go floppy again. At this stage, it will seem like your hamster is asleep as the coldness of the body is also present when hibernating. 

How long can you leave a dead hamster? 

Once you are sure your hamster is no longer alive, you will need to place him in an airtight container or in a zip lock freezer bag to avoid attracting flies and to stop decomposition setting in. If you leave your hamster out, his body will start to decompose within hours and while the signs might not be obvious at first, it’s not nice to see your pet decompose when left too long. Extra care should be taken when the hamster was a kid’s pet.

It can be hard to deal with a dying pet so the better preserved your hamster, the better. Should there be a delay in being able to bury or cremate your hamster, then you can place his body in the freezer (while in the container or closed freezer bag). You can keep your hamster indefinitely, however, as soon as the body warms up, it will start to decompose.  

What do you do after your hamster dies? 

When your hamster has died, you will need to decide what you will do with your pets’ body. Most people choose to bury their hamster. Some choose to cremate their hamster either via a cremation service or at home. Others dispose of their hamster in the compost or bin. It’s up to you to decide how you want to go about it. For kids disposing of their pet in the bin can be even more traumatic than the death of their pet.

It’s a great opportunity to teach about life and death and a (small) ceremony is probably a good idea. Just ensure your hamsters body is placed in a sealed container or freezer/ zip lock bag as quickly after death as possible,  so their body doesn’t start to decompose.  

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What to do with dead hamster no garden 

There are pet cremation services available which you can find online. You can also contact your vet as many vets have cremation services available too. Cremation services will cost money. Some people dispose of their hamster in the bin or compost, though for many this is not an option as they feel attached to their pet. Lastly, you could bury your hamster in a relative’s garden if they are okay with this.  

Conclusion: Is my hamster dead or alive? 

Always double check if your hamster is hibernating or actually dead by checking for signs of life:

  • Is your hamster breathing? 
  • Can you feel a heartbeat? 
  • Does your hamster respond to anything? 

Then check signs of death: 

  • Is your hamsters body cold 
  • Is your hamsters body stiff 
  • Check the nail beds for a dark color or being black 

If you’re still not sure, raise the temperature to above 20 degrees or use a heating pad and see if you can wake your hamster. If she’s hibernating, she will wake up when warm.  

If your hamster is confirmed death, then place the body in a sealed container or bag as soon as possible to stop decomposing of the body, until you can bury or cremate your pet.  

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