One minute your hamster is bright-eyed and bushy-furred, scurrying around its cage, but the next minute you find it lying lifeless. How could this happen? Why was your tiny furball so active before dying?
A variety of factors can cause sudden death in hamsters. Most likely, the hamster was at the end of its lifespan. If your hamster was very active before its demise, it is possible that it succumbed to an underlying disease or unforeseen threat.
No matter how it happens, a beloved pet’s death is never easy to accept. Keep reading, and I’ll help you understand why your hamster may have passed away so suddenly and how to cope with the loss of your beloved pet.
If your hamster seemed happy and active, then died suddenly, it was probably just old age as hamsters have a relatively short lifespan of 2-3 years. However, underlying health conditions, poor hygienic conditions, and exposure to harmful material can cause premature death.
All creatures will die someday; this is the cycle of life. Hamsters (and people) are no exception to this rule, but that does not make it easy to understand why your pet has died.
Most hamsters live an average of 2-3 years. However, several factors can affect your hamster’s lifespan. These factors include the hamster’s breed, genetics, quality of care, and any underlying illnesses.
Roborovski dwarf hamsters typically have the longest lifespan of all hamster breeds and can live for up to four years if given proper care. Chinese dwarf hamsters, on the other hand, usually live under two years. It’s not unheard of for hamsters to live four years or beyond, but some won’t make it a full year.
When you bring your hamster home from the pet store, you can never be 100% sure of its health or genetics; hence the need to make the most of the time you’ll have with your pet.
In the USA, approximately 90% of hamsters live in households with children under 18. If your child owns a pet hamster, it’s crucial to ensure the hamster is being cared for properly by the child.
If you own a pet hamster, it is your responsibility to ensure that your tiny furball has unlimited access to fresh food and water.
Although hardy pets, hamsters’ organs aren’t strong enough to handle repeated maltreatment, exactly why you should prioritize your hamster’s day-to-day care.
Below are some of the common causes of death in hamsters:
Hamsters require constant access to food and water. And as such, you should buy high-quality hamster foods like the Sun Seed Vita Prima Dwarf hamster food (available on Amazon.com), which doesn’t contain any molasses or added sugar.
As a good rule of thumb, your hamster’s food should not contain artificial colors or flavors. It should also be fortified with vitamins to promote healthy development.
In addition to fresh food, your hamster needs constant access to water. Even though they’re small, dehydration is a significant risk for hamsters, as they’re sometimes easy to forget in their cage. Refill your hamster’s water bowl every day to ensure they have a steady supply of drinking water.
If you live in big cities like Houston or New York, it’s best to check on your water supply as tap water can contain high amounts of heavy metals and chemicals like chlorine and fluoride.
Filter your tap water before giving it to your hamster, or purchase purified water to ensure your pet consumes safe water.
Rodents, by nature, are surprisingly clean animals; however, it’s crucial to change the bedding in their cage regularly, at least once per week.
While you don’t have to create a set number of days between bedding changes, it’s better to change your hamster’s bedding as soon as you notice it’s dirty. Remember to clean the bottom and sides of the cage when you change your hamster’s bedding.
Do not use bleach or other harsh chemicals on your hamster’s cage. Small animals are very sensitive to these substances, and ingesting or absorbing even a tiny amount can have fatal consequences.
If you need to use something on your hamster’s cage, it’s best to go for mild, unscented dish soap and rinse the cage thoroughly before replacing the bedding.
When removing bedding, it’s best to focus on everything and not just the soiled bedding. This means replacing the bedding material completely as hamsters tend to bury their food in the bedding.
Your hamster might end up eating the decayed food covered in feaces (and urine) if you don’t do a thorough job when removing the bedding.
If your hamster’s bedding isn’t kept clean, the filthy bedding will expose it to bacteria, pathogens, and parasites that can lead to illness.
Most people think about fleas and worms as a concern for cats and dogs, but did you know that hamsters can also harbor these parasites?
Mites are an all-too-common external parasite that can reside in your hamster’s fur and hair follicles. These mites can cause itching, scaly skin, and hair loss. Hamsters with mites also tend to have underlying health conditions like kidney problems, so it’s important to have them seen by a vet.
Hamsters, like other pets, can also harbor tapeworms and pinworms. Severe tapeworms can cause weight loss and are transmittable to humans in case of direct contact with the hamster’s fecal matter during cleaning.
Pinworms are less common and generally go unnoticed. Intense itching around the anus may be your hamster’s only symptom. For both pinworms and tapeworms, you will need to bring a fecal sample to your vet, who will determine if there’s microscopic evidence of worms.
Another cause of death or injury in hamsters is other hamsters. Hamsters are primarily solitary animals and should only be housed with siblings from the same litter (although still not recommended). Even so, siblings may not get along and can end up in violent fights if competing for resources.
A single hamster should have a large and comfortable cage, but you’ll need twice as much space if you keep two hamsters. Be sure to provide enough food and water (separate) for each hamster.
Hamsters are primarily nocturnal animals, meaning they’re most active at night. You’re probably aware of this if you’ve listened to your hamster fidgeting in his cage or spinning on his wheel when you’re looking to get some sleep.
Although they’re busiest at night, it’s not unusual for hamsters to wake up occasionally during the day. Usually, like people, they wake up from sleeping for a few minutes to eat food, drink water, or go to the bathroom (or litter corner).
If your hamster is suddenly active all the time or never seems to sleep, he could be feeling stressed or threatened. Sometimes the presence of a human in the room is enough to intimidate a hamster into staying awake.
Keep other animals like dogs and cats far away from your hamster, and encourage children to use soft voices and avoid playing next to the hamster’s cage. These tiny furballs love their space and will be most comfortable when they feel safe and protected.
You should also avoid waking your hamster on purpose. While it might be tempting to wake your hamster up to clean the cage, it’s best to wait till he wakes up. Waking up a hamster when in a deep sleep might stress him out and lead to grumpy behavior. He may also respond aggressively if new and yet to acclimate to the new surroundings.
To help your hamster sleep, avoid making unnecessary noise or hovering over the cage. Play music in your room softly, if at all, and avoid unnecessary movements. Hamsters will sleep and wake whenever they want, so you can’t force them to adhere to your sleep schedule.
Although you can’t prevent your hamster from passing away due to old age, there are some things you can do to extend their usually short lifespans.
Hamsters should always be kept in a strong, secure cage. The world outside a cage is dangerous for hamsters, so all doors and tubes need to be snugly attached and impossible for the hamster to open.
At the same time, hamsters in the wild don’t like to live in small confinements. Your hamster needs plenty of room to exercise, climb, and explore.
Most pet store hamster cages aren’t as large or intricate as your hamster would like. Still, you can supplement your hamster’s activity with extra tube attachments or supervised time in a ball, like the Kaytee Run-About Mini Ball (available on Amazon.com). Besides encouraging healthy exercises, the ball can also act as a superb holding area for your hamster while cleaning his cage.
One often-overlooked threat for hamsters is household chemicals. Hamsters are small, sensitive creatures. What may seem like no big deal to our bodies can be overwhelming for a hamster’s tiny organs.
You should never use bleach on any items your hamster will come in contact with. This includes items like cages, toys, tubes, water bowls, and food bowls. Accidentally ingesting bleach can be fatal to your hamster, while bleach fumes can cause respiratory problems.
Candles are another household item that shouldn’t be used near a hamster’s cage. Even if the candle flame can’t hurt your hamster, burning candles emit soot and toxic chemicals (depending on the type), even lead.
Hamsters are at high risk of respiratory problems as their tiny organs aren’t strong enough to handle toxic chemicals and fumes.
As a rule, you should never burn candles or incense near your hamster’s cage, ideally, not even in the same room. Be careful with wall plug-ins, aerosol sprays, and other perfumes and chemicals.
Therefore, If you want to freshen the air in the room housing a hamster, it’s best to open a window or use an air purifier.
Some people don’t believe that hamsters should see a veterinarian. This is simply not true. Most veterinarians know basic knowledge about diagnosing and treating rodents, but a small animal veterinarian will be able to give you expert advice.
If your hamster looks or acts strange, sickly, or injured, it’s always worth it to take her to your local vet. As I mentioned before, hamsters can harbor fleas, mites, and other parasites.
You want your hamster to be back to her happy, fluffy self as soon as possible, and you definitely don’t want to contract any parasites from her. Just like dogs and cats, hamsters deserve to live happy, healthy lives under the care of their humans.
No matter how your hamster died, dealing with the death of a pet is never easy. Here are some things you can do to help you through the grieving process.
If there were something you could have done to prevent your pet’s death, you would’ve done it. Sometimes our pets pass away unexpectedly, and at times, they suffer for a long time without showing signs of discomfort.
Rest assured that your hamster’s death wasn’t your fault, as all creatures will pass away eventually, and Hamsters are no different.
Take time to think about the good times you shared with your hamster and appreciate all of your memories. Your hamster knew you as a good owner and friend.
Give your hamster a proper send-off by burying him in a nice area outdoors. Be sure to make the grave several inches deep to avoid attracting cats and other wildlife.
Burying your hamster can be difficult, but it will help you process your emotions. You can even make a small headstone or pick flowers for your deceased pet.
Talk to your friends and family about how you feel as a hug and a long talk can go a long way in easing the grieving process.
And since hamsters have short lifespans, it’s best to prepare your children for the tiny furball’s likely death. Children should understand that hamsters don’t live for long and that they’ll die sooner rather than later, no matter the care they receive. The mental preparation helps children cope when their hamster pets eventually die.
If your hamster was very active before death, it most likely died due to old age. Regardless of how it may have passed away, you did your best in caring for your pet.
And although hamsters may only live a few years on earth, these tiny family members will live forever in our hearts.
Remember to take good care of your hamster to prolong his life. Regular vet checkups will also reduce the chances of life-threatening infections and diseases.
You may like the following hamster articles:
- 450 Square Inch Hamster Cage
- How Do You Give a Hamster a Bath?
- Why Is My Hamster Acting Weird?
- How To Travel With a Hamster
- Can Hamsters Eat Guinea Pig Food?
- How Long Should a Hamster Be Out of Its Cage?
My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more