Hamsters are extremely active animals that keep moving from one corner of their cage to the other. Therefore, it can be quite concerning if one day you realize your hamster isn’t moving at all. What does it mean when a hamster isn’t moving?
Your hamster isn’t moving because it could be that it’s hibernating due to the cold weather, it’s feeling scared, or simply not feeling well. Baby hamsters also don’t move much. If your hamster is new to your home, you need to give it time to adjust.
But if you’re scared that your beloved pet may be dead already, read on as I discuss how to tell if a hamster is dead, sick, or simply hibernating.
Hamsters stop moving for many reasons, as discussed below:
The most common reason why a hamster isn’t moving if you just got it is fear. Hamsters will temporarily freeze if they’re afraid or surprised to assess the situation and know what to do next. Their eyesight is quite poor, so they listen and sniff out a situation before getting used to it.
During the early days, any loud noise or people coming around can cause the hamster to freeze as a safety mechanism. You can tell they’re freezing like a squirrel in the park because they’re breathing, and their eyes are open. They’ll get more comfortable with the surroundings and start coming out more with time.
Like all rodents, hamsters love to move around and eat a lot. If your little pet has stopped doing both, there’s a serious health problem going on. Common issues that can make a hamster stop eating include dental pain or respiratory issues.
The longer a hamster stays without eating, the weaker it gets. After a few days, the hamster won’t move because of a lack of nutrition. In such a case, rush the poor thing to a vet so they can be diagnosed.
Check out, How To Take Care of a Hamster
Another common reason your pet hamster may look dead is that it has gone into hibernation. Hamsters enter hibernation mode occasionally when they can’t handle the cold climate. They slow down their heart rate to almost zero and preserve all their energy and warmth for 24–48 hours.
A hamster shouldn’t be hibernating all the time—it’s not good. So you should ensure your hamster’s home is a bit warm throughout. You can tell your pet is hibernating because the body will feel limp, not stiff, and there’ll be no dead rat smell after a few hours.
Again, if your hamster isn’t moving—but you can see or hear it breathing—that indicates a serious health concern.
Common health issues that can make a hamster breathe fast and heavy include overheating or heat stroke, pneumonia, upper respiratory infection, and other respiratory issues.
You should keep a hamster in a place where the temperature is between 20–25.5°C (68–77.9°F).
Finally, if your hamster isn’t moving and feels stiff to the touch and cold, it most likely passed away. You shouldn’t rely on the hamster’s body temperature or breathing because this happens when it hibernates too. But stiffness is a major sign of death.
Hamsters mostly die of heart attacks, respiratory issues, and old age.
Check out, What Does Hamster Eat?
When your hamster freezes or goes into hibernation mode, it’s easy to think the poor thing has died. However, as discussed so far, it’s not always a bad thing when your hamster isn’t moving.
Therefore, don’t fret yet as there are ways you can establish for sure if your pet is really dead or just pretending.
If your hamster is freezing because of fear or surprise, you can reach out slowly and feel the rodent’s body. It’ll still feel warm, and you can feel the animal breathing slowly. In some cases, the hamster will move when you touch it.
Hibernation is quite another story for a hamster because it causes the animal to look and feel dead. The body temperature is cold, and the little one’s breathing slows down to almost nothing.
Pick up the hamster in your hands and look closely to see if it’s breathing. You’ll have to look for quite a while because the hamster can get one breath in every two minutes or so.
If you can’t see signs of breathing, try to trace a heartbeat. Place your finger on either side of your pet’s chest, behind the elbows. Wait patiently to see if you can feel one heartbeat in a span of two to four minutes.
If the temperature is below 20°C (68°F) which is very likely in any city in the United States of America, your hamster is likely hibernating due to cold. The general climate may not be cold, but the hamster cage is placed under the AC or near an open window. You can gradually wake up the hamster by increasing the temperature and removing any cold source.
Make sure you don’t increase the temperature too much, as this can cause overheating. If your hamster doesn’t wake up within 24 hours after you’ve changed the temperature, you can try to wake it up by putting a warm water bottle near the cage. You can also pick and wrap it with a warm blanket.
If all these tricks fail, and the hamster still feels cold and stiff, it’s probably dead already. Don’t hesitate to consult your local vet if necessary.
Sometimes, your hamster will hibernate because of hunger. Once the hamster starts feeling weak, it’ll go into survival mode, which won’t require a lot of energy. This state, however, can’t save the animal for long, and the hamster can die if it hibernates or starves for too long.
Check the hamster’s cage to see if it has eaten recently. Can you see any hamster droppings? Does it have access to enough food and water? If not, you can wake the hamster up using the methods above and have food and water waiting for it.
However, this will only work if the hamster isn’t too weak to eat or wake up. In severe cases, you’ll need to take the hamster to a vet for more help.
Check out, Why Is My Hamster Trying To Escape?
Hamsters do many things that may make you think they’re dead, but there’s only one way to tell: rigor mortis. This stiffness sets in when an animal dies, but it passes when the muscles relax and right before the smell begins. If the hamster seems dead, but the body isn’t stiff, there’s a big chance it’s still alive.
Here are questions you should ask yourself if you realize your beloved hamster isn’t moving:
- Is the stiffness expected? Has the hamster seemed ill of late? Did it stop eating and playing on its favorite wheel? Was it drinking more than usual, and you had to clean out the cage frequently? Has it lost weight or smelled bad? These are all signs that your hamster wasn’t well and could therefore be dead.
- How old is the hamster? Hamsters live between 12–36 months. If your hamster is 2 to 3 years old, you should expect it to start experiencing old age health issues and die sooner than later.
- Is the hamster new in the family? If it is, you need to give the animal time to get used to the new surroundings, noises, and people.
Admittedly, it’s scary to find your hamster just lying there motionless. But before you start mourning and making funeral arrangements, here are a few things you can do in various situations in which your furry friend isn’t moving:
- Check your hamster’s breathing. If the hamster is breathing heavily and not moving, try to cool it down. Move the cage to a cool area and allow some air to flow to prevent a heat stroke. If that doesn’t work, the hamster may be suffering from a respiratory issue that requires immediate veterinary attention.
- Determine if the hamster is hibernating. As mentioned earlier, the solution to hibernation is keeping the hamster warm and ensuring it has adequate food, water, and light. Provide your pet with a healthy diet to ensure it doesn’t stop eating.
- See if your hamster is eating or not. A hamster will stop eating if they have dental issues, GI stasis, or severe pain. Take the poor thing to a vet immediately so they can get help.
- Examine your hamster to check for injuries. A hamster can injure its leg or any other body part when playing. Visit the vet immediately so it can get help and regain movement.
- Check if your hamster is happy or sad. Most hamster keepers only buy one hamster and then forget to play with it. Like all animals and people, hamsters get lonely and sad if they’re alone for too long. You should spend time with your hamster from time to time. Take at least 5 minutes during the day to keep it company.
- Determine your hamster’s health and age. Unfortunately, you can’t always remedy the situation if the hamster has come of age to die. You can visit a vet who’ll give you something for the pain, but after that, you have to keep your hamster comfortable and wait for the inevitable. Ensure the hamster isn’t alone during the last few days and keep tending to its needs until the last hour.
Related Hamsters articles:
- How Long Can You Leave a Hamster Alone?
- Why Is My Hamster Not Moving?
- How Long Can a Hamster Go Without Water?
- Why Do Hamsters Eat Their Babies
- How To Tame a Hamster
- Why Is My Hamster Biting the Cage
Hamsters are happy and active animals, so you have the right to worry if they’re not moving. Hopefully, the above information has shed enough light on possible causes of hamsters not moving and what you can do to help. The trick here is to pay close attention to your pet and work with the vet whenever you see a problem.
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