It’s important to understand the signs that a hamster is approaching the end of its life. A well-cared-for hamster that eats well and lives in a relatively stress-free environment should enjoy a peaceful end.
If a hamster develops a severe illness, it may find its life cut short. In these instances, you must make the right decisions for the hamster. If a hamster is in pain, euthanasia is sometimes the right decision.
If a hamster is in discomfort, it’ll experience a personality change. Expect a once energetic hamster to grow sluggish, lose interest in food, stop grooming, and become uncharacteristically defensive.
Do Hamsters Know When They Are Dying?
Hamsters know when their bodies are failing, even if they don’t understand the concept of death. The reality of changes unfolding within the body is impossible to ignore.
The signs that a hamster is dying include:
- Lack of interest in exercise
- No longer grooming
- Refusing to eat or drink water
- Sudden weight loss
- Biting and nipping at humans or conspecifics
- Low body temperature – below 97°F
- Heavy, labored breathing
- Stiffness in the limbs or limping
The hamster will likely feel afraid during this process. While you’ll be upset by the decline in the hamster’s health, it’ll rely on you for comfort in its final hours and days.
Do Hamsters Suffer When They Die?
You’re responsible for caring for the hamster until it draws its final breath.
If the hamster is reaching the end of its natural lifespan, make it as comfortable as possible. There are four ways to comfort a dying hamster, all equally important.
Ensure the hamster has sufficient bedding, as it’ll likely spend much of its time sleeping in its final days.
If the hamster shares a cage with conspecifics (most don’t, unless certain species of dwarf hamsters), isolate the dying hamster and provide it with its own habitat because this benefits all hamsters.
If the dying hamster carries an infection, it won’t be passed on to healthy animals. Equally, the dying hamster will appreciate the peace and quiet of living alone.
This quiet becomes increasingly important when a hamster is dying. Loud noises can spook hamsters at any stage of life, but they’re increasingly distressing when a hamster is dying.
Your hamster may struggle to maintain cleanliness. So, spot-clean the cage at least twice daily, checking for fecal matter. Don’t leave a mess in the habitat that’ll attract bugs.
Consider removing exercise apparatus from a dying hamster’s cage. A hamster will have limited energy but may feel compelled to run on its exercise wheel at the end of its life.
A critical factor in caring for a dying hamster is controlling pain. Distract the hamster from its discomfort by providing chew toys and other stimulation.
While Veterinary Clinics: Exotic Animal Practice explains how some vets provide hamsters with tramadol, it’s easy to misjudge the dosage for a small animal.
A vet will prescribe pain medication through a bottle or syringe. In most cases, this will be meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) from the ibuprofen family.
Carcinogenesis confirms that meloxicam is hamster-safe and can be given to small animal ailments. If the hamster doesn’t respond to meloxicam, gabapentin may be prescribed.
Gabapentin is an anticonvulsive drug, but it can be a powerful neuropathic painkiller – bordering on sedative – in small animals like rodents.
A hamster loses interest in eating and drinking toward the end of its life. You’ll notice:
- Sunken, listless eyes
- Swollen tongue
- Skin that lacks elasticity
- Water bottle levels aren’t reducing
- Less urine in the substrate or bedding
- Labored breathing
Ordinarily, you could motivate a hamster to hydrate with food like watermelon. Unfortunately, a dying hamster is unlikely to be motivated by nourishment in the way it would have been in the past.
You may need a 10ml syringe to get water into a hamster’s body. Mix this water with a pinch of salt and sugar to replace any electrolytes that the hamster is missing.
Drop feed the water slowly to avoid flooding the hamster’s lungs.
Spend Time Together
Some hamsters actively seek comfort and affection from human owners toward the end of their life, while others prefer to be left alone.
If a hamster bites and nips at you when you attend to handle it, it wants to be left alone. Respect this wish and focus on meeting the hamster’s basic care needs.
Should I Let My Hamster Die Naturally?
If the hamster has a debilitating illness, it may be impossible to avoid pain and suffering.
Discuss options with a vet if the hamster is likely to endure serious discomfort. It’s a difficult decision, but painless euthanasia may be the most humane choice.
Vet Times provides an example of a hamster presenting with cutaneous lymphoma. In these circumstances, euthanasia is recommended by vets.
Surgery is difficult and expensive, and the hamster will struggle through what little time it has left. Euthanasia is never a choice to take lightly, so decide the best course of action with an expert.
How Long Does it Take for a Hamster to Die?
If the hamster grows unwell or injures itself, it may not enjoy a full and happy life.
A significant impact injury caused by a fall from more than 10 inches could instantly kill a hamster, although a slower demise caused by internal bleeding and damaged organs is likelier.
If a hamster becomes sick with a bacterial or viral infection, it’ll rarely have long to live.
Take proliferative ileitis (also known as a wet tail) as an example. Laboratory Animals confirms this condition has a 90% mortality rate and can kill a hamster within 48 hours.
In some cases, a hamster will die seemingly instantly. This could be due to cardiac arrest, as hamsters can have heart attacks when exposed to sudden shock.
Hamsters are living beings, which means they’ll die at some stage. This doesn’t need to be a prolonged or painful death, though. Do all you can to comfort a hamster that doesn’t have long to live.