The likelihood of a hamster experiencing a stroke increases exponentially as it gets older, making it more difficult for them to return to full health.
Hamsters can recover from a stroke after 2-3 weeks, but their long-term prognosis depends on the cause.
While some hamsters recover without debilitating side effects, others develop a permanent head tilt of incoordination that affects their lives. If so, it’s kinder to put the hamster to sleep.
While many hamsters can recover from a stroke, they often happen again and worsen each time, eventually killing them. A vet can do nothing except administer oxygen to prevent further brain damage.
What Causes Hamsters To Have a Stroke?
Hamsters have strokes when the brain’s blood supply is restricted or cut off.
Specifically, this happens when an artery supplying oxygenated blood to the brain ruptures or becomes blocked by a clot. Partial brain damage then occurs, and brain cells start to die.
There are two different types of strokes:
- Ischemic. A blood clot blocks the brain’s blood flow.
- Hemorrhagic. A weak blood vessel bursts, bleeding into the inside or surface of the brain.
Is It Common for Hamsters To Have Strokes?
It’s more common for senior hamsters to experience strokes than young hamsters, but animals of any age can be affected. Several factors make strokes more likely to occur, such as:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- A nutritionally poor diet
- Cushing’s disease
- Kidney disease
That said, even healthy hamsters can suffer from a stroke without warning.
As explained by Companion Animal, hamsters instinctively hide signs of illness, meaning they could have a stroke-related health condition without their owners knowing.
Stroke Symptoms in Hamsters
Before a stroke, hamsters exhibit extreme exhaustion and collapse after periods of activity. They also enter into a trance-like state, becoming unresponsive to their surroundings while staring into the distance.
Once a stroke has occurred, hamsters develop these symptoms:
- Head tilt, which usually becomes permanent
- Neurological damage, such as running in circles
- Limping on one side
- Paralysis, which may or not be permanent
- Incoordination and instability
- Extreme lethargy
- Irregular breathing
- Unequal pupil size
Some owners report their hamsters acting strangely before or during a stroke.
Can Hamsters Survive a Stroke?
There are no specific treatments for strokes, but hamsters that survive often recover within weeks.
By investigating and treating the underlying cause of the stroke, a vet can prevent further strokes and maintain a hamster’s quality of life.
However, while hamsters can survive a stroke, it’s rare for them to only experience one. Many hamsters endure multiple strokes until they eventually die, with each one worsening.
Unfortunately, vets have limited options in treating hamsters following a stroke.
The only thing they can do is provide oxygen to prevent further brain damage. Even then, the hamster’s quality of life is often reduced, and euthanasia is the kindest option to prevent further suffering.
Strokes aren’t always a death sentence. Some hamsters fully recover, displaying no obvious debilitating symptoms, while others may develop permanent incoordination and have difficulty moving around.
Where that’s the case, it’s up to their owners to make their enclosure as safe and comfortable as possible to prevent accidents and injuries. The more strokes, the worse the long-term prognosis.
Can Hamsters Die from Strokes?
Once a hamster has a stroke, there’s no cure or treatment for brain damage. This doesn’t always kill it, but letting the hamster suffer is unkind.
Hamsters are more likely to survive a stroke if their owners seek veterinary attention as soon as they notice any adverse symptoms.
However, many owners don’t notice them in time, increasing the risk of a fatal stroke. Strokes cause damage quickly, so there’s no time to waste.
Strokes can become complicated by infections, which makes them more deadly. There’s also the cause of the stroke to consider, as hamsters can’t always recover from the underlying health condition.
For example, heart disease and tumors kill hamsters more commonly than not and cause significant discomfort in the advanced stages before they become fatal.
How Long Does It Take for a Hamster To Recover from a Stroke?
The time for stroke recovery varies depending on the cause and age of the hamster.
Most hamsters recover within 2-3 weeks, but recovery isn’t possible where brain damage occurs. The long-term prognosis depends on what has caused the stroke and whether it can be treated.
How To Help a Hamster Recover From a Stroke
While we’ve established that hamsters can recover from a stroke, the few weeks immediately after the event are the most critical.
Hamsters need time to recover, but you can help with the process with these steps:
Remove the Exercise Wheel
Hamsters must get exercise, but it can do more harm than good while recovering from a stroke.
Your hamster is likely to get injured if it attempts to use the wheel during its recovery period, so the risk and danger of an accident outweigh its need to be physically active.
Alongside the wheel, remove any hides and accessories a hamster will likely climb. You don’t want the hamster to become bored, so ensure it has safe forms of enrichment. Playthings include:
- Chew toys
- Sand bath
- Digging box
After a few weeks, you can reinstate the exercise wheel and other accessories you removed.
Keep the Enclosure Flat
As the hamster recovers from its stroke, remove any high points to stop it from falling and getting hurt.
Hamsters with long-term head tilt or incoordination are likely to struggle with ledges and raised sections, so keep the inside of the cage flat to enable the hamster to move around.
Hamsters mustn’t get too cold during their recovery.
Their bodies can’t cope with extreme temperatures, as prolonged exposure to the cold causes their bodies to go into a temporary hibernation called torpor. Hamsters rarely wake from this condition.
To prevent torpor or any issues associated with the cold, provide a deep layer of bedding measuring at least 6 inches that your hamster can burrow into to keep warm.
Keep the room temperature between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which is the ideal temperature range.
Depending on the severity of the stroke, you may need to hand-feed it while it recovers. If the hamster is tame enough, you can provide pellets and a healthy seed mix by hand.
You can use a syringe to put water in the side of its mouth. Dehydration will hinder recovery, so keep doing this until the hamster is strong enough to eat and drink independently.
Move the Cage to a Quiet Area
Another essential step in a hamster’s recovery is moving its cage to the quietest area of the house. It’ll need plenty of rest, so it must live somewhere it won’t be disturbed.
Continue to emulate natural conditions by turning off the light at night and ensuring the enclosure can access indirect sunlight during the day. This will help your hamster get sufficient sleep.
While hamsters can recover from strokes, they’re likely to have lasting side effects.
They may not be severe enough to warrant putting your hamster to sleep, but you’ll need to provide tailored care to ensure it can go about its life comfortably.