Hamsters can have heart attacks, which are sometimes sudden and without warning.
Heart attacks occur when the heart tissue stops receiving a blood supply. Usually, this is due to a blood clot that’s large enough to restrict the flow of blood to the heart.
Hamsters having a heart attack experience breathing difficulties, chest pain, a blue tint to the gums or skin, and unsteady movements.
Older Syrian hamsters are most susceptible to heart conditions, but all species can be affected. Obesity, stress, fear, heart defects, blood clots, atherosclerosis, and extreme fear cause heart attacks.
Signs of Heart Failure in Hamsters
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, heart failure symptoms occur after a heart attack, which includes:
- Respiratory distress
- Rapid breathing
- Irregular or difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
- Blue tint to the skin and gums
- Loss of appetite
There’s no effective treatment for heart failure, and Syrian hamsters with untreated cognitive heart failure often die within a week of the initial signs.
However, heart failure shouldn’t be confused with a heart attack. Heart failure commonly occurs after a heart attack or due to prolonged damage.
What Does a Hamster Heart Attack Look Like?
Heart attacks present themselves differently, depending on the age and health of the hamster. As mentioned, they can be quick and sudden or slow and prolonged.
However, if you’re wondering what happens when a hamster has a heart attack, there are some clear symptoms and behavioral changes to look for.
In the early stages of a heart attack, the hamster develops respiratory distress and moves around erratically. At this point, the hamster will also experience chest pain.
The discomfort could range from moderate to severe, but tissue death causes pain and will be unpleasant for the hamster. Due to the pain, the hamster may display certain behaviors, like:
- Nipping and biting you when approached or handled.
- Hiding in its burrow or hides more than usual.
- Unsteady and shaky movements.
Without an efficient circulatory system to carry oxygen, the hamster’s body becomes starved of oxygen, causing difficulty breathing. It’ll take deep, short breaths in its final moments.
Do Hamsters Have Heart Attacks Easily?
Any animal with a heart can have a heart attack, and hamsters are no exception.
Heart attacks occur when there’s a lack of blood flow to the heart. When this continues for too long, the muscle tissue begins to die and spasms, causing the heart to malfunction.
Hamsters aren’t as capable as larger animals of maintaining their biological processes.
Over time, the muscles, tissues, and vital organs become less effective and are more susceptible to health issues, which is why hamsters have shorter lifespans than other animals.
What Causes a Hamster To Have a Heart Attack?
Heart attacks are associated with other health issues. When gradual changes to the hamster’s body accumulate, they cause the heart to malfunction and cease functioning effectively.
The most common reasons for a heart attack include the following:
Stress is a leading cause of heart attacks and makes hamsters unwell in other ways. Stress precipitates harmful bacteria, triggering underlying health issues that result in heart attacks.
Prolonged exposure to stress causes artery inflammation, making them more likely to become blocked should plaque or a blood clot form.
Hamsters are prey animals, which means they face many predators and dangers. So, they have built-in fear instincts and become spooked by:
- Loud noises
- Other animals
- Bright lights
- Frequent handling
Prolonged exposure to fear-related triggers can cause a heart attack.
Obesity is one of the most well-known causes of cardiomyopathy in hamsters.
Hamsters are only small, and excess weight puts their bodies under more stress than they can handle. It also causes the heart to work harder to pump blood and oxygen around the body.
It affects the heart and other vital organs and strains the bones and joints, making it difficult for hamsters to lose weight and reduce their chances of a heart attack.
Overfeeding hamsters is a common reason for weight gain. Fatty foods accumulate in the arteries and cause plaques, increasing the hamster’s blood pressure and the chances of a heart attack.
According to MSD Veterinary Manual, blood clots can occur in one of the upper chambers of the heart, often on the left side. This is called atrial thrombosis, which affects 70% of older Syrian hamsters.
Laboratory Animal Medicine explains how males and females are equally at risk, but females can develop atrial thrombosis at a younger age.
The journal further explains how atrial thrombosis is usually the result of congestive heart failure. It’s also connected to amyloidosis, a condition where the body creates a dense protein called amyloid, which interferes with the function of vital organs.
Atrial thrombosis condition most commonly affects hamsters over one year old.
Disease of the Heart Muscles
Cardiomyopathy (chronic heart disease) often results in sudden death from heart failure or arrhythmia.
Some hamsters are more prone to heart attacks than others. According to Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, cardiomyopathy occurs as an inherited trait in some Syrian hamsters.
Atherosclerosis occurs when plaque, which is a combination of fat, cholesterol, and other substances in the blood, builds up in the heart’s arteries. The plaque becomes hard and attaches to the artery wall.
Blood flow is reduced, and blood pressure increases. Plaque can also damage the artery walls and cause a wound. Then, the blood clots clog the artery, stopping blood flow, and triggering a heart attack.
Severe muscle spasms can cause a heart attack. In the worst cases, the spasm blocks the artery, leading to a heart attack, like atherosclerosis or a blood clot.
How To Treat A Heart Attack
Seek immediate veterinary attention after a heart attack or heart failure. While many hamsters succumb to heart attacks, there’s a chance they could survive and maintain a reasonable quality of life.
Give the vet information about the hamster’s behavior immediately before the heart attack, such as:
- Behavioral changes like respiratory issues, loss of appetite, and difficulty moving.
- When the symptoms began.
- Whether the hamster has experienced these symptoms previously.
While a vet will do their best to assist, there’s no cure for a heart attack.
Once the symptoms start, there’s no way to reverse them. Due to the damage a lack of oxygen to the heart causes, the hamster will experience heart impairment for the rest of its life.
Should the hamster survive, you can make it more comfortable with these steps:
While sudden shocks won’t cause a heart attack, prolonged exposure to stress can. So, make the hamster’s environment more pleasant by doing the following:
- Keep the cage in a quiet location.
- Maintain natural light during the day and darkness at night.
- Separate hamsters into different cages.
- Don’t handle the hamster too frequently, especially if it doesn’t enjoy human interaction.
- Prevent other pets from accessing the hamster’s environment.
- Provide a large enough cage with ample bedding for it to burrow into.
This is especially important while a hamster is recovering from a heart attack.
Keep your hamster comfortable in these ways:
- Maintain a temperature between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, not letting it fluctuate.
- Provide a tablespoon of pellet mix and seeds alongside fresh fruits, vegetables, and water.
- Avoid sugary, fatty snacks to prevent weight gain.
You may need to support the hamster in losing weight to prevent future heart attacks.
Can You Treat Heart Failure in Hamsters?
There isn’t an effective treatment. Following a heart attack, muscle tissue dies. Once this happens, heart tissue is replaced with scar tissue, and scar tissue can’t support heart function.
It’s almost impossible to determine the amount of damage. Instead, the vet will estimate the extent of any harm based on the hamster’s behavior and their expert knowledge of the symptoms.
It’s almost impossible to detect and prevent heart attacks. However, keeping your hamster healthy and providing a comfortable environment are the best ways to minimize the risk.