Life with a hamster is limited.
These adorable fluffy creatures are not long-lasting.
So what should you do when your pet hamster dies?
When a hamster dies, you need a sealed plastic bag and a place to bury your pet. Use disinfectant to clean their cage, and think about whether cremation or burial is best.
But what do you do after you’ve cleaned the cage and sealed up their body? How do you tell if they’ve died or are just hibernating?
In this post, we’ve gathered everything you should know about the next steps after your pet dies.
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What To Do When Your Hamster Dies
When your hamster passes away, it leaves you with one question, what do you do with them?
Before you figure out the next steps with your dead hamster, let’s look more closely at what the signs are that your hamster has died.
How to Tell Your Hamster Is Dead
Hamsters are rodents, so their natural process isn’t quite the same as you’d expect from mammals.
Here are a few signs that a hamster is dead.
#1. They are in the fetal position.
Hamsters who have passed away are typically in the fetal position and not moving. You’ll likely see their body in the corner of their cage or even inside one of their homes.
It’s a pretty easy position to spot since most hamsters don’t lay that way normally.
This position has your hamster’s head near its front paws while they’re laying on its side. Their tails are usually tucked in under the body, as well.
#2. Rigor mortis sets in.
If your hamster is dead, their body will be in a state of rigor mortis. They’ll be stiff to the touch. If you feel their legs or any muscle on their body, you’ll notice it is harder than it normally is.
Rigor mortis also makes moving their body parts, like their paws, difficult. That stiffness in their muscles and joints makes the feel hard.
You don’t need a vet to verify this natural death process. Simply try to move your pet by pushing a single area of its body gently. If it doesn’t move, your hamster is likely dead.
#3. They’ve stopped breathing.
Hamsters typically breathe super fast while alive. Watching your pet run around its cage, you’ll notice its chest moving up and down rapidly. However, even if they are sitting still, their breath rate is impressive.
When they pass away, hamsters don’t have any movement whatsoever, like any other dead animal.
Interestingly, though, hamsters can slow their breathing if they get too cold and hibernate. Even still, they will take a breath once every few minutes.
A dead hamster won’t take any breaths. Watch them for a few minutes before deciding whether or not they’ve died.
#4. No reflexes
Another sign of a dead hamster is a lack of reflexes. Most hamsters will squirm or react when you pick them up. However, a dead hamster will remain stiff.
If you rub their stomach or try to get them to react, they won’t if they’ve passed.
Try poking them gently. And if they don’t react, especially if their eyes don’t open, your pet could’ve sadly passed away.
#5. No heartbeat
If your hamster doesn’t have a heartbeat, it could be dead.
You can check their heartbeat by feeling their chest. Gently push two fingers into the chest and keep it there for at least 3 minutes.
If you feel a faint heartbeat, your pet is still alive and could be hibernating. No pulse means that your hamster is dead.
It’s a simple way to test whether your hamster is dead, but it is effective.
Is Your Hamster Hibernating or Dead?
So, what does it mean if your hamster does have a faint heartbeat but isn’t really reacting to your pokes and prods? Do they need to be rushed to the vet?
The answer is maybe not.
Hamsters do hibernate, and technically, they also enter a state of torpor–also known as temporary hibernation.
Torpor is an involuntary state in which your hamster’s mental and motor activity slows. This is a survival technique when rodents get too cold or aren’t getting enough food or water.
When a hamster enters a state of torpor, their body temperature drops, along with its heart and metabolic rate, for a limited period of time.
During this process, hamsters may go cold and limp to the touch. Sometimes finding their breath and heartbeat can be challenging, too. You won’t see them eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom, either.
One way to determine if your hamster is in a state of torpor is to hold a mirror or spoon up to the front of its nose. Any slight fogging is an indication that your pet is still alive. Twitching whiskers, too, indicate that your hamster is still alive.
If your pet is in a state of torpor, increase your room temperature to at least 66 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 19 °C) for 24 hours. If that doesn’t bring them out of temporary hibernation, you could have a dying hamster on your hands.
Can You Stop Your Hamster from hibernating?
The easiest way to prevent your pet from hibernating is to keep their environment at 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, be sure to eliminate direct sunlight and drafts around your home. A minimum of 12 hours of bright light daily and enough food and water is equally important.
If you take good care of your pet and pay attention to its needs, you’ll be better positioned to prevent hibernation.
However, it’s time to deal with that sad reality if your hamster is no longer alive. Next, you’ll learn how to deal with your hamster’s dead body.
Carefully Remove Your Dead Hamster from Their Cage
Before touching your hamster’s cage, put on a pair of latex or waterproof gloves. This is essential for any future pet’s health.
For example, you may not know why your hamster died. They could have become sick because of bacteria, which can be a health hazard moving forward.
Use gloves to protect the cage from bacteria transfer.
Getting Ready to Bury Them
Now that you’ve removed your pet from its enclosure, the next step is to prepare to bury it.
Hamsters can be placed in a sealable bag, wrapped in a cloth, or put inside a homemade box of your choosing.
Some people prefer not to use plastic bags, but do what feels comfortable. You can also buy a hamster casket online to honor them in death. Amazon offers a variety of caskets, including biodegradable ones, so you have plenty of options to select from.
Others prefer to have their hamster cremated at their vet’s office. Cremation removes your obligation to bury your animal. Still, it’s also the only way to dispose of the body safely if you live in an apartment or urban environment where a burial isn’t possible. Your local vet will provide you with a small box with your hamster’s ashes that you can place inside an urn. Check out this information on cremation costs before you make your choice.
If you decide to bury your hamster on your own property, leave it inside its bag and bury it at least 3 feet (0.91 meters) below the surface.
Here is a step-by-step rundown of how to bury your hamster:
Step 1. Removal from the cage.
Step 2. Choose a suitable location. Some areas of the USA also offer pet cemeteries, so check those out if you don’t have a backyard to bury your pet in. Avoid public use places like parks or woodlands without first asking permission.
Step 3. Dig a hole away from water sources.
Step 4. Create your own memorial from stones or something else that denotes the location of the burial. Stones are a great way of keeping other animals out of its grave.
Step 5. You can have a ceremony to say goodbye to your pet hamster, especially if you have children who’ve grown attached to it.
When To Consider Euthanasia
Sometimes our pets get sick. When that happens, euthanasia is an option. If your hamster has been suffering or in pain, check with your veterinarian to see if euthanasia is the best next step.
It’s a difficult decision but also an easier way to let your pet hamster pass away.
Properly Cleanup Your Hamster’s Cage
As mentioned, cleaning your hamster’s cage is important after they pass away.
Use a disinfectant to completely scrub the walls and bottom of their cage, toys, bowls, and dens. Anything they come in contact with needs to be removed and disinfected. The bedding should also be destroyed.
Hot water and soap should do the trick, but for an added layer of protection, consider bleach or vinegar, too.
Any item you plan on reusing with a new pet should be completely dry before being placed back inside the cage.
How Long Can You Keep A Hamster’s Body?
Before you hold a proper burial for your pet, you might wonder how long you can keep its body.
Rigor mortis sets in within 30 minutes of their death. If you’re unsure of your next step, it’s important to place them inside a bag before burying them.
Keep their body cool, perhaps even in your freezer, and dispose of their body within 24 hours.
When Do Hamsters Start Smelling
If you fail to bury or freeze your hamster in 24 hours, the body will begin to smell within that time period.
In the desert, their wild habitat, they begin smelling in under 10 hours. The heat speeds up decomposition. In the summer months, your hamster may start to smell bad quickly, unlike in the winter months when cooler air slows down decomposition.
Also, the cause of death influences how quickly it smells. Specific injuries or illnesses can cause your hamster’s body to smell bad and decompose fast.
Give Your Pet The Care It Deserves
If your hamster is completely stiff, there’s a good chance it has passed away. However, because a hibernating hamster acts very similar to a dying or dead hamster, you must use the tips above to identify whether your pet has passed.
Unfortunately, hamsters live short lifespans. Being prepared for the inevitable helps you navigate this challenging time.
Want more tips and tricks to keep your hamster alive and healthy? Follow the OddlyCute blog for everything you need to know about being a hamster pet owner.
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