Wild hamsters hibernate during the winter. However, whether or not your pet hamster will follow suit depends a lot on the environment in your home. It also depends on the type of hamster: If you own a standard full-sized Syrian or golden hamster, hibernation is rare in captivity. Smaller dwarf hamsters almost never hibernate.
Types of Hibernation
There are two types of hibernation:.
- Obligatory hibernation is done by animals such as hedgehogs, some mice and bats who hibernate, every winter. These animals store up fat before going into a long, deep sleep where their body temperature drops and they become lethargic for weeks or months at a time.
- Permissive hibernation is done by animals such as bears, badgers and hamsters. These animals have the option of hibernating if they're cold and hungry, but their sleep is light and sporadic, allowing them to wake up periodically to look for food. Their bodies continue to function almost at normal levels, and their temperatures only drop a few degrees.
In your hamster's case, even if he does hibernate it likely will be only for a few days, or a week at most.
To hibernate, a hamster needs to know it's winter and feel like he won't survive without sleeping for an extended period of time. If your house is kept warm and brightly lit at least 12 hours a day, and your pet has plenty of food, his natural urge to hibernate likely will be suppressed.
On the other hand, your hamster could go into hibernation if he experiences triggers including:
- Colder temperatures
- Shorter days with dark nights
- A good supply of nesting material
- Lack of food
- Being left on his own in solitude.
You will know your hamster is hibernating and not dead if his body is limp rather than stiff and you see him breathing shallowly. You also can gently stroke his whiskers. If he is hibernating, they will twitch.