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7 telltale signs your hamster is dying

It’s one of the saddest parts of owning a pet: We know that someday we’ll have to say goodbye. Our pets never live long enough for us, and preparing for the end can be painful yet important. Your pet hamster will be with you for between two and three years of happy life — full of spinning wheels and treats. Once he’s getting close to the end, though, you’ll want to help ease his passing by keeping him warm and comfortable. By paying close attention to the signs of a hamster dying, you can be ready to step in as a pet parent and help him finish the end of his life well. Watch out for any of these symptoms, which should be accompanied by a visit to the vet since they could have a few different causes.

Vet checks out small hamster

Loss of appetite

Since you feed your hamster daily, you should notice quickly if he’s cut back on eating. Pay particular attention if he turns his little nose up at treats that normally get gobbled down. While skipping snacks can certainly indicate that your hamster is nearing his last days, there are lots of other reasons he might miss meals, so don’t take this as an immediate indicator that he’ll soon be gone.

Slowing down

Most hamsters will play a lot — they’re known for riding that wheel all night. If you begin to see a precipitous decline in his activity level, it might mean old age has set in. Additionally, sometimes hamsters accidentally slip into hibernation if it gets too cold. While wild ones may need to do this yearly, your pet isn’t equipped to sleep for that long. Start by warming up his area to about 70 degrees and contact his doctor if he doesn’t wake up.

Health issues

You’ll want to monitor his hamster health every day and note anything concerning. A fever indicates that he might have an infection or other sickness. Rodents can also become dehydrated, which might show up as tightness or bunchiness in the skin. You can also usually tell when your hamster is coming down with something because he’ll become weak, tired, or sluggish.

Bathroom troubles

More specifically, diarrhea in hamsters can indicate a serious issue. Check when you clean his cage to ensure that his digestion flows well. Sometimes your pet will experience vomiting or drooling, both of which mean you need to take action. Beware of wet tail, a deadly infection you can spot by checking the underside of his tail when handling him. If he has it, he’ll need to get to the vet right away to clear it up.

Sick hamster getting an examination
Dr David Sing/Shutterstock

Skin problems

Your hamster will scratch occasionally, just like most mammals, but excessive picking can show you that something else is wrong. Look closely for spots, redness, or flaky skin when you examine him. A healthy animal will have a nice shiny coat. Take note if it goes dull or he loses patches of fur. In many cases, this could go away, but you’ll need to look into the underlying problem and soothe his skin with creams.

Cold symptoms

These pets often come down with the sniffles, and some of the signs look very familiar since they’re a lot like what you might experience when sick. A runny nose, watery eyes, and mucus are all indicators. A young hamster might easily recover from a cold, but an elderly pet may not recover.

Hiding too much

Most species of hamsters prefer to come out at night, so you don’t need to worry if he frequently hides during the day. However, a sudden change in behavior like hiding all the time could be a sign of a much larger issue such as acute stress, which can be deadly to your little guy. 

Generally, you can trust your instincts when it comes to your pet. Anything out of the ordinary might warrant a trip to the vet to figure out what’s wrong. In some cases, a little medicine or a change in environment will take care of it. But if he’s ready for the happy hamster grounds, you should focus on keeping him pain-free with medicine, warm with blankets, and comfortable with your presence.

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