11 Causes of Sudden Death in Hamsters (2022)

Melissa has completed a certificate in veterinary assisting and has a bachelor's degree in biology.

11 Causes of Sudden Death in Hamsters (1)

Why Did My Hamster Die?

Hamsters are some of the most common small pets in many countries as well as a common "starter" pet for younger children due to their small size, relatively easy care, and wide availability.

Sometimes, even the very short lifespan of hamsters can be appealing for parents who want to get a pet for their child but don’t want to get stuck with it when their child moves out. Unfortunately, many hamsters will eventually die unexpectedly or seemingly "for no reason.” In some cases, two hamsters who are housed together will both die within a short time period of time or even at the same time. It should be noted that this is a very common occurrence and is often not the fault of the owner.

Signs of Illness

While it can sometimes seem like hamsters pass away with no warning, many animals are notorious for hiding their illness until they are too sick to do so. This is usually when they are moments away from death. This is why it is essential to take seriously any change in your pet’s behavior, as the signs of illness are often extremely subtle. It could be a potential red flag if your hamster exhibits any of the following symptoms [2]:

  • Lethargy. If your hamster seems less active, particularly if it is still in its prime, this can be a sign of advanced illness.
  • Increased sleep. This can be expected of older hamsters but can also indicate illness.
  • Unkempt coat
  • Anorexia or change in appetite
  • Any change in defecation
  • Any change in breathing
  • Increased drinking or urination
  • Weight loss. It can be incredibly beneficial to weigh your older hamster once a week to monitor any changes in weight.
  • Excessive grooming

1. Old Age

Of course, given that hamsters have an average lifespan of 18 months to a year with a maximum of three years [8], most hamsters are not expected to live long. If you have adopted your hamster at an adult age and have no information on how old it actually is, your hamster could have easily been near the completion of its natural lifespan.

Age is not a disease, however. It still is a good idea, if you have the opportunity, to have a necropsy done of your pet to try to find out for sure, as old age can sometimes become a red herring. Please also note that if your hamster has been kept in colder conditions, that can induce your pet to hibernate and appear dead.

A necropsy can often bring peace of mind to the pet owner if it is discovered that the cause of death was not preventable (this can also occur if your hamster was not elderly). Advanced age in animals can also exacerbate some undetected preexisting conditions. Veterinary medicine is limited compared to human medicine, and there are even fewer options for very small "exotic" pets, so some conditions that are treatable in dogs and cats may not be feasible for hamsters.

11 Causes of Sudden Death in Hamsters (2)

2.Stress

Stress is not a disease but a condition that can dramatically affect your hamster’s lifespan by weakening their immune systems, leading to illness. The bacterium Clostridium piliforme can be opportunistic in stressed, immunocompromised hamsters [3].

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Stress can also exacerbate preexisting conditions such as heart disease [15]. It is commonly suggested that hamsters that have died unexpectedly died from a heart attack or stroke, which can be induced by acute or chronic stress [14]. This can also be a normal age-related death.

3. Heart Disease

  • Congestive heart failure in hamsters is a likely cause of death for hamsters that die suddenly. This occurs when older hamsters or hamsters with a genetic predisposition have weakened heart muscles that cannot efficiently pump blood. Respiratory distress, erratic movements, edema (fluid retention in the abdomen) and blueish color to the skin are possible symptoms [15].
  • Atrial thrombosis is extremely common in older hamsters with occurrences of up to 70%. Thrombosis commonly occurs secondary to heart failure. Some symptoms include cyanosis (feet are a blue color), hyperpnea (rapid breathing), and death after a week of these signs [3].
  • Some diseases, like polymyopathy, can be hereditary [9][16]. Transmitted by a recessive gene, the disease involves the heart and the weakening of the muscles, eventually leading to early death due to cardiac failure in some hamsters [9][12][20].
  • One study observing the changes in "healthy" and cardiomyopathic (CM) hamsters found that CM hamsters had shorter lifespans and underwent damaging pathological changes to their heart earlier. Some of these hamsters died as early as 11–13 months naturally [14]. Therefore it is possible for heart failure to occur well below a hamster's expected lifespan.

4. Wet Tail

"Wet tail" is a common term used to describe diarrhea in hamsters, and it can also be referred to as proliferative ileitis, regional enteritis, terminal ileitis, regional enteritis, enzootic intestinal adenocarcinoma, atypical ileal hyperplasia, and hamster enteritis in golden hamsters [5]. It is one of the most common spontaneous diseases of hamsters [5][17], and is often distinguished as an infection by the bacterium Lawsonia intracellularis in young hamsters (3–10 weeks old) [3].

Diarrhea in adult hamsters can be associated with the bacteria Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli, Proteus morganii or Clostridium piliforme; the latter which causes Tyzzer disease and is associated with parasites, overcrowding, high temperature, malnutrition, and stress. Infection with Cryptosporidium has also been associated with wet tail [13][17][10]. It is only seen in immunocompromised animals [3].

An easy way to determine if your pet had wet tail is wetness around the hamster’s genital region. They can also become dehydrated [11]. Other symptoms include weight loss, anorexia, messy coat, lethargy, and a hunched posture [5]. Stress can be a contributing factor to the development of this disease [5].

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Sometimes survivors of wet tail can develop and succumb to complete or partial obstruction of the ileum [5]. Unfortunately, it has a mortality rate of up to 90% and death usually occurs within 24–48 hours after symptoms first appear [5][18].

5. Pneumonia

This infection of the lungs is probably the second most commonly occurring potentially lethal disease in hamsters [17]. Some of the bacterium associated with pneumonia include Diplococcus sp, Pasteurella pneumotropica, Streptococcus sp. and Staphylococci sp. The Sendai virus has also been known to cause pneumonia in hamsters and has been isolated in the lungs of hamsters from pet dealers [17].

Mycoplasma pulmonis and Pasteurella pneumotropica are the typical causes of pneumonia in hamster colonies that are well managed.

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6. Cancer

  • Also referred to as neoplasia, the most common areas for hamsters to get spontaneous malignancy are the gastrointestinal tract, haematopoietic system, skin area, and appendages. Lymphoma is the most frequently reported cancer of the haematopietic system. Hamsters afflicted with cutaneous lymphoma may present anorexia, alopecia (patchy hair loss), and weight loss. These symptoms can result in a misdiagnosis of Cushing's disease [3].
  • Melanomas, which occur on the skin, are frequently reported and mostly in male hamsters [3].
  • Djungarian (winter white) hamsters contract neoplastic disease at a rate that is five times greater than Syrian hamsters, with most of the tumors being integumental.
  • Cancer is less common in hamsters than other animals like rats, domestic fowl, and some strains of mice [17] but it is still frequently reported and likely goes unnoticed when hamsters unexpectedly pass away.
11 Causes of Sudden Death in Hamsters (6)

7. Other Infections

Hamsters can succumb to various viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections [3].

  • Hamster polyomavirus (HaPV) causes epizootic lymphoma in young Syrian hamsters and epitheliomas in older enzootically infected hamsters; the latter develops skin tumors.
  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LMCV) in hamsters is a zoonotic disease (can be transferred to humans) that is fatal in small rodents. The symptoms are wasting, anorexia, lethargy, weight loss, convulsions, blepharitis, and hunched posture.
  • Bacterial pseudomycetoma requires excision.
  • Hamsters infected with Demodex criceti and Demodex aurati, which are mites, normally recover with treatment, however lack of response to treatment indicates underlying severe disease and often results in death. Such underlying factors include cancer, stress, old age, renal disease, malnutrition, and hyperadrenocorticism [7].
  • Fungal infections in hamsters are rare [3].

8. Kidney Disease

Degenerative renal disease affects older hamsters and has a higher prevalence in females, with amyloid deposition formation as a concurrent event [3].

Some evidence suggests that hamsters fed a diet higher in protein may increase the chances of nephritis. One study concluded that hamsters fed diets that contained 12% protein had both a comparable body size to hamsters fed diets with 18% and 24% protein, but lower incidence of nephritis [4].

9. Polycystic Disease

This is a spontaneously occurring disease of hamsters aged one year and older where thin-walled sacs filled with fluid occur in the organs. Affected areas observed include the liver, epididymis, pancreas, and esophagus, although the liver is the most common site [17].

10. Amyloidosis

  • This is a disease that can spontaneously occur in older hamsters and one way hamsters die of "old age." It involves the build-up of a substance called amyloids in the organs and they occur in the liver, spleen, kidneys, and adrenal glands of aging hamsters [17].
  • Weight loss is a common sign of hepatic (liver) and renal (kidneys) amyloidosis.
  • It is more common and more severe in female hamsters, although it is common in research facilities where overcrowding is an issue, and a lot less common in pet hamsters that are housed alone [3].

11. Diabetes

Diabetes is uncommon or rare in hamsters, with the exception of the Chinese hamster, particularly from inbred lines [6]. "Dwarf" breeds of hamster are more prone to diabetes in general. It involves above normal levels of blood sugar caused by lack of production (or ineffective use) of insulin [19].

The symptoms of diabetes in hamsters are increased thirst, drinking, and peeing, as well as weight loss, lethargy, and strong-smelling urine. It may be possible to manage diabetes in hamsters with a special diet to extend their lives [19].

11 Causes of Sudden Death in Hamsters (7)

Sometimes, There Are No Definitive Answers

These are just a few of the diseases and conditions that can seemingly quickly kill hamsters with little notice. It’s important to remember that there are other possible ways hamsters can die unexpectedly and to thoroughly investigate each circumstance with an open mind.

It is common to never find any evidence to make a definitive conclusion on what happened, so do not stress about the lack of answers. And if you choose to get another hamster, be sure you care for your pet to the best of your ability, paying particular attention to diet, enrichment, and enclosure design, reducing stress as much as possible.

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References

  1. Amend, N. K., et al. "Transmission of enteritis in the Syrian hamster." Laboratory animal science 26.4 (1976): 566-572.
  2. Camden Pet Hospital. "Signs of Illness in Hamsters." On-line Accessed on 11/7/19 at https://camdenpethospital.com/2015/09/15/san-jose-ca-vet-illness-hamsters/
  3. Donelly, Thomas. “Hamsters.” The Kenneth S Warren Institute. Accessed On-line at https://www.merckvetmanual.com/exotic-and-laboratory-animals/rodents/hamsters
  4. Feldman, D. B., E. E. McConnell, and J. J. Knapka. "Growth, kidney disease, and longevity of Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) fed varying levels of protein." Laboratory animal science 32.6 (1982): 613-618.
  5. Frisk, Craig S., and Joseph E. Wagner. "Hamster enteritis: a review." Laboratory animals 11.2 (1977): 79-85.
  6. Gerritsen, George C. "The Chinese hamster as a model for the study of diabetes mellitus." Diabetes 31.Supplement 1 (1982): 14-23.
  7. Grant, David. "Demodicosis in the hamster." Veterinary Practice. Improve International. 2019.
  8. Hess, Laurie and Axelson, Rick. “Owning a Pet Hamster.” Life Learn Inc. On-line Accessed at https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/owning-a-pet-hamster
  9. Homburger, F., et al. "Hereditary myopathy in the Syrian hamster: studies on pathogenesis." Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 138.1 (1966): 14-27.
  10. Huynh, Minh, and Charly Pignon. "Gastrointestinal disease in exotic small mammals." Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine 22.2 (2013): 118-131.
  11. Jacoby, Robert O. "Transmissible ileal hyperplasia, hamster." Digestive System. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1985. 346-355.
  12. Jasmin, G., and L. Proschek. "Hereditary polymyopathy and cardiomyopathy in the Syrian hamster. I. Progression of heart and skeletal muscle lesions in the UM‐X7. 1 line." Muscle & Nerve: Official Journal of the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine 5.1 (1982): 20-25.
  13. Orr, James P. "Cryptosporidium infection associated with proliferative enteritis (wet tail) in Syrian hamsters." The Canadian Veterinary Journal 29.10 (1988): 843.
  14. Ottenweller, John E., et al. "Cardiovascular aging in Syrian hamsters: similarities between normal aging and disease." Experimental aging research 13.2 (1987): 73-84.
  15. Pet Md. "Congestive Heart Failure in Hamsters." Accessed 11/7/19 On-line at https://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/cardiovascular/c_ex_hm_congestive_heart_failure
  16. Proschek, L., and G. Jasmin. "Hereditary polymyopathy and cardiomyopathy in the Syrian hamster. II. Development of heart necrotic changes in relation to defective mitochondrial function." Muscle & Nerve: Official Journal of the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine 5.1 (1982): 26-32.
  17. Renshaw, Harland W., G. L. Van Hoosier Jr, and Norine K. Amend. "A survey of naturally occurring diseases of the Syrian hamster." Laboratory animals 9.3 (1975): 179-191.
  18. Sheffield, F. W., and Elizabeth Beveridge. "Prophylaxis of ‘Wet-Tail’in Hamsters." Nature 196.4851 (1962): 294-295.
  19. Small Angels Rescue "Caring for Dwarf Hamsters." On-line, Accessed 11/8/19 at http://www.smallangelsrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/SARI-Dwarf-Hamsters-Diabetes-Info.pdf
  20. Sole, M. J., and S. M. Factor. "Hamster cardiomyopathy: a genetically-transmitted sympathetic dystrophy?" Pathogenesis of stress-induced heart disease. Springer, Boston, MA, 1985. 34-43.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Teresita on September 05, 2020:

@Dicinity

Mine too. She just died last night. I don’t have any idea. Because that morning she was so active and so sweet. She wanted me to play with her. Then i put her back to her house, after 4 hrs when i checked on her, she’s dead,

Melissa A Smith (author) from New York on July 26, 2020:

dicinity: You won't be able to know for sure without a necropsy and that won't work unless you've had the body refrigerated this entire time. It is unfortunately common for hamsters to die suddenly. You can use this article to look at possible reasons.

dicinity on July 24, 2020:

my hamster died very suddenly and she was so young i have no idea what happened to her! PLEASE HELP!

amelie gooding on May 31, 2020:

i nearly killed my hamster on saturday

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This can be expected of older hamsters but can also indicate illness.. Age is not a disease, however.. It still is a good idea, if you have the opportunity, to have a necropsy done of your pet to try to find out for sure, as old age can sometimes become a red herring.. Therefore it is possible for heart failure to occur well below a hamster's expected lifespan.. This is a disease that can spontaneously occur in older hamsters and one way hamsters die of "old age.". It may be possible to manage diabetes in hamsters with a special diet to extend their lives [19].. Pet Md. ". A survey of naturally occurring diseases of the Syrian hamster ."

As sad and sensitive as this information may be, it’s necessary to know in order to detect health problems early enough to act in time.. The hygiene of its cage and environment.. A hamster’s life expectancy will depend on these above mentioned factors.. Therefore, if you are wanting to adopt a hamster, you need to make sure that you offer it enough mental and physical stimulation, a high quality feed and proper hygiene.. For more, we recommend reading our article where we discuss in more depth how long do hamster live for .. If a hamster is surrounded by a quiet and calm environment, receives a balanced diet, is surrounded by an enriched cage and lives and active life, it’s death will likely be rooted in natural causes.. This is why a negative and stressful environment, with noises and/or excess stimuli, can often cause stress in hamsters.. For more, we recommend reading our article where we list the most common stress symptoms in hamsters .. Without enough exercise, hamsters can also suffer from additional diseases and alterations in their behavior, such as depression.. The top 5 symptoms of a hamster dying include:. It’s breathing will appear choppy, its heart rate will feel slower and there may be a decrease in body temperature.. If you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms of a hamster dying, we recommend consulting a veterinarian as soon as possible.. Because hamsters are such sensitive animals, they tend to suffer a lot in their last days of life.. There are veterinary clinics and hospitals that offer to take care of the body (as well as an incineration service).. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

Hamsters like to jump and play around, however, they can get injured from falling.. Swelling can happen to a hamster that has gotten injuries due to falling.. Although hamsters are fluffy animals and it is difficult to tell if they are swelled or not, but if you feel it has swelling, then treat the Hamster properly.. It is an alarming situation for the pets as the pain is too much to handle for little pets.. The most helpful thing to do is to release the pain from the Hamster and euthanize it with the vet’s assistance.. Try to make the animal calm and do the best you can.. The next step is to take all the necessary steps and make sure that your Hamster gets the proper medical care.. The shock lowers the flow of blood in hamsters resulting in sleep, shivering, heavy breathing, and, eventually, death.. The rubbing will help it get some warmth and improve the flow of blood inside its body.. You have to make the cage secure.. It will reduce the risk of injuries inside the cage.

Signs a hamster is already dead How to care for a dying hamster How to know if a hamster is dead or hibernating Causes of sudden hamster death Whether to let your hamster die naturally What to do with a dead hamster Whether all hamsters hibernate. Signs a hamster is dyingBelow are 7 signs of a dying hamster to be on the lookout for.. How to care for a dying hamster Aging or sick hamsters struggle to regulate their body temperatures.. While a hamster can go for days without food, a dying hamster will probably experience a more painful death if they are dehydrated.. Is my hamster dead or hibernating?Hamster hibernation can last a few days or even a week, so do not be quick to assume your hamster is dead.. Do all hamsters hibernateFor example, Syrian hamsters are permissive hibernators and can hibernate in any season as long as the right conditions exist.. Now you how how to tell if a hamster is dying, how to comfort or care for a dying hamster, signs a hamster is dead, why a hamster could die suddenly, and other related questions.

We know this news might have you concerned about your small furry pal, maybe even nervous that your hamster’s behavior isn’t normal.. Just hiding away to hibernate?. Although hamsters do have a shorter lifespan than most household pets, if you take care of your hamster and watch for signs of illness, they can live a healthy and happy life.. If anyone in your household has a cough or the flu, avoid handling your pet hamster until you’re feeling better, don’t cough directly on your hamster or into their cage, and always wash your hands before and after holding your hamster.. Hamsters only hibernate if they're in an unusually cold environment.. Try not to worry if your hamster feels cold.. If you are concerned your hamster isn't hibernating and might be sick or worse, dying, it's essential to consult a veterinarian.

Hamsters that have this condition are at risk of a quick death, however, with immediate treatment from a vet your hamster should make a speedy recovery.. To treat mites you will want to thoroughly clean your hamster’s cage with anti-mite spray and you will want to take your hamster to the vet for treatment.. Entropion This is when your hamster’s eyelids are turned inward and is commonly seen in dwarf hamsters & Syrian hamsters.. Photo from DIY: How To Make A Cheap, but Durable Hamster Cage Symptoms: hamster will appear bluish and/or swollen, bloody discharge from nipples. This is not something you need to take your hamster to the vet for, however, you may want to purchase some petroleum jelly to help soothe your hamster’s itchy ears.. This seems to only affect Syrian hamsters and only happens during their “time of month.” If ever your hamster excretes yellow vaginal discharge take them to the vet immediately as treatment is absolutely essential.

Moreover, many of the initial symptoms of hamster diseases are not very obvious and, therefore, go unnoticed until the problem has exacerbated.. Our AnimalWised list of the most common hamster diseases provides the 10 biggest threats to hamster health.. Our article on what do hamsters eat will help you to know what you need to ensure a hamster has a balanced diet.. By taking good care of our hamsters and meeting their basic needs, we can avoid the most common health problems in hamsters .. Abscesses and infections Mites and parasites Skin diseases Respiratory diseases Wet tail Digestive problems Problems with cheek pouches Bites, cuts or injuries Eye problems Tumors or cancer. Bacterial infections, parasites and other causes lead to skin problems in hamsters, but there are many reasons why a hamster might have skin problems.. As with skin diseases in hamsters, respiratory problems can have various causes.. Symptoms of respiratory problems in hamsters include:. However, they are symptoms of various gastrointestinal problems in hamsters .. Hamsters can live well with others, but this will depend whether they are a male or female hamster .. The cause of the eye problem may be an injury from sharp substrate, dust, injury from another hamster or any kind of bacterial eye infection .

Although diabetes is very rarely seen the Syrian.. Pyometra is an infection of the uterus that can lead to abdominal distension.. Not all cases of diarrhea are caused by disease.. Diarrhea can have specific disease or non disease conditions.. Proliferative Ileitis or hamster wet tail disease is the most common disease seen in the Syrian hamster to-day.

Causes of stress in hamsters Signs of stress in hamsters Tips to calm down a stressed hamster. While it’s true that hamsters do not need large spaces, keeping a hamster in a very small cage can be a trigger for stress.. You should keep your hamster’s cage in a room where it can enjoy more time alone or with other hamsters.. Apart from small and dirty cages causing hamster stress, changing how a hamster has set up things in its cage will cause issues.. Now that you know what causes stress among hamsters and the likely symptoms you should be on the lookout for, how can you calm down a stressed hamster?. A hamster can be stressed after cleaning the cage especially if you change the cage’s position in the room and positioning of its items within the cage such as toys, water & food bowls, bedding, and nest in the case of a pregnant hamster.

Skin masses: Abscesses Skin masses: Cancer and tumors Respiratory Infections Heart Disease Dehydration Kidney Disease Wet Tail Disease. Only a veterinarian can diagnose and treat an abscess.. Prevention of abscesses in hamsters Most times, abscesses are caused by bacterial infections.. There are two types of tumors that can emerge on a hamster’s body: benign and malignant tumors.. Kidney disease is one of the most common medical conditions that hamsters can suffer from.

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