How To Comfort A Dying gerbil, hamsters, roborovski, gerbils, chinchilla, degus, budgie, guinea-pig, tortoise, ferret and kitten
Our pets are not just animals, they are family members. They give us love, company, and many wonderful memories.
A few years ago I was given a hamster, ‘Puffy’. At the time we didn’t want a pet, but my friend was returning back to Argentina and no one else wanted him.
So my husband and I took him in. We couldn’t let him go with someone that we didn’t know and, more importantly, he didn’t know.
But that little guy won our hearts with his gentle and friendly manner, with his big spirit, and with his cuddly affections; he became a member of our family in no time.
From then onwards life with puffy was full of joy, love, and some adventures. Until he was 3 years old.
One day I noticed he was eating less, drinking less and wasn’t moving as much. I tried enticing him with treats, peanut butter was his favorite treat, but nothing was doing it.
I took him to the vets, but I was told that he was old and that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable.
But how do we do that? All we knew was the active, resilient Puffy. We didn’t know this fragile Puffy.
Nonetheless, we knew he needed us and thus we embarked on a journey to make him comfortable.
Below I describe 5 ways you can use to keep your hamster comfortable while he/she approaches the rainbow bridge.
1. Keep Them At An Optimal Temperature
As a hamster gets older, or if they are sick, they may struggle to regulate their body temperature.
If they get too cold; they may go into a state of hibernation, which in turn can lead to hypothermia. If on the other hand, they get too hot; they may suffer from heat stress or heat stroke, which in turn can lead to a painful death.
To prevent your hamster from getting cold:
- Keep the room where they are warm, at a temperature ranging between 69 °F to 72 °F (20 °C to 22 °C). It is essential that the room temperature never goes below 60 °F (15 °C) or they will enter a state of hibernation.
- Place plenty of plain, unscented torn toilet paper in their cage. This not only will provide them with a comfortable bed to rest, but will also keep them warm.
- A heat lamp may help keep their home warm. However, ensure the cage is large enough so that they can escape the heat if they need to. Also, have a small hamster house inside the cage to allow your hamster to escape the light. If you select this option, keep a thermometer in the cage that will allow you to regulate the temperature. If the temperature goes above 77 °F (25 °C) for a sustained period of time, your hamster can suffer from heat stress or heat stroke.
- Some people recommend heating pads. I won’t do that here. Most (if not all) heating pads won’t work on plastic so you will have to put it inside the cage (unless you move your hamster into a reptile tank). If your hamster gets to it and chews on the cord or the pad, the consequences can be catastrophic. A safer solution will be to create a heating pad out of flax seeds or rice grains.
Place the flax seeds or rice grains in a sock or fleece pouch. Place the sock/pouch and a cup of water (next to the pouch to prevent the pad from burning), in the microwave. Heat the pad in small increments. Ensure you test this on yourself before putting it in your hamster’s cage as it can get very hot and you may burn them. The pad will keep the heat for about 1 hour. Do not leave this pad alternative in the cage for them to chew. Once it is cold remove it and repeat the process if you need to.
- Wrap your hamster in a small towel and put him/her against your body. This is a great way to spend some quality time with your dying hamster. However, this will only work if your hamster is happy to be held. If they start to fight you or bite you, keep them in their cage as that may be a sign that they do not want to be held.
To prevent your hamster from getting hot:
- As mentioned above, if hamsters get too hot they can suffer from a heatstroke. To keep your dying hamster comfortable ensure their cage does not reach temperatures above 72 °F (22 °C).
- Avoid putting your hamster in direct sunlight by the window. Instead, choose an area of your house that is shaded and well ventilated.
- Consider putting your hamster in a wire cage instead of a glass tank. This will help keep their space well ventilated, reducing the risk that his/her temperature will go up suddenly.
2. Provide Them With A Clean, Calm and A Quiet Sleeping Quarters
As your beloved furry friend approaches death, he/she will need to sleep more to preserve the little energy they may have.
To keep them comfortable as they rest, ensure they have a place that is clean, dark, and away from noise, draught and/or dampness.
If you have 2 or 3 hamsters in one cage, isolate the one that is unwell into his own cage to prevent stress from other animals and activity, and minimize the risk of disease transmission to cage mates.
Hamsters are known to exercise even when they are unwell. To prevent them from injuring themselves or using the reserve energy, take out all the wheels, tubes, and climbing toys they may have in their cage.
However, if you feel your hamster can still cope with some exercise, discuss this with your vet. It may be that you can add the toys for a short period of time.
Remember your vet is there to help your hamster get to the rainbow in the most comfortable way. Use their knowledge. Together you and your vet can ensure your furry friend is comfortable and happy.
3. Avoid Dehydration
Hamsters are well known for not eating large amounts of food, after all, they are only small. Instead, they like to hide their food. However, like any other living creature, they need food and water to survive.
One of the first signs you notice when your hamster is dying is the lack of appetite and thirst. Their bodies are shutting down. They no longer have the sensation of hunger or thirst.
Food is not essential for your hamster. They can go for several days without eating and that is ok. However, dehydration may make them feel uncomfortable and can be a cause for a painful death.
Hamsters need to drink approximately 10ml (2 teaspoons) per 100g of their body weight. So if your hamster is 200g in weight, he/she needs to drink approximately 20ml (4 teaspoons) of water daily.
To check if your hamster is dehydrated:
- Look at your hamster’s eyes. If they are droopy, sunken, dry, dull and/or listless, they are probably dehydrated.
- If your hamster’s tongue has swollen then they are severely dehydrated and the vet must be contacted immediately.
- Gently pinch the scruff of your hamster’s neck. If the skin quickly snaps back into its normal position, everything is okay. If the skin holds its shape or moves back to its normal position very slowly, your hamster is dehydrated.
- Check the water level of your hamster’s bottle or bowl. If it hasn’t changed much since the last time you filled it, your hamster hasn’t been drinking, and could potentially be dehydrated.
- If you noticed less or no urine/wet patches in their cage, or the urine has a very dark tinge to it and have a strong odor, your hamster may be dehydrated.
- If your hamster has labor breathing, they may be dehydrated.
To prevent your dying hamster from becoming dehydrated:
- Offer them foods with high moisture content such as watermelon, cucumber or apples. Ensure the apple is peel, and the seeds of the watermelon and cucumber are out. Restrict this to very small amounts. If consumed in large quantities it can cause diarrhea.
- Entice your hamster to drink water by placing a dollop of peanut butter on the drinking tube and ball (if possible) of the bottle. As your hamster leaks his/her delicious treat. they will get a mouthful of water in the process.
- If your furry friend is not interested in the peanut butter, detach the bottle from the cage, pick him up, and attempt to “nurse” them by gently pressing the bottle into their mouth. Please stop this process immediately if you see any signs of distress.
- If all the above attempts fail, and your hamster is reaching 24 hours without a drink contact your veterinarian straight away.
If your vet is close try the below suggestion until you reach your vet. Always follow your vet’s instructions.
- With a clean eye dropper or a 10ml syringe, place drops of water mixed with a pinch of salt and sugar, or an electrolyte-enhanced fluid-like Pedialyte, into your hamster’s mouth.
Please do not give straight water to a dehydrated hamster, this will only dilute the already-reduced amount of minerals, salts, and sugars in your hamster’s body, making the situation worse.
Also, ensure you do not force the whole content of the syringe into your hamster’s mouth in one go, otherwise you run the risk that you will force fluid into his lungs, which is likely to be fatal.
Note: If your hamster becomes moderate to severely dehydrated, take them to your veterinarian straight away. They may need to be hospitalized and be given intravenous (IV) fluids.
4. Give Them Attention
Even though hamsters are solitary creatures by nature, they can grow attached to their human companions.
As death approaches your company may give them comfort and security. Unless that was my experience. During Puffy’s last days he wanted to be with us a lot more. He simply wanted to sleep on our laps.
If this is your case then stay close to them, but read their cues.
If you try to handle your hamster and they try to escape or start biting you, it is their way to tell you that they need some alone time to try and conserve the little energy they may have.
Furthermore, depending on their condition of the illness, they may be in pain and your hands, although unknowingly or unwanted, may be hurting them.
5. Provide Pain Management Medication
This step is essential to keep your hamster comfortable during his last days, but only give medication that has been prescribed by a qualified veterinarian.
Never self-prescribed or you run the risk to make the situation worse and make them feel worse.
How Can You Tell A Hamster Is Dying?
Hamsters are often hardy pets, but they are so small that an injury, stress, illness or even old age can deteriorate their health very quickly.
if your hamster is 2 or 3 years old, has had a fall, or any other type of accident that can injure them, is ill or stressed; keep a close eye on them. If you see 1 or more of the signs below, take them to the vets as soon as possible. If it is an illness an early diagnosis may save your little friend!
Signs to look for include:
- Loss of appetite and thirst,
- A change in their behavior or becoming less active,
- Wetness around the tail,
- Huddling in a corner,
- A ruffled or unkempt coat caused by failing to groom itself,
- Sneezing, wheezing, and/or discharge from the nose or eyes,
- Hair loss (often a sign of parasites or allergies), and
- Not moving out of its house to be clean.
Is Your Hamster Dying Or Hibernating?
Unlike wild animals that hibernate, hamsters are not built to do so.
They cannot store enough water or extra calories during cold weather to survive a hibernation state, and thus will die if allowed to hibernate.
If your hamster has a slow respiration rate (one breath every minute), is unresponsive to your touch, and/or is cold; he/she needs to be revived as soon as possible:
- Place a heater in the room to bring the room temperature to 69 °F – 72 °F (20 °C to 22 °C).
- Then grab your hamster, gently wrapped him/her in a towel, and put them close to your body.
- Once your hamster starts to come around, offer them a little water and food and contact your vet straight away.
What Causes A Hamster To Die Suddenly?
With a short lifespan, small size, and relatively easy to care for; these little creatures are a hit for families with young children.
However, hamsters are not as easy to look after as people may think, and a variety of issues can arise when not looked after properly, potentially causing death.
Here are a few things that can cause your hamster to die suddenly:
hamsters are very sensitive to stress. They do not like change and get anxious pretty easily.
A hamster exposed to stress such as an extremely dirty cage, too much handling or rough handling, or sudden changes in temperature amongst others; for a prolonged period of time can cause major health issues, and some can even be fatal.
Animals bred for pet shops are often mistreated and housed in appalling and crowded conditions. This causes stress in hamsters which in turn can develop transmitted diseases such as wet tail, pneumonia, and others.
It is best to avoid buying your hamster from a pet store. As hamsters are at the bottom of the food chain they are good at hiding any physical problems they may be experiencing, it is their survival mechanism.
For you, that may mean that you buy unknowingly a hamster that may be dying.
My suggestion- get a hamster from a rescue place or from a reputable breeder; someone that breeds hamster for the love and passion they may have for the animals and not for the money they can get.
If however, you only want one form the pet store; look at the hamster you are intending to get and all the other hamsters it is sharing the cage with. If your hamster or any of the other hamsters are hunching in a corner, have unhealthy looking coats, have sunken eyes, are lethargic, or have a wet tail. Your hamster may have an undiagnosed disease and it is unlikely he/she will be with you for long.
Wet tail is a stress-related disease. It is caused when stress allows the normal gut flora (the Campylobacter bacteria) to overpopulate your hamster’s bowels, eventually causing diarrhea.
It is often treated with antibiotics, but even with treatment, your little furry friend can die within 48 to 72 hours.
Symptoms to look for are:
- Foul odor,
- Lack of appetite,
- Excess sleeping,
- Walking with a hunched back,
- Folded ears, and/or
- Unusual temper (biting or nipping)
Pneumonia is not common in hamsters, but when it does occur it can be extremely contagious.
It occurs when the hamster is exposed to bacterial or viral infections, coupled with environmental stresses such as a dirty cage, sudden low temperatures, droughts, etc…
If your hamster has developed pneumonia you may see the following symptoms:
- Dull coat,
- Loss of appetite and subsequent weight loss,
- Constant sneezing and/or coughing,
- Respiratory distress, and/or
- Mucus discharge from the nose and eyes.
Hamsters are very clean little creatures. For most of them, there is a clear line between where they sleep to where they go to the toilet.
However, if your little furry friend cage is rarely cleaned, he/she will not be able to tell where is the sleeping quarters and where is the toilet.
This will cause a lot of stress in your hamster, potentially developing stresses induce disease such as wet tail
Chemicals Left Over In The Cage From Cleaning It
A hamster cage, and all the toys, bowls and bottles, should be cleaned at least once a week, sometimes twice depending on how much your hamster urinates.
But, what you use to clean your hamster’s cage can be potentially deadly.
Hamster’s headquarters should be clean with nontoxic soap and warm water. Chemicals such as disinfectants and/or bleach can be harmful if left in the cage.
To prevent any harm for your little friend after cleaning the cage, rinse it with plenty of clean water before allowing it to dry and refilling it with your hamster’s things.
Hamster’s do not respond well to extreme changes in temperature.
If a hamster is exposed to temperatures above 72 °F (22 °C), they can suffer from heatstroke and this could potentially be deadly.
The danger areas are in cars or next to a window that receives direct sunlight.
If you see your hamster dribbling, moving sluggishly, or lying flat on the cage floor. If his/her body is limp and/or trembling when touched, your hamster is likely suffering from heatstroke.
If you see any of the above signs; spring into action quickly.
- The first step is to place your hamster in a cooler area.
- Then place them on a damp towel or gently spray them with cool water. Or simply blow on them. Any of these actions should bring him back to life fairly quickly.
Just be careful, this awakening can be very abrupt and consequently, they can end up injuring themselves.
To potentially avoid any injury hold the hamster over your lap or a table in case it moves very suddenly.
Once your furry friend is awake make sure you rehydrate them with small amounts of watery foods such as cucumber or watermelon; or simple water if they take it.
Finally, ring your vet and request urgent advice.
One of the beauties of having a hamster as a pet is that they and all their things are small, so they can be placed anywhere out of the way.
However, what many owners do not realize, is that these guys have a very well developed olfactory system.
So fumes from a boiler or heater can be deadly to a hamster.
Final Good Buy
Losing our beloved furry friends is not easy, but thinking ahead of time whether you want your little friend buried or cremated, will allow you to make the decision that is right for you, rather than making it last minute when you are grieving and under stress.
Although by the time Puffy left us we were expecting it. I avoided thinking about his death for as long as I could, until one day time caught up with us. he was laying in his cage, his limp body was cold. I took him to the vets to confirm he was indeed dead.
The dreaded words from the vet were finally here; ‘sorry for your loss. Puffy is gone and we can’t do anything else for him. What would you like to do with his body?’…
What? Do with his body? I don’t know…
My mind and heart were with my friendly, courageous, cuddly hamster, not with the limp Puffy in front of me.
In retrospect, I wish I had thought about what to do with his body ahead of time…
I am someone that likes to have all her ducks in a row, but I felt so out of control at that time. So my husband had to take control. In the end, he was buried at the bottom of the garden in a shoebox.
Would I have chosen that? No. But we live in NZ and to get the pet casket we wanted was going to take weeks. So, we had to put him in a shoebox.
There are many decisions to be made. Do you want your furry friend to be buried or cremated? Do you want communal or private cremation? Do you want an urn that is at home with you or one that you can bury?
Let’s break these questions down.
Burial vs Cremation
- Burial provides a permanent place for you to visit and honor your pet. Burial may be at a pet cemetery, at your home, or even some human cemeteries have a section for pets.
If your desired option is to bury your pet at home, check our post Is It Legal To Bury Your Pet In The Backyard. Some counties/cities in the USA do not allow pet burial at home, and some have certain rules that you need to follow if your hamster is to return to mother earth. This article will guide you on this process.
- Cremation allows your pet to return to his natural state more quickly. You can spread your hamster ashes in the garden, or you can keep them at home.
- When discussing cremation, you may hear the terms communal cremation and private cremation:
- Communal cremation means that your pet will be cremated at the same time as other pets, in the same cremation chamber. This means that you will not be able to have your pet’s ashes back. The cremation service will collect the ashes of all pets in the cremation chamber and dispose of them. Most cremation services will scatter the ashes after each communal cremation. For a hamster, this service costs between approximately $15.00USD to $40.00UDS.
- A private cremation means that your pet will be cremated individually in a cremation chamber, and the ashes will be returned to you. The ashes may be returned in a standard wooden box urn or a plastic bag. Or you can choose a personalized urn from the cremation parlour. However, this may be more expensive and the selection may be more limited to those you can find on the internet. Private cremation for a hamster is approximately $200 + the urn or memorial you select.
Whether you decide to bury at a pet cemetery or cremate your furry friend, your hamster will be picked up from your veterinarian or home and transported to the final destination. If however, you choose to bury your hamster at home, the body will have to be transported by you.
Choosing A Pet Urn
When choosing the urn form the internet consider your budget, the size of the urn, whether you want to bury the ashes on a biodegradable urn or a nonbiodegradable urn, or whether you want to keep the ashes at home:
- Budget: Urns can vary in price from as little as $30USD to as much as $300USD+.
- What size urn do you need?: The general rule to determining the appropriate size for an urn is, for every pound (454g) of your hamster’s total weight you will need one cubic inch (2.5cms) of space plus 10 cubic inches (25.4cms) for good measure. For example: If your hamster weighs 300 grams, you will need an urn that is 2 cubic inches (18 cms) or larger.
- The urn: The selections are endless. To keep the ashes at home you can choose Pet Figurine Urns, Wooden Pet Urns, Pet Photo Urns, Natural Stone Pet Urns, Metal Pet Urns, etc… to bury the ashes in the garden you can choose either a biodegradable or a nonbiodegradable pet urn.
If considering a biodegradable urn, we have reviewed The Best Biodegradable pet Urns in the market to date. This article has been written with you and your furry friend in mind. To your hamster, it will give him/her an urn where they can rest is peace; and to you, it will provide the practicalities you need when choosing an urn: cost, size, and materials used.
Memorializing Your Hamster
There are many ways to memorialize your hamster:
- Write an obituary
- Hold a memorial service
- Create a photo journal
- Create a memorial garden. This is a great way to create a place of peace, seclusion, and tranquillity to reflect on the wonderful memories your furry friend left you.
If a memorial garden is the way, or one of the ways, you choose to memorialize your hamster’s memory; our article 10 best garden plants for pet memorial is a must-read. This article will give you the various factors to be considered for a memorial spot that thrives, couple with a description for our 10 favorite shrubs and trees for a memorial spot full of color, succulent smells and a spot that will give comfort to you and animals such as birds, bees and butterflies.
How to Say Goodbye
Make sure all the family members have a chance to say goodbye.
For children, many books can help explain the process of death and grief.
To say goodbye, some people will get their hamster a treat on their last day. This may be a dollop of peanut butter or some broccoli.
Their happiness is our comfort, their comfort is our happiness.
Grieving For A Pet
Losing a pet is hard for everyone, but the grieving process is different for each family member.
Some people have a harder time than others with the grieving process. Some people feel sad all the time, while others have their sadness comes in waves. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Feeling sad and lonely is a normal reaction to pet loss. Trying to ignore this emotional pain will usually make it worse.
If you are having a hard time, make sure you take time for yourself, don’t let others tell you when its time to ‘move on’ or how should you be feeling, and talk, talk, talk.
There are many people that you can talk to that can help with the grieving process. The ASPCA has a Pet Loss Hotline (1-877-474-3310) with a grief counselor at the other end.