When the upsetting time comes that your hamster is about to, or has passed away, it’s good to know what you can do with them. What options do you have available and how would you go about letting them go. I decided to research the topic and will be providing it here today.
So, what do you do with a dead hamster? Your main options are burial and cremation. Burial is perhaps the more practical option and is a nice way to let them go if you have young children losing their first pet. Either option can be organized by your vet, with cremation being generally the more expensive service.
Let us now take a closer look at a hamster’s life expectancy, how to know that they are actually dead and not in hibernation or torpor, and then look at some practical ways to dispose of their little bodies.
Hamster Life Expectancy
The lifespan of a hamster is much shorter than that of most animals; on average, they live between two to three years.
This is assuming that they are well cared for, fed, their environment provides mental stimulation and things for them to do, their cage is well maintained and regularly cleaned and they have enough room to roam around.
As they get older, they lose their appetite, they’re not as active anymore, prefer to sleep most of the day, their fur loses its sheen, and they are more susceptible to tumors/cysts and diseases that can’t be treated or cured.
For tumors and cysts, these will be quite evident and due to the cost of operation/procedure, and their fragility, chances of operation/medication are usually not likely.
Over time you will notice a dramatic difference in your hamster’s appearance from the moment you first brought them home to when they’re ready to pass on.
They’ll become considerably frailer and exhibit a slowing of movement and a general thirst for life.
Check your hamster for signs of sickness. If you do not notice anything wrong but they’ve lost interest in feeding, drinking, and running around in their wheel, be aware that these are signs of old age.
As their lives are so short, you will want to make the rest of their days as comfortable as possible as they may not have much more time left.
However, it is hard for the owner of a hamster who then has to face the inevitable and prepare for when their pet crosses the rainbow bridge.
This is particularly true if you have young children and this is one of their first pets.
When the time comes, you want to be sure that your hamster has passed away and isn’t hibernating, as this is a behavior that hamsters do engage in and can quite easily throw an owner off.
But how can you tell the difference between hibernation and death? You must be informed so that you can know what to do with a dead hamster.
Is Your Hamster Definitely Dead?
How Do You Know Your Hamster Is Hibernating, In Torpor Or Dead? Let us quickly run through each state below so you know for sure that your hamster is definitely dead.
Many animals go into hibernation. This is usually around the same time of the year and normally lasts for the same amount of time. Hibernation is a long-term, fixed situation.
Animals will hibernate for several days or weeks. They often will wake up and go back into hibernation mode too.
You will typically expect a hamster to go into hibernation during the winter months. During hibernation your hamster’s metabolic rate will slow, making it difficult to know whether your hamster is in this state of rest or has become ill and died.
Here are some things you can do to ensure they are safe:
- Check if your hamster is breathing – note that this will slow during hibernation so you will need to observe and check for several minutes. One breath every two minutes in not uncommon.
- Check your hamster’s heartbeat – by placing your forefinger on the hamsters chest above their elbows. Be gentle, but feel for a pulse.
If you are concerned about your pet’s health, it is advised that you contact your vet.
Its also important to note that hamsters go through a similar state of long-term rest, known as “Torpor“.
The difference between hibernation and torpor is that hibernation is planned while torpor is unplanned and lasts for just a few hours.
Torpor is the hamster’s response to its environment being too cold. During this time of Torpor, the hamster’s temperature goes up and its metabolism slows down.
Torpor is not something that the hamster has to do, it’s completely voluntary. It’s a built-in mechanism that hamsters use to protect themselves from the cold.
Torpor is completely safe for the hamster, as it only last a few hours. However, as the owner, you will want to proactively improve their conditions as it is clear their environment is not comfortable enough for them.
Extreme cold can be dangerous for hamsters, so if you do find that your hamster is under torpor, you must make their environment warmer in a slow, and gradual way.
If you are not familiar with torpor, you could be in for a shock and think that your hamster has died because they can appear as if they’ve passed away. It can be very upsetting.
If you touch your hamster when he’s in this state, he will feel cold to the touch and unresponsive. Sometimes their heartbeat slows down so much, that you can’t feel it.
The main way to tell if your hamster has passed away or in a state of torpor is by looking for signs of rigor mortis. This is caused by chemical changes in the muscles after death.
The limbs of the deceased become stiff and difficult to move.
With hamsters, rigor mortis can set in 15 to 30 minutes after passing away. You will find that when you pick up your hamster, they will be completely stiff like a little statue.
With torpor, hamsters don’t get stiff, you can still move them quite easily.
Other Signs Of Torpor
1) Whiskers Twitching – some owners claim that their hamster’s whiskers twitch slightly while in a state of torpor, so you must keep your eyes peeled for this subtle sign.
2) The breath test – place the back of a spoon close to your hamster’s nose, and if they’re breathing, his breath should show up in the back of the spoon.
If you are unsure if your hamster has rigor mortis or is in torpor, you can try to wake them. It’s quite easy to do so.
You must gradually warm them up, don’t put them in a warm situation too quickly as this could harm them.
First and foremost, put your hamster in a warmer room or any other environment, like a car, that is warmer than the environment where he is currently in.
Holding your hamster close to your chest is a lovely and gentle way to bring their core temperature back up. You can encourage blood flow, by rubbing them gently.
Once they have woken up, you can offer them some warm foods and warm water to help them recover.
It can take an hour for your hamster to wake up, and when they do they can be very drowsy.
This is perfectly normal, however, it’s best to err on the side of caution and bring them to a vet if you have any doubts about their health.
How Do You Dispose Of A Dead Hamster?
When you are sure that your hamster has died, you can bury or cremate them if you wish. These are the two main options that you will have.
Straight after you have confirmed their death, you’ll want to place them in an airtight container like paper bags, towels, or shoe boxes.
This will stop flies and decomposition from setting in before you bury/take your hamster for cremation.
Burying Your Hamster
To bury your hamster, it is strongly advised to get a Biodegradable Pet Casket.
This will ensure that no scavengers or animals dig them up to eat which is likely to happen if you bury them in a standard box or container.
You can get pods that are large enough for your hamster to comfortably fit inside along with another item you want them to be at rest with.
Some owners like to decorate the outside of the box, but for environmental reasons, you must ensure that any embellishments are biodegradable.
The Paw Pods casket is a very affordable and dignified way to dispose of your hamster’s body. It is also excellent if you have children who have lost their first pet as you can have your own little funeral service and teach them all about death.
- 【PET MEMORIAL CASKET】 A dignified way to preserve the memory of a beloved pet. Gone but never forgotten with a beautiful pet casket that doesn’t harm the environment.
- 【10.5 inches x 6.5 inches x 4.5 inches (LxWxH)】 High quality casket to fit a guinea pig, ferret, bird, lizard, rabbit, or similarly sized pets. Interior dimensions are 9” x 5.5” x 3”.
- 【INCLUDES WILDFLOWER MEMORIAL】 Each pet casket includes a memorial card and seeded leaf designed for planting with the PawPod. The leaf grows perennial wildflowers as a living memorial grave marker to your pet.
- 【BIODEGRADABLE】 Made of bamboo powder, rice husk, and cornstarch, the pet casket is very strong and durable. Harmless to the environment, PawPods will fully degrade in 3-5 years after the coffin is buried.
- 【TEACHING TOOL FOR KIDS】Featured in the New York Times and Hallmark Channel, PawPods are a perfect tool to help teach kids about the circle of life. PawPods can be decorated with paints, markers, and stickers, allowing for a special personalized and unique way to say goodbye.
You can write the date of when you adopted your hamster to when they died along with other nice messages.
If you are burying your hamster in your backyard, make sure that you dig deep enough, so heavy rains won’t lift the earth and expose the casket.
Don’t bury them in a public spot, like a park or woodlands, unless you have permission to do so.
If you like you can place a little headstone or rock as a marker of where you buried him.
Cremating Your Hamster
If you wish to cremate your hamster, you can speak to your local vet.
Many vets provide this service and will give you the ashes in a jar or container of your choice. Alternatively, you can get cremation urns on Amazon for a great price and there is a lot of variety and different options.
Consider that cremation is generally quite expensive compared to burial.
Other options include composting your dead hamster. As this Washington Post YouTube Video explains, it’s a very eco-friendly and meaningful way to dispose of your hamster’s body.
Due to the heat generated through the composting process, your hamster’s body will quickly return back to the earth.
If you own a compost heap or know somebody who does, then this could be a suitable option for you.
Losing a pet is never a nice time. Especially if you have young children.
One of the best things you can do when owning a pet is a plan for their death in advance. This way you know the course of action to take when this time ultimately comes.
Nonetheless, if you have a hamster that you suspect has died, first ensure that they are in fact dead and are not in a state of hibernation/torpor. When death is confirmed, burial, cremation, or composting are going to be your main options.
With either option you choose, ensure you give them a nice, dignified send-off.
It typically takes between 1-2 hours for a dead hamster to go stiff, and for the process of rigor mortis to set in.
It is generally not advised to put a dead hamster in the bin. If you do so, ensure that you place them inside multiple sealed and durable bags and ensure that the bin is well protected from animals.
It is generally advised not to keep a dead hamster for longer than 24-48 hours.
You can have your hamster cremated, either alone or alongside other animals. To do so, contact your local veterinarian’s office or get in touch with local pet cemeteries who may offer such services.
A hamster will typically start smelling within 48 hours after death.
And if you are ever in need to dispose of another pet, my following guides will be of help:
- What To Do With A Dead Tortoise?
- What To Do With A Dead Bearded Dragon?
- What To Do With A Dead Chicken?
- What To Do With A Dead Snake
- What To Do With A Dead Cat
- What To Do With A Dead Rabbit
- What To Do With A Dead Guinea Pig?
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.