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Gerbils & Hamsters/Syrian hamster death


Hi, I'm very upset at the moment because of my hamster dying this morning, or appeared to be dead.

I was on my way to work this morning and as usual I went to check on Cochirata, I've had him for about 17 months but I'm not sure how old he really was, a friend found him on his backyard and brought him to me. I've had hamsters before so I could tell he wasn't a baby but he wasn't an adult either so I'm not sure how d he was exactly.

Anyway, I came up to check on him and found him laying on the corner of his cage, stretched and on his belly, immobile, and unresponsive. I panicked and picked him up. He was cold and limp and I tried to feel pulse or respiration and there was none noticeable. I started rubbing him, talking to him and since he remained unresponsive I started to compress his chest. Honestly I don't know why I did that, it was just a reflex, I didn't want him to die and I was dreading the moment because he was old. After a couple of minutes he moved his legs a little and then his arms, I was trying to get him warm, wrapped him with my sweater and kept rubbing him. Then he started to stretch and got stiff really quick and it seemed like he was in pain, didn't make a sound but made a motion with his lower jaw like when he was gnawing on something. Then he went limp again, kept the jaw movement and a few minutes later he just went stiff again, like he clenched his whole body and turned rock solid. The jaw movement stopped and I tried the warming up and the chest compressions again but he didn't come back from that.

The whole thing lasted for about an hour and then I decided to bury him, but now I'm unsure if he was really dead or had an attack and if I should dig him up (buried him about 4 hours ago) and take him to a vet. I feel really bad about burying him thinking I should have waited longer or put him in his travel box and brought him to work with me so I could try some more. The fact that he seemed to die so painfully and violently is killing me, I don't want to think I put him in the ground to suffer alone in the dark :(

Is it possible that he wasn't already dead when I buried him?

Hi Mayra

I'm really sorry to hear about your hamster.

Firstly, you must not think that you did anything wrong, or that you buried him while he was alive - I am sure he would have been dead.  The way you describe his behaviour definitely sounds like a dying hamster - they can go rigid, have fits, or tend to gasp like a fish - within a fairly short time a hamster will be dead after behaving like this.

Also, the thing to remember is that although he was going rigid, then coming out of it, there is a strong possibility that he was in effect dead - he might have been in some sort of coma, with just reflex actions.  It is a horrible thing to witness and I know that when I have watched a hamster or any other pet die I have often wondered if they can feel anything at that time, but I'm pretty certain that they aren't fully aware of what is happening and that on one level they are already dead.

I don't think you should dwell on what happened, but be thankful that you were there at the end and did all you possibly could.

I  hope this helps you.


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Sheila Adby


Syrian hamsters are my specialty, however, I have kept Campbells,Winter Whites and gerbils in the past. I can advise on most subjects associated with hamsters, including housing, bedding, feeding, handling, new borns and catching escapees. I have had some experience of various health problems with hamsters and can offer my opinion and advice on basic health issues, however I am not a qualified vet and therefore cannot recommend drugs etc. My website is


I have been keeping hamsters and other small animals for more than 12 years. My favourites are Syrian hamsters and I foster litters and 'difficult' hamsters for a rescue centre. My job is to tame hamsters ready for re-homing, which is extremely rewarding. I also enjoy looking after new litters and raising the pups. I have co-written a book on hamsters with my local vet and have a website:

Hamsters in Sickness and in Health - Sheila Adby and Dan O'Neill ISBN186163218-5 (Capall Bann Publishing)

Educated to A Level standard in the UK.

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