You might be thinking of a large mammal, like a bear, being drowsy and inactive in cold months to conserve its body fuel.
This is the definition of true hibernation.
But, when people talk about hamsters hibernating, they are actually describing a temporary state called “torpor.” When this happens, a hamster’s body temperature drops and it seems to lose consciousness. Some species of hamsters might fall into torpor if the animal becomes too cold (typically under 40 degrees Fahrenheit) or does not have enough food and water.
Hamsters hibernate for the same reason bears do—to conserve body fuel and survive hard times. But, bear hibernation is a cycle that happens every year.
Torpor in a hamster happens as a last resort under emergency conditions. If a hamster stays in the torpor state for too long, it may die of hypothermia or starvation.
What to Do if Your Hamster ‘Torpor’ Hibernates
If your pet hamster falls into a torpor state, it may look dead at first glance. Its body will be limp (but not stiff) and unresponsive. Its breathing may be very slow. However, the hamster’s whiskers may still twitch in response to a touch.
In most cases, if the hamster is still breathing, it can be safely brought back from torpor. The easiest way to help your hamster come back is with your hands. Warm the hamster with the heat of your hands, gently rubbing its fur for a few minutes, or up to an hour, until the hamster begins to come back.
Using your hands works, but results depend on your own hand warmth. If you’re a cooler-handed person, you might try a different way.
Place the hamster on a towel over a warm heating pad. Don’t make it too hot. Go for hand-warmth.
When the hamster first regains awareness, it may be trembling or attempt to walk unsteadily. Offer the hamster water to help rehydrate it. You might consider offering the hamster an electrolyte drink.
When the hamster has begun to recover, place it in the cage in a warm room with plenty of water and food. Check on the hamster frequently for a few hours, but let it recover on its own.
Most of the time, hamsters can recover from torpor within a few hours.