Hamster Shock Symptoms & What To Do

Hamster Shock Symptoms

If you think your hamster has gone into shock, you will want to act fast. True physiological shock can be fatal for any mammal. Because hamsters are so small and fragile, they are especially susceptible to the dangerous effects of shock.

What are the symptoms of shock in a hamster? True shock will cause symptoms in hamsters that are similar to shock symptoms in humans – a drop in body temperature, a dazed appearance, shallow and rapid breathing, and an increase in pulse rate. The animal may not move much and may also appear to be confused.

If you suspect that your hamster is experiencing shock, you will want to take swift action to improve the likelihood of a good outcome. Read on to learn what can cause shock in hamsters, how to treat shock, and the differences between shock and stress.

Symptoms of Shock in Hamsters

If your hamster has just experienced physical trauma (more on this below), you will want to keep an eye on him for signs of shock. Potential signs include:

  • Lack of movement – hamsters in shock may be limp or appear to be “frozen.” They may curl up and stay in one position, or they may stand alert or stare into space.
  • Confusion– hamsters in shock may appear to be dazed or confused. They may stare in one direction, shake their heads, or seem unaware of their surroundings.
  • Decreased body temperature – a decrease in body temperature often accompanies shock, and you may notice your hamster shivering. If you try to touch your hamster, he may even feel cold to the touch.
  • Shallow breathing – hamsters in shock may experience changes in respiratory rate. Their breathing may be shallow, irregular, and/or rapid.
  • Rapid pulse – along with the increased respiratory rate, your hamster may experience an increase in heart rate as well. You may be able to feel this change if you are holding him. 

If you notice any of these signs after a major trauma, you will want to do what you can to treat your hamster right away.

Hamsters: Shock vs. Stress

“Shock” can have a couple of different meanings. As a noun, Oxford has two different definitions:

  1. A sudden, upsetting, or surprising event or experience; or
  2. An acute medical condition associated with a fall in blood pressure, caused by such events as loss of blood, severe burns, bacterial infection, allergic reaction, or sudden emotional stress, and marked by cold, pallid skin, irregular breathing, rapid pulse, and dilated pupils.

We can see that the second definition is referring to true medical shock in which the body experiences multiple, serious physiological effects, often as the result of a serious injury. The first definition is vaguer and can be considered to be a stressful event or trauma.

A hamster experiencing medical shock will need attention, and this will be our main focus here.

What Leads To Shock In Hamsters?

Shock in hamsters is most commonly the result of a serious injury or physical trauma. Shock is most often the result of something that has caused a sudden effect on the body rather than something that has caused emotional distress (though the emotional component can certainly play a role in shock as well, as severe pain and changes to organ function can no doubt cause emotional distress). 

Shock in hamsters occurs when vasoconstriction (the narrowing of the blood vessels – a defense strategy our bodies use when confronted with a serious injury) and a rush of adrenaline occur simultaneously.

These two processes can clash with one another, causing a sudden and dangerous drop in blood pressure, which is what we know as shock. 

Why Shock Is Dangerous In Hamsters

We’ve all experienced adrenaline rushes and slight changes in our blood pressure. So what is it about shock that is so concerning for humans as well as hamsters? We know that high blood pressure can be an indication that our health is in trouble, but your blood pressure can also be too low.

When blood pressure is too low, blood is unable to move freely throughout the body. When blood is unable to move freely, our vital organs will be unable to receive the oxygen they need to function normally.

If a hamster’s body stays in this state for too long, the vital organs will experience serious and irreversible damage due to the lack of oxygen. This is obviously fatal, especially to our tiny pocket pets, and is why shock is considered to be a true medical emergency. 

Treating Shock in Your Hamster

Because of the severity of shock in hamsters, it is important that you know that an emergency veterinary visit is always recommended if you are worried about the health and safety of your hamster.

A trained hamster vet can diagnose shock and may even wish to keep your hamster overnight to disperse IV fluids.

Not everyone has the ability to contact an emergency vet, however, and in this situation, it is important to know what to do if you suspect your hamster is in shock.

There are two important objectives when treating shock in a hamster: increasing body temperature and keeping your pet calm. 

You may have witnessed, either in a movie or in real life, an emergency responder providing a blanket for a victim or patient. This is not simply for comfort but is also to help the body stay warm if the patient is to go into shock.

When your blood pressure rapidly decreases, your body temperature will lower. This can lead to hypothermia on top of the stress on your organs your body is already experiencing. To prevent hypothermia, first responders often provide mylar blankets to trap body heat.

This idea is especially relevant to hamsters, as their small bodies can disperse heat rapidly, and their body temperatures can become dangerously low in a matter of minutes. To prevent hypothermia, it is important that you keep your hamster warm.

If your hamster is quite tame, you can use your own body heat to keep him warm. You can also wrap him loosely in a towel or small fleece blanket. 

The other thing you will need to do is decrease your hamster’s stress level as much as possible. Put him in a quiet and dark room – this will calm his senses and allow him to recover naturally if he is able.

You can even put a blanket over his cage so that he feels especially secure. Leave him be for a while, and he should hopefully begin to recover on his own.

Hamster Shock: Potential Causes of Trauma to Your Hamster

There are many potential causes that your hamster might experience bodily trauma and go into shock. Some common traumatic episodes include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • Fallsfalls from a distance of only three feet can cause serious injury in a hamster, and their quick movements coupled with their especially poor eyesight make falls a real danger to your pet.
  • Water – hamsters are native to dry regions and should never be submerged in water. This can cause serious distress, hypothermia, and the threat of drowning.
  • Children – young children can be unintentionally rough with pets, and a hamster’s small size leaves him particularly vulnerable to this threat. An unsupervised child can squeeze, drop, or even throw a hamster down, causing serious injury.
  • Animals – dogs and cats, even when attempting to play, can easily cause harm to your hamster. They are much larger and will have a difficult time seeing your hamster as anything but prey. Other hamsters can also be a danger to your pet, as hamsters are extremely territorial and can engage in serious fighting.
  • Hamster balls – we’ve all seen the clear hamster balls at the pet stores. While these devices can provide a safe exercise option when used properly and under supervision, they can also cause serious trauma and harm should they be kicked, rolled, or should they fall down the stairs. Always use hamster balls with extreme caution.

Hamsters Can Survive Medical Shock If Treated Properly

Though the dangers of true medical shock in hamsters cannot be understated, hamsters are quite resilient, considering their small stature and vulnerability. If you suspect your hamster may be in shock and you cannot get him to an emergency vet, don’t anticipate the worst.

If you keep him calm, allow him to rest in a dark and quiet environment, and keep him warm, your hamster is very likely to regulate his bodily functions and come back to a healthy state.

You can learn more about hamsters and other small pets in my latest articles here!

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