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Why Is My Hamster Breathing Heavy? (Common Causes)

Why Is My Hamster Breathing Heavy? (Common Causes)
The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Hamsters are endearing little animals that quickly become much loved by their owners. Their quirky personalities and habits are cute and entertaining. Owners become anxious when something goes wrong with their hamsters, and one of the signs of this is heavy breathing.

Hamsters breathe heavily when they have a respiratory illness caused by a viral or bacterial infection. They may also breathe heavily when they are stressed or scared. Gasping for air may be a sign that your hamster is too hot. Hamsters breathe more heavily and deeply when they are asleep.

It is critical to know the indications of an unhealthy hamster so that prompt action can be taken. One of the parameters used to assess a hamster’s health is respiration or breathing.

How Do I Know If My Hamster’s Breathing Is Too Heavy?

It is vital to know what normal respiration in a hamster looks like before assessing abnormal breathing. Hamsters have a wide range of breathing rates – 35 to 114 breaths per minute.

Baby hamsters usually have a faster breathing rate than adults, but it will not be more than 114 breaths per minute. It is best to know how fast your hamster usually breathes and compare the current breathing rate.

You can assess respiration rate by setting a timer for fifteen seconds. Count the number of breaths your hamster takes in this time. Multiply the result by four to get the breaths per minute.

If your hamster is breathing heavily, you will notice more body or chest movement with each breath. Typically, hamsters have minimal chest movement when they breathe.

What Causes a Hamster to Breathe Too Heavily?

Rapid heavy breathing in hamsters can have various causes. It is critical to determine the cause so that the correct steps can be taken to help the hamster.

Can Stress Cause Heavy Breathing in Hamsters?

Hamster in Freshly Replaced Bedding

Hamsters are very easily stressed, resulting in an increased heart and breathing rate. This places a strain on the hamster’s cardiovascular system, leading to health problems and even death.

Acute stress such as poor handling will result in a rapid increase in breathing rate, and the breathing will appear to be labored. If you notice this, put your hamster in its cage in a quiet, dark area where there is little household movement.

Long-term stress occurs when the environment is unsuitable or the hamster’s routines are disturbed. Hamsters are nocturnal, and if they are constantly disturbed during the day, they will begin to show signs of stress.

Their breathing rate will increase, but not as high as during acute stress. Hamsters may also show the following stress symptoms:

  1. Hair loss
  2. Excessive vocalizations
  3. Aggressive behavior
  4. Biting cage bars
  5. Digging
  6. Refusing to eat
  7. Displaying continuous high energy behavior

If you see indications that your hamster is stressed, take steps to correct the situation. Online hamster forums are an excellent place to ask for advice on improving living conditions for your hamster.

Does Respiratory Disease Cause Heavy Breathing in Hamsters?

Respiratory disease is a common cause of labored breathing in hamsters. They are susceptible to many bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia. It is crucial to note that hamsters can develop pneumonia after being exposed to humans with colds and flu.

Hamsters that live with people who smoke may be more prone to developing respiratory illnesses. Poor air quality puts your hamster at risk. Knowing what symptoms to watch for if your hamster is sick with pneumonia is vital.

They will have abnormal, heavy breathing with possible mucous from the nostrils. They may sneeze or cough, and the eyes may develop a discharge that becomes infected. You can tell if a discharge is infected as it will be thick, off-white, yellow, or green.

If you see any of these respiratory symptoms, you should immediately take your hamster to the vet. The vet will prescribe antibiotics and other medicines to help your hamster fight the disease.

If you have a cold or flu, ask a healthy neighbor, friend, or family member to feed and clean out your hamster’s cage until you are better.

If no one can help you, wash your hands thoroughly or wear gloves before feeding and cleaning your hamster. A face mask covering your nose and throat will help keep your hamster safe. Spend as little time in contact with your hamster as possible until you are better.

Can Overheating Make a Hamster Breathe Heavily?

Hamster Sticking Head Out of Cage

Hamsters can quickly overheat in a small, poorly ventilated cage. The first signs of heat stress are that the hamster has fast, noisy breathing or breathes through an open mouth.

This is followed by a collapse where it looks like the hamster is sleeping. Usually, if you touch a hamster in this state, it will tremble.

You must take immediate action to cool the hamster down. This can be done by placing ice packs around the hamster. Move it from the sun to a cool, well-ventilated area and contact your vet.

What Other Diseases Cause Heavy Breathing in Hamsters?

Hamsters are sadly prone to developing cancer. If hamsters have tumors in any part of the chest area, it will impede and affect their breathing. Cancer can be painful, making a hamster’s breathing more difficult.

Strokes and heart attacks are common in older hamsters. As hamsters only live until about two years, your hamster may suffer from a stroke or heart attack any time from eighteen months of age.

Strokes and heart attacks will result in abnormal breathing. The hamster may not survive the initial event and will die quickly. Other hamsters may survive the stroke or heart attack but can be left with paralysis or extreme weakness. In this situation, it is better to let the vet euthanize the hamster.

Do Hamsters Breathe More Heavily When They Sleep?

Hamsters, like most mammals, breathe more deeply when they sleep. The breathing rate tends to be slower as more air is taken in each breath.

Final Thoughts

Hamsters’ breathing can tell a lot about their state of health and happiness. Any labored, heavy, or rapid breathing may indicate that the hamster is sick, hot, or unhappy. Consult your vet if you are troubled about your hamster’s breathing.

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