Small Mammal Hibernation 101
Have you ever wondered which of your household pets can hibernate? If you've got small mammals, here's your guide to hibernation!
True Hibernation vs. Torpor
Hibernation is a state of deep sleep that many animals enter during the winter months in order to survive the cold. True hibernators enter into a comatose-like state during winter, hardly ever waking to eat or drink. The animal’s body temperature drops dramatically, and its heart rate, metabolism, and breathing slow down. They may appear dead or in a coma, and it’s difficult, if not impossible, to wake the animal during true hibernation. In order to prepare for such drastic physical changes, these animals work hard during summer and fall to gather and eat plenty of food to build up the fat stores in their bodies. Woodchucks, chipmunks, dormice, hedgehogs, and bats all experience true hibernation.
Torpor is a shorter, less involved version of true hibernation. “Light” hibernators take long naps instead of falling asleep so deeply that they can’t be woken. Torpor hibernators animals wake up and move around more frequently than true hibernators, often leaving their hideout to forage for food. Ground squirrels, hamsters, raccoons, skunks are examples of light hibernators.
Do Hamsters and Gerbils Hibernate?
If you have your hamster at room temperature in a well-heated location - like a bedroom - your hamster will not hibernate. If your hamster is located in a very drafty corner, however, they may slip into hibernation. You can slowly warm them up to room temperature to take them out of their hibernation state. Unlike some species, you don't actually need to mimic hibernation for your hamster to have a healthy and happy life.
Gerbils don't hibernate in the true sense of the word but will go into a lengthy torpor-like sleep if their surrounding conditions get too cold. Just like hamsters, slowly warm them up to room temperature, and they should wake up. You should not attempt to induce hibernation -- be sure to keep your gerbils warm all winter long!
Do Guinea Pigs or Chinchillas Hibernate?
No. Neither guinea pigs nor chinchillas hibernate, and it is not safe to keep them at temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Do Rats and Mice Hibernate?
No. Rats and mice may slow down some during colder months, but they don't hibernate.
Do Ferrets Hibernate?
No, your pet ferrets will not hibernate. Some will sleep so soundly that they're hard to wake up, though! This has nothing to do with temperature, and everything to do with their comfy habitat.
Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?
Yes, in their natural environment, hedgehogs hibernate throughout the winter. However, you should always keep your hedgehog warm enough to keep them out of hibernation while they're in your care. Hibernation in domestic hedgehogs can be fatal because they don't have enough energy stored up to make it through their prolonged sleep. It can also compromise their immune systems. So while hedgehogs can hibernate - you really shouldn't make them. Keep their cage nice and toasty throughout the winter to avoid any problems.