Why Is My Hamster Lying Flat?

By Dawn | Hamster Behavior
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Hamsters are generally round, cuddly animals, albeit tiny. So when you see your hamster lying like a pancake on the floor of their cage, it can be a little concerning. It wasn’t long ago that a friend of mine noticed her hamster acting in this way and called me up in a panic. Fortunately, I had researched this topic before and was able to provide her with an answer.

Hamsters will lie flat when they are too hot, it is their way of trying to cool off. You may see your pet behaving in this way after they have exercised or if the weather is particularly hot. 

But what concerned my friend, even more, was how she would know if her pet just needed a few minutes to cool down or whether he was suffering from something more serious, like dehydration. Let’s take a look at this a little more closely. 

Why Does My Hamster Lie Flat?

If you imagine running for miles each night, especially when it is warm, you could appreciate that you may need to take a moment to cool off. Hamsters run for up to five miles each night in the wild and even when they are in captivity, they will run almost as much in their wheels (which is why it is so important to have one in the cage.)

It stands to reason that your pet may be a little warm once they finish their exercise and just like you or I, they may need to get rid of that excess heat. 

This can be difficult when you are covered in fur but it appears that hamsters have a much easier time doing this by lying flat on the floor. 

Some pet owners might also notice that their hamster will display this type of behavior after they have been handled. 

You and I both know that when you have a cuddle with another person, your body temperature rises because of the shared body heat. This is no different for the hamster and they may need to get rid of that extra heat after interacting with you. 

A lot of people place items in the hamster’s cage to help them cool down; one of the most common is a hamster cooling plate. These small plates can be chilled in the freezer and the hamster can then sit on them to cool down. Using this type of equipment is particularly useful if you live in a hotter country. 

Alternatively, placing rocks in the cage is a good idea to give your hamster somewhere to cool off.

Another reason that you might find your hamster lying flat on the floor is that they are scared. When hamsters are frightened, they will freeze in place and quietly assess their surroundings.

Most of the time, the hamster will appear to be watchful, standing on their back legs and looking around. However, if they feel extremely threatened, they may resort to lying flat on the ground. 

The reason for this is that, to a predator, the hamster may appear to be dead.  If you see your hammy behaving in this way, you will probably see them spring back to life a few minutes later and continue with their day. 

But, there may be times when lying flat signals something a little more serious, like dehydration. 

Dehydration In Hamsters

Hamsters don’t typically need a huge amount of water, although it is essential to always have it there for them to choose when they need to drink. But this doesn’t mean that they cannot become dehydrated. 

If your hamster is lying motionless and appears to be showing little sign that they are just resting after being too warm, they could be dehydrated. 

Hamsters who are dehydrated will normally have other symptoms including hyperventilating, tight or dry skin, and extreme fatigue. 

If you notice any of these things, it is vital to treat the problem immediately. Dehydration can be life-threatening but in most cases, will not cause significant problems if it is treated as soon as possible. 

How To Rehydrate Your Hamster

As we have discovered, hamsters may lie flat when they are too hot and if they are unable to cool down, they may become dehydrated. 

If you live in a warm climate or it is summertime, it is even more important to be vigilant about the temperature of the cage; it can get very hot in there.

Placing the cage out of direct sunlight and ensuring good airflow are the best ways to keep it as cool as possible but if there is a problem, you must know what to do. 

A dehydrated hamster needs water so one of the first things you should do is offer this. Sometimes hamsters can become so lethargic from dehydration that they cannot get up to go to their water bottle so offering water in a saucer is a better idea in this situation.

You can also try offering watery foods such as small pieces of cucumber. If the hamster is really struggling, you might need to use a small dropper to administer water directly into their mouth.

Of course, it is also important to have your hamster seen by an exotics vet and in serious cases, the animal may require an IV drip to rehydrate them. 

Related Questions

How can you tell if a hamster is dying?

Seeing your hamster lying on the floor could sometimes be a sign that they are not well. Many people become concerned that death is near, but if this is the case, the hamster will typically show quite a few symptoms.  Wet tail, or hamster diarrhea, is one of the most common signs that they are nearing the end of their life. You might also notice that your pet goes off their food and becomes much more lethargic. 

What does it mean when your hamster is not moving?

Sometimes hamsters do not move because they are scared. They will freeze while they assess their surroundings and decide whether there is danger nearby.  In other cases, your hamster may not move because they have been surprised. You may have noticed that your pet suddenly freezes when there is a loud noise or you enter the room suddenly. They will normally resume what they were doing once they realize there is no threat.