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Old 01-29-2018, 08:43 PM   #1
Mii Force
Newborn Pup
Join Date: Jan 2018
Posts: 1
Default Did I just unintentionally starve my dwarf hamster to death?

Introduction: Let me start by introducing the story of my deceased dwarf hamster, my baby boy, Darkie. I saved him from a pet store, where he was being neglected and extremely bullied by the rest of his litter (he was the runt of the litter). He was covered in blood, swollen, some of the fur missing, had scars and open wounds. I immediately complained to the (careless) caretaker and threaten to call the Animal Abuse Association (from my country). After some arguing and back-and-forth, I managed to take Darkie into my care. I rescued him on the 18th of October 2017.

Here's a picture of Darkie a few days after I got him home:

Other Companion(s): I also have another dwarf hamster called Mii, which I adopted last year on the 20th of September 2016. Mii is very quiet, very cuddly but also prone to diabetes. Something I wasn't much aware of when I adopted her, and I gave her lots of sugary treats and would fill her bowl every time it was nearly empty. The veterinary told me I should reduce the amount of treats I give her, and get sugar-free treats that wouldn't harm her. She also told me to fill her food bowl when I was sure she would need it. She was very over-weighted at the time, and had enormous hoards in more than one place inside her habitat -- Fist-sized hoards.

Here's a more recent picture of Mii (sorry for the quality):

I was advised to place them on separate habitats, because they were from different litters and of opposite sexes. Darkie was a male, while Mii was (older) and female.

Darkie's Personality: Darkie was very energetic, he would climb everything, he would run on his wheel for hours and hours, and was very aware of his surrounding, very fit, and overall very active. He wasn't really the friendly type (he would bite), but he was my companion, since Mii likes to do her own things like sleeping and grooming and generally being quiet (the veterinary said she's healthy, and that it's natural behavior because she's becoming old). I work remotely from home, mostly during the night, so I would always tease Darkie because he was mostly awake at night and playing. He was my partner, my buddy. I would give him my robe sleeve and he would go crazy chewing and biting it, like a small pitbull. So I baptized it our "pitbull" playtime. He loved it.

Problems: I gave the same treats to Darkie that I gave to Mii, but it seems like any threat that I gave Darkie would cause him diarrhea. The veterinary said that I should just stop feeding him all the treats since they were harmful to him, but he still had some mild intestinal problems even with regular food. I was told that it was possible that he suffered from anxiety due to the abuse when he was in the pet store. He used to squeak in his sleep almost every night. I felt bad for him and wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do besides giving him all the love and care that I could.

Me and my wife were instructed to be careful with the amount of food we gave him, and what kind of food. Also, we were advised to fill his bowl only after it was emptied, so that he wouldn't become obese just like Mii, so we took his diet and care very seriously.

And this is when thing started going down. Some weeks ago, I started a new project on my company, and I worked at least 12 hours a day (remotely). I played with Darkie only occasionally but I was too focused on my job to pay him any extra attention.

Last Time he was Fed: The last time I put food on his bowl (until it was half-full), was around the 8th of January 2018. I checked his bowl on the 11th of January 2018 and still had some food. I think his food run out (from his bowl) around the 15th or 16th of January 2018.

Thread Reason: And now comes the reason why I'm posting this threat, while crying my eyes out, filled with grief and regret. That was the last time I fed him. He passed away inside his little nest, curled up like he used to be when sleeping, but this time he was cold and dead. He passed away on the 27th of January 2018.

I couldn't possibly understand how he died, until I looked at his food bowl. I suspect that he died from starvation. From the last time he had food on his bowl and the time he died, at least 10 to 11 days passed. I have NEVER neglected my pets, I used to have dwarf hamsters 15 years ago as an emotional support pet, they got me through very though times from my childhood, and I ALWAYS took great care of them. I always took great care of Mii, and I always took great care of Darkie. So why did I neglect his food bowl for an entire 10-11 days period? I wish I would've never accepted that work project, I wish that I paid more attention to him, and now I miss my boy so much that it is causing me great grief, more than I could ever imagine.

Here's a picture of Darkie a few weeks after he passed away:

Possible Diagnosis: At first I thought he was hibernating, so I tried warming him up and put a bit of warm water in his mouth. But nothing happened, and after a few hours, rigor-mortis settled. That's when I knew he was dead.

He was very energetic and playful the day before, on the 26th of January 2018, and he was running on his wheel for hours as usual. Yet he seemed more stressed than usual, which I now believe was due to not having food or barely having any left.

After he passed away, I searched his entire habitat for food, in the hope of finding some food remnants or small hoarding. I couldn't find any hoarding, but I did find (8) partially-chewed food pellets scattered around his habitat.

Here's a picture of the half-chewed pellets:

Questions: So now I have a few questions for all the experts and veterinarians in this forum, so that I can find some closure. Please refrain from commenting about the possible scenario if you're not an experienced veteran or a veterinarian, I'm already grieving and guilty of the thought he might have died because of me, because maybe I couldn't provide him with enough food. I need an honest opinion from an expert, and please don't sugarcoat it, tell me straight away if you think it was my fault. I need the closest thing to the truth here, so that me and my wife can move on.

1. He was VERY active the day before, but also very agitated. If an hamster is starving, would he be this agitated and active the day before he passed away? Or would he be lethargic and weak? Or is it unrelated?

2. Do you think the remaining (8) partially-chewed food pellets could've have been scattered and untouched because he couldn't find them? Or do hamster actually have a great sense of smell and could track the food if he was starving?

3. Given the case scenario, do you think that Darkie died from starvation? Or was it something else entirely (heart attack, pneumonia, etc.)?

Please I need an honest answer, it's now been three days and I still cry everyday, I can't get closure on this if I don't have an honest answer.

Please help us.
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Old 01-30-2018, 01:59 AM   #2
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Location: Yorkshire, UK but my heart lies in Scotland!
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Default Re: Did I just unintentionally starve my dwarf hamster to death?

I am sorry that you lost Darkie. It is normal that you feel grief and this is clearly mixed with regret that it is your fault.
I don't think you will ever know what caused Darkie to pass away. Clearly he was not the healthiest hamster when you adopted him and his passing may have been coincidental with the lack of food.
In my opinion he probably did not starve because there was a certain amount of food still available and he would have been able to find this however he may well have been malnourished and lacking in certain nutrients as well as mentally stressed by the fact that he had dwindling food supplies. If he had a condition like diabetes he would have other nutritional needs that the tiny amount of food may not have provided.
You did fail to provide for at least one if not several of his five freedoms during a period of time
FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST. by ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT. by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
He could not express normal behavior which is to seek and hoard food so this would have caused him some distress and if he was indeed ill had he been checked you may have been able to seek vet attention and successful treatment. Did he have clean water and a clean environment? Water bottles need checked every day as the ball does stick easily and all animals need fresh water too. Health checks are important as they can become ill quickly and also they need the mental stimulation of new things to do and investigate.
At the end of the day what is done is done and we all make mistakes and have regrets in life. This is a very hard way to learn a lesson and you will likely feel the guilt of this for the rest of your life and never make the same mistake mistake again. Nothing anyone says or does will take this away. Just learn from this and carry it forward and don't waste any more emotional energy on it. Grieve for your loss yes and consider carefully having pets at this time in your life when you are under other pressures. It must always be a priority to care for little ones even if it means boarding them or paying someone else to do it.
Remember everyone on this forum is entitled to reply to your questions as you did ask so please check out our rules and graciously accept opinions.
I hope that your heart finds some comfort soon. Run free at the bridge Darkie. x
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Old 01-30-2018, 02:46 AM   #3
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Default Re: Did I just unintentionally starve my dwarf hamster to death?

So sorry to hear about Darkie. I think it's a shame your vet advised to not leave him with a full food bowl, as hamsters always need to have food in their food bowl. With a good hamster mix they won't get overweight. Occasionally a hamster gets overweight if having too many fatty treats like sunflower seeds (but it would be a lot of them to cause them to be overweight).

Usually they have a large hoard stashed away to snack on (they tend to hoard most food taken from the bowl rather than eat it from the bowl) and then snack on their hoards. Sometimes people throw away hoards during clean outs - which might be necessary if they are pee'd on or spoiled but then you replace the hoard in the same place with new food.

As Souffle said - he had food pellets in the cage so had something to eat and they have a very good sense of smell so will always find food.

If you hadn't cleaned him out since you last filled his food bowl I would have thought he'd have enough to eat from his hoards, but they do have a habit of hoarding food from a bowl daily. The reason they hoard is they are hard wired to to forage for food and hoard it to make sure they always have supplies.

It is normal to feel guilt when a pet dies, even if it is nothing you have done and we all worry it is something we have done or not done. Sometimes it is just their time, but I agree he would have been anxious if there was no food in his bowl.

I would change to a different vet and not worry about hammies getting overweight in future - as they get older they tend to lose weight anyway, naturally so having a bit of extra reserves doesn't do any harm.

You did a good thing rescuing him and giving him a home and we all make mistakes and learn from them xxx One of our cats drowned when I was a teenager and it was my fault - because it was my job to pump the water out of the enclosure round the oil tank - and I hadn't done it. And she was only a kitten.

Darkie is over the rainbow bridge now and free from pain.
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Old 01-31-2018, 06:05 AM   #4
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Join Date: Jan 2018
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Default Re: Did I just unintentionally starve my dwarf hamster to death?

Some theories
Hamsters hoard their food even when its limited and live on rations. Less food means smaller rations and it could be that the rations became insufficient to meet Darkie's needs.
Dietary changes even if positive can be dangerous in a sick and/or elderly animal. Case in point I had a cat Garfield as a child. Garfield only ate Meow Mix which is terrible and full of junk. When I was 18 I got a call from my mom saying Garfield had eaten a poisonous lizard and might die. She told me the poison had damaged some of his organs. Somehow he pulled through. Months later when I got back from Europe Garfield was still around and behaving pretty normally. Eventually though he did begin to develop issues he started to smell and he developed skin problems. I took him to the vet and there was no options except to try a diet to help restore liver function but that was risky. We introduced the new diet but he became severely constipated and when the laxatives the vet recommended did not work we had to put him down because he was too old and his condition too bad for surgery. I felt extremely guilty for his death because I changed his diet and his health deteriorated faster as a result. Also he loved Meow Mix and didn't like the new food and began to lose weight (he was morbidly obese). Hamsters have sensitive stomachs too dietary changes, too much fruit/veg, various illnesses and stress can all cause diarrhea.
If you weren't feeding Darkie I suspect you might not have offered him fresh water and/or substrate during that time. Which could mean that he was exposed to something like algae in the water or that he may have been reinfecting himself with some intestinal bug. Eating too little or not at all often indicates illness.
Another possibility is that Darkie consumed something inedible like hair or cotton fibers which created a blockage limiting his ability to eat. I know some pet stores sell an alternative to cotton which can, if consumed, cause blockages.
To answer your question starvation actually does result in increased energy/activity as seen in anorexics. Also Darkie could still have had Diabetes without being overweight some animals/people lose weight/appetite with Diabetes. It is possible he had type 1 or that he developed type 2 as a result of poor feeding practices at the pet stores but if he had Diabetes I believe he would have become sluggish.

I think it very likely he did starve to death via lack of food, illness, blockage or a combination of all three.

On to the practical stuff.
Hamsters need fresh water daily even water bottles must be cleaned. We give our hamster vitamin drops and the addition of nutrients makes it even more important to clean water bottles/dishes.
I have a 4.5 inch Syrian hamster we feed her a little more than 1 TBS of her mix daily whether or not she empties her bowl (which she usually does) and she manages her weight at about 4 1/2 ounces. I have read hamsters should weigh about an ounce per inch. Syrians are usually 4 to 6 inches. Check the ranges for dwarfs and weigh frequently. It can be hard sometimes to know if your hamster is eating because they store the food but by weighing them you can be sure. Also check the measurements for feeding a dwarf and use those (never go under the lowest measurement even if your animal is overweight). I think you really over complicated the feedings. We keep a measuring spoon in the food for convenience.
We give Stella a plain nut on Mondays or 2 plain pumpkin seeds if we are out of nuts (proportions might vary for a dwarf)
On Fridays she gets a hamster safe doggie treat
She gets veg or fruit maybe twice a week (we keep an eye on her poops and make sure her bottom is clean before offering fruit or veg as they can cause diarrhea) she only gets tiny pieces of broccoli, kale, kiwi book choy or the like and those pieces look silly small because she is silly small. Dwarfs are even smaller so you shouldn't be giving them even a whole grape (it's too big). If I had a dwarf I might skip fruit and sugary vegetables like carrots altogether because of the diabetes risk.
For between snacks we go with quinoa and oats usually, Stella loves oats

Never forget what happened to Darkie, at 37 I still think of how I might have handled Garfield's situation better. It might be that you aren't in a position to have pets or that you need to recruit outside help. A calendar or alarm might help remind you to feed/clean/play with your pet. Hamsters like routine and having a routine will make you less likely to forget. Schedule in pet care just as you would work or your own meals. You might even need a different job that allows you more time with your family because it sounds like you are working yourself into the grave.
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