The Great Hamster Wheel in the Sky

Monday, July 30, 2007

Smaller Carlos — “Gay” Carlos — passed away this afternoon. Very unexpectedly.

I woke this morning (or, well, early afternoon) and picked him out to play a bit. He looked horrible. Neck very swollen, left eye swollen shut, low face bloated and disfigured. At first I thought Bigger Carlos may have hurt him during another one of their fights or something. I looked the little guy over — very, very bad. Barely moving. Sometimes wheezing loudly. When he walked, he kind of drug himself in circles. He definitely couldn’t eat or drink. Very bad.

Christin called animal clinics until she found an open one. We put him in some bedding in my Treo phone box and cabbed up there (around 5pm). I tried to keep him comfortable, and as damaged as he was, he walked around and spent much of the ride trying to get out of the box. At least he had some energy… So. We were seen almost immediately. One doctor came and probed him a bit — including taking a human-sized stethoscope and using it to listen to his tiny heart. She told us she didn’t know what had caused the swelling and that it looked pretty bad. Another doctor then came to do a closer inspection. She looked him over and looked at the swelling (which seemed, actually, to be going down) and we noted how he seemed to drag two of his legs when he walked and how he kind of limped in circles. Very sad. She said that they didn’t have any exotics specialists on site (hamsters are “exotic?”), but that she would go take a closer look at him while we waited.

The prognosis was not good. She said she thought the swelling had basically sealed off his windpipe and that he had been slowly suffocating. His tongue had already turned blue and I imagine the lack of oxygen had already begun to cause brain damage, hence the locomotive problems. A surgeon could perform a tracheotomy(!) and do more tests to see exactly what was the matter, but that would cost over $1500. I really don’t have $1500 to spare. (Such a weird situation having to balance the life of a creature with mundane fiscal concerns.) Even with this surgery, though, there was no telling the outcome. The doctor suggested putting him to sleep to reduce the suffering, which we agreed with. So I filled out the paperwork and Christin and I said our goodbyes. He seemed calm at that point, curled into a ball.

And that was that.

I wondered to Christin while we got a bite to eat afterwards whether animals like hamsters were aware of their own mortality. We know that there’s some kind of endpoint to life (though what comes after is somewhat open for debate). But does a hamster know it will die? Or does it just instinctually struggle against things it thinks will hurt and towards things that will feel good? Christin didn’t know, but thought that there was a line an animal could cross, a line past which it became clear that struggle no longer had a point. Whether while being eating or being sick or whatever. Past that line, an animal would know that, yes, it was mortal and, yes, it would die.

Hamsters don’t live too long. A couple of years, usually. Small Carlos was born around August 2006, so he had about a year. We enjoyed him. He seemed to be okay with us. His hobbies included running in his wheel, running around on the bed, and fighting sporadically with Big Carlos (and usually losing). He liked his strawberry yogurt treats.

My Hammie died today

Posted Sun, March 16, 2008, 4:52am EST by Andrea

Hi. I came across your blog searching for answers on why my hammie's died. He has a swollen tongue. He doesnt move. after 2hrs he died. He's the same age as your hammie. born aug 2006.


Posted Thu, December 11, 2008, 10:23pm EST by Ginger

Thanks for your story. Our little hamster named Biscuit is very swollen today and not moving. Your story is preparing us that we might not have much time with her. Thank you.


Posted Wed, August 5, 2009, 10:06am EST by Vanessa

Hi! my hamster, Pierce, is experiencing the same situation this week.. at first we thought she was pregnant bec she excretes dark colored fluid.. she has swollen tongue and neck.. and couldn't eat.. very sad.. but she is strong.. she is fighting.. but i know her time is near.. we just hope for a miracle..