Just how long does rigor mortis take anyway?
January 29, 2007 8:31 AM   Subscribe

How long does rodent rigor mortis -take- anyway? The roommate woke me up before my alarm this morning to confirm that she was not, indeed, hallucinating the demise of her beloved hamster, Boo. And for good reason - extended explanation inside.

She asked this because while preparing his rodent-y corpse for burial, he twitched. Repeatedly. Despite us not seeing any respiration or feeling a pulse, and his body being quite limp. We called a local vet, who assured us that it was gases building up and escaping the hamster's body.

However. (Ah, but there is always a however. After all, if there wasn't, I wouldn't be coming here to ask!) An hour later, after she has gone to work briefly to check in before coming home - the hamster is still twitching.

It looks for al the world like desperate attempts to breathe. There is the very occasional ear twitch, and sometimes the spasms are accompanied by noises of breathing or odd squeaks. If I move the hamster, the limbs return to the curled up position. But. The whiskers do not twitch, the body is limp and I still can't feel a pulse.

So, uh? What do I have here? Hamster in death throws? Dead hamster with extended rigor mortis? Zombie hamster?
posted by FritoKAL to Pets & Animals (6 answers total)
With ours rigor mortis didn't take too long. And we just had a guinea pig die here at my house and literally rigor mortis set in in under an hour. I mean, we checked him before American Idol started and he was alive-halfway thru the two hour show he was stiff as a Monty Python dead parrot.
posted by konolia at 9:02 AM on January 29, 2007

in me talk pretty one day, david sedaris describes his mother's ability to revive all manner of dying rodents by putting a towel in a casserole dish and popping the indisposed animal into a warm oven for a bit:
"oh keep your shrts on," she said. "it's only set to two hundred, i'm not baking anyone,
this is just to keep him warm."

maybe your hamster really is-- as countless parents have falsely reassured their snuffling children throughout the ages-- "just sleeping". put him somewhere warm and give him a day.
posted by twistofrhyme at 9:07 AM on January 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, as of, um, right now, he's dead-parrot-stiff, and the weird noises and twitches have stopped.

I am totally freaked out. Two hours of twitching and weirdness.
posted by FritoKAL at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2007

Rigor mortis will depend on the atmosphere that it's in. As an EMT, we can't declare someone dead based on rigor mortis alone. It has to be accompanied by post mortem lividity (pooling of blood) as well.

While humans are different than hamsters, the general idea is still the same. The hamster could be having agonal respirations (although those shouldn't last THAT long in a hamster) or he could have just gone into PEA (pulseless electrical activity) and things were just shutting down slowly.
posted by drstein at 9:17 AM on January 29, 2007

Note: rigor mortis also goes away after a certain amount of time.
posted by owl at 9:40 AM on January 29, 2007

Just to update, Whoseabooboo, 2004-2006 has been interred peacefully after a lovely service given by myself and The Roommate. He was buried modern-egyptian style (we mummified the box, not the Boo), with all his worldly possesions (Food, chewsticks) in a ecologically friendly casket (made of recycled cardboard).
posted by FritoKAL at 10:00 AM on January 29, 2007

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