Male rats and hamsters were exposed to a progressively lower air temperature and shorter photoperiod to simulate the onset of winter. Normothermic hamsters had a higher haematological oxygen carrying capacity (OCC) and coagulability (shorter prothrombin time and activated partial thromboplastin time) than rats. Cold acclimation significantly increased the OCC of rats, which parallels an increased metabolic rate, while no differences were observed in hamsters. Red cell transit time through filters was faster in the acclimated rats but not in hamsters, reflecting the lower mean cell volume due to a decreased rate of clearance from the circulation. Platelet counts were significantly lower in both cold-acclimated rats and hamsters, and there was a significant leucopenia in rats, which would reduce the degree of microvascular blockade. Whole blood viscosity, plasma viscosity, and serum osmolarity showed little change in either species. However, whole blood viscosity was significantly lower in cold-acclimated hamsters than control hamsters at the lowest shear rate tested (0.95 s(-1)). Interestingly, plasma viscosity and serum osmolarity were significantly lower in hamsters exposed to low temperatures for a shorter period (4 weeks), and may reflect the development of a reduced coagulability. These data suggest that blood composition in hamsters contributes to an innate tolerance of low temperatures, maintaining tissue perfusion under hypothermic conditions and aiding arousal from hibernation.