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If you have a pregnant hamster on your hands, you’ll need to learn how to take care of both the momma hamster and her babies (known as pups). But what should you be doing? Should you touch the babies or feed them? We've done the research for you to bring you a concise guide to raising baby hamsters.
There are two phases to caring for baby hamsters who are still with their Momma:
- The first two weeks after birth: Give the mother and babies space, providing plenty of food/water, resisting the temptation of handling the babies.
- 2-4 weeks after birth: Make sure the babies grow up healthy and strong and separate males from females.
Do everything you can to keep the pups with the mother hamster until they are 4 weeks old. Caring for an orphan or rejected hamster pup is extremely difficult and rarely has a happy ending.
Caring for hamster pups can be complex and require a lot of time and effort. With this in mind, we’ll provide more information about each phase to ensure this process goes swimmingly. So please, read on and ensure you have all the information required to help these babies become healthy adults!
Taking Care of Hamster Babies: The Guide
Take your time and make sure you’re taking every precaution necessary. After all, all we want is to ensure your new hamster babies grow up healthy!
Before we begin, a word of caution:
Do not try to get your pet hamster pregnant. Breeding hamsters should be kept to professionals only. These are ethical experienced breeders who work with specific lines, investing a lot of time and money to bring healthy hamster pups into the world.
Backyard breeding of hamsters is a very bad idea. It can result in -
- Death of your pet hamster and its pups due to pregnancy and birth complications.
- Birth defects and hereditary diseases from breeding the wrong genetic lines.
Also, you'll have to find great forever homes for all of the pups - and we're talking 6-20 hamsters here. Your hamsters deserve that level of care and since this is so difficult to find, please just avoid breeding them.
Assuming you bought a pregnant female from the pet store, we're going to guide you through caring for baby hamsters in this guide. We just wanted to make it clear that we do not encourage the unethical deliberate breeding of hamsters.
Before the Birth
The period before the birth can be quite stressful for both you and the mother hamster. Honestly, the waiting can be rather mentally taxing and cause you all sorts of anxiety.
We have a full guide you should refer to later (we'll link to it again at the end of this post) and that's the post about Pregnancy and Birth in Syrian Hamsters.
Here's a quick recap for now.
The length of pregnancy can vary based on the species of hamster:
- Syrians are pregnant for about 16 days
- Dwarfs typically are pregnant from 18-21 days
- Roborovski hamsters can stay pregnant for up to 30 days
Most people have Syrian hamsters, so just over a couple of weeks is the normal length of pregnancy.
You will know the time is coming as the female hamster begins to hoard more food than usual, add materials to the nest and gets generally more agitated. A few days before the birth, you should be able to notice the bulge just over her hips (easiest to spot when looking from above).
Disclaimer: While your hamster’s belly starting to swell is normal, it might be a sign of a more serious issue: heart failure, liver cysts, or Cushing's Disease. If your female hasn't been with a male hamster in the past 10 days or so, you should consult a veterinarian if you notice significant swelling or weight gain.
Changing the Mother’s Diet
To get ready for the birth, your hamster needs a change in their diet. This change should provide your pregnant hamster with a little bit more protein and fat. For instance, you should look for a hamster food that’s about 18 to 20 percent protein and made up of 7 to 10 perfect fat.
Additionally, you can also try offering your hamster nutritious treats: carrots, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, greens, etc. These treats will help balance the increase in proteins and fats that your hamster’s diet will now reflect.
Don't go overboard. Giving her food that's too rich could not only upset her stomach, but it can also actually make the fetuses grow too large, making for a more difficult birthing.
Cleaning the Cage
Your hamster must give birth in a clean environment so it’s imperative you clean your hamster’s cage about a week before her due date.
Additionally, don’t wait till two or three days before the expected birth date to clean. The cleaning process will only startle the mother and could cause her to reject the babies. Cleaning the cage when you determine she’s pregnant.
Pup-proofing the cage
Removing all your hamster’s toys will ensure no accidental damage happens to one of the incoming babies. They will start crawling around even before they open their eyes, so keep them safe by getting hamster wheels, tubes and anything with sharp edges away.
If you have a wire cage, consider pup-proofing around the edges of the cage to make sure they don't crawl out through the bars.
Make sure there isn't a water bowl in the cage. Your hamster should have a water bottle to drink from anyway. If that's not already the case, get one, or at the very least switch to a shallow water dish.
Offer Some Soft Bedding
After your hamster gets pregnant, her natural instincts will tell her to make a soft nest where she can give birth. You can help by providing soft materials such as toilet paper or facial tissues. She can then tear these materials apart and use them to soften up the nest.
Make sure the mother hamster is alone
Assuming yours is a Syrian hamster, it should never share a cage with another hamster anyway - of any sex. Just in case you didn't know it until now, please make sure you remove any other hamster from her vicinity as soon as possible.
Go out now and get an extra cage for the other hamster. And never ever keep two Syrian hamsters in the same cage again.
The actual birthing event tends to last about one to two hours. And the babies usually come every 15 to 30 minutes during that time. A hamster can have anything between 5 and 20 pups at a single birth.
Now, it’s essential you don’t stress the mother out when she’s giving birth.
In other words, give her some space and let the birth be as solitary as possible. Also, make sure you give her space after the birth as well. You don’t want to crowd her or stress her out in any way.
Don't take photos and don't let anyone else near her cage either. If you have children and they want to watch "the miracle of life", show them a YouTube video and don't let them disturb the hamster. Or you'll risk having to explain to them why a mother hamster sometimes eats its young...
Why do hamsters eat their babies (and how to prevent that from happening)?
New hamster moms do eat their babies at times, a shocking and upsetting revelation for the human owners! Why do they do this? How can you prevent it?
Female hamsters sometimes eat their pups for the following reasons:
- General stress and fear
- Scent confusion
- Feeling that the pups are threatened
- Health problems
The key to preventing this from happening is to make the momma hamster feel as safe and secure as possible by not disturbing the natural process of birth and pup rearing.
Remember that hamsters are unable to reason, meaning there is no evil thought process behind their choice to eat their young. Killing their pups is an instinctive natural process brought about by evolution.
I know, easier said than done as we are humans and we tend to humanize other animals. I explain in more detail below to help you reach the same level of acceptance I now feel (well, mostly feel) when thinking about this whole process!
Stress and Fear are key reasons hamsters eat their babies
When mama hamsters feel like their nest is insecure, they might eat their young to prevent a predator from getting them.
While we know there is no predator lurking in the corner, our hamsters do not so they still act as if there could be. Hamsters become even more sensitive and wary of everything just before and in the weeks after giving birth.
If your hamster has a nervous disposition in general or if she is a first-time mama, she is more likely to be affected by the stress and fear associated with giving birth and, subsequently, this could result in her cannibalizing her pups. Stress in the later stages of pregnancy can also lead to a hamster eating her pups, so as soon as you suspect your hamster is pregnant you should reduce her stress.
How to reduce the likelihood of stress and fear
Reduce the stress and fear your mama hamster feels by making sure her cage is in a quiet, vibration and disturbance-free area. It should not be located near a door or a window where she will constantly see movement or located on a wall with a TV or sound system attached to it (either in the same room or in an adjacent room) as this could cause additional stress for your hamster.
Avoid handling the mama hamster once she begins to show (around 10 days) and do not handle her again until the pups have been removed from the cage. Now for the most difficult piece of advice...you need to avoid spending extra time around the cage, taking pictures of the babies, and acting excited around your mama hamster.
You should only be around the cage when absolutely necessary for the first 10-14 days, and you should not have any visitors around the cage until the pups’ eyes are open.
Caring for the babies: Two Weeks After the Birth
Hamster pups are born blind, deaf and completely naked. That's why breeders often call them "pinkies". These tiny babies grow fast. Within a week they'll start crawling around the cage. At around two weeks of age, they will open their eyes and soon become very active.
So, you now have a bunch of baby hamsters to take care of, and you don’t know quite what to do. Actually, this phase is fairly easy - you mostly have to not do things.
Don’t Touch the Nest
To nobody’s surprise, giving birth makes the mother hamster a little agitated. Therefore, give them as much space as possible in the first couple of days after the birth. If you don’t, she could become stressed and aggressive towards you or her babies.
In fact, if hamsters get too stressed out in the days following giving birth, they’re known to abandon their pups. And in some cases, even end up killing them. So please, give her some space!
Handling the Babies is a Big No-No
In the two weeks following the birth, refrain from handling the babies. If you do handle them, the mother hamster will smell your scent on them and abandon or kill the babies. She could also just attack your hand outright if she catches you in the act.
However, there are other ways to move the babies in case of an emergency. You need to dawn on a couple of dust-free latex gloves so that you're keeping your scent off. Again, only in an emergency as even that can be very stressful for the mother hamster.
Don’t Clean the Cage
I know, this will sound disgusting, but it’s vital you don’t clean the hamster’s cage for two weeks following the birth. If you do attempt to clean, you’ll upset the mother hamster with potentially tragic circumstances.
However, if there’s an excessively wet spot away from the nest, go ahead and clean it up - wearing those dust-free latex gloves. But please, ensure there’s absolutely no way your cleaning of it affects the nest in any way.
Keep the Temperature Around 70 Degrees
It’s essential you keep the room around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It will provide the babies and the mother with the perfect environment to grow and adapt.
Too cold and the tiny blind pups could get chilled, even in their nest. Most hamsters are ok with slightly higher temperatures but like any newborn mammals, the pups have a hard time regulating their body temperature, so maintaining a stable temperature is better. Get a thermometer and place it near the cage so you can monitor room temperature there at any point.
And yes, your hamster cage should be kept away from drafts anyway. If that's not already the case, make sure you protect it better well ahead of the due date.
Offer the Mother - And Pups - Plenty of Food and Water
Make sure you check the cage at least twice a day to ensure there’s enough food and water. A week after the pups were born, you can begin putting food along the sides and the floor of the cage. In doing so, you’re helping them get used to the idea of feeding themselves.
Regarding the type of food, stick with the diet described in the "before birth" section: high in protein and fat.
You should also lower the water bottle to a level where it will be reachable for the younger hamsters. Around 10 to 20 days after birth, you should start seeing the baby hamsters using the water bottle. A couple of fresh cucumber pieces a day can be a great way to offer hydrating food too.
Two to four weeks of age
After the first two weeks, the pressure is off, and you shouldn’t have many complications from here on out. However, there are some things you must do and be aware of to ensure these complications don’t become an issue.
The turning point is when the pups open their eyes. Wait for all of the pups in the litter to do that, which could be 15-16 days after the birth.
Here's what you should do next.
Clean the Cage
Now, that the baby hamsters have opened their eyes and are feeding on their own (although they're not completely weaned) the mother will be less protective. You can finally go in and clean the stinky environment the cage has become.
Regarding the cleaning process, you should do it exactly how you did it before the pregnancy. Do remember to place a few scraps of toilet paper and facial tissues around the cage; the mother will want to build another nest.
Read more: Cleaning your hamster's cage
Handle the Babies
We’ve finally come to the point where handling the babies is okay! In fact, it's encouraged because we need these hamsters to get used to the human touch. So don’t be bashful and have some fun with your baby hamsters!
But be warned, these babies move very quickly; therefore, be careful when handling them. Always keep them very close to the ground, as they might jump off your hand and injure themselves in a long fall.
As you would expect, baby hamsters are very fragile, so handle them with care and don't let toddlers or young children handle them.
Separating the young hamsters from the mother
Once the hamsters reach 4 weeks of age, it's time for them to move along and say goodbye to their mother.
Since Syrian hamsters are solitary animals, you'll probably start noticing the mother hamster becoming more impatient with the pups during the fourth week. Just how much she'll tolerate the pups will depend on her temperament and the number of youngsters she's caring for.
Keep an eye on the cage and if you notice the mother hamster becoming actually aggressive, you may need to remove the pups slightly earlier, possibly as early as 25 days old.
Weaning the Babies Off Mother Milk
Generally, baby hamsters feed off their mother until they’re about four weeks old. After that, they should switch to eating exclusively on their own.
There's not a lot you need to be doing at this point other than providing quality nutrition in the cage. The mother hamster will take care of the rest and you may start seeing her become impatient and pushing the pups off when they try to nurse.
Separate Males and Females
To ensure you don’t start a whole hamster colony, you’ll need to separate the males and the females at the age of four weeks. It’s essential you do this before it hits the 40-day mark, as this is when they become capable of mating. Sooner is better, and the smartest thing to do is to separate them as soon as you separate them from the mother cat.
Now, telling the difference between a male and a female isn’t too difficult. The easiest way to identify gender in a hamster is by looking at the two underside openings.
If the hamster is female, the two openings - the vulva and the anus - will be very close together. In fact, they might even be touching. On the other hand, if the hamster is male, the two openings - the penis and the anus - will have an obvious space between them.
Read more: How to sex hamsters
Treat Them like Adults!
Once a hamster hits five weeks old, it’s essentially an adult. So, treat them as you would an adult hamster and enjoy spending time with them!
You should start looking for homes for your young hamsters as soon as they are born. Yes, they can't leave the mother before they are four weeks old, but once they get to that age, you should have wonderful homes in line for adopting them.
Make sure these people truly care for the welfare of their pets, screen them well and charge a small adoption fee (just to make sure they are serious). Find out in advance if they know how to properly care for a hamster.
Ask about the living conditions they're going to offer these little critters and make sure they know what they're doing. If these people never had hamsters before, ask them to read this post to see whether a hamster would be a good pet for them.
Put a lot of thought and effort into finding great homes for these hamsters - you owe them this much.
Caring for rejected or orphan baby hamsters
Sadly, nature is cruel and tragic complications can arise during the birth process. And honestly, if this happens with your hamster mother, there isn’t much you can do. You should contact your veterinarian in case you think the hamster is struggling to give birth but unless this is an exotic pets specialist, he or she may not be able to help.
That's yet another reason why breeding hamsters should be reserved for experienced ethical breeders, who are willing to invest the money in a c-section for a hamster!
Other times, a mother hamster may reject one or more of the pups. Sometimes these rejected pups will be eaten by the mother. This happens quite often with hamsters, to the point that some seasoned breeders avoid counting the pups right after the birth, to avoid heartache.
Read more: Why hamsters sometimes eat their babies
And sometimes, you may just notice a rejected pup. One that the mother refused to handle or feed. You will be motivated to try and help out.
Rejected and orphaned newborn hamsters are extremely difficult to save. In most cases, without a mother hamster, they simply can't make it.
Below, you’ll find some alternatives that might increase the likelihood they’ll survive.
Find a Surrogate Mother
In the case the mother dies, you can always try and find a surrogate. Now, this process is a very delicate one, and you should be prepared to be on high alert.
First, find a surrogate that has babies who are a couple of days younger or older than your hamster babies. After finding the mother, take nesting material from her nest and wrap it around your babies. And yes, it's extremely difficult to find such a surrogate mother. Professional ethical breeders may have such a mother in a different cage or can contact other breeders for help.
The first thing you’ll want to do is wipe all the birthing process residue off the babies. To do this, wrap the babies in a clean cloth towel and rub the towel gently. If you don’t, the new mother might sense their not her kids and perceive them as threats.
In doing so, you’re tricking the surrogate into thinking your hamster babies are her’s. And finally, distract her with a treat for long enough, so, you can place your hamster babies in the nest with her’s.
Caring for orphaned/rejected newborn pups yourself
At this point, the chances the hamster babies survive are very small. But in the case of an absolute emergency, you can try to do the following:
- Place a heating pad under the cage to provide the warmth they’re missing now that their mom has died or rejected them.
- Use toilet paper and facial tissues to create nests for the babies/baby yourself.
- Use Lactol, which is an animal milk replacement, to nurse the baby hamsters or hamsters with a dropper.
Try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator or rescuer who might be able to help you. And be prepared for the heartbreak - it's rare to be able to hand-rear a newborn baby hamster.
Hopefully, your hamster isn't pregnant - and never will be. If she is - you now have the basics of caring for the mother and pups down. If you’re attentive, caring, and respectful of the mother hamster, you shouldn’t face any issues.
And don't forget to go over our other guide too: Pregnancy and birth in Syrian hamsters for more information. Also, hamsters don't just take care of themselves! Check out 37 Hamster Care Tips that will take you to the next level so that your hamster will live a nice life and possibly live longer. Remember, prevention is better than cure!