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Do you suspect your newly-bought Syrian hamster may be pregnant? It can happen, as many shops do not separate hamsters properly. Dealing with pregnancy and birth in hamsters can seem daunting - and rightfully so. That's why we've prepared this thorough guide for you, based on experience - as well as intensive research.
In a nutshell: Pregnancy lasts for 16-17 days in Syrian hamsters. The female gives birth to 5-15 babies, known as hamster pups. The pups are born blind and naked but quickly grow to become energetic young hamsters which need to be separated from the mother once they turn four weeks old.
If you are indeed dealing with a pregnant female, I'm sure you have tons of questions at this point. How to tell whether she's really pregnant? How to prepare for the birth? What to do during the birth and how to care for the momma and pups afterward? Don't worry, we have you covered with this detailed guide. Grab a coffee - this is a long one.
Breeding hamsters - should you get your hamster pregnant?
Throughout this guide, we're going to assume that you have not deliberately tried to breed your hamster.
If you're reading this because you're thinking of getting your hamster pregnant - don't.
Breeding any animal is a huge responsibility. There are so many hamsters out there right now, looking for good homes - just open your local Craigslist or hop over to the pet shop and you'll see for yourself.
Breeding hamsters is a serious business and you could easily fall into the traps of inbreeding. It's also expensive and you need to have access to an exotic vet - in case anything goes wrong.
If you love hamsters - please don't breed them. Unless you're serious about getting into showing and breeding pedigreed hamsters (yes, that's a thing!). In which case, you need to get in touch with an experienced ethical breeder who will talk to you and teach you the ropes.
With that out of the way, let's get back to your possibly pregnant hamster. Again, we'll assume that this is a new hamster that you got from a pet store where she may have been mated.
How you can tell if your hamster is pregnant?
In many cases, you will not realize your hamster is pregnant until she is close to 10 days into her 16-day gestational period. Typically, these are the signs that tell you your Syrian hamster may be pregnant:
- Her nipples will begin to swell and pucker out.
- She will pay more attention to her nest, hoard more food and generally seem restless.
- Her belly will grow larger, typically extending to the sides, so you can see that when looking at her from above.
Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to decide if your hamster might be pregnant or if she might have a health issue you need to take her to the vet for:
- If your hamster is younger than 6 weeks old, she is almost certainly not pregnant.
- If your hamster has not had a male companion in over 4 weeks (28 days) then she is not pregnant.
- If you have suspected she is pregnant for more than 7-10 days and she has not given birth, then there could be a different reason for her behavior.
How to deal with a pregnant hamster
By the time you suspect your hamster is pregnant she is probably 10 or more days into pregnancy, so expect baby hamsters soon!
Here are tips for dealing with your hamster during this fun and exciting time:
- Refrain from handling your hamster as this could cause her extra stress.
- Avoid interfering with the bedding and cage as much as possible once you realize your hamster is pregnant.
- Provide extra materials for building the nest, toilet paper is a great (and inexpensive) option.
- Check the cage (but without any fanfare to reduce the stress this causes) to make sure there is always plenty of food and water available.
- Be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible while around your hamster’s cage.
- Wear powder-free rubber gloves to keep your scent off the food and other items in the cage.
- Remove all toys and non-essential items from the cage, this includes the exercise wheels, ramps, and sand baths. This prevents the mama hamster from overdoing it before giving birth and keeps the pups safe while they get strong and healthy.
- Keep the cage dry! A wet cage can be deadly to baby hamsters. This is the only reason to clean the cage once the babies are born until they have opened their eyes.
(And since Hamstes101 is intended for beginners, it's worth mentioning that Syrian hamsters are solitary animals. There shouldn't be any other hamster in the cage with your female. This is regardless of the pregnancy and birth - each hamster needs to have her or his cage!)
What to feed your pregnant hamster
You will most likely only have days between realizing you have a pregnant hamster on your hands, and the actual birth.
Still, this is a good time to boost up Momma Hamster's nutrition. Since you most likely got her from a pet store already pregnant, there's a good chance she hasn't been given the best of diets so far, so supplementing her food is important.
Having said that, go easy on her. You don't want the food to be too rich. Among other things, it could actually make the babies grow to become too large.
Stick to a quality hamster feed and supplement with small amounts of any of the following foods -
- Egg or tofu
- Cooked chicken (no bones)
- Fruit and veggies that are safe for hamsters (see our list of problem foods for hamsters here).
How to know when your hamster is in labor
If you notice your pregnant hamster acting restless and frantic, there is a good chance she has gone into labor. She will alternate between eating, grooming, and nest building almost non-stop.
Another sign she is in labor is if she hisses at you if you reach in the cage. Don’t worry, this is a normal process and there is really nothing you can (or should) do at this point. It is actually best if you leave her alone and let her do what comes naturally.
Please avoid the urge to take photos or videos during the birth, unless you can make 100% sure the hamster doesn't notice you. And don't stand there staring either - she could use the privacy!
You might want to take a look at this video. Interestingly, you can do the same technique of discreetly mounting a camera in the hamster's cage ahead of time so you don't have to disturb them when in labor:
What to do after your hamster gives birth
Congratulations! You have an exciting new group of hamsters and I am sure you are dying to touch and cuddle each one… Do NOT do this!
Here are some key things to know in order to help your pups remain happy and healthy.
The first two weeks
Do not interfere with the mother hamster and her pups during the first few days. At all. Only access the cage to bring food and water.
Hamsters are born deaf, blind and pink. That's why hamster aficionados often call them "pinkies". They look more like embryos than fully developed mammals.
Five days into their life, these pinkies begin showing signs of pigmentation. That's when you'll start seeing which areas will grow white fur and which will have darker shades.
At around 7-8 days old these blind immobile creatures begin nibbling around. They're not weaned off the mother's milk yet. If they are separated from the Mom at this age, they are unlikely to survive through hand-rearing (so please don't try!).
They will, however, munch on small bits of food which the mother will bring to the nest. And you may actually catch them nibbling on her poop too. Gross, yes, but probably necessary for the development of their gut microbiome (the "good" bacteria that lives in the gut).
Once they turn a week and a half - or thereabouts - you'll notice the pups moving around the cage. They're not walking yet, just crawling around. That's why you had to remove items from the cage before the birth - blind and helpless, these pups can easily get stuck in just about anything.
At about 14-15 days of age, your hamster pups will finally open their eyes and take their first look around. This is a huge milestone - and this is finally when you can probably start handling them, starting with cleaning that cage already!
What to do during the first two weeks
It's very important to let the mother and pups be during this phase.
Do not bring in guests to watch the "miracle of life", especially not young children who may be unable to contain their joy and turn loud.
Do not take photos - especially no flash photography.
Do not clean the cage during this period (yes, it's going to get a bit smelly, but that will be less stressful for the mother cat than you cleaning the cage). Only remove visible debris when you bring food and water - that's it.
If you notice your mama hamster has eaten one (or more) of the pups DO NOT remove the rest, they are totally dependent on their mama until they are able to eat solid food.
Check the cage to make sure there is enough food and water available for the mama hamster and the pups if so, leave the new family alone. Most likely there was an issue with that pup and she was just doing what came naturally, there is no reason to think she will continue to eat the other pups and removing the pups means certain death.
Read more: Why do hamsters eat their babies?
Avoid touching the babies until they have grown fur, their eyes are open, and they are eating solid food (around 10-14 days).
Once the pups open their eyes
Don't be fooled. They may be very energetic but they're also extremely fragile and still rely on their mother. They won't be fully weaned until three weeks of age, and should not be separated from the mother until they're 4 weeks old.
What you can - and should - be doing once they open their eyes is two things -
- Clean the cage (at last!)
- Begin socializing them with humans.
Since this means handling the pups, you need to do this gradually and make sure the mother hamster is ok with you handling the pups. Her level of tolerance depends on her temperament, her bond with you and overall stress levels.
If she knows and trusts you and you've followed the instructions so far, she should be ok with your hand in the cage, finally petting her again.
How to clean the cage for the first time after the birth
The key here is to separate the mother from the pups for the duration of the cleaning session.
Why separate them?
This is only a temporary measure, of course. You need to put your hamster away in a container while cleaning the cage, right? Well, if you put Momma hamster and pups in the same bin, she is likely to get very agitated. Her instincts to cover the pups and hide them will kick in but she won't be able to do that in the bin. Best to just keep them apart.
This is also your chance to sex the pups properly and handle them for a bit to make sure they're all right.
But first things first, cleaning the cage.
Get two separate bins, one for the mother and one for the pups. You can place food and even a toy in the mother's bin. Make sure you're working in a warm environment - you do not want the tiny pups to chill.
Do not go crazy with Operation Cleanup. Remember, your hamster needs to return to the same familiar nest where she had the pups so far. Your job here is to fully inspect the cage, remove debris and dirty bedding, clean visible dirt with non-scented wipes and add some fresh bedding. That's it. Keep the nest itself intact, so the mother will feel secure.
Once you're done, return the mother hamster to the cage. Allow her a few minutes to explore and get comfortable and then return the pups.
Four weeks old - Separation Time
After 28 days, remove the baby hamsters from the mama hamster to avoid maternal aggression as the pups become adults. In some cases, you may have to do this a little bit earlier.
Watch the mother's behavior closely around this time and if she's overly aggressive, it might be time to move the pups to separate cages. However, do not separate them before the age of 24 days, minimum. It's ok if their mother seems impatient with them - they're now the equivalent of teenagers so that's perfectly understandable.
Make absolutely sure you separate the males from the females at this point!
That's why you need two separate cages. You need to make sure these pups don't perpetuate the breeding cycle and the only effective way to do so is by separating them by sex. If they are Syrian hamsters, they'll soon need to be placed in their own individual cages anyway. For now, until you find them the great homes they deserve - make sure boys and girls don't share a cage.
You should be able to sex them by now. If there's a pup that you're unsure of, place that one with the males. That way, if it turns out to be a female, you'll only have one pregnant female on your hands. If you place that pup with the females and it turns out to be male, all of the females could become pregnant.
How can I tell the sex of the pups?
There's no immediate rush with sexing newborn hamsters. Born blind, deaf and without fur, they're not going to start breeding right away.
In fact, handling the pups this early could stress out the mother. She may end up rejecting and even eating the tiny pinkies. Remember, during the first five days, you should not bother the mother hamster and her pups at all.
A good time to sex the babies would be after they opened their eyes, possibly during that first cage clean-up, around the age of two weeks.
Carefully pick up each pup and turn it over so the belly is facing you. At this point, the pup’s body should be lying in the hand you are using to scruff the pup. Look just under their tails, there should be 2 distinct openings in this area, they are typically are small and pink, they might look slightly raised around the edges. The hole closest to the tail is the anus and the hole closer to the abdomen is the location of the urinary and genital organs.
Males have a very clear separation between the two holes, so it is easy to tell the openings apart. In addition, you may see small swellings in the groin area, these are the growing testicles. Females have openings that are very close together and you might even have trouble telling the two holes apart due to their closeness.
They might appear to be a single opening. In young pups, it can be hard to tell the sex of a hamster so if you are unsure, recheck them often or have an experienced vet check to verify the sex of the pup.
Other Sex Traits in Syrian Hamsters
Syrian hamsters, the largest of the household hamster breeds, can be the easiest to sex due to their size. They also have different sex characteristics that you should keep in mind, especially if you’re not confident in your initial sex determination.
Female Syrian hamsters have pretty prominent nipples that appear in two rows down the belly. Males have very obvious testicles where this breed is concerned, though they can be tougher to find if the hamster has long fur on their belly.
Finding forever homes for your pups
Please take the time to find very good homes for your hamsters. Make sure future owners understand the commitment involved in raising a hamster. Give them all the information they need beforehand and make sure they have a great cage and all the other equipment needed for their new hamster.
If anyone is looking to adopt two hamsters, make sure they are of the same sex, to prevent future pregnancies. What's more, if these are Syrian hamsters, make sure the owners have two cages for them and know to keep them separate.
Please don't sell the pups to pet shops. Carefully screen potential adopters and do charge an adoption fee, or ask to see the equipment you bought. This is your way of making sure they're not just buying the pups to feed them to snakes (yes, that can happen!)
Finding good homes for your hamster can be very difficult. Still, it's your responsibility to make sure the little ones have the best possible lives. Good luck!
Hamsters look really cute when they take care of their newborn, know more about the breeds of hamsters aside from these really cute Syrian hamsters. Check out The Ultimate Hamster Breeds Guide. Also, after the hamster has given birth what should you do afterward? We can say that its parents will take care of them but you can also do your obligation as its owner. Check out How to Take Care of Baby Hamsters.