Hamsters make great pets, and they’re adorable when they’re babies! Even though they’re cute, a surprise litter of baby hamsters can be inconvenient if you’re not expecting it. If your hamster gets pregnant, or you want to breed hamsters, you need to know how to care for a litter of baby hamsters, or pups.
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about baby hamsters and what to do with a pregnant hamster. It’ll cover:
- How to Care for Baby Hamsters
- How to Handle a Pregnant Hamster
- Tips for Breeding and Raising Baby Hamsters
- Taming Baby Hamsters
How to Care for Baby Hamsters
If your hamster is pregnant, you’ll need to prepare to care for the babies that are on the way. The average gestation period for hamsters is about three weeks, but it depends on the breed. Syrian hamsters are usually pregnant for 16 days, whereas dwarf hamsters’ pregnancy lasts between 18-21 days. Litter sizes can vary anywhere from one to 20, but an average litter size is 12 pups.
You can read tips on how to care for a pregnant hamster in the following section on the subject. This section will focus more on caring for pups after they’re born.
Baby hamsters are born blind, deaf, and hairless. They’re fragile and pretty helpless, and could easily lose a limb if they’re not careful. After the mother finishes birthing them, she’ll rest. Then, she’ll start nursing her pups. The pups will develop a layer of fur after four days and start crawling around the cage at five days.
During this time, refrain from picking the pups up and let the mother handle them. You can lower the water, though, so it’s accessible for them. After about 10 days, you can give them solid food like small bits of cooked vegetables.
After two weeks, you can finally clean the cage and put down fresh bedding. At three to four weeks old, the pups can leave their mother and the male and female pups should be separated if you don’t want them to breed.
When Can I Touch Baby Hamsters?
You should avoid touching or holding baby hamsters until they are three weeks old. Before this time, they are still reliant on their mother to feed them. Also, if you touch one and leave your scent behind, the mother hamster could detect your scent and not recognize her baby. When this happens, a mother might kill the baby and eat it. It’s important to be very careful around newborn hamsters for this reason!
Why Do Baby Hamsters Die?
Sometimes, baby hamsters die before they reach maturity (three weeks old). There could be several causes for their death, including allergies, disease or infection, or being eaten by their mothers. Some hamsters might also have a heart defect which causes them to die suddenly if they feel shocked or scared.
Do Hamsters Eat Their Own Babies?
Yes, sometimes, hamsters will eat their own babies after giving birth. While malnutrition during pregnancy can cause a mother hamster to eat her own young, so can a host of other factors.
- The mother fears for her babies – Hamsters want to protect their young. If a mother is scared that she can’t protect her babies, however, she might kill and eat them.
- The mother is stressed out – If a mother hamster feels overwhelmed by caring for her babies, she might kill and eat them. Younger mother hamsters are more likely to feel this stress.
- Confusing scent – Mother hamsters use scents to identify their babies. If a baby has taken on another scent that the mother doesn’t recognize, she might kill the “impostor” and consume it.
Can you prevent a hamster from eating her babies? You can set up a calm, quiet place for your hamster and babies to cut down on perceived threats. You can also refrain from touching the babies when you check on them and provide the mother with plenty of food.
How Soon Can You Take Hamsters Away from their Mother?
Baby hamsters should only stay with their mothers for three to four weeks after they’re born. After a few weeks, the mother hamster will start weaning her babies. Once she does, you can start feeding the baby hamsters a regular, commercial hamster diet.
Hamsters can reproduce starting at three weeks old, and the gestation period is only three weeks. To avoid any surprises, separate the male and female hamster babies after they’re weaned. Hamsters can be adopted once they’re three weeks old, and it’s best to find a home for them before seven weeks.
How to Handle a Pregnant Hamster
Caring for baby hamsters starts with caring for the pregnant mother. If she is healthy and comfortable, she is better able to take care of her babies.
How Can You Tell if a Hamster is Pregnant?
You might not notice if your hamster is pregnant (or female), so a litter of pups comes as a surprise. A pregnant hamster isn’t too noticeable until the last few days before she gives birth. Her abdomen will be much larger than normal.
Sometimes, the pet store or facility where the hamster was housed wasn’t aware a female hamster was pregnant before you brought her home. In this situation, you might not even notice if her belly is larger than normal! For this reason, it’s important to adopt hamsters from breeders or facilities that keep male and female hamsters separated.
Helping a Female Hamster Prepare for Birth
While she’s still pregnant, a hamster will start nesting in preparation for her pups. You should provide nesting material for her and make sure the cage is clean. Soft, clean toilet paper makes great bedding. Also, remove any toys or items that could get in the way.
A good diet is essential to a pregnant hamster as well. She needs protein, both during the pregnancy and afterward, until her babies are weaned. Some safe sources of protein you can feed your pregnant hamster include:
- Small bits of hard-boiled egg
- Tiny pieces of cooked chicken
- Wheat germ
A pregnant and nursing hamster also needs plenty of clean water.
If your pregnant hamster normally lives with another hamster, you should separate them before the babies are born. Keep them separate after the birth as well, to avoid fighting and to keep the pups safe. Also, you don’t want your hamster to end up pregnant again if she’s sharing with a male hamster!
The Birthing Process
Birthing takes about one to two hours, with one baby coming every fifteen to thirty minutes. The mother will lick each baby clean after it’s born. Hamster babies are covered in caul when they’re born. Caul is a thin membrane full of nutrients to help the mother replenish after giving birth.
After the babies are born, don’t handle them for at least two weeks. When you feed the mother hamster, be very quiet and calm. Avoid loud noises or threatening sounds, as the mother will be very protective of her young just after they’re born. The mother might charge you or stand on her hind legs if she thinks your hand is too close to her babies, so avoid any unnecessary interaction.
Can I Care for Baby Hamsters Without a Mother?
You might be in a situation where your hamster can’t take care of her babies, or the pups have no one to nurse them and look after them. If that’s the case, you should consult a veterinarian about taking care of them. One solution is to find a surrogate mom who can help raise the pups. If you find them a new mother, however, you’ll have to wash the scent of their old nest off of them, so the new mother doesn’t get confused and eat them. You can also ask your vet for further details about this process
Another option is taking charge of feeding them yourself. To replace their mother’s milk, make a special formula with Lactol. Feed them milk with an eyedropper, every hour, until they are seven to ten days old. At each feeding, they should get two drops of milk. When using the dropper, don’t squirt it into the pup’s mouth. Let the pup lick the drop from the end of the dropper instead.
Tips for Breeding and Raising Baby Hamsters
If you’re interested in breeding hamsters, consider your options carefully first. Bear in mind that selling your pups to pet stores is difficult. You have a limited time window in which to sell them (between three weeks and seven weeks old) and pet stores usually only buy hamsters from established, reputable breeders.
Unless you want to keep and care for all the hamsters yourself, or you have a large group of family and friends willing to take the pups, breeding might not be wise.
Another potential barrier to breeding hamsters is birth defects. If certain breeds mate, they may produce offspring with genetic defects such as missing eyes, no teeth, or mental illness. The babies that are born without eyes and teeth tend to die within a few weeks.
Some breeding combinations to avoid are:
- Two Campbell’s
- Two Syrian hamsters that are roan in color
- Two hamsters that are closely related
Wild hamsters mate and reproduce between spring and early fall. Since domestic hamsters have artificial lighting, however, they may be able to mate year-round.
They have a 12-hour window every four days.
The male will seek out the female during mating. Mating is brief and after it occurs, the female will start acting aggressively toward the male (but only if she’s a Syrian breed). For this reason, don’t leave the two hamsters together for too long. If you put them together and no mating happens after 15-30 minutes, then it’s not likely to happen this time and you should separate the hamsters again.
Taming Baby Hamsters
If you want to keep your baby hamsters after they’re born, you’ll have to acclimate them to you, or tame them. And you can’t start taming them until they’re mature, after three weeks. “Taming” a hamster usually involves getting the hamster comfortable when you hold it or pick it up.
Although hamsters enjoy the company of humans and like to be held, it’s not instinctive for them. You’ll need to spend some time building up trust with your new hamsters if you want them to be comfortable around you. Follow these steps to make your hamster more comfortable with you.
Adjusting to New Surroundings
If you move your baby hamster from their mother’s cage into a new cage, it’ll have to get used to its new environment. Leave your hamster two to three days to settle in and feel comfortable in its new home – before you try to start handling it.
When your hamster is fully awake, try to coax it to come to you with a treat. Don’t take your hamster out of their cage at this point, just get them to come up to the bars of their cage near your hand.
If you take your hamster out of its cage to play, make sure the play area is safe and comfortable. A large box works well because your hamster can’t escape. You’ll also want to put soft padding down or play somewhere with soft ground, in case your hamster jumps around while you play.
After the hamster feels safe in your play area, let it run around on your hands, while you keep your hands on the ground. Once they’re comfortable with this, they can climb onto your hand and move from one hand to the other.
If your hamster seems happy with being held, you can move on to trying to pick it up. When you pick up your hamster, never make sudden movements, as this will panic it. If your hamster starts squeaking or wriggling around, put it back down immediately.
Baby hamsters are delicate and require a specific level of care. Whether you find yourself as the accidental owner of a litter of pups or you’re trying to breed them on purpose, follow these care instructions to ensure they’re healthy and happy.