We got Richmond (our brown and white Syrian hamster) when he was about six weeks old. By that time he was fully developed and was able to look after himself.
But what do you do if you happen to have a pregnant hamster and you suddenly find out that you’ve got a litter of pups to look after?
After having done some research, here’s what to do and what to expect and don’t forget to watch the video later on the post as it’s super cute!
Pregnancy and birth
After mating, hamsters have an extremely short gestation period of just 16 days, which is one of the shortest periods known in mammals.
During the first seven days of this gestation period, care must be taken when handling a pregnant hamster and in the later stages of pregnancy, it’s a good idea to provide the hamster with milk.
You can give a pregnant hamster milk in the form of runny porridge or even bread soaked in milk. This will help to preserve the bone strength of the pregnant mother and her pups too.
Sunflower seeds, given a day or two before the birth, can also help with milk production.
A couple of days before the babies are due, the hamster will begin nesting and so you should clean the cage and provide plenty of fresh bedding so that the hamster can make a nest.
Following the birth of hamsters, you should refrain from cleaning the cage again for at least two weeks. You should however remove old, uneaten food and replace it with fresh food on a regular basis. You should also provide clean, fresh water on a daily basis.
Hamster babies, also known as pups, are born between midday on the 16th day and the evening of the 17th day of the gestation period. Most pups however arrive during the night of the 16th day.
It’s important that you contact a vet asap, if there are no signs of any pups on the morning of the 18th day.
When hamsters are born, there are typically between 4 and 12 in a litter, but this number can even be as high as 20! Hamsters are born blind and naked and their ears are flat against their heads.
When the pups are born, the mother will lick them clean and allow them to suckle. The mother will then clean herself thoroughly.
In the first few days, the mother hamster will rarely leave the nest and will spend her time licking her pups, constructing and fluffing up the nest, and nursing her newborn pups.
When the mother does decide to leave the nest, it will just be to collect food, go to the toilet or have a drink. The mother will do so very slowly and will use the bedding material to scrape the hamster pups off of her teats.
It’s possible that you will hear squeaks when the mother hamster returns to the nest until she has settled down again.
If at any point, the mother becomes startled for any reason and runs away from the nest, it may be the case that the pups are scattered outside the nest.
It’s very important that you don’t return the pups to the nest by yourself at this point, as tempting as it might be. Instead, the mother will do this herself, usually quite quickly, especially when the pups start to squeak quite loudly!
However, if you notice that the mother isn’t doing as she should, then distract the mother, either by giving her some food or putting her out to play. Then, use a spoon to return the baby back to the nest.
It’s very important that you don’t do this with your hand as the pups will now have your scent on them and the mother may take action to defend her young from the perceived predator (you).
At best the hamster may get aggressive towards you and bite you and at worst, shen may even cannibalize her young.
Nursing mothers should be provided with milky foods every day, but it’s important that the food dish you provide isn’t so big that the pups can fall into it. Even at this age, hamster pups are very mobile!
Hamster mothers often cover their pups up when they leave their nest. But as tempting as it might be, you should uncover them to take a look, even if it’s a tiny peek. If you do, the mother will sense the interference and could kill her pups.
If it turns out that the mother hamster leaves her pups uncovered, then it’s fine to take a look at the hamster pups as long as you don’t touch them otherwise, again, you’ll risk upsetting the mother.
Hamster mothers sometimes put a heap of shavings around the nest to cover the pups which is perfectly normal, though you should monitor the amount of shavings and bedding being used.
Some hamsters have a habit of using so much bedding and shavings that it poses a risk of suffocation to the pups. If you notice that this is happening, feel free to remove some of the excess.
Mother hamsters sometimes eat their pups
As grim as it sounds, mother hamsters have been known to eat their own pups, for various reasons. Not all pups survive because some are either born with deformities that they can’t recover from or they can catch a chill and die.
If this happens, it isn’t unusual for the mother to eat the dead pups. Although this sounds gruesome to us, it is natural for a hamster to do so, because in the wild, the smell of a dead baby hamster can attract predators which can endanger the rest of the litter.
This doesn’t always happen and it might be the case that the mother places the dead baby behind the nest. If you notice this (usually by the smell), then you should distract the mother with some food and remove the dead baby.
Keeping pups warm
In theory, the only things that you need to provide to your hamster and her pups is clean fresh water, food, bedding and nesting material, and the mother’s natural instinct will take care of the rest.
However, the mother may sometimes stray from the nest for too long causing the pups to get cold. Because baby hamsters are born naked, they can lose their body heat very quickly and if they’re not kept warm, they can die.
If this is the case, put the cage in a quiet corner of a room where there won’t be any distractions. For example, some hamsters have a habit of rushing out of their nest to see you (expecting food) without detaching the pups from her teats properly and scattering her pups around the cage in the process.
As the pups grow older and become more self-sufficient, this becomes less of an issue and even good mother hamsters will leave their pups in their nest for extended periods.
Here’s what to expect at the various stages of the pup’s development.
Baby hamsters – the first seven days
Baby hamsters grow very quickly and their fur starts to grow quite early on. By day seven, it becomes apparent which hamsters will have darker or lighter colored fur.
At this point though, baby hamsters are still blind, but it is possible to see through their eyelids and tell whether they have red or black eyes.
Interestingly, it’s possible, even at this age, to tell the gender of the pups because the teats on the female hamsters will be visible (more on this later in the article).
Baby hamsters – 7 to 14 days
From day seven onwards, baby hamsters can start to eat solid food because their teeth will have started to grow. An ideal mix to give to the baby hamsters can be made with the following:
- First-stage dried baby food
- Small broken bits of of hamster food
Once you have made up the mix, it can be sprinkled into the nest for the pups to eat. Make sure however, that you sprinkle some of the mix into the mother’s food dish otherwise she will likely eat the pups’ share!
Around day ten, the pups may even start to eat the mothers milky food, so make sure that the food dish is small enough to prevent the pups from falling in and drowning.
As the pups grow, they will become more adventurous and decide that they want to wander outside of the nest and gather some food for themselves.
Many mother hamsters will allow their pups to do this, others won’t and will promptly retrieve them if they stray too far from their nest.
If this is the case, then it is recommended that you sprinkle some extra food into their nest.
After ten days, you may see some patterns start to emerge, especially if the pups fur is dark in color. The colors of the baby hamsters will be more evident between 10 and 14 days but you may have to wait until day 15 to see some colors such as the classic golden color or dark gray.
At this point, the pups’ eyes will also start to open.
Baby hamsters – 14 to 21 days
At the 14 day mark, you should now be able to do a little spot cleaning such as cleaning out the wet corner, disposing of any old food and replacing it with fresh supplies. But even at this point, it’s important that you don’t upset the mother, as she can still be a little overprotective.
Ideally, whilst you’re doing this, you should remove the mother from the cage and into a play pen.
You should also remove as much of the old bedding, shavings and food as possible and replace with new. Care must be taken here not to disturb the nest.
Once you’ve finished spot cleaning the cage, you should let the pups settle for a few minutes first before bringing back the mother. A tip here is to put some treats in the mother’s food dish to distract her so that she doesn’t notice and become too upset at the changes made to the cage.
After an additional two three days it is possible to do a full cage clean including replacing the bedding in the pups nest. The recommended way to do this is to put the mother in a playpen or play box and put the pups in a small container.
Transferring the pups back and forth between the cage and the container is a good opportunity to see the pups and this will be your first chance of handling them. Great care should be taken still as they can be very jumpy!
Once the cage clean is complete, put some extra food in the nest and return the pups back to the cage. Again, when the pups have settled down, you can return the mother hamster to the cage.
It’s a good idea to put a food treat in the food dish to distract the mother whilst the pups explore the newly cleaned cage.
Baby hamsters – 21 days onwards
Over the next seven days, you may start to hear a few squeaks from the pups as they become more vocal, usually because they’re squabbling over a tiny piece of food.
In fact, if you look into their nest at this point, you may even see them having a tug-of-war over a peanut or something similar!
The mother herself may also make some squeak noises as the pups suckle a bit too enthusicalsy with their new, sharp teeth. This is perfectly normal and shouldn’t cause alarm.
Another thing that you might notice is the mother having a few moments of peace to herself in a corner away from her pups.
The mother will often construct new nests for herself in various corners of the cage and as she vacates one nest and into another, the pups will start to dismantle the abandoned nests and steal portions of it to make their own independent nests.
Hamsters by their very nature are clean animals and constantly groom themselves. Baby hamsters start grooming themselves by their second week of life and start by moving their forepaws over their snout without touching it.
By the second week they will be able to lick their forepaws and can brush about their head and snout. By day fifteen, baby hamsters can coordinate licking and brushing their entire body.
Regardless of the hamster species, head and snout grooming starts at the same time as they begin nibbling at solid food.
Also, by the time they can groom their entire body, they will also start venturing out of their nest.
They are also able to eliminate urine and feces at this point without their mother’s help.
In the nest, pups do everything together. This includes huddling, moving around, eating and even play-fighting. Huddling is very important because they need to keep warm because as young mammals, they’re unable to control their own body temperature.
When can you handle baby hamsters?
If the mother isn’t too overprotective, baby hamsters can be handled from day 21 onwards. It’s usually best to handle the pups when the mother is playing outside of the cage.
Once you’re able to handle the pups you should continue to handle them on a daily basis so that they get used to being handled. The first few times you handle the pups, you should take great care because they will be very nervous and jumpy.
When handling the pups, it’s advisable to do so over a large surface and handle them no more than a few inches over the surface. That way, if any of them jump or fall, which is highly likely, then no harm will come to them.
How to tell the sex of a baby hamster
From a very young age it is possible to tell the sex of a baby hamster. You can do this by picking up one of the pups and positioning it so that its back is against the back of your palm, your thumb is under its chin and its rear end points towards your little finger.
Next, hold your hand such that the baby’s head is pointing upwards and its rear end is hanging slightly. At this point, if it is a male, then its genitals will be visible.
In terms of females, the two openings will be very close together, whereas males have a gap with fur in between the openings. If you compare two pups, then the differences will be obvious.
When can hamsters be separated from their mother?
Pups can be separated from their mother once they are weaned and this is usually around 28 days after birth.
Up until this point, the pups will have been suckling on their mothers for a while, often for comfort, but from about three weeks onwards they should be getting most of their nutrition from solid food.
If it turns out that the mother is short-tempered towards her pups, looks unwell or is out of condition, then it is possible to separate the pups a day or two before this if necessary.
However, an ideal time to separate the pups from their mother depends on a number of factors including:
- The number of pups in the letter
- The size of the pups
- The mother’s state of health
Experienced breeders will be able to use these factors to judge the correct time to separate the mother from the pups.
At the 28 days mark, the sexes should be put into separate cages. If it is not possible to tell the sex of a baby, then it’s advisable to put it with the male hamsters.
If it turns out to be a female hamster, then you will only end up with one pregnant hamster.
However, if you put the hamster in with the females, and it turns out to be a male, then you’ll likely end up with many pregnant female hamsters!
Rehoming baby hamsters
Baby hamsters should be a minimum of 28 days old before they should be considered for rehoming. Before this age, the pups aren’t developed enough.
In the hamster trade, there is a concept known as ‘running on’. This is where baby hamsters are kept together in male and female groups.
Grouping them up in this manner not only allows them to learn to fend for themselves, but it also helps them to overcome the trauma of being separated from their mother.
This is generally done for a limited time, usually for a few days or couple of weeks and helps the pups to grow and become more self-sufficient.
When hamsters are about six weeks old, they become more territorial and so they need their own space. If there are any squabbles at this age, then the most aggressive hamster should be housed in its own cage.
Interestingly, female hamsters are known to become territorial earlier than males.
Fostering and hand-rearing
Hamsters usually make good mothers, but if for whatever reason the mother becomes ill, dies or rejects all or part of her litter, then human intervention may be required if the pups are to survive.
This is when a female hamster is used to foster another litter. But this is only possible if the fostering mother has had pups herself within the last three to four days of the motherless litter being born. Even then, success is not guaranteed.
There may be some very difficult decisions to make at this point because the fostering mother can only look after so many pups. If there are too many pups in the motherless litter, then not only do these hamsters have a slim chance of surviving, the pups in her own litter may not survive either.
If there are only three to four pups in each litter, then they will all have a better chance of survival.
Large numbers of motherless pups will unfortunately mean that you have to choose the strongest, biggest and liveliest pups. There usually isn’t another option but to let the smaller, weaker babies die, which is heartbreaking to say the least.
You could hand-rear the remaining pups, but this is extremely difficult and often isn’t very successful.
However, if you are in the position of having more than one nursing mother, then it’s placing a few pups with each mother is better than placing all the babies with the foster mother.
In order to start the fostering process, it’s recommended to take the fostering mother out of the cage to play whilst the extra pups are added to her own litter.
In order to make the fostering mother more accepting of the extra pups, there are two things that you can try:
- Rubbing a little bit of the soiled shavings from the foster mother’s wet corner on each of the new pups in order to transfer some of the foster mother’s scent
- Place the extra pups in the nest and allow them to mingle with her own litter for a few minutes.
If the pups have been away from their real mother for a while, they might be a little cold, so it’s worth putting them somewhere warm for a bit before they’re introduced to the other pups.
Once the pups are introduced, the foster mother can then be returned to the cage, again with some food treats to help distract her.
Fortunately, hamsters can’t count so there’s a good chance the foster mother will be accepting of the extra pups.
At this point, step away from the cage and leave the mother and pups alone for 12 to 18 hours and don’t interfere in any way.
If any of the fostered babies have survived to this point, then fostering has been successful.
Hand-rearing baby hamsters is incredibly difficult, but if you have no other option, then it’s worth a try to help at least one of the pups survive.
Older baby hamsters are much more likely to survive than younger ones, but still, the survival rate for hand-rearing is very low.
If you’re willing to try, then although you will be disappointed and heart-broken if some of the pups don’t survive, it will be hugely rewarding and make the whole thing worthwhile if you do manage to get one of the pups to survive.
Keeping the pups warm
All small babies, including baby humans, struggle to maintain their body temperature. Baby hamsters are no different.
If the pups are less than two weeks old, in the absence of a mother, you need to provide an alternative heat source.
It’s advisable to house the pups in a small container so that the heat is concentrated to a small area. Something like a four pint ice-cream container is ideal.
You should line the container with a thin layer of Aspen wood shavings and add some tissue paper to the container and make a nest.
Next, you need a heat source. Here are some options for you:
- Put the container on top of a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, or
- Put the container in a warm, airing cupboard, or
- Put the container undeath an infrared lamp, a vivarium light or a low-watt (15W) light bulb
Make sure that if you’re using an infrared lamp that you don’t put the lamp too close to the container otherwise the pups will overheat.
If the pups are less than seven days old they will need to be fed in two-hourly intervals. Although cows milk can be used, commercially packed kitten milk that is slightly warm is better.
To feed the pups, you can create an artificial teat by taking a twist of muslin or slim cloth and poking it into the end of an eyedropper. But as the pups get older, they will learn to drink from the end of a teaspoon.
The pups will initially only take a drop of milk at a time, but they will start to drink more of it as they get older.
Once they’ve finished drinking the milk, a drop or two of tepid boiled water will help to remove some of the stickiness left behind by the milk.
The next thing that you need to do is gently rub their tummies up and down with one finger to help stimulate waste production. You should then wipe away any waste with a piece of kitchen roll or cotton wool.
When the pups are between 7 and 14 days old, the interval between feeds can increase from two to five hours.
Gradually, feeding will become a routine and the next step is feed the pups three times a day, with the last feed being very late at night.
Solid food can be introduced from the seventh day onwards, as the pups will start to grow teeth, so follow the guidelines set out in the Baby hamsters – 7 to 14 days section above.
In this post we’ve covered everything from pregnancy and birth, what to expect at certain milestones and how to foster and hand-rear baby hamsters if you ever find yourself in that position.
Hopefully this information will come in useful to you if it ever turns out that your hamster is pregnant, but in any case, I’ve had a lot of fun researching this topic and I hope you have enjoyed reading about it.