Upon determining that your hamster is pregnant, or if you have suspicions that your hamster is pregnant, there are certain preparation that you can begin to make immediately that may prove beneficial in the coming weeks.
If you take nothing else from this guide, please remember that the benefits of human intervention (handling, photographing, cage cleaning or otherwise disturbing) rarely outweigh the risks. Aside from providing fresh food and water, keep disruption to a minimum. Do not make attempts at interacting with baby hamsters until they are around 14 days old, doing so may endanger their lives.
How Many Babies Do Hamsters Have?
The first step is to stay calm. This may be a surprise, but try not to become anxious or stressed over the matter. Your hamster is an extraordinary creature, she will do the majority of work herself. Furthermore, while every pregnancy and labor carries a risk, complications are surprisingly rare in hamsters.
That said, caring for a mum and her pups can still be taxing. Syrian Hamsters have large litters, with around 5-10 ‘babies’ being average, though the actual number varies considerably. Litters as few as 1 or as great as 20+ have been recorded. Caring for the mum and hamster babies will undoubtedly require resources; money, time and effort.
What Should You Do If Your Hamster is Pregnant?
Locate Support – If you got your hamster from a breeder, they may be willing to guide you through the process, pet shops may or may not also offer this support. Other breeders, stores or shelters may have hamster experts who can offer you practical and personal support.
Locate a Vet – You may not need a vet, but it’s much better to have one on hand than be running around trying to find one when your hamster needs urgent care. Using local services or the internet, you preferably want to locate a vet who specializes in small animals. These vets are often known as ‘exotics’ specialists. Furthermore, also look for a nearby 24/7 emergency vet, they may be your only source of help outside of office hours.
Locate Additional Cages – Syrian Hamsters are solitary creatures and become sexually mature very young. This means that the pups need separating into their own cages to avoid fighting or more pregnancies. You’ll require 3 cages around 4 weeks of age (one for mum, one for females and one for the males) and by around 5-6 weeks the pups will require a cage each before fighting begins.
Locate Potential Buyers – To avoid the need (and cost!) of housing all the pups separately, you ideally want to locate buyers as soon as possible. Though you do not want to sell pups before they are at least 4-5 weeks old. You can do this through a variety of channels, such as advertising online or in the paper, through social media and through word of mouth etc.
Pet shops are often assumed to be good outlets of baby animals, but remember that these stores have their own suppliers and may not need or want your stock.
Be conscientious about who you allow to adopt your hamsters.
Some people may seek rodents to use as food for reptiles, while others are buying on behalf of children who may be unable to meet a hamsters needs etc. I personally feel that if people are unwilling to to take your advice or accommodate your requests, then they may be unsuitable.
While you will generally not be required to do anything during the delivery of the pups, there are a few changes to be made when caring for a pregnant hamster to reduce risks, and to improve outcomes.
Is Your Hamster Pregnant?
Is She Pregnant? – The gestation period (length of pregnancy) for Syrian hamsters is just 16 days. Your first question is likely ‘Is she actually pregnant?’. Unfortunately it can be difficult to determine, you can’t perform a pregnancy test as such and the only physical indications come in last few days of pregnancy, if at all!
You may notice an enlarged abdomen anywhere from day 10 (often becoming pear shaped in the latter days) her nipples will become more prominent and she may display nesting behavior.
She may also become less tolerable of humans (she may not want to be handled. If there is any doubt, simply treat your hamster as if she is pregnant. It is better to care for a non-pregnant hamster as if she was pregnant then treat a pregnant hamster as if she wasn’t.
Proper Diet for Pregnant Hamster?
Her Diet – Hamsters are self-selecting when it comes to their diet, this is why it is safe to provide an excess of food. The hamster will not only limit the quantity of food consumed to an appropriate amount, but will adjust their macro nutrient intake (carbohydrates, protein and fats) as well.
As a result, there is no evidence to suggest that if an abundance of a good staple mix is provided, that significant supplementation should be required, she will take what she needs. Furthermore, evidence suggests that pregnant hamsters will hoard significantly more food than non-pregnant hamsters, and that a large hoard of food positively correlates to reduced incidence of cannibalism.
Therefore, ensure that an abundance of good quality mix is available. Please note, it is important to actually use a mix, and not a pellet as you can read from our What can hamsters eat article. Hamsters are unable to vary their micro-nutrient intake if provided with a pellet and consequently consume less than if offered a mix.
Proper Cage for Pregnant Hamster?
The Cage – If you suspect your hamster is pregnant, a few changes may need to be made to ensure her home is suitable. Modular cages or multiple-tiered cages are generally not recommended due to the possibility of pups falling, becoming stranded or otherwise becoming injured. Furthermore, the bar sizing on some Hamster cages may not be suitable for very young hamsters and permit escape.
It is advisable that your hamster is kept in a very quiet and consistent environment, you don’t want loud televisions or music players near the cage, nor do you want people constantly walking back and forth around the cage. Be sensible and consider if a relocation may be best sooner, rather than later.
It’ll only be a matter of weeks before the pups can use the water bottle. Ensure that this essential supply of water is easily accessible to the short-statured pups.
Plastic tubes are also undesirable, partly due to the risk they pose to the mother and her enlarged body but also due to the risk they pose to pups. If you suspect your cage is unsuitable then consider making a simple bin cage. It is also advisable that her exercise wheel is removed due to the numerous dangers they pose to pups, also remove toys or other objects that you suspect may be unsuitable.
Do Not Disturb It
Your aim is to disturb the cage as little as possible after delivery and so the cage cannot be cleaned safely until the pups are at least 2 weeks old.
It is therefore important to prepare the cage in advance by cleaning it particularly thoroughly and providing greater than usual amounts of fresh substrate and nesting material before birth, you may want to maintain the nest she has likely worked hard to create.
This is usually done around 12-14 days into the pregnancy. If you do not know her estimated due date then simply perform the clean as soon as she starts ‘showing’. Or to be safe, simply perform the full clean immediately and then leave her be, besides obviously subtly providing food and water.
The Delivery/Birth of Hamster Babies
The delivery of the pups often occurs during night, you may never even know she is in labor, the best advice is to simply leave her be to do her own thing. Your hamster will inherently know what to do, she will deliver the babies herself, gnaw the umbilical cord and perhaps even eat placentas for nutrition.
Hamster babies are born one by one, with short gaps between births, during this time the mother may nap or even make some last minute adjustments to the hoard or nest.
At birth, the pups are immensely vulnerable and entirely dependant on their mother. They are born both blind, naked and even deaf, their sole source of nutrition is her milk and they are predominantly kept warm by her body.
Hamster Eating its Babies
If for some reason you do happen to witness part of the labor, do not interfere. Keep your distance and remain quiet. Only under the most extraordinary circumstances should you approach the mother, any intervention may cause her to cannibalise the babies.
Regardless, she may still appear to eat one or more of her young, this may be due to the pup being born dead or with significant abnormalities. Do not try to ‘save’ the pups, any attempts at hand-rearing at this point would be redundant.
How Long Does a Hamster Pregnancy Last
If you do know when the conception occurred, and labor has not commenced by the 18th day – contact your vet. Note that it is normal for some blood to be present in the cage due to the delivery, but again – contact your vet if concerned.
After the hamster babies arrive, there are a further few adjustments that need to be made to ensure best outcomes. This is an exciting time, but is also trying on your patience, you will no doubt be counting down the days until you can handle the pups!
Continue to ensure that the cage is in a quiet environment and limit the amount of people who might be walking past the cage. As always, the golden rule is to leave her to her own devices while keeping disruption to a minimum.
How to Take Care of a Hamster That Just Gave Birth
When the babies are first delivered, it might be a few days before you even catch your first glimpse of them. The mother will ensure that the pups spend all of their time safely tucked away in the nest. She herself will rarely leave the nest, only taking short voyages out to retrieve food, to drink or to perhaps toilet away from the nest.
She will promptly return to ensure the babies are fed and kept warm. You will want to subtly change the water bottle every day or two and delicately place food in the cage, but otherwise stay well away. After a few days, the possibility of infanticide (killing her young) is still present, but the likelihood is reduced.
Unlike during pregnancy, lactation causes a dramatic increase in calories consumed. Continue to provide an abundance of complete hamster mix. Adequate calcium supply is critical, though only a finite quantity can be effectively used, and so supplementation should only be minimal/moderate, if at all.
Having a cuttlefish bone in the cage will compensate for the deficient if needed. Please note that non-solid food such as porridge or baby food should only be provided in thin layers, as a pup could easily become stuck and drown in a deep amount.
How to Care for Hamster Babies
Aside from providing water and food, your input to the hamster family will be minimal until around 14 days. However, hidden behind the nest are rapidly developing hamsters, and it won’t be long before you can begin handling them.
At around 10 days old the pups have grown considerably and will have some coloring present as fur begins to develop, if they have inherited any patterning then this may also begin to show. If you catch a good glimpse, you may even begin to notice that some of the pups (females) have a row of teats present, it might even be possible for eye color to be seen beneath the lids.
Despite their eyes still being closed, particularly adventurous hamster babies might begin to explore, although most mums will promptly return them to the nest. In addition to the supplementation for mum, you can begin to provide the hamster babies with additional food.
You might want to sprinkle wheat germ into the nest, or provide very thin amounts of porridge or small pieces of bread soaked in milk for them to enjoy – although mum might snap it up first! The pups will likely not use the water bottle just yet, but it should be accessible anyway.
How to Clean a Hamster Cage with Babies In
At around 14 days, the hamster babies are fully ‘fleshed out’ and look like mini-hamsters. The eyes will begin to open and their efforts to explore maybe more prominent.
The opening of eyes is usually accepted to be your first opportunity to possibly handle the babies! If the the mother appears particularly protective then consider waiting for a couple of days, otherwise you can have your first handling session.
Given that the cage is likely quite messy at this point, you will also want to partially clean it out at the same time. Wait until the mother is awake, at which point you should place her alone in a playpen, travel carrier or similar (she’ll likely appreciate the time alone!).
You then want to wash your hands with just plain water, and then rub your hands all in the substrate (so that your scent is disguised somewhat). You may then begin to transfer the pups by hand into another cage or similar, be conscious that the pups will be quite scared.
Never raise the hamster babies too far from the ground, as they are likely to make attempts at leaping from your hands. When every pup has been transferred (count them carefully!) you want to partially clean the cage (a full clean cage may upset the mother) scoop out the toilet corner and exchange some of the old substrate with fresh, remove some old nesting material and add plenty more.
You can then spend a few minutes handling each pup before returning them to the spruced-up cage, let them settle back in for a while and then return the mother. She will hopefully not be too distressed by the cage being cleaned or by the pups having some of your residual scent.
However, ensure that she is greeted by a healthy portion of her favorite food upon being returned, this will distract her. You should now continue to handle the pups every day. It may not be necessary but I still prefer to ensure the mother is removed from the cage before handling them directly still. Around day 16 I would complete a much needed full cage clean.
At around three weeks, the pups have likely made good progress to becoming fully weaned, they may still suckle but this will likely be more for comfort or out of habit than actual nutrition dependency. Continue to provide plenty (you’ll be amazed at how much a mother and her litter can consume) of staple mix and soft foods. Also ensure you make every effort to tame the pups as much as your schedule permits.
When to Separate Baby Hamsters
It is usually advisable to keep the babies with mum for another week or so, although under some circumstances it may be wise to do this prematurely – such as if she became ill or displayed signs of agitation.
Around four weeks the pups will need separating from the mother, partially because she may be beginning to reach her tether and partially because it is reported that females may begin ovulation from 28 days. As such, the males should have their own cage, the females theirs, and poor mother finally allowed to live alone again. Now is the good time to start brainstorming some hamster names for your young hamsters.
Between 5-6 weeks the baby hamsters can now be re-homed individually to new owners. Despite being less than two months old, they are well developed and can generally be cared for much like any other Syrian. If the pups reach 6 weeks and are still together, it will be time to separate them into individual cages. It’s possible that they would coexist for a little while longer without fights. But given that they are inevitable, it is safest to separate them into separate cages.