Hamsters are popular pets. They don't take up much space, are relatively inexpensive, and let's be honest - they're really cute. Most hamster owners will choose to purchase a young adult hamster from a breeder or pet store, but you can absolutely choose to start with a baby hamster instead. Or, perhaps, it turns out that your new hamster friend was pregnant, and now you have a litter of baby hamsters on your hands. Maybe you're interested in breeding hamsters yourself. Below, we'll discuss how to ensure baby hamsters grow to healthy and happy adulthood.
Breeding Baby Hamsters- Why You May Not Want To
Before we go too far into caring for baby hamsters, it is generally unwise to breed hamsters intentionally for two main reasons - finding homes and bad genetics.
- Finding Homes. A female hamster can have up to twenty pups in a single litter. Are you intending on keeping all of them yourself? Do you have the space to handle that many hamsters as adults? If not, that's a lot of hamster babies to find a home for! And you may need to find homes quickly - Syrian hamsters will start breeding themselves at just 40 days old. And don't bank on selling them to a pet store - most pet stores will only buy from a small number of reputable hamster breeders.
- Bad Genetics. If you aren't certain what breeds you are pairing, you will likely wind up with genetic birth defects and mental illnesses. Some pairings create babies without eyes and teeth. Others create babies with extreme repetitive behaviors, like uncontrollable back-flips.
Unexpected Baby Hamsters
It can happen that you brought a pregnant hamster home from the pet shop unawares. You can typically tell a hamster is pregnant by a noticeable bulge in her abdomen and gaining weight.
Once the birthing process starts, a new baby will be born every 15 to 30 minutes, with the entire birth completed within 2 hours. How many babies she will give birth to largely depends on her breed. The mother hamster will lick each baby clean. However, leaving the mother and her nest alone for the first week is very important. If the mother feels threatened or unsafe, she will likely eat her babies. Keep the room quiet and only put your hand into the cage to fill the food dish and water bottle. Fill both full so that you don't have to do this daily.
Hamsters are rodents, but they're also small creatures that require some recovery time after delivery. They only live a couple of years and ideally should only have a maximum of two litters of pups during that time. Ascertain how she became pregnant. If she is still in the same habitat that led to pregnancy, consider getting a separate cage and keeping female hamsters away from male hamsters for at least six months.
If you have the father hamster around, it may be tempting to introduce the father to the newborns, but don't do this. The hamster mother can be moody and may not want the father around even at the best of times. Father hamsters also have the risk of eating newborns.
Preparing For the Baby
You will need to prepare the hamster's cage and "baby proof" it during the gestation period. You will need to remove any toys that can potentially injure the baby or cause accidents. Place more nutritious food around the cage, and the food should have high protein and fat content. And, of course, place clean and comfortable beddings for both the mom and newborn hamsters.
It may be that your mother hamster will not be a good mom, and she may ignore her babies and leave the nest. If that's the case, you'll need to step in before she eats them. You can either find a surrogate hamster mother or hand raise them yourself.
Hand raising baby hamsters is incredibly difficult, and you'll need to have a veterinarian or other specialist available for consultation if you intend to be successful. You'll need a special formula, a tiny syringe, and the availability to feed the hamster pups hourly, night, and day.
It's much more ideal to find a surrogate mother, but that's not an easy task either. If a mother hamster smells a hamster pup that is not her own, she's liable to eat it. You'll need to clean the babies to remove the scent of their old nest and then cover them with the nesting material of the surrogate mother to try to get her scent on them.
Baby Hamster Appearance
Baby hamsters are typically called pups and will be born hairless and pink. They'll have teeth because baby hamsters eat solid food within only a few weeks. All hamsters are born blind and deaf, and they'll remain that way for at least the first week. They are very helpless and rely on their mother and siblings to keep warm.
Baby Hamsters Care - Week By Week
Hamsters mature quickly, so their development over the first couple of weeks is a veritable whirlwind. A Syrian hamster will reach maturity in just five weeks, whereas Dwarf hamsters take closer to 12 weeks. Let's look at the general progression of maturity, week by week.
Baby hamsters won't be very active at first. They are naked, blind, and deaf. They'll spend most of their time huddled together in the nest, drinking their mother's milk. For some hamster species, you'll see their ears open by the end of this week, and fur might be visible. The hamster owner shouldn't interact at this stage, even foregoing cleaning out the mother's cage. Too much human interference will likely lead to abandonment or cannibalism.
At two weeks of age, baby hamsters are still fully dependent on mom. But, it's a week of big physical milestones. They'll have enough fur to be able to maintain their own body temperature. A Syrian hamster will be able to hear at this point, but Dwarf and Chinese hamsters will still have sealed ears until the end of this second week. All species will have their eyes open by the end of this week. The mother might start offering solid foods to her babies this week, and you'll see her off her nest more often in order to get food for them. It's important to keep human scent off of the babies. Even professional breeders will still not clean the cage this week.
At three weeks old, hamster babies will look like hamsters now, albeit very small. Their fur will be fully grown in, their eyes and ears will be open, and they will start searching for their own food. They are much less dependent on their mother. If you're hand-raising hamster pups, you can probably wean them by the end of this week if they are a larger breed. The smaller breeds will combine solid foods with milk for up to 10 weeks. This third week is usually the week where humans can touch baby hamsters! They can mostly take care of themselves, so the threat of abandonment isn't a death sentence.
From four weeks old and onward, a lot will depend on the breed of the hamster. Syrian hamsters mature quickly and are highly territorial, so you need to get them into separate cages by a month old. Young hamster is also sexually mature by 40 days old - so unless you want another round of babies on your hands, get them in separate cages. While a female Syrian hamster can technically be bred then, it isn't wise or healthy. Dwarf hamster, however, will happily stay with its siblings and mother until well into the second month.
Once hamsters are weaned, you can really care for them just like you would care for any adult hamster. Keep in mind that different hamster breeds have different requirements as to how well they can share space with other hamsters. It's unwise and unkind to keep more hamsters than you have the space and resources to raise well. Thankfully, hamsters are a great pet choice for first-time pet owners or people with limited space, so you should be able to find homes for them after they've been weaned.