My Hamster had Babies! What Should I Do?
From Lianne McLeod, DVM
Question: My Hamster had Babies! What Should I Do?
Sometimes a hamster will have unknowingly been bred at the pet store and you may be surprised to find a litter of babies in your hamster's cage shortly after bringing her home. Also, if a pair of dwarf hamsters was incorrectly sexed, you may be surprised by a litter. The most important piece of advice is "Do Not Disturb."
Answer: A hamster that has given birth should be disturbed as little or possible or she may become agitated and abandon, neglect, or even eat the babies. This means other than providing food and water, you should leave the hamsters and their cage alone as much as possible for the first couple of weeks. While it is tempting to look at the babies and make sure everything is okay, it is best to leave the mom to do her thing
* Place strips of toilet paper or facial tissue in the cage so mom can build a soft nest. Ideally, you would do this once you realize your hamster is pregnant (it is usually pretty noticeable a couple of days before birth, just by the sheer size of her belly).
* Don't try to handle the babies at all for at least two weeks.
* Once the babies have arrived, don't worry about cleaning the cage for a while. Leave it alone for the first 10-14 days. You can spot clean really wet spots if absolutely necessary, but avoid disturbing the nest. If you have noticed your hamster is pregnant, do a thorough cleaning to prepare for the new arrivals.
* Make sure to provide plenty of food and fresh water, but make feeding and watering as efficient and calm as possible.
* While it is okay to have a quick peek in the cage on occasion, avoid siting and watching for long periods.
* Keep in mind that the mom will be very protective as well so may act more aggressive than usual; this is natural and no cause for concern.
* Though interference should be avoided if at all possible, if for some rare reason you must move a baby, use a spoon so you do not get your scent on the baby. It is rarely necessary to move a baby though even if they are out of the nest; the mom will usually retrieve any stray pups and return them to the nest.
The hamsters will be ready for weaning at about 3 weeks of age, and it is best to separate the male pups into one group and the females into another. Syrian hamsters can stay in these male and female groups for another 2-3 weeks, but then must be separated so there is only one per cage.
If you ended up with a male and female dwarf hamster by mistake, it is best to remove the male as soon as possible after birth, with as little disturbance to the female as possible. While the male will not harm the babies and may help with rearing them, the female can get pregnant again shortly after giving birth and this can be very hard on her body.
Make sure you are feeding a high quality diet with lots of protein. In addition to a good quality diet, you can offer small amounts of hard boiled egg, bits of cooked chicken, cheese, and wheatgerm to give the mom a nurtitional boost.
Unfortunately, if you got a pregnant hamster from the pet store she is probably quite young and may not have the best mothering abilities. She may be more likely to abandon or even cannibalize her babies. If she doesn't care for them and they are less than 10 days of age, it is extrememly difficult to save the babies. It is best to make sure you get your hamster from a store that separates males from females at a young age to avoid surprises like this.