Help! Babies!  My "male" hamster
I just bought had babies!
By Doran Jones
Itís a common occurrence.  Pet shops typically donít have the money to hire experts on every type of pet they carry, so most cannot reliably tell you the sex of any given hamster.  This is why when you buy two same sex dwarf hamsters, 50 percent of the time you get a little boy and a little girl hamster.  Syrians are often mixed together just long enough to become pregnant before they are sold.  Itís also one of the reasons to try to buy your hamsters from a breeder instead of the pet shop. 

But what do you do now that your hamster has given birth to the little pink squeakers?   Well, the good news is that itís not hard, at least not at first.  The important thing to remember is that mom hamster, and in the case of dwarves - dad if you let him, will do all the hard work.  One thing that will be tough is finding homes for the pups.  You can never start this process too soon; in about four weeks you are going to need homes for all these little ones.  Hamsters can easily have 8 to 14 pups for dwarves and 12 to 20+ pups for Syrians, that can be a lot of work for you.  Start now deciding what to do with the litter.  Other than that, you need to do those things you would normally do for your hamsters with a few exceptions. 

If you have established a feeding and watering routine, stick to it.  Things that are out of the ordinary will stress or even panic a nursing mother hamster.   No loud noises, no crowds of ogling neighbors, no moving the cage, no trying to pick up the pups, no sudden radical changes in diet, and no sudden changes in temperature (which should stay around 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit with as little fluctuation as possible).  Just remember to avoid sudden changes and everything should be fine.

Youíll know when sheís overly stressed by the way she grabs her pups in her mouth and runs around the cage in panic.  If this should happen, you want to get away from the cage.  Turn off the lights and keep the room quiet for a few hours while you cross your fingers and hope she settles down.  Most of the time she will.   At its worst, stress can cause a female hamster to abandon or kill her pups, so take this seriously especially in the first 5 days of nursing.  Remember that your hamster mother is most likely a very young mother with her first litter and is thus at higher risk for stress and problems.  Be especially careful to avoid stressing her and be tolerant if not all of the litter survives.  Sheís doing her best given the circumstances.

There are a few things you should not do that you might normally do.  First, donít clean the cage.  The old bedding will have to last for about 18 to 21 days when the hamster pups will be weaned.  Donít worry about the smell; your hamsters wonít mind it and health wise mom and the pups will be fine.  You may add a bit more nesting material if itís cold but see that you add it away from the nursing area; let mother hamster find it and use it.

Second, you really donít want to take mom away from her pups for too long.  This means extended play sessions with your hamster are out for a while.  If you have a very good trusting relationship with your hamster and a routine of daily play, it may be ok to hold her for a short time at feeding.  Donít take her from the nest or from nursing pups; let her come to you.  Donít overdo holding her, especially in the first 5 days of nursing. 

You can and should continue feeding your hamster the regular hamster mix diet you normally give her.  It may also help to supplement this diet with more fresh foods; try egg, broccoli, apple, baked/boiled chicken, cottage cheese, yogurt, or cantaloupe.  Itís ok to feed these foods a bit more often than normal; mom is going to need the moisture and the nutrition.  Of course, wash any fresh food well and remove uneaten foods from the cage before they go bad. 

Nursing hamsters have heightened immune systems; in fact, they are 80% less likely to contract illnesses like wet tail while nursing.   Pups however are helpless in the first 5 days.  They cannot move far and they cannot even regulate their own body temperature.  This is why at first you may not see too much of mom; sheíll be busy.  If you happen to see pups in a corner or gathered somewhere besides the nest, donít panic.  Many times mom has so many babies to care for that she needs to spilt the litter in order to insure all pups get enough to eat.  If itís cold, do add the extra nesting material so that she can keep these hamsters warm while she is away.

On rare occasions a pup might become lost.  This can happen when mom leaves the nest or the pup may have started exploring and lost its way.  Usually the pup will squeak loud enough that mom will hear and retrieve the lost pup.  Sometimes for whatever reason this doesnít happen.  If mom seems to ignore the missing pup for more than 30 minutes, itís time to help.  Do not pick the pup up with your hand.  Instead, get a spoon and rub the bowl of it in the cage litter.  Then scoop the pup up and move it closer to the nest.  Sometimes itís best to drop the pup on top of the nest if itís completely covered.  There is a small chance that the pup was deliberately expelled.  This sometimes happens but not often.  You might find the same pup out of the nest again.  Donít stress your hamster but keep trying.  Eventually, the pup will either be accepted or die.   There may be a problem with that pup that only a mother hamster could detect.

After 5 days, pups will have started to chew and groom themselves.  I know itís hard to believe, but if they get their teeth on millet or a smaller grain they will eat it.  You may add sprigs of millet for mom to gather and take to the nest or sprinkle a little wheat germ cereal, cream of wheat, or Farina into the nest.  The pups will eat this right up.  Also you may be surprised to see a pup eating a dropping (a hamster poopoo).  Donít be disgusted; this is perfectly normal.  Pups need the caecal bacteria found in the droppings to help them digest hard cellulose food.  This is just the best and fastest way to get this good bacteria. 

You will want to see into the nest.  If you are lucky, mom will leave the nest open enough for you to get a peek.  If not, donít push it; itís better to wait than to make mom uncomfortable.  Theyíll be plenty of time later to count the pups.

The pups will grow quickly.  At about two or three days youíll see pigment appear on the backs of the pups.  At five days youíll see tiny hairs called guard hairs.  At eight to twelve fur grows in thicker and early bloomers may open their eyes.  Early exploration away from the nest will be made slowly and tentatively while the pups eyes are closed.  Most pups should open their eyes at about 12 to 14 days. As their eyes open youíll find that they will run to explore everything in their cage. 

Though they will be eating a lot of solid foods now, they are also still nursing and will continue until about 18 days of age.  This is when I feel hamsters are at their cutest.  Once their eyes open itís ok to start picking them up for short periods of time; in fact, itís almost impossible to resist.  Just remember that first impressions can set the way they will respond to humans for a very long time.  Respect their space; I find itís best to let them crawl into a ladle and then from there into my hand.  Donít keep them away from their familiar home long or they may panic and jump from your hand.  Always hold them close to your chest and to the ground just in case.

At 21 days the pups are weaned and may be separated from their mother.  Itís probably best to allow pups to remain with mom into their 4th week of life.  A big exception to this is if a Syrian mother grows tired of sharing her space and starts chasing her young away.  At this point separate the pups from mom. 

Itís ok to keep the pups together until about 4 weeks but not longer.  At 4 weeks youíll want to separate all the pups by sex.  This may not be that easy, but it is important as youíve already discovered.  Dwarf siblings can usually live together in same sex colonies.  Syrians, though, are solitary and will need to be alone.  Youíll need to have separate cages for the Syrians sometime around two months to three months.  I donít recommend waiting three months.  Adult Syrians will eventually fight to the death of you leave them together too long.

Itís at this point that all the work youíve done to find them homes will pay off.  If you havenít found homes for all of them youíll be taking care of more hamsters than you bargained for.  The first place you should check with is the pet shop you bought the hamster from.  Explain that they sold you a pregnant hamster and ask them to ďdo the right thing,Ē take in the hamsters you are not able to care for.  They may take them but if they donít check with elementary school home rooms; some classrooms adopt class hamsters.  Put ads on vet cork boards (ask permission first).  Talk to relatives and neighbor kids.  You may even find that you have favorite pups that you wish to keep. 

Whatever the case, remember that until they are all adopted out these little living creatures are going depend on you for food water and enrichment activity.  Itís a big responsibility, but itís also very rewarding.
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