Q My dwarf hamster just gave birth about a week ago. The mother has died.  What can I do to try to save the pups?

A The truth is that a hamster that small relies on his mother for about everything even body temperature control.  There are two way to handle this.  First and probably the best thing to do is to find a hamster surrogate mother.  If you happen to have another nursing mother, see if you can get her to accept the orphaned pups.  If not, you will have to become the hamsters' mother.  Understand that there is only barely a 20 percent chance of survival for the orphaned pups -- even if you do everything right.

First, the hamsters must be kept warm, at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.66ļ C). Youíll need to create a warm bedding and some kind of non-drying heat with a way to strictly monitor the temperature. A heating pad or even a light bulb could be used as long as you donít get them too close to the hamsters. And a cheap cage thermometer should work well for watching the temperature in the event you decide to heat with a bulb.

Youíll need to feed your hamsters milk at regular intervals just like a mother hamster would have to. For milk you can use a kitten or dog formula or evaporated milk mixed with 50% water will work fine. Warm the milk solution to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.22ļ C). For dwarf hamsters that still have not reached 2 weeks you need to feed them 3 drops (.5 ml) of this milk every 30 minutes around the clock. You need to warm the milk to 90 degrees because you want the drops you feed the hamster ideally to be at body temperature by the time he drinks them. To feed the drops to the little guy you can use an eye dropper, needleless syringe, or a nursing wick.

As the dwarf hamsters approach 2 weeks old you want to gradually increase the amount of milk to about 4 to 6 drops. If you are using a syringe at two weeks or when the eyes open you want to be feeding him 1 ml of milk about every hour. In fact, at that point you can go to hourly feedings instead of half hour feedings.

Itís also important that the hamsters get hard food as well as milk. See that they have wheat germ or small seed like millet to eat from 5 days old on; they may not rush to eat the hard food yet but they will eat it when you arenít looking. Little pieces of Broccoli are also a good idea; remember not to let them spoil in the nest. Another thing that a pup will need is access to adult hamster droppings. Without these the hamster will not be able to develop the bacteria it needs to digest cellulose food. Yes, the pups will eat these. Donít be grossed out; itís important.

Lastly, touching the pups in a certain way is also important for at least two reasons that we know of. First, it promotes good digestion and second it socializes the hamster. Studies a couple of years ago at the University of Utah showed that a rodent with no touching becomes an overly aggressive adult to both human and rodents of the same species. What you want to do is simulate the way a mother hamster grooms a pup. Youíll need about a 1 inch wide soft bristle paint brush. You will take this brush and roughly stroke down the hamster's belly and back about twice each time. Do this at feeding time.

Be aware that this advice is intended only for dwarf hamsters. Syrians require an adjusted formula volume and feeding schedule.

Syrians up to two weeks old need about 1 ml of milk every 2 hours.     After 2 weeks until weaned they need 2 mlís 8 times a day and should be eating solid foods readily.  Mostly everything else here applies to both Syrian and dwarf species.

Remember that even if you do these things, a hamster still under 8 days doesnít have a very high chance of survival. Do the best you can and be prepared for the worst. Good luck!
Hand-Feeding Orphaned Pups
by Doran Jones
Back to Home Page
Back to Newsletter