If you believe your hamster might be pregnant, please read through the information below. It will guide you through important developments, signs, and steps to take throughout the pregnancy and pup bearing. Please bear in mind that Ontario Hamster Club does not encourage deliberate and unethical, irresponsible breeding. Please use this guide in the cases of missexed hamsters, escaped, or otherwise. Breeding intentionally and unethically can seriously hurt your hamsters and their offspring, and bring more unwanted animals into the world. This guide will cover mostly Syrian pregnancies and Roborovski pregnancies.
Terms to know
Signs of a Pregnant Hamster
Many signs that people rely on when “diagnosing” pregnancy are simply things that most hamsters in general exhibit. While a pregnant hamster will definitely nest more, hoard more, and act crazier than usual, it’s hard to know, especially when you’ve just brought home your hamster, if this is out of the ordinary for her.
Syrians have a gestation of 16 days – not really anymore. Many sites will say 16-18 days but that’s not correct – they are fairly bang on 16 days. I usually find that you can really tell a hamster is pregnant by about day ten. Their hips begin to swell and they do look pear shaped. The bulges rise above their body, giving them a rather lumpy look. The nipples will also begin to swell and pucker. Please keep in mind that many Syrians, especially short hair Syrians, will have visible FLAT nipples all the time. When they are pregnant their nipples will begin pucker, much like human ones. This is usually a sure fire sign a female is only a few days away from birthing.
Robos have a much more variable gestation time. Usually they deliver on the 21st day, however given the fact they are social species, it’s often difficult to pin point the exact date of mating. As well, robos hide their pregnancies much better than Syrians. It is extremely important that owners who adopt pairs of robos ensure they are not missexed, and in the event of an accidental pregnancy, identify which robo is the father, and which is the mother.
Lead up to birth
Ensuring your pregnant hamster has a well-balanced diet is essential. A pregnant hamster will need a higher protein diet than usual, but DON’T overdo it. The problem with feeding too much protein means that the pups develop too much in the womb. This can make birthing difficult. A slight increase in protein will help the pups develop normally and keep mum in good condition. Once the pups have been born is the best time to really increase the protein.
Suggestions for protein increase:
Mum will appreciate treats like egg and tofu too but please be aware these will not suffice as protein supplements, as likely they are a lower protein level than your mix.
Other things we ensure of are:
This ensures that the pups have a safe place to grow up in. For robos of mixed sexes (that are adopted that way) it is important to remove the male to allow mum to have a stress free delivery. As well, roborovskis can breed immediately after labour.
After they’re born
Unlike rats and mice, hamsters will cull their young if they feel stressed our disturbed. Often, a pregnant hamster will groom quite a lot and pace leading up to birth. First time mothers will also appear a bit scatter brained and may even leave newborns all over the cage. Do not try to interfere or handle the pups. Your interference may cause her to turn on her babies.
Pups are usually born late at night, but sometimes they may come during the day. You can drape a towel or blanket over the side of the cage where she has nested. Then simply leave her be. Only go into the cage to fill water and food. Now is when you can begin giving lots of supplements. We often add esbilac to some powdered porridge and stir it with water.
Don’t try to peek into the nest, and don’t take pictures. All these things can cause stress to your mother hamster. Not all mums are the same, but in general please do not try to disturb them!
At about five days the pups will begin to get pigment. Eight days, they will start eating food mum brings back and mum’s faeces. This is normal, and helps them to gain good gut flora. We also begin to place chopped cucumber near the nest for hydration. Once they are around ten days, the pups will begin escaping the nest (or at least trying to). After fourteen days, they will be zooming around and keeping mum on her toes. Their eyes will open anywhere from fourteen to eighteen days. Once their eyes are open, it is safe to touch them.
Roborovksi pups develop faster than Syrian pups, and will begin to get pigment in the first few days. Normally their eyes open around 10-12 days, depending on litter size. Once all the pups have open eyes, they are safe to handle and clean the cage.
Handling and cleaning the cage
Pups are very spring loaded. Only handle them over something soft in case they ping pong out of your hand. Always make sure the mother is alright with you handling them first. When they are just opening their eyes, it is best to scoop them into your palms.
After their eyes are open, you will want to clean their cage. Prepare two bins – one for mum to sit in with a bowl of food, and one for babies (a carrier works fine for this too). Place mum alone with her food dish (you could also give her a wheel but only in this bin). Place pups in the other bin (or carrier). Clean the cage, leaving as much of the nest in tact as possible (use your own judgement about if it needs to be removed, possibly the bottom).
Once the cage is cleaned, return mum to the fresh cage and let her explore. You can take this opportunity to handle the babies individually and try to sex them. See below for pictures of male vs. female baby Syrians.
After this, place them back with mum in the cage. You’ve done your first clean out! We often handle the pups multiple times a day, and use a snuggle sack for them as well. It is important to keep supplementing their diet with porridges, baby food, chicken, etc.
Syrian pups are weaned at 3wks of age. Sometimes the mother will continue to nurse. You may notice that mum is pawing at her pups, essentially she is telling them to go away. Pups at this stage will also tussle a lot with their siblings. This is normal. Never separate baby Syrians from their siblings or mother until after four weeks (explained more below).
Roborovskis are also weaned at 3wks, however this doesn’t mean that they are ready to leave mum. Robos should spend an additional week with mum (until 4wks of age) to ensure they learn how to “hamster”, ie. nest, hoard, burrow.
Occasionally, mum will get very restless and stop being nice to her pups. In this case, it is advisable to remove earlier (we’ve removed a mum at 25 days before). Otherwise, mum stays with her pups until 28 days. Then we either remove mum to another bin, or remove the babies to another bin. This is the time that you will want to split the sexes. Males go in one bin, females in another. If you are in doubt, always place the unknown pup with the males. The reason being, it’s better to have one pregnant female in with a bunch of males, than ALL the other females pregnant because they were left with a brother.
Now is the time we give our pups wheels. We also double check that evening to make sure sexes are correct.
We slowly remove trouble makers from the ‘pack’, usually as they reach closer to six weeks. You can tell the difference between play fighting and real fighting when the little peeps they make sound more like pained squeaks. Bites will initially go to the ears, rump and face. Please be on the lookout for these signs once 5wks have passed.
Robos in comparison are a bit different. Female pups can stay with mum, either indefinitely, or until they’re adopted. Of course, as the owner it’s important to look out for signs of fighting or tussling. If separation from mum is necessary, we highly advise you to ensure the babies have a same-sex sibling to live with. Male pups should be kept separate from females.
Rehoming privately is always a great option, but sometimes it isn’t feasible. If your hamster came home pregnant from the shop, often times the shop will want the babies back to sell. What you can do is try to rehome as many privately as possible. Reach out to friends and relatives to see if they want hamsters. You can post on the forum or in your local ads. Please remember to advise individuals on proper hamster care and screen adopters to ensure they are suitable. Always include an adoption fee of $5 or more. This makes sure you only get serious adopters, and ones who have good intentions for the pup.
Hamsters should go to new homes only once they have reached 6wks of age. Send them with some familiar bedding and a bit of the food they are used to.
Often times there will be a runt in the litter or a pup will be rejected from the nest. Instead of placing the pup back, it’s better to try and lure the mum out towards that pup. If she collects that little one – great! Sometimes though hand raising may be necessary. It is pretty much unheard of for pups under about eight days to survive being hand raised, but if you feel confident it is something you can try. Be prepared for heartache. I know that sounds pessimistic but hamsters are not great candidates for hand raising.
You will need:
It is important to offer feeding every 1-2hrs. Follow the directions for the KMR or Esbilac and use either a paint brush or sponge to administer the milk. This will help to make sure the pup does not aspirate the milk. Once feeding is done, you will need to stimulate the bowels. Repeat for all pups, and keep warm and covered with a heating pad or hot water bottle on low.
Sometimes pregnancies may come with complications. Complications are common with hybrids, one of the reasons why they are quite high risk.
Look for these signs during/post labour:
Those mean you should rush mum to the vet. She may have a pup stuck and might need an emergency c-section. It is very uncommon for mother hamsters to accept their young (if they are still viable) after surgery.
After pups have been born look for these signs:
Either one of these symptoms mean a vet visit. There are other complications as well, but these are simply some of the main ones.
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