My Hamster Is Pregnant. Now What?
How did this happen?
Rated G, I promise
If your female hamster shares a cage with a male it is almost certain that she will become pregnant. This is also true if she has been in a cage with a male within a month before you brought her home. If you do not want baby hamsters, keep males and females in separate cages and when purchasing or adopting a new female make sure that she has not shared a cage with a male within 30 days if she is older than 4 to 6 weeks old. Hamsters are able to get pregnant as young as 4 weeks old. They have the babies about 30 days later. They can have up to 10 or more babies in one litter, so be ready.
What kind of cage do I need?
Generally speaking hamsters are very versitile little critters. Whether it is a simple 10 gallon glass fish tank, a basic wire cage or an elaborate plastic cage with tubes to run it can be turned into a comfortable home for a hamster. There are three things that require special attention when it comes to housing pregnant females; cage space, nesting material, and exercise. Meeting these three basic housing needs you can help assure that your hamster is a successful mother.
Expectant mother hamsters need their own space. It is always best to provide her with her own cage preferrably in a quite spot away from drafts and commotion. The cage needs to be large enough for you to offer her several spots to choose from for making her nest. Pregnant hamsters still like and need plenty of exercise so she will need room to roam around in and a wheel for running in. You also need to take into consideration that her babies will need to move around and grow in for the first 4 weeks and then will need their own space. If the cage she is living in is large enough it is best to let her stay in it. This prevents the stress of being in a new environment.
Some mothers will prefer a small house to make her nest in. There is a huge variety of these available at pet supply stores and online. You can also make them yourself out of things around the house.
It is important to make sure your hamster's bedding is fresh and clean. Keep in mind that you probably won't be able to change the bedding for a couple of weeks after the babies are born. In addition to the normal bedding in her cage your soon to be momma will probably appreciate other things to chew and nest with. Toilet paper and paper towel tubes are always a hit. They use them to play and hide in and chew the ends to make nesting material. She may also like some toilet paper, small scraps of fabric, or bits of yarn. It is a good idea to offer several different things for her to choose from.
All hamsters like to dig and nest, but the pregnant female can at times be almost obcessive about it. They often make multiple nests throughout their cage and move from one to another before deciding where to actually have her babies. Even after the babies are their she will continue to build her nest up more and may even move the babies a few times before she is satisfied.
Unlike many other animals, a pregnant female hamster seems more active towards the end of her pregnancy. It is not unusual to notice one of our females being exceptionally active the night before we find new babies in her cage.
Does she need a special diet?
As with any hamster food and water need to be readily available at all times. The normal hamster foods available at pet supply and discount stores will meet her nutritional needs. Treats of peanuts, small bits of fruits or vegetables can be given in moderation. She will enjoy these treats and hand feeding them to her will help build trust and friendship that will make handling her and her babies much easier.
Why doesn't she like me anymore?
Female hamsters can become very moody when they are pregnant and when they have babies with them. It is not unusual for them to not want to be handled and they may even bite. Take care when you have to put your hand into the cage for feeding and watering. If your hamster shows you that she doesn't want handled it is best to leave her be. Mother hamsters are very protective of their babies. She will probably return to her old self once the babies are weaned and moved out of her cage.
What will the babies be like?
Baby hamsters are born with their eyes still sealed shut and almost no hair. They will be very small (dwarf breeds will be around 1 inch long) and usually pink in color. Baby hamsters are very squirmy from day one. If you are able to look into the nest without disturbing momma or the babies you will probably see a wiggly pile of tiny pink babies that just barely resemble hamsters. They grow and develop very quickly. In only a week they will be crawling around their nest with their eyes open and covered in fur. By the time they are four weeks old they are ready to be separated from their mother.
Baby hamsters should not be handled until they are ten to fourteen days old at the least. When it is safe to handle them depends by a large part on the mother. Well tamed and socialized females tend to be more accepting of their babies being handled. Take your cues from her and move slowly. If she shows you she is unhappy with what you are doing, back off and try again after a few days. The babies will probably act frightened and make squeak or even try to bite. It is important that you keep the baby away from drafts. Those tiny little critters can move suddenly and quickly so be very cautious about making sure they can not jump of fall from your hand. Start slowly, only handle each baby for a few minutes at a time and not more than once a day. By three or four weeks of age they will be ready for more time and activity outside of the cage. A plastic hamster ball is an ideal way to interact with your hamsters and to allow them to explore the world outside their cage. This also provides an excellent opportunity for them to get some exercise.
At four to six weeks of age the babies should be weaned by removing them from their mothers cage. It is especially important to separate the males and females at this time to prevent breeding.
Why did she kill her babies?
Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons mother hamsters will kill and even eat some or all of her babies. Usually this will happen with in the first week of the new babies lives. The most common reason for this happening is having her nest or babies messed with. Some mother hamsters just will not tolerate human contact during that first week. Some mother hamsters don't tolerate much contact until their babies are weaned. The good news is that most mommas go back to their normal social selves after the babies have been weaned and removed from her cage.
Keeping the cage in a quiet corner of the house away from noise and commotion greatly reduces the risk of this happening. You should not allow anyone to handle the mother or babies or to put their hands into the cage. Avoid changing the bedding for the first two weeks unless absolutely necessary. Allowing the new mom and her babies some peace and quiet for the first week and then taking it slowly from there will almost eliminate this problem and ensure happy healthy babies and mom.