Posted: March 26, 2012, 6:50 p.m. EDT
1. Hamster babies, called pups, grow very rapidly.
2. All hamsters are born naked and blind, whether they are Syrian hamsters or one of the four common dwarf hamster species (Campbell’s hamster, Winter White hamster, Chinese hamster and Roborovski hamster).
3. When hamsters are a week old, their teeth emerge from their gums, and their hair and coloring becomes visible.
4. Between 11 and 14 days hamster pups voluntarily become mobile.
5. At around 14 days of age, their eyes begin to open and their ears are erect. Hamster babies are also fully furred, but the coat is fairly short.
6. At this point, the hamster babies still feed from their mother, but also consume milky foods, greens and dry hamster mix. Milky foods include runny porridge or other soft cereals made with milk.
7. Fourteen days of age is the ideal time to handle the young of either Syrian or dwarf species, if the mother hamster allows it. Be warned — like all young animals, baby hamsters are fast, unpredictable and extremely wriggly!
8. At 3 weeks of age, hamsters resemble miniature adults.
9. Syrian hamsters continue to feed from their mother until the 26th to 28th day after they were born.
10. At about 4 weeks old, the hamster babies should be split from the mother into two cages — one for each sex. Some hamster mothers might allow the females to stay for a day or two more. A mother that is tired after rearing the litter, however, may try to drive the females away just as she would in the wild.
11. Dwarf hamsters are weaned by their mother earlier than Syrians, at about three weeks, but a dwarf mother may tolerate her pups a little longer than a Syrian mother.
12. All dwarf hamster pups must be removed from the cage when they are between 3½ to 5 weeks of age. This removal is necessary to eliminate the chance that the father hamster might impregnate his daughter(s).
13. If the dwarf father remained in the cage, mating likely occurred soon after birth, so a new litter of hamsters could appear when the first litter is about 3 weeks old. To avoid a population explosion, remove the father hamster from the cage. This isn’t a concern with the Syrian species because they’re solitary and shouldn’t share a cage.
14. Male dwarfs (if the female allows him into the nest) make excellent fathers and help with baby-sitting duties. Siblings from the previous litter will also help if the mother hamster allows them to remain in her cage. Remember to remove the first litter from the cage by the time they are 5 weeks old to avoid any more unplanned pregnancies!
15. At 5 weeks, all hamster species are fully weaned and capable of fending for themselves (dwarf species usually are weaned by 3 weeks, but the mother may allow them in the nest longer).
16. Additionally, hamsters of the Syrian species are normally sexually mature at about 5 weeks of age — a female Syrian hamster can conceive and a male Syrian hamster can father a litter. If you don’t separate the sexes in time, get ready for more litters!
17. This is also the time that Syrian hamsters begin to become territorial. They must be separated from the mother and each other at 5 weeks of age to avoid fights. Place each Syrian in a cage of its own. Male Syrians are more docile and might live together slightly longer than females, but sooner or later they will want their own space.
18. By 5 to 7 weeks of age, the fur on Syrian longhaired males (if going to develop a good “skirt”) will be much longer than the fur of longhaired females of the same age. Groom a longhaired male hamster with a soft brush or small comb when it’s young to get it used to the process of removing mats and tangles. The task of grooming will then be easier when the hamster reaches old age.
19. Dwarf hamsters appear to mature sexually later than Syrians if paired with a mate of the same age — usually at about 3 to 4 months of age. However, there are exceptions. Litters are conceived when the female is around 8 to 9 weeks old, so there isn’t the same urgency to split the sexes as with Syrian hamsters. If a female dwarf is paired with an older male, however, conception can take place earlier (2 to 3 months of age). However, some litters are conceived at 2 to 3 months of age regardless of whether a female dwarf is paired with an older male. The resulting litter may not survive, though, because of the immaturity of the female hamster.
20. Unlike the territorial Syrian, dwarf hamsters can live together in single-sexed pairings or colonies. Once they mature at around 12 weeks of age, however, fights can occur that may cause serious injury. In such a case, you must split the pair into separate cages or, in the case of a colony, remove the one being bullied to a separate cage.
21. At 12 weeks of age, Syrian hamsters can be 6 to 8 inches long, so some of them may outgrow the exercise wheel you first purchased. Dwarf species are smaller and usually don’t outgrow a standard 6-inch exercise wheel. Small wheels force a hamster to arch its back too far and may cause injury. Purchase a larger wheel immediately if you notice your hamster arching its back while running in the wheel.
22. The exercise wheel might not be usable for a longhaired Syrian male. Long hair could get caught in the spindle and be pulled from the hamster or painfully trap the hamster. Instead of a wheel, longhaired hamsters more than 12 weeks old can play in cardboard tubes suspended in the cage or large “play boxes” outside the cage, equipped with lots of tubes, mazes and seesaws. They can also play in huge wheels with covered spindles.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.