Posted: March 26, 2012, 7 p.m. EDT
So what should you do now if you believe your hamster is pregnant? First of all, just because a newly purchased female hamster shows rapid weight gain around the tummy and irritability when handled does not mean she is definitely pregnant, she could be just gaining weight because of a change in diet. If she is pregnant, know that hamsters normally make excellent mothers. However, a very young female hamster will find it more difficult to be a mother because she is still growing.
If you do suspect that your hamster is pregnant, clean the hamster’s cage and add fresh bedding before the birth. Place the cage in a fairly dark, quiet area to minimize noise and disturbance. Care for the mother hamster as usual, with slight adjustments in her diet to increase milk production. Add an extra two or three sunflower seeds a day and some milky foods to aid bone growth in the forthcoming hamster babies (called pups).
During The Birth
At the time of birth, monitor the event unobtrusively. Unless the mother is showing signs of distress (i.e., lying in the corner away from babies) leave her alone. If the hamster babies are scattered all over the cage the mother hamster usually picks them up and puts them back in the nest.
Resist the urge to intervene unless something seems drastically wrong. Too much human interference could make the mother hamster abandon her babies or, in extreme cases, kill them. Interference includes humans touching the baby hamsters or picking them up to return them to the nest.
The Hamster Babies Are Born
After the birth, avoid cleaning the cage until the young hamsters are at least 14 days old. Too much disturbance after the birth might upset the new mother, so the less human intervention the better. It is not uncommon for a mother hamster to destroy the litter if startled by noise, movement of the cage or prying fingers in the nest.
Add some milky food in a very shallow dish for the mother hamster. This supplies added calcium for her and aids her milk production.
If the nest is near the bars of the cage, slot some cardboard around and through the cage bars in that area to prevent baby hamsters from straying through the bars. You can do this while the mother hamster is distracted by food and is away from the nest.
After the litter is born, you can decide how much cage furniture/accessories to remove. Some mother hamsters still enjoy a few minutes exercise on the wheel, and baby hamsters 11 days or more old with unopened eyes have been known to happily run in tandem on the wheel.
Unless it can be seen that a piece of cage furniture is likely to cause a problem, it is best left in the cage. If the house is getting too small for the mother and litter she normally moves them out. A house with a detachable roof can simply have the roof removed. Whatever you do, accomplish it with minimum disturbance.
From seven days after birth until the baby hamsters emerge from the nest to feed themselves at the food dish, offer the babies and the mother “baby food.” Baby food can be a mixture of small birdseed, wheat germ, first-stage dry baby food, dried milk powder and the small broken bits found at the bottom of dry hamster mix.
As the baby hamsters grow, they will help themselves to any milky foods (hence using a very shallow dish is helpful). If you suspect the babies cannot reach the water bottle, place a small upturned food dish, coffee jar lid or a block of wood under the bottle so they can reach the spout, especially in very hot weather.
When the hamsters are 14 days old, you can clean the cage if the mother allows it. Whether or not you replace the bedding depends on the mother hamster. If she is extremely possessive, leave the bedding the first day you clean and provide fresh bedding the following day.
Replacing the bedding might be necessary every other day thereafter, especially with a very big litter. To avoid changing the bedding, take the bedding out of the cage, clean the cage, and put the same bedding back in. However, use clean nesting material (this is separate from the bedding), such as toilet paper, each time you clean the cage.
A possessive mother hamster repeatedly puts the babies back in the nest when they start wandering out, might completely cover the nest with her bedding and some nesting material when she leaves the nest so that no one can look in, or could be extremely aggressive toward humans even during feeding time.
The baby hamsters will consume far more than you may expect. The amount depends upon the size of the litter. A baby hamster of 3 weeks consumes about half of what its mother eats. Remember: It’s better to overfeed than underfeed.
Excerpt from the Popular Critters Series magabook Hamsters with permission from its publisher, BowTie magazines, a division of BowTie Inc. Purchase Hamsters here.