From the fifteenth day of gestation, don’t stress your female anymore by going to see her too often. Try to feed her in the morning rather than in the evening, and if she doesn’t come out, don’t insist. It is sometimes difficult to hold back to go and see every five minutes, especially if you know that the female is giving birth, but this is the case. But that would be too stressful, and could lead to complications (stop giving birth). Simply check morning and evening that everything is fine. If you see blood, no baby, and it seems amorphous to you, call the vet.
A hamster mother will give birth to an average between four and ten babies for Syrians, and between two and five babies for the dwarf hamsters. However, it happens to have a litter of only one small one, or on the contrary up to fifteen babies, or even more, among Syrians. If the litter is large, it is not uncommon for the mother to kills one or two, either because it is too weak to properly breastfeed the entire litter, or because the baby is too weak or malformed. The killed baby will be eaten to avoid contamination. It seems to be barbaric, but it is a healthy method and an additional source of protein, for females in deficiency.
When babies are born, the mother releases them from the bag around them and licks them to dry, after having gnawing at the umbilical cord.
When the baby reaches her belly, it screams and the mother stops immediately. If the baby is too weak to scream, or if he is dead, she continues to eat him so as not to infect other babies by leaving a dead one among them.
Baby hamsters are born pink, with closed eyes and blocked ears. They weigh about 2/3 grams. They will grow very quickly, and will be weaned in three weeks. The mother keeps them warm under her, nourishes, cleanses and stimulates their natural functions. When she leaves the nest, it arrives that she covers them with litter to hide them from the eyes of predators. For the first few days, she’ll only do brief incursions out of the nest to feed and relieve herself. As the babies grow up, she’ll start spending more time outside the nest again.
You will not be able to touch babies from the beginning, especially if the female does not know you well. The mother would risk smelling your scent on her baby and killing him, to preserve his range. However, it is necessary to check at a glance every day that everything is going well. Wait until the female is busy with something else (when she receives food for example). You can leave a small spoon in a corner of the cage to remove a possible dead baby that the mother would not have eaten (the spoon that remains in the cage will take the smell of the nest and therefore will not disturb the mother).
Day 0: Babies are born pink, hairless, blind and deaf.
Day 3: Dark spots on the skin begin to appear and outline the colors.
Day 4: Ears open.
Between 5 and 10 days: fur appears
Between 10 and 12 days: eyes open. They start eating seeds.
Around 14 days: they leave the nest. They start playing with each other.
Day 21: Independence from their mother.
Babies come out of the nest
Around 13 or 14 days, baby hamsters will start venturing outdoors. They often still have eyes closed, and are oriented to smell and noise. The mother starts spending her time bringing them back into the nest family, by taking them by the skin of their necks.
From that moment, you can start touching them, not long at first. If the mother lets you, you can simply put your hand flat in the cage and let them get used to your smell. Then, gently, you can lift them a few centimeters (not more because they will jump). Doing this simple action every night already ensures you have young hamsters that will be easier to manipulate afterwards. You can do this once in the evening and once in the morning. Do not disturb babies who are sleeping or in the nest, and be satisfied with the ones who come out. In a single litter, there are often the most reckless and slowest, let them evolve at their own pace. You can gradually extend the duration of the manipulations, as the days. If the mother comes by herself on your hand, you will have an army of mini-hamsters who will want to climb as well, because babies instinctively mimic maternal behavior. Similarly, if the Mom always bites you, your babies will tend to bite too.
It is also around 14 days that their diet changes, they start to consume a lot of seeds. Remember to fill the feeder and bottle every morning. From the second week, and when the babies get to know you, you can also start going out. Take a safe park (in plexi for example) to put the whole family there, it will make Mom’s legs spiny, and will accustom the young hamsters to something other than the safety of their cage.
Physical weaning occurs at 21 days; however, you can leave them for another week with the mother, as long as the latter still supports its offspring. If she starts attacking them, then it’s better to put the mother back in her own cage. At six weeks maximum, babies must be separated by sex. We can, at this stage, leave the females together and the males together. From there, it will be necessary to systematically separate babies who attack others, as turf battles will start in (Especially in females, which are often more territorial than males) and can lead to injuries.
Babies must be handled daily, even if these manipulations are short, for tame as much as possible, and that their future adopters have a kind companion. For example, we can do several sessions spread over the evening, and possibly early in the morning. Do not take babies out yet, they are still young and could get scared or find a place to hide. Prefer a secure park.
The hamster mom after separation
The mother will sleep a lot to recover her strength, and her diet must be adapted again as before the gestation. She will be able to resume her daily outings. Inspect the udders regularly until they are normal again. If any of them remain swollen and/or red, a veterinarian should be consulted.
A second litter for the same female is not possible at once, she needs time to recover. Ideally, it should be given to the male at least one month after weaning, which means two months after the birth of the babies. However, for the good of the female, it is better to space the litters several months apart. The breeder will ensure that the female has only three litters maximum, ideally one or two litters over her short life.
If, despite several attempts, no baby is born, several cases may be the cause:
– One of the parents is sterile. If it is the female, she may simply be too old. Sometimes a litter succeeds after a certain number of tests; however fertility concerns often announce problem animals, babies born of such a union can be fragile, by more than having fertility problems too.
– External causes that cause the body not to reproduce, such as cold or cold weather, or heat, lack of food or space.
– In the Russian hamster, winter molt usually makes the hamster temporarily sterile.
A few facts about hamster breeding
– The hamster has no menstrual cycle; the female must not bleed at all, except during calving. A bleeding from the vulva often indicates a serious problem and requires an emergency visit to the veterinary.
– Syrian females have a particular smell when they are in heat, although some are much more fragrant than others. Dwarf hamsters do not give out it this smell.
– There is no contraceptive pill for hamsters. An abortion is sometimes possible, performed by a veterinary specialist, but in most cases it is more risky than a pregnancy.
– Animals, whatever they are, do not have the notion of family that we humans have. A female in heat will reproduce with its father, brother or cousin if we put them together!
– A hamster mating can be very fast. If a male and a female have been in contact, never neglect the possibility of a litter later, even if you have only looked away for a few seconds.