Help! My Hamster Is Pregnant!
"Even the best laid plans of hamsters and men..." Well, that's a mangled Robert Burns quote, but you know what I mean. Even the most responsible hamster owner can wake up one day to suddenly discover their carefully observed hamster is pregnant. They sometimes seem to breed like coat hangers. They are very clever at escaping their cages and entering the cages of other hamsters. You also could have brought a hamster home who, unknown to everybody except the hamster, that she was pregnant. This is especially disconcerting if you thought the hamster was a male.
It's Not The End Of The World
Female hamsters have certain advantages than that of females of other species. They are often bigger than the males, have wide hips and give birth to babies that are quite small. Most female hamsters seem to know what to do about giving birth and go about it with a minimum of fuss. They get through the whole ordeal better than the owner. Hamsters have the shortest gestation of any mammal - only about 16 days. So you will have to deal with babies sooner rather than later.
Some things you should do as soon as you realize your hamster is expecting:
- If she's not already in her own cage, give her her own cage.
- Try to handle her as little as possible.
- Make sure she knows how to use a water bottle. Baby hamsters can drown in water dishes.
- Give her fresh veggies as treats.
- Give her one piece of dry dog food a day (she will need the protein).
- Keep her cage clean as you right before she seems like she can't get any fatter - she is most likely about to give birth and will not let you clean the cage afterwards.
- She may be more prone to bite than usual. Make sure anyone who gets near her knows that.
- Ask friends and family or local pet stores now about homes for the babies.
Hamster Hannibal Lector
It is true that hamster mothers can sometimes eat their own babies. There is some debate as to just why this happens. One theory is that they are starving and eat the closest source of food available. This is one reason why you must give your pregnant hamster the dog food. If the baby is born dead or extremely ill, the mother will eat the baby in order to protect the rest of the group. (A corpse gets smelly and attracts predators). Another reason is self-defense. You must leave the new mother alone with her brood as much as possible for the first week. If she gets scared and thinks a predator is going to attack, she may eat the babies. If it happens, it happens. Try not to beat yourself up over it.
Hamster mothers will normally eat any afterbirth they produce in order to not have the smell attract any predators. If you see her chomping on something fleshy, don't conclude that it's a baby she's eating.
A Week After The Birth
Now is the time to clean the cage. Carefully remove Mom and kids and place them where you usually place your hamsters when you clean out their cages. Be sure to leave a pinch or two of the old bedding, so it has the scent of home on to reassure Mom that this is indeed Home Sweet Home.
The babies will have their fur and start to develop their own personalities. It is especially interesting to watch a whole litter try to use a wheel at the same time! Although first time mothers tend to have smaller litters, hamster can have anywhere from one to twenty babies in a litter. The average seems to be eight.
It will be hard, but try to avoid handling the babies. They are very fragile and Mom might still be in an over-protective state. A fall from only a foot can injure or kill them. Now is a great time to get a Zoom lens on your camera!
Try not to name the babies if you are planning on giving them away. Naming them will make them closer to your heart. It is in their best interests to give them away if you don't have the space, time or money to keep them. But you don't need to make it any harder on yourself than you need to.
You can remove the babies from Mom when they are about a month old. Yes, hamsters grow fast! If you possibly can, try to separate the boys from the girls. Hamsters are a very precocious species. This is, of course, easier said than done. If a pet shop or someone will take the whole litter, you won't need to bother sexing them. Just take the whole lot to the shop. Being sad at this time is normal. But reassure yourself that you are doing what's best for them, for you and for Mommy Hamster.
You will miss the babies more than Mommy Hammy will. She's already thinking of how she can get the next litter started.
If you have more questions about hamsters, check out http://www.hamsters.co.uk/