Chances are that if you’ve had hamsters for a while, you’ve considered having them raise young. It can be a very rewarding and cuddly experience and many people do it successfully. However, before embarking on hamster breeding, you should be well informed and prepared, because cannibalism is common if conditions are not optimal. In addition, you must have decided what you are going to do with the offspring, since in a short time they will also be ready to procreate.
It is not always easy to sell hamster hatchlings in pet stores, since many of them do not receive hamster hatchlings from hobbyists or the general public, but only from breeders and they already have their suppliers. You can give them as gifts to your friends, but, as we have said, you should know this before you start, because after a month or so you will have to separate the males from the females. Finally, if you prefer to keep them, you should have at least two large cages or one for each one in the case of Syrian and Chinese hamsters.
If you have Syrian hamsters, it is not recommended to breed them unless you check with a breeder or someone who has been through the experience. They are aggressive and the female can kill the male if she is not ready to mate or if you leave them together afterwards. Also, they have a lot of hamster offspring to place, 8 to 10 on average. In the case of dwarf hamsters it is a little easier because they are sociable, but you should also be prepared to separate them when the offspring are born to prevent the parents from continuing to reproduce.
If you decide to go ahead, the first thing to do is to get a good pair of hamsters. They should not be siblings or relatives, for this it is convenient not to buy them in the same store or do it in a serious store that assures you that they are not related. Make sure they are healthy, that they have good occlusion of the teeth and observe their physical characteristics. If one has an undesirable characteristic, the other should not have the same defect, or the hamster offspring will inherit it. It is also advisable for the mother to be docile, so she teaches her offspring to accept contact with people.
Although hamsters are sexually mature from 30-60 days of age, it is recommended to wait until 4 months of age to breed them. In the case of Syrian hamsters, wait no longer than 6 months for the first litter. Roborowski females usually take longer to breed, sometimes up to 18 months or until their first spring. Before that age they are too young and still growing, so they are more likely to eat their young. Cannibalism with hamster pups occurs for different reasons; it can be due to stress, in cases where the mother feels there is danger or is too nervous to care for her pups. It also occurs when there is a lack of protein in the mother’s diet or she is too young to successfully nurse and raise her young. The mother eats the pups to nourish herself and be better prepared for the next litter, which seems very cruel but is effective in nature.
Once you have the couple that is going to have hamster offspring, the female will go to the male’s cage or, better yet, look for a neutral territory to have the encounter. This is done because females are more aggressive and could hurt the groom. You can use another cage or terrarium or any plastic container with ventilation. Females have a 4-day heat, being receptive on the last day. Syrian and Chinese hamsters should be separated immediately after service, while other hamsters can be left together if there are no signs of aggression.
In all cases it is advisable to separate the male once the hamster offspring are born, but not because they will attack them, but because the parents may mate again the next day and this is obviously not the healthiest thing to do. When they are together, the fathers actively participate in the care of the young together with the females (except for the Sirians). If the mother can be left in the company of other females if they were already living together, they will help in the breeding.
Pregnancy time is approximately 16 days in Syrians, 21 days in Chinese, Campbell and Russian hamsters and between 23 and 30 days in Roborowski hamsters. During this stage, the mother should be fed a diet rich in protein, with small pieces of hard-boiled egg, peas, soy beans or even worms and lobsters. Some place pieces of bread soaked in milk in a small dish. You should also provide plenty of fresh water at all times. Clean the cage well 3 to 4 days before the hamster hatchlings arrive, as after that the cage should not be touched for 10 to 20 days to avoid cannibalism. Leave plenty of tissue paper or pieces of cloth for the mother to build a soft, warm nest for her babies.
When the big day arrives, you should make an effort not to intervene or try to eavesdrop. Dwarf hamsters have 3 to 6 young and Syrian hamsters have 7 to 11, but litters of up to 20 have been known to be produced. During parturition, young may be separated from the nest; do not worry, as the mother will take care of reuniting them once she has finished. Do not touch hamster babies, even with gloves or by washing your hands, as there is always a risk that you could end up causing a massacre. For safety, place the cage in a very quiet place, without disturbing noises and with little movement. The females are responsible for the cleaning, care and feeding of the young; you should let them eat the remains of the birth, as this is an excellent source of nutrients for the following days. Give them plenty of good quality food and water.
Baby hamsters are born blind, cannot hear and are completely hairless, but they have a sense of smell and can move with their little hands. At about 7 to 10 days old, their fur starts to grow and by two weeks they have a full, silky coat. At this age you will see them running around the cage. Be prepared to separate the males from the females when they are one month old to avoid crossbreeding. To differentiate the females from the males, look at the separation between the anus and the other opening at the back. In females this distance is smaller than in males, since the testicles will be located in this space.
Keeping baby hamsters can be fascinating and allows you to see a little bit of nature in your home, but please do so with responsibility and respect for these little creatures.