Please take time to think about your reasons for wanting to breed and the full implications for doing so. Breeding a litter of hamsters can be very fun and rewarding, but creating lives is a huge responsibility. Breeding hamsters should only ever be undertaken after a great deal of serious thought and consideration.
To read what each photo is of simply move your mouse curser over the picture.
Why do you want to breed?
What happens to the babies?
Are you willing to provide the very best care?
Which hamsters will you breed?
Hamster Genetics - very brief information
Introducing the couple
Why do you want to breed?
The answer to this question will really tell you whether you have thought through the whole thing. If you wish to breed healthy friendly animals that will be a joy to their owners, or to improve your own line of hamsters with a view to making hamster exhibiting and breeding a hobby, then you are starting to give the matter some thought.
Any answer along the lines of I just love babies of any sort, or that you think it would be a fun thing to do may not be enough justification for helping to bring up to twenty new lives per litter into the world.
What happens to the babies?
A hamster litter can reach up to twenty pups, maybe even more. Average litters range from six to ten pups. A major area for consideration is what will happen if you suddenly find yourself with an extra twenty mouths to feed and cage.
You may have friends and family who say they wish to take one of the babies, however, people’s plans change and you must consider what you will do if all the promised homes do not materialise, or if you suddenly find yourself with a very large litter. You need to find as many prospective homes as possible for your babies before the mating takes place.
One option is of course to keep several, or all pups yourself, remembering that within a few weeks of birth they will all need their own cage, and to be kept separately. The financial cost and time it will take to care for so many animals should be considered carefully before deciding on this option.
You may be lucky enough to have a good, reputable local pet shop. If you are lucky, you may have built up a relationship with them in the past, through visits to buy equipment etc. consider approaching them to ask whether they would be willing to sell any babies you cannot re-home. Some will even be willing to pay a small amount to you for each hamster you provide, however do not expect it to be very much. I have bred quite a few litters now, and I can honestly say this is a labour of love. I’ve never yet covered the costs of rearing a litter by selling the pups, never mind made any profit. If you think there is any money in breeding hamsters, think again!
Some people will advertise their litters on sites like freeads and preloved, and this may be an option for rehoming your pups. Advertisements can be placed in stores and also in local newspapers, although again, sometimes this can be costly.
Are you willing to provide the very best care?
If you plan to breed or even keep hamsters, you have a responsibility to provide for their needs and care for them. This means considering the costs of feeding, homing and caring for your little ones if they become ill.
Female hamsters are hardy, and rarely need outside intervention, but when they do, good quality care is a must. If the mother becomes ill, or has difficulty whilst giving birth or in raising her pups, you must seek expert medical advice. We have had to undertake visits to the vets with some of our hamster pups, and this cost must be factored in at the beginning of any breeding plan, so that adequate care can be paid for.
In advance, make sure you have access to a small animal vet practice. If you do not know of good vets in your area, ask friends and people locally who also have small animals. Rushing around, trying to find a suitable vet whilst your pets life hangs in the balance is something you really don’t want to do. Best be prepared.
I would always advise that anyone considering breeding a litter thoroughly investigates prior to undertaking this. Luckily there are a great many sources of information on hamsters available through the internet and some very competent books upon the subject.
Even better, after reading up, I would suggest speaking to experienced breeders and hamster enthusiasts. This can be done in person, by arranging to visit a breeder, or a hamster show, and also there are some very responsible forums on the internet that you can join to ask questions and share experiences. Our website has may pages on advice on general care which it is a good idea to ground yourself with. There are three clubs that are part of the NHC, Northern, Southern, and Midland. You are welcome to join one, they are a good source of information and through going to shows you can talk to breeders and have a support structure in place, who can be contacted for advice.
Which hamsters will you breed?
A most important decision will be which male and female hamsters you will put together not all pairings will be ideal, although if you have undertaken some research you should have an idea of the areas to watch out for.
Some of the areas I believe you need to consider as a minimum would be
• Age of hamsters
• Colour/Pattern and Fur
Not taking due regard to any of these issues can seriously affect whether you produce a strong and healthy litter of pups.
My personal view is that obtaining your potential Mother and Father from a reputable and experienced breeder would be advantageous when considering breeding. The hamsters, when sold to you, should be provided with a pedigree listing the hamster’s date of birth and colour/pattern/sex. The pedigree, just as with pedigrees for other animals, will contain details of previous generations which can be a great help in predicting the expected colours of hamsters in any litter. Making contact with a breeder, as explained above, will also allow you to ask questions and seek their advice on any potential breeding programme and on the general care of your new hamster.
The age of a female hamster needs to be considered when thinking of breeding. An ideal age for a hamster’s first litter is between 5 and 6 months old. I would never mate a hamster earlier than three months old, as she may not be mature enough to cope with raising a litter, and, as she will still be growing and maturing herself, may have her growth restricted by the strain of producing pups. It is thought also that it can be dangerous for a female over the age of 6 months to have a first litter as some sources believe this can cause complications in giving birth. Females usually become sterile at about a year old.
The age of the male hamster is less important than that of the female. Of course the hamster needs to be old enough to be large enough and able to breed. Older hamsters may be infertile, and with a very old hamster, the act of mating can put quite a strain on his heart, so preferably the male should be a fit and mature young hamster.
Please be aware of the general health of the prospective parents. They should exhibit no signs of illness or disease and should be large, fit and the picture of health. If you are in any doubt about your hamsters’ health, please see a vet. Some illnesses suffered by hamsters are catching or hereditary and you would not wish to breed a sickly litter, or one prone to disease and early death.
For Mad About Hamters and other breeders, we would only ever breed from hamsters that were tame and happy to be handled. Any hamster that showed any flaws in its temperament would never be bred from.
Temperament seems to be a trait that can be passed down from generation to generation. You increase the chances that any litter will become pets that are a joy to own by ensuring that this is also the case with the parents. Hamster pups also, in my experience, learn many of their behaviours whilst still in the nest with Mum. If your female hamster happily enjoys cuddles and clambers up you for attention and fuss, chances are that, very soon, her pups will also see human contact as something not to be feared from their very earliest days.
One of the greatest joys of raising a litter, and one that I regularly experience, is the time when the pups recognise that human contact is enjoyable. To place a bowl of food in the cage and be greeted by a swarm of pups clambering onto your hand and trying to climb your arm, as they have seen Mum do, is amazing. Taming, conducted from the time your hamster pups eyes open is time well spent to ensure that pups, when they eventually go to new homes, will enjoy a wonderful relationship with their new owners. New owners, encouraged by the friendliness of their new pet, will give lots of time and attention hopefully to them, meaning a wonderful experience for pet and owner!
Any hamster that does not like being touched, that bites, screams or appears to suffer from ‘cage rage’ every time you approach their home should never be bred from unless you are willing to take the risk that the offspring will do the same! My suggestion would be, before thinking about breeding, take some time to undertake intensive taming with your little ‘monster’. Most hamsters will eventually come round to taming, though some do take a while if unused to human contact. A hamster that resists all attempts to tame it may have some neurological problem or be the victim of previous bad breeding. I wouldn’t want to continue the mistakes made by others, so even if it is the most beautiful hamster in the world I would not breed from the little tyrant.
Hamster Genetics - very brief information
Hamster genetics is a complex subject and one that will not be gone into in great depth here. There are however, some significant areas you need to consider as combining certain areas can lead to genetic defects. A responsible breeder would always make themselves aware of the possible pitfalls and how to avoid them.
I will assume that you have taken my advice, and undertaken some preliminary research on hamster types, colours and care. You should be aware of the colour, pattern and type of fur of your hamsters (this will be very easily found from your pedigree if you have hamsters from reputable breeders).
Look at the pictures above, we can see that Amelie is a sable (colour) roan (pattern) long haired satin (fur length/type) hamster. Knowing this information will help you to consider any potential problems and issues that you may come across with any area.
I will discuss a few of the major issues here, although of course, within one article I am unable to give a full description of all the genetics and associated considerations. This is why undertaking your own research will be invaluable. In explaining some of the issues to you, I will continue to use our girl Amelie as an example, as you will see, she is quite a good one for a couple of reasons!
The White Bellied Gene – this gene is something that shows differently on Agouti hamsters (those with cheek flashes/crescents and base colours) and Self hamsters (hamsters that are all one colour without different coloured cheek flashes etc.) Butterbean is a self coloured hamster, Vala is an Agouti hamster, just so that you can see the difference. On an agouti animal, the white bellied gene will cause the belly fur to be lightened to a bright white, as opposed to the normal colour for that animal. For a self coloured hamster, the gene will cause the hamster to become a ‘roan’.
A roan hamster will appear as a white hamster with coloured hairs ‘ticked’ through its coat, The coloured areas will usually be concentrated around the head and will fade towards the hamsters rear end. As we have discussed, Amelie is a roan hamster.
White-bellied or roan hamsters are perfectly healthy, however, where two hamsters both carrying this gene to be mated together, 25% of the litter would be expected to get a double dose of the white-bellied gene and this will cause problems. The unlucky pups affected will suffer from micropthalmia (small eyes) or anopthalmia (no eyes) as well as being pure white. These hamsters often have a shorter lifespan and other problems too.
For this reason, a white bellied or roan hamster must only ever be mated to a normal hamster. That sounds straightforward enough, but further complications can arise whith patterned hamsters, such as dominant spot or banded hamsters, who will show a white belly. One would be unable to identify whether the white bellied gene was carried by the patterned hamster, and for this reason we also advise never to mate two patterned hamsters together. We would therefore never mate Amelie to any hamster that was patterned or showed a white belly because of the risks.
Satin coated – satin coated hamsters have beautifully lustrous shiny fur. They can be particularly sought after hamsters due to their very striking appearance with their fur showing darker and lighter as it catches the light. Mating two satin coated hamsters together however, will result in a number of the litter being ‘double satin’ (inheriting satin from Mum and Dad). This can cause very sparse, fine, greasy looking fur, a mile away from the attractive healthy shiny coats of their parents. For this reason it is always appropriate to mate a satin coated hamster to a normal coated hamster. This would result in a litter where approximately 50% would have satin fur, and 50% normal fur. Amelie also has satin fur, so we would also need to ensure that any hamster she was mated to did not have satin fur.
So if we were considering mating Amelie we would need to look for a hamster that was not patterned, had no white belly and did not have satin fur! That’s why it is so important to research thoroughly, as if we got it wrong, we could end up with eyeless hamsters with health problems and thin sparse fur who would die early. Certainly not a result I would wish ever to see.
Some colours are more robust than other colours, and upon investigating, it would always be a good idea to start off breeding from one of these more robust groups. Golden or cream are generally believed to be colours that produce robust pups, and are a good idea for a beginner.
So far, I haven’t even mentioned that the colours of the parents will affect the colours of the litter, again, this is a matter of genetics. Some colour genes in hamsters are dominant and some are recessive. A knowledge of what colours your hamsters are, and whether these are compatible will help you before breeding. Understanding the basics of colour genetics by reading a hamster book including genetics, or by some other means, will allow you to predict the colours you may see in a litter.
Golden is the wild colour of the Syrian hamster. If you mate two hamsters with incompatible genes, you will find that the pups revert to this wild colour. This can be surprising for some when they mate a cream hamster to a black hamster, however, unless there are compatible genes to be shared on both sides, it is likely that golden pups will result. Surprise colours can and do occur though when both parents carry compatible recessive genes, and this can make breeding a litter very rewarding and fun.
Introducing the couple
A female hamster will normally be receptive to mating (in season/on heat) every four nights. When a female is ready to mate she will stand in a very distinctive pose with her tail in the air showing her readiness for mating. Females usually come into season a short time after dusk in summer, although in the winter months the shorter days mean that the females season takes place much later and lasts for a much shorter period, often only a matter of an hour or two.
The female will only accept the attentions of a male when she is in season. At any other stage placing the two animals together can result in the female quickly turning on the male and viciously attacking him. Because of this often breeders try to establish whether the female is in season before putting the two together (makes sense huh?).
You could try the following methods:
Firstly handle your male, making sure that his scent is transferred onto your hands by stroking him for a period of time. After placing him back in his cage, handle the female hamster allowing her to smell your hands and investigate. After a couple of minutes try stroking your female gently but firmly along her back towards her tail. You may find that immediately the female takes up the mating ‘stand’ sticking her tail directly up in the air, this showing she is in fact in season and ready for mating.
Or bring the male hamster up to the bars of the female’s cage. And, making sure that they cannot attack each other through the bars, allow them to smell and investigate each other. Our experience is that, often this will cause the female to run quickly around the cage before returning to stand in front of the male and take up the mating stance.
Sometimes the female will not respond to either of these methods, and there is only one real way of testing whether a female is in season, which is the riskier option of a test-mating.
Prepare well for a mating, ensuring that everything is ready before placing the animals together.
A breeding cage that is neutral is our preferred place to carry out the mating. We use a large plastic storage box, but a cardboard box with high sides, or a spare open top cage would do just as well. Never place the male in the females cage for the mating – she is likely to defend her territory.
Cover the floor of the breeding cage with wood shavings or cage litter. Ensure that the hamsters cannot escape the cage, but that you can get easy access should a fight break out.
Okay, so are you ready for the possible outcomes? If you are lucky the female will stand and all will go swimmingly (more later), three times more likely than this scenario though, is that the female will not be in season and will not take kindly to the males interest in her. A glove, a hard book or piece of cardboard should be on hand to place between the pair, should the female turn on the male.
We find it helps to place the male into the breeding area for a while before placing the female in with him. We like to let him have a wonder and add his scent to the area. After he has settled down, place the female in the cage, and be prepared.
Should the female not be in season that evening she will often try to escape the male, and after sniffing him can often seem to try to turn him on his tummy and attack him. These attacks can happen very quickly, so don’t take your eyes off the pair at this delicate time. If this happens, remove the male as soon as possible and be prepared to try again the following evening.
Should the female actually be in season she will probably spend some time smelling the male before striking the familiar ‘standing’ post. The male will spend some time smelling and washing the female and himself before quickly mounting her and mating her. The mating will be repeated often for up to 30 minutes in between times the male stopping and washing himself. After a while the female will seem to rouse herself from her trance and become more lively. At this stage it is sensible to remove the male from the area as her moving around usually signifies the mating is over. Both animals should be returned to their separate cages, where we have often observed that both parties will take a long time washing themselves and sleeping!
Hamsters have a very short gestation period of 16 days with pups being born usually between the evening of the 16th day and early on the 17th day.
During the post mating period it is important to supplement the females diet with extra nutrients to help her with her pregnancy. We usually feed the females a diet of her normal food along with extra protein such as chicken, tofu, scrambled egg, and porridge or rice pudding made with puppy milk. We continue to feed the extra foods to the mother right up to and past weaning the pups as raising a large litter requires a lot of energy.
It is hard to be sure that your female is pregnant, often there are very few signs of pregnancy before the 10th day after mating. At this stage you may find that the hamster has visible bumps either side, looking like it has swallowed a ping pong ball! The nipples may also become more noticeable. If you have mated your hamster, whether you think that the mating was successful or not, you should be careful handling her. If she has a very small litter you may find it very difficult to tell whether she is pregnant at all.
If you think your hamster is pregnant you must prepare for her to raise the litter. Her normal cage may not be appropriate, and you may wish to consider alternatives or making adjustments. Cages with tubes are not ideal for a mother to raise her pups in, as, if she gives birth on a higher floor, the pups may fall down the tubes. Also consider in wire cages that pups may possibly be able to escape through the bars. We use tank style cages for our nursing Mums.
About 3 to 4 days before the female is due to have her pups the cage should be thoroughly cleaned, unsuitable toys and the wheel should be removed and thick fresh cage litter and lots of soft bedding provided. On the day the pups are due, the female must be left in peace and quiet to give birth.
Mother will give birth to the pups singly, and the whole process can be over surprisingly quickly. When born, hamster pups look nothing like the wonderful fluffly adults they will become, being small, pink and totally naked. The eyes and ears will be sealed shut behind skin. We always think that the pups look like little pink shrimps.
Within the first few days the new Mum will spend almost all of her time on the nest with very quick trips out for a drink or toilet break. Some Mums will take great lengths to ensure the nest is covered and pups are hidden when leaving the nest.
The nest should be left undisturbed or you may cause the Mum to become concerned and destroy her pups. Never be tempted to open the nest to just catch a glimpse of the pups, it just is not worth the risk.
The thing you can do is to make sure that the Mum continues to be fed a high protein diet and is left in peace to be able to tend to her pups needs. Sometimes a very friendly Mum will clamber to come out and play, but we tend to not take Mum away from the pups for the first week.
One of the most wonderful sounds is the sound of squeaks from the nest as the pups settle down to feed. Sometimes you can hear the hum of the pups as they contentedly suckle.
A major note of warning if you see a pup outside of the nest, please don’t be tempted to touch it. Mum will usually return to collect the pup herself, but by touching the pup, you will transfer your smell onto it, risking the Mum rejecting it and killing it, and possibly even more pups. If, after a long time, the pup is still out, and looks too weak, then using some safe material, such as a spoon or a piece of card rubbed well into Mum’s toilet corner, scoop up the pup and return it to the nest whilst Mum is distracted.
After the first week you will notice, if Mum leaves the nest uncovered, fur appearing on the pups. You will be able to distinguish light colours from dark, and if the pups have any patterns (for example the banded pattern) this will be visible. The ears will have started to stand away from the head, and the pups should have lost that wrinkled ‘new baby’ look.
The pups will be starting to eat solid food. Mum will usually bring food back to the nest but we like to make sure there is plenty available for them, so from about six days onwards we sprinkle small particles of food and wheat-germ around the nest for them. At this stage we also increase the amount of food we are offering to include the pups as well.
During the second week, your pups will usually start to venture out of the nest (though we have had some ultra-adventurous pups who managed to do this at four days old!). When Mum notices she will carry the pup in her mouth to return it to the nest. It is at this stage when we usually find we have to tear ourselves away from ‘pup watching’, it is all so entertaining.
As soon as the pups start leaving the nest in search of food, make sure that they can reach the water bottle. If the bottle appears too high, and you cannot lower it, try raising the surface of the cage to allow the pups to reach it. You can do this by raising the level of the bedding or placing a low log bridge or something else for the pups to step up onto.
We start to feed second stage baby food to the pups as well from the first week onward in addition to the Tofu, chicken, eggs, porridge and vegetables that you have been offering to Mum at this stage. Use a very shallow dish to allow the pups to easily reach the food such as a jam jar lid. This also makes sure that they cannot fall into deeper bowls of food and possibly drown.
At about 14 days old the pups will begin to open their eyes and their fur will have grown so that they look very much like mini-hamsters. They will often be quite adventurous by now, and you may find that Mum has given up on trying to keep her brood in check and returning them to the nest.
If Mum is happy and relaxed you can begin handling the pups once their eyes are open. If she seems anxious or overprotective then I would wait a few more days before handling. Now is also time to clean the cage, which will surely need it!
My experience is that handling the pups for the first time is best accomplished in the following way. However you decide to undertake handling though, always make sure your hands are washed and scrupulously clean.
Place Mum in a play-box or in her ball, for a well deserved bit of fun. Prepare a suitable container (such as a hamster carry case or spare cage) with fresh wood shavings. Rub your hands well in the dirty cage litter to transfer this smell on to your hands. Handle the pups one by one and then place them carefully into the prepared container. A word of warning, you will probably find the pups are very wriggly and are quite likely to squirm out of your hand in the early days of handling. Always hold the pups close to the ground to ensure that they don’t hurt themselves if they fall.
After handling all of the pups, take the opportunity to clean the cage, retaining a little of the nest to mix in with fresh bedding and make it smell like home to the pups and Mum. Once the cage is clean place the pups back in the nest, and give them time to settle down. Fill the food bowls with fresh tasty food before placing Mum back in the cage, in front of the food bowl. Hopefully she will be so interested in the food that she will not notice all the hard work you have undertaken in cleaning her cage and will soon settle down with her pups.
From now on allow Mum a play-time daily which will give you chance to handle the pups too, following the process above. Taming is usually very easy if started at this early stage and handling will also give you chance to begin preliminary sexing of the pups, and to check their general health. If there happens to be a noticeably smaller pup or two in the litter, we usually use handling time to offer them supplementary food such as porridge or baby food from a spoon, to help them catch up.
From two weeks onwards the pups will continue to grow quickly. You may find Mum disappearing from the nest for a few minutes peace and quiet, sometimes for longer periods.
From three weeks onwards the pups will be being weaned by Mum and she often retreats out of the way to make sure that she is not surrounded by demanding children asking for milk. From four weeks, the pups are ready to be separated from Mum and placed in single sex cages where they can remain in groups until ready for homing at five weeks onwards.
Breeding hamsters is not something that should be entered into lightly, however, raising a litter of healthy, happy and friendly pups is an amazing experience and one that is richly satisfying. Learning as much as possible about breeding beforehand should minimise the risks to both Mum and pups, and you should be sure that you are fully committed to caring and re-homing the litter before beginning your venture. The breeding of dwarf variety hamsters differs from the processes described here, and specialist advice should be sought.
Article Written by T.McHugh