How To Breed Hamsters (Part 1)

When my dad was stationed in Sandakan for some years, I got to mess with a lot more animals and even wanted to be a vet when I grew up. We'd pull up outside rural parks and there'd be a baby elephant loosely tethered with a dog chain. And the Orang Asli park warden would shrug, "We shot the mum, she was destroying our crops... then we found the baby and felt bad so here he is (casually eating the decorative plants outside the park office)." There were stray mutts everywhere, you often rolled over snakes, and once at a wedding they served stuffed anteater.

My first pet was Pinky. He was a huge (7-8 inches long, excluding the tail) albino rat my mum saved from a high school dissection class. Back then I was in lower primary school, and Pinky gave me a few seriously bad bites (well he was a rat, I don't know how my mum's students fed him with their fingers, I had to use a plastic teaspoon). I also learned to handle him wearing thick leather gloves when I let him out in the yard for exercise.

He did not like being bathed with dog shampoo. (But oh, he smelt so sweet after).

Then I had Honey Bunny, who was very much not. From a cute baby bunny, she grew into a huge... thing, that burrowed about the yard and brought down a large papaya tree.

What she looked like

She bit, she growled, she snapped at dogs that bothered her. (But she was very gentle with my hamsters.) I gave up trying to catch her with a large butterfly net to put her back in her hutch at the end of the day and just left her to hop about the yard permanently.

At which point it should no longer be a surprise when a month after I get Heidi and Kay I nearly step on a wriggling glob of bare pink flesh that has squeezed itself through the cage bars and onto the parquet floor - and realize Kenny is a better name for my satin-haired golden hamster.

Kenny lookalike

Pet shop assured my parents both hamsters were female. It would seem Kenny was a late developer. The litter didn't last long, Heidi soon ate the lot. (No, most of the time you don't actually see it, just one day they're there, the next they're not.)

I was maybe 9 or 10, and I vowed not to lose another litter. So my mum got me hamster books. I learned the gestation periods of Chinese Dwarf Hamsters, vs the larger Golden Hamsters. I learned words like gestation. And the following thru trial and error:

Hamster babies/pups

1) The hamster mum eats her young when threatened, as some natural defense mechanism kicks in. So never let the mum feel threatened - move the cage somewhere quiet around the time she's due (see where knowing the gestation period comes in handy), away from household traffic for at least 7-10 days, after which she's less likely to eat the babies.

2) Get the poor male outta there. I haven't seen any males eat babies, but his crashing about the cage might earn him a few bites (hey this sounds familiar :D).

3) Never touch new babies with your fingers. You are giving them a death sentence.

4) Check where the litter is in the cage. Because the babies can squeeze thru the bars. We lost the largest in one litter because it crawled all the way out my room and fell down the stairs in the night. It was still alive but not for long when we returned it, it was fed to the others. (In fact, one hamster mum seemed to only keep the 4 strongest in her litter no matter what I did (I kept track of the number of babies born, sneaking up to the cage often - by the end of the week she always only had 4 left); other hamsters kept them all, usually 6 or 8 - and they invariably would turn out markedly smaller. Hmm. Apparently I felt you should know this. Hamsters can count.)

If you have to move stray babies, use chopsticks and do it when the mum is asleep. (See (3))

5) Cages and "hamster houses" with detachable lids make it easier to check on and tend to the nest, or simply keep the babies from crawling out too easily.

6) Try to give less wet food in the first week since you can't touch the cage to clean it. And our hamsters had a thing for Maggie Mee noodle cake, or you could even give the calcium-enriched Japanese stuff 😀 Later on you can slip long beans through the bars or something without touching them too much.

The hamsters soon took up a whole wall in my room - you can house all the females together in large multiple-deck cages, but the males give each other really bad bites and then you have more work keeping the wounds clean.

And they were very, very noisy in the night...


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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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  • zmun2

    You are so brave! I am afraid of rats, mice and rodents of any kind.

    • Aileen

      Nono, there are other things I find icky, or that scare me, just they aren’t rodents or reptiles. Reply your other comments in a bit k…

  • Joyce Lau

    Aileen — My god that was graphic!
    I had a pet bunny once, who lived in a wooden hutch in our backyard. It died of a heart attack when the neighbor’s German shepherd barked at it! 

    • Aileen

      Yeah an ex-boyrfriend repeatedly drove his Dutch rabbit to the vet’s for shock treatment after dogs tried to get at it in its hutch… Which is why I look at my “bunny” dubiously – she looked the same, but she had heavier, sturdier bones and she just really didn’t behave like you would expect bunnies to behave..