Dwarf Breeding & Babies
Campbells Dwarfs, Winter White Dwarfs and Roborovski Dwarfs are generally left together in bonded breeding pairs for life and nature takes it's course. Chinese Hamsters work best in groups where there are more males then females. Again for life and nature takes it's course. Chinese are very temperamental about change so once a group is together don't regroup them. Even doing a complete bedding change can cause stress and fights. First let me say that breeding is a big responsibility. One pair could easily produce 100 pups in their lifetime, if not more. You need to make sure your area has a good market for pocket pets so that you can find homes for all of them BEFORE making the decision to breed. If you think there is money to be made in breeding you're wrong. The cost of housing, food and bedding is much more then what any pet store will give you for pups, if they give you anything. Private sales are few and far between. Even if you could sell all of your pups from all of your litters via private sales it would not meet the costs of raising a litter.
There are only two hamster species that can interbreed: Campbells Dwarf and Winter White Dwarf. There are problems associated with these breedings and the offspring. However most pet stores have no idea if they have Campbells Dwarfs, Winter White Dwarfs or both. The names are often used interchangeably. Unless you are buying from a reputable breeder, you're taking your chances on getting a Hybrid Dwarf. This link explains in more detail the issues involved.
Unfortunately for you, your pet may be a mother soon and you didn't know it. Most pet stores keep the litter together - boys and girls - as long as they can to save space. Girls can get pregnant as young as 3-4 weeks and boys can impregnate as young as 4-5 weeks. This usually requires an experienced partner but not always. It's the rare pet store that has staff able to properly sex animals so the two 'boys' or 'girls' may actually be a boy and a girl. Even if you do get two girls they may both be pregnant from their cage mates.
There are certain animals that should not be bred. Check out the Health Issues on the 101 page for things to look out for.
Campbells Dwarfs and Winter White Dwarfs become sexually mature at 6 weeks of age. Winter White Dwarfs in their winter coats have fewer and smaller litters but can and do still breed. Roborovski Dwarfs become sexually mature at 4-5 months and stop breeding during the winter. Chinese become sexually mature at 3 months. Females come into heat every 4 days for 24 hours. The male will follow the female around and breed with her on the run. They'll break apart and clean themselves. They will repeat this for hours, taking small naps in between.
The gestation (length of pregnancy) is around 18-25 days. Consecutive litters may be delayed to allow the current nursing litter time to wean. Campbells Dwarfs can delay pregnancy much longer if the female feels there isn't adequate food, water or shelter. Also losing the male in a bonded pair may delay the last litter. As the pregnancy progresses, the female will develop a "pear" shape to her body. If you can see pups moving in the female's stomach the birth is only days away. You should do a last major cage cleaning a couple of days before you expect the litter. This will give the expectant mother a chance to build a suitable nest and feel secure in her home. Besides her normal bedding material, give her plenty of cheap, white, unscented toilet paper to line her nest. Make sure the expectant mom has plenty of water available. Do not restrict food intake at this time. Supplement her food with fresh, raw vegetables, cooked chicken and cooked egg (no frying, spices or seasonings). This is also a good time to pull out any weaned pups that may still be with the folks.
Rodent females will go into heat the day or evening they give birth. This is called post partum estrus. She will settle the pups in the nest and then she'll breed if a male is present. They may run over the pups in their enthusiasm but this does not harm the pups. Do not interfere.
You can expect anything from 1-9 pups in a litter, 5-6 being the average. Delivery will normally take place during the night. She may give birth around the tank and leave the pups there as she delivers the next one. Don't panic. Mom will gather them up afterwards into the nest. Do not interfere.
The male (in a bonded mate situation) will help the female with the babies, keeping them warm while the mom takes a break, cleaning them, etc. In a colony situation or all girl group an Aunt will help. Only separate them if there are problems or if you don't want another litter. For temporary birth control you can split cage the parents while the litter is being raised, thus removing the need to reintroduce the pair. I recommend you use ¼" hardware cloth so the parents can't pass babies from side to side. Roborovski Dwarf weanlings can easily pass through ½" hardware cloth.
With a new mom, new mate situation, or stress; the mom or another adult may attack the pups. New ownership is also stressful.
Having given these dire warnings most litters manage just fine especially without human intervention. The best thing you can do is leave mom and dad to do what nature tells them. Most animals know instinctively how to care for their babies. The worst thing new breeders can do is interfere with the litter too soon. The parents will not sit constantly on the nest. They will take breaks to take care of bodily functions - including mating. Most homes are kept at a temperature that the pups do not need constant warming from a parent. And if otherwise healthy they don't need to constantly nurse. Sometimes nursing pups don't let go when mom leaves her nest. Again, let mom take care of things. She'll hear them and gather them back up into the nest. The safest action is to not get involved too quickly with a litter. Some pups may not survive because they were too small or something else is wrong. Mom will usually clean up the nest area by eating any dead pups. This may sound disgusting but it actually helps give the mom some nutrition back that she looses while having a litter. Keeping dead animals out of the nest is a survival instinct to keep predators away, too.
Newborn pups are generally called pinkies. They are born naked, deaf and blind. At this stage they react to heat and touch. They roll onto their backs while mom huddles over them to nurse. Later as they get bigger and grow fur, mom will lay on her side or back to nurse. You can tell from birth what color their eyes will be by looking at their eyelids. If the eyelids are pink then their eyes will be red, if the eyelids are dark then they'll have black eyes. You can even see some pigment and patterning at birth. The pictures below are of a Syrian litter that's two days old. This is typical of what you can see in any rodent litter. You can already see skin pigment and the close-up on the right shows a black eyed pup (bottom) and a red eyed pup (top 2).
You should continue to supplement mom's food and you may add KMR® (Kitten Milk Replacement). Use a shallow dish that pups can easily climb out of to avoid drowning. This is a good transition food for weanlings and mom can use the extra while nursing.
Moms may be very protective of their babies and territory (the tank or cage). It's best to leave everybody alone - all species - until the pups are roaming on their own AND mom stops trying to herd them back into the nest, usually 14 days. You can sometimes entice the mom out of her nest with a healthy bit of food and peak into the nest. Always wash your hands then rub some of the bedding in your hands before handling pups. Any strange smell on them could upset the parents. Cup your hands over them and hold them near the ground or the bottom of the tank so that if they jump they don't have too far to fall.
At 3 - 4 weeks the pups should be weaned from the mom. At 6 weeks the pups need to be separated by sex into their own tanks until you can rehome them.
For pictures of breeding and pups go here
This page was last edited on June 28, 2011