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The Problem: Dying Hamster Babies

On August 23, 2003, I received an email from Alice, stating:

"We bought a hamster 14 days ago and were not prepared for the 19 babies she had 9 days ago. We rushed around for hamster info to try and give her what she needed. Unfortunately, we lost number 17 today. Could you tell me what you used for the formula? I am hoping to try and help her save the last two babies."

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What Kind of Formula?

In my reply, I told Alice that I had used human infant formula (no or low iron), but since then, there is something available called KMR (Kitten Milk Replacer) formula, specifically made for small mammals. There is even a KMR Emergency Kit, which includes a dropper and instructions. I also explained that, after feeding the babies, you need to gently stroke their tummies to encourage digestion and elimination. You can use a moist cotton ball for this or rub lightly with your finger. This process would normally be done by the mother hamster licking her babies' tummies.

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Alice's Story: One Baby Survives

I heard from Alice a couple weeks later, telling me how one little hamster baby, named Will, survived. Here is Alice's account of how Will was successfully hand-raised:

MILK/FORMULA

I used a very small dropper to give him little drops of whole milk or Whiskas CATMILK Plus every hour or so, while holding him. Milk should be room temperature. I would warm his milk like you would a baby bottle. I let the bottle sit in some hot water until the chill was off of it, but it was not hot. I let some drops of milk run down my fingers, so he could lick them. I would tip him upside down and lightly dry his nose with tissue. I also rubbed his whole little body with tissue after feeding to be sure he was not wet. I would put him in between the tissue and just lightly roll and rub.

FREQUENCY OF FEEDINGS

I fed him every hour if I only got a drop or two of milk in him, but every 1-1/2 to 2 hour feedings if he seemed to do well. I had to wake him to feed him. Then I would hold him until he went back to sleep, and then I put him back in his cage. I gradually increased the time between feedings, so that when Will was 17-20 days old, the feedings were about 3 to 5 hours apart. Around that time, I also went back to whole milk.

MILK/WATER BOTTLE

I bought a small animal water bottle and tried everyday to see if he would use it. I put his little nose up to it, but not in it, so that I did not get his nose wet. Some days he was not interested in it, and other days he really tried. This is how I gave him his milk once he got the hang of it. I still had to hold him in one hand and the water bottle in the other. I placed the bottle in his cage and would hold him in my hand up to the water bottle. After a couple of days, I slowly moved my hand until he was drinking by himself.

ELIMINATION

After I fed him, I would rub his tummy with my finger or a cotton ball. Also, I would use the cotton ball and wipe him when he had bowl movements to help him with elimination (later as he got older he would curl into a little ball and eat his bm). I also had a glass plate, on which I put a paper towel, and I let him waddle around on it after I fed him to see if he would pee (make sure you don't let him run off the edge of the plate). Seeing the hamster pee is very important; if it stops peeing, you are not getting enough fluid into it. I saw Will pee only a couple of times the first day, but at least 4 times a day, once we did better with the feedings. He might have gone more times in his cage (they squat when they pee).

OTHER FOODS

I gave Will tiny pieces of bread (7 and 12 grain wheat bread) soaked in milk every hour or so. I also fed him small dry pieces of the wheat bread. I gave him small pieces of boiled egg for the protein. I did not leave any moist food in his cage to avoid spoiling. I cooked mixed vegetables - he liked peas and green beans. I would mash them in my finger and give him small pieces. Apple is one of the foods that I think helped. I cut very small slivers and let him chew on it (or try to until he actually got a small bite off). I held Will in one hand and held the food for him. The milk soaked bread I would put on my finger and he would lick it off. It was days before he was stable enough to hold his own food. The food I gave him was very, very small for about a week, until he seemed to be able to handle it. If the hamster gets too much food at once, it will look like it is choking. Then I would stop feeding and give him milk drops until the food was swallowed.

I bought a hampster mix from our local pet store, and since Will was so small I put some in a plastic soda cap, level with the bedding in the corner of his cage. I put it in the cap, because this was small enough for him to get the food out of and he did not lose it in the bedding. As he grew, I used a bigger dish, but I scatter it some days just to give him something to dig for. He eats a lot, so I refresh his food daily, because he has certain things he seems to like more than others, so I want to be sure he gets enough of what he is looking for.

OTHER NOTES

"I made Will a tissue paper nest. I shredded the tissue into small pieces and packed some down in the corner of the cage, and I put shredded pieces loosely on the top as a cover. I also cut the tip off a sock and used that for him to crawl in and out of.

"I held him in my hand numerous times in the day, wrapped in a couple of tissues to help keep him warm. I also held him against my chest, so he could hear my heart beat. I know this may sound odd, but think about it, If you are laying under a mother hamster, you would hear the heart beat."

A new hamster baby is like a human baby - a lot of work and seeing what works for you. But he was worth it.

QUESTIONS?

Feel free to email Alice or Kathy about this story.

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Meet Will

Here are some photos of Will at 22 days old:

will, 22 days old

will, 22 days old

And here is Will at 4 weeks old:

will at 4 weeks

will at 4 weeks

And here is Will at 7 months old, aww....

will at 7 months

will at 7 months

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