Did you know that hamster mothers sometimes eat their babies?
It’s an uncomfortable truth, but it’s one you should think about if you own a hamster.
But, why do hamsters eat their babies? What can you do to prevent it from happening?
In this article, we’ll take a look at a few reasons why hamsters eat their young and how you can stop it from happening.
Let’s dive right in.
Table of Contents
A Bit About The Hamster Reproductive Cycle
Motherhood is tough, even for a hamster!
Depending on the breed, they can have as few as three or as many as 20 baby hamsters! Their pregnancies last anywhere from 16 to 22 days. Once born, babies are deaf, blind, and cannot walk. As wild as it may sound, within four weeks, these same babies will be sexually mature!
Despite how helpless and vulnerable they are, the greatest threat baby hamsters could face is their own mothers.
How to Tell You Have A Pregnant Hamster
Hamsters can get pregnant once a month as soon as they reach ten weeks of age. So, if you have two hamsters in the same cage and don’t want babies, double check they’re the same sex!
If you’re fine with a few hamster pups crawling around your cage, stay on the lookout for a few signs of pregnancy including…
- Change in temperament (friendly hamsters turn anti-social, e.g.)
- Cautious body language
- Fast-growing belly
- Uptick in appetite
- Increased Irritability
- Surprise nest in the cage
Motherhood for Hamsters
Mother hamsters have instincts just like most other creatures. Nonetheless, they can be temperamental during pregnancy and even after giving birth. Most of them prefer not to be handled while pregnant or nursing. Sometimes handling them can even cause them to reject their young.
It takes mother hamsters about 1-2 hours to give birth to 4-8 hamster pups. Disturbing mothers during labor stresses them out, so be sure to give your hamster lots of space as she gives birth.
Pregnancy is stressful, too, and hormone changes can affect your pet hamster even after she’s given birth. Temperament changes are normal, but pay close attention if your new mom is ignoring her litter, as that could indicate a more serious problem leading to cannibalism.
Why Do Hamsters Eat Their Babies?
Now that we have a better understanding of hamster pregnancy and birth, let’s look at why hamsters eat their babies.
It’s a terrible thought and even more disturbing to witness. Still, it’s a fact of life for hamsters.
Here are a few reasons why hamsters eat their young when in captivity.
Any new mother can relate to feeling stressed out after giving birth, and hamsters are no different. If a hamster feels threatened or is stressed, she could eat her babies.
That stress could come from feeling uneasy in her enclosure, other pets snooping around her cage or the noise and lights of your home environment. Sometimes even checking in on her can stress out a mother hamster.
#2. She Feels Overwhelmed With Litter Size
As mentioned, some female hamsters can have up to 20 babies!
That’s a lot of mouths to feed, and most hamsters only have 12 nipples. If she feels overwhelmed by the size of her litter, she could end up cannibalizing a few of her babies to make room for the health of the ones that remain.
Pet hamsters live in a different world than wild hamsters, and they have to do what’s best for their litter, including eating their babies when necessary.
Also, if she feels her cage is too small for the number of babies she gives birth to, she could turn to cannibalism.
#3. She’s Hungry
Lactating mothers experience a sizeable jump in their appetite and nutritional requirements. If she isn’t given adequate nutrition after giving birth, she could eat her babies. This is even more likely if she has a large litter.
Mothers need lots of protein to keep up with the demands of nursing. That protein has to come from somewhere, and some mothers decide to eat their babies if and when protein requirements aren’t met.
#4. The Baby Is Not Well
Sick baby hamsters are a risk for the rest of the litter. Not only do they tend not to survive, but they also take vital nutrients away from healthy baby hamsters. Mothers intuitively know this, which is why sometimes they cannibalize sick babies.
Moms don’t always eat ill babies, but they don’t tend to care for them, which results in their death.
#5. She Accidentally Kills Them
First-time moms, especially, can accidentally kill their young. Mother hamsters are widely known for suffocating their babies when they nurse. Moms can also do this unintentionally when they carry them in their cheeks.
If she accidentally kills one of her young, she might clean up the mess by consuming the baby’s body.
#6. The Baby Smells Weird
In the animal kingdom, scent matters. A mother hamster knows what her babies smell like; if one of them doesn’t smell right, she could reject it and eat it. If you handle her babies immediately, you could change their scent and off-put the mother.
Any handling of babies before they reach three weeks of age is risky. Not only is it risky for one baby, but it could also be dangerous for the entire litter.
#7. She’s A First-Time Mom
If a mother feels overwhelmed, she could eat her babies. New mothers don’t always have motherly instincts. Some mothers could simply be confused about what’s happening, feel overwhelmed, and then eat their babies.
#8. Father Hamsters Eat Babies
Another cause of cannibalism is housing the father and mother hamster in the same cage. Father hamsters often eat their young, so it’s best to keep them separate.
How Common is it for Hamsters to Eat Their Babies?
Hamsters and other types of rodents have been known to eat their babies, but this only happens on occasion. For example, if a baby has died a mother hamster will often eat the baby to keep her nest clean. It is rare, however, for moms to eat a healthy baby.
Why Do Hamsters Cannibalize?
According to PETA, hamsters don’t eat their babies or one another unless there is something terribly wrong. Cannibalism within the hamster community is a sign of stress, often associated with crowding, neglect, or lack of acceptable care.
Cannibalism in the pet trade is common when rodents are forced to compete for resources like safe places to hide, food, and water. This is why in the wild hamsters don’t typically eat their young. When it does happen, there are a few things potentially at play.
When a first-time mother has a litter, she could face significant stress that leads to an insufficient diet. An unbalanced diet of corn, in particular, leads to a vitamin deficiency which can trigger cannibalism. That, coupled with her general lack of experience, creates a recipe for disaster that can override her motherly instinct.
Overpopulation in general, however, poses a significant threat to hamsters. It leads to fighting and that fighting can eventually lead to cannibalism.
In the wild, cannibalism of offspring is a new area of research and difficult to study because they live in underground burrows.
Why Did My Hamster Eat My Other Hamster?
Because most breeds of hamsters are non-territorial, they tend not to cannibalize one another unless their diets are poor, they’re stressed, or they are pushed to be territorial through the mating process. Let’s take a closer look at each of these reasons.
Stressed Into Cage Rage
Cage rage is a psychological disorder that many captive animals suffer from. In hamsters, cage rage can lead to cannibalism. The disorder causes them to become very aggressive toward one another, and when left alone, they tend to be agitated.
While most breeds of hamsters are not territorial, a few breeds are including Syrian hamsters. This breed is well known to be cannibalistic, and it can happen at the drop of a hat. Even the mere presence of another hamster can cause them to cannibalize. If you decide to adopt this type of hamster, house them separately to avoid problems.
Research shows that hamsters fed a diet high in corn can develop aggressive behavior. This is a common occurrence, so be careful about what you feed your hamster and avoid a diet that’s based almost exclusively on corn.
How to Stop Your Hamster From Eating Its Babies
As we’ve discussed, there are multiple reasons why a mother hamster will eat her young. While you may not be able to prevent her from eating her babies 100% of the time, there are a few steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of it happening.
Keep Her Calm
One of the major reasons why hamster moms eat their babies is stress. The demand for pregnancy and labor put on a young hamster can often be enough to trigger this behavior, but you can add to the stress by constantly agitating her.
Once you notice the mother is pregnant and know her due date is within a couple of weeks, start feeding her more than usual. You’ll also want to give her more bedding and nesting material.
As she gets close to giving birth, you’ll notice her being more private and hanging out in her hideout as she waits for labor to start. It’s best to leave her alone during this time period. Avoid going in and out of the room she’s in, too.
When labor starts, be careful about approaching her until after the babies are born. Do not speak to, interact with, or poke at her while she is in her cage.
The best thing you can do for a laboring mother is to keep her well-fed and warm. Also, ensure that the room is quiet, and don’t allow your kids or other pets to pester her.
Protein is essential for laboring hamsters. Bring your soon-to-be mom protein such as cooked egg whites or fully cooked plain chicken. However, avoid feeding her in her bed as that could confuse her into eating her own babies.
Give Her Space
Make sure that your hamster has plenty of space. The minimum sized cage for a mother hamster is 24 x 12 inches and about 12 inches in height. Of course, if you have more than one hamster, it’s best to keep them separate long before she gives birth. If you place her in a new cage, add old bedding and existing nesting material into the new cage so she feels comfortable in her new home.
Leave Her Alone
Mothers are very tired after they give birth. She might also be very jumpy when her babies are still young. It’s a good idea to leave her alone for at least 2 weeks. Don’t open her cage, change her bedding, or separate her from her young. You can also add an exercise ball to her cage to give her something to do with her stress.
Leave Her Babies Alone
Hamster babies are super cute and cuddly, but it’s a mistake to touch them until they are fully weaned! A mother hamster recognizes her babies but if you touch them before they’re weaned, you can disrupt this natural process.
A baby hamster can be removed from his mother after 3-4 weeks. But anything younger than that could put the baby at risk of being rejected or eaten.
Baby hamsters are weaned when their mother pushes them away when trying to nurse. This is a sensitive time, so be sure to feed mom even more food as the babies will eat adult food, too.
Keep Dad Away
If you have mom and dad in the same cage, you’re putting the babies at risk. Fathers tend to try to get the mother’s attention and might even eat or hurt the babies. Hamster fathers are not nurturing, make no mistake about it.
Enjoy Your Hamster without Fear of Cannibalization
If your female hamster is pregnant, it could be time to take the tips above and run with them!
Want more tips and tricks to keep your pet hamster happy? Check out our blog specifically designed for hamster owners.
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