Why do some hamsters eat their babies?
If a pet hamster feels threatened or insecure, it may eat its own babies and engage in parental cannibalism. A stressed female hamster may also eat her offspring; lack of food and hunger may also push her to kill some pups in order to save the others.
Be aware that this is a very sensitive subject, and that not all hamster mothers will do this to their newborns.
I adore pets and find it difficult to write about them, so I ask you to consider things from a purely scientific standpoint and understand that life is like that.
You won’t like everything I’m about to tell you, but hamsters are adorable and nothing will change that!
What causes filial cannibalism in hamsters?
This is a common practice in almost all rodents, not just hamsters; the sow (female hamster) can eat one or more babies for a variety of reasons, which I will discuss further below.
The female hamster will begin by eating the umbilical cord up to the baby hamster’s navel, then she will nibble on his belly, and if he does not react, the female hamster will continue to eat him.
If not, the sow can abandon the weakest babies to save the others, and she will return to the dead babies to possibly eat them in order to avoid putrefaction and diseases in the enclosure, as well as the fact that their smell attracts predators.
Who can eat the newborns, the male (boar) or the female (sow) hamster?
Male and female hamsters may attack the babies, kill them, and then eat them for various reasons.
I’ll go into more detail about why the female hamster may eat her offspring and what to do about it later, but first, here are some reasons why the male hamster may attack, kill, and eat the baby hamsters shortly after birth.
Are there any signs that the hamster is going to eat its young?
Yes, you will notice that the female hamster will not lie down next to her offspring and feed them; she will also abandon the nest, stop adding nesting material, and take no care of the nest.
However, if you notice the hamster putting her own babies in her food supply, you should be aware that it is already too late and that the baby hamsters will be cannibalized.
You will notice that one or two pups are missing from the nest every day until there are none left.
What causes the male hamster to eat his offspring?
The male hamster may eat his offspring for the following reasons:
- To force the female hamster to mate again if the pups are not his.
- If the female hamster has given birth for the first time and the male is not chased out of the den or pen.
- If the male hamster does not get enough to eat.
- If the male hamster notices an imminent danger approaching the nest and offspring, in the case of a snake in their natural habitat or a cat when in captivity.
- Stress and boredom.
What will drive the female hamster to kill and eat her own young?
These acts of cannibalism are often likely during the first week of their birth, the female hamster will give birth only after 3 weeks of pregnancy.
As soon as the female hamster is sure that she is pregnant, her belly will get bigger and she will start to prepare her nest to welcome the newborns, she will pick up everything that could be used as nesting material, and you will also notice that the female will eat more food and drink more water.
As soon as the female hamster gives birth, the pups are under her mercy and several factors can push her to kill some of the offspring and even all of them.
Here are the reasons why a female hamster may kill and eat her own offspring during the first week of their birth:
- The female hamster can accidentally kill her offspring
Due to ignorance and lack of experience, the female hamster may kill one or more babies during birth, especially if it is her first litter.
Some pups may die as a result of their mother’s excessive cleaning and licking, or the female may lie on top of a pup and smother it without realizing it.
When a female carries her pup from one nest to another or to a hideout, she may accidentally kill it. Some females carry their pups in their cheeks, which may suffocate them.
To avoid injuring her babies, the sow must have her nails trimmed before giving birth. If the wound becomes infected, the female will then get rid of the baby.
- The hamster can kill its pups because of stress and fear
Another factor that can cause a sow to kill her own newborns is stress. Pregnancy is a stressful state due to physiological and hormonal changes, but the female’s surroundings, such as noise, light, other pets, children, and if you handle the pregnant female too much, can also cause stress.
The presence of another hamster in the cage can also stress the female hamster and cause her to kill her offspring, so get the other hamsters out of the cage, especially the evil in Dwarf hamsters, because you notice that the female attacks the male to drive him out of the cage.
The male Syrian hamster can usually stay in the cage with the female and her babies, but keep an eye on the enclosure to avoid the worst-case scenario.
Another reason why the hamster may kill and even eat its newborns is fear, so avoid having other animals near the cage as soon as the pups are born, as well as noises like the vacuum cleaner.
If the sow becomes ill, she may exhibit signs of stress, and there is a chance that she will attack her young.
When she is in her natural habitat, the female hamster will eat her young if she senses that they are about to be eaten by another predator; she will do this if she detects a snake in the area; however, your own cat may trigger this feeling of insecurity in her, so you should not let him near the female hamster’s cage when she has young.
- The hamster can kill its pups if it does not recognize them anymore
If the female hamster is unable to detect her own scent on her babies, she may kill them.
This usually occurs when someone touches the pups and returns them to the nest. This is normal behavior because the sow does not want to raise babies from another female who may be drawn to her nest.
As a result, avoid touching the baby hamsters or adding nesting material to the nest.
- The sow can eat her pups if she is hungry
Hunger is a sufficient reason for the female hamster to eat her own young.
The sow’s fat and food reserves will be depleted during pregnancy and nursing.
If the female hamster cannot find enough food for herself, she may eat some or all of her young.
The quality of the food is critical in this case because the sow who has just given birth will require rich food, as well as more protein and fat, in order to produce milk and keep the nest warm and at a normal temperature, ensuring the survival of the young.
When pregnant, the sow in her natural habitat will seek out more insects in her food supply.
The female hamster may also kill her babies due to a lack of water, so make sure she has access to fresh water, preferably renewed daily, so she can drink and produce enough milk for all of her offspring.
- The female hamster may kill some newborns to save the others
Many animals, particularly rodents, engage in this behavior.
The female hamster will eliminate the weaker babies in order to give the larger and more dynamic babies a better chance of survival and growth.
This practice of culling weaker hamster pups is usually prompted by a scarcity of food. It is also common in unintended pregnancies during the winter when food is scarce.
If the sow suspects that one or more of her litter’s babies are sick or infected with a parasite, she may kill them to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the litter.
The sow may give birth to 20 pups, and while she cannot guarantee the survival of the entire litter, she will undoubtedly eliminate the weakest and those with deformities to give the others a chance.
She can simply discard them, but it is possible that she will eat them as protein food; it is disgusting, but that is life.
The female hamster also eats the dead babies to prevent putrefaction and the spread of hamster diseases in the enclosure (the burrow), and especially to prevent predators like snakes from being drawn to the smell of death and endangering the lives of other living offspring.
- Disease can cause the female hamster to kill her pups
If the female hamster becomes ill when her babies are born, she may decide to abandon or even kill them if she believes she will be unable to care for them due to the disease.
Illness can also increase stress in the sow, which is the most common cause of cannibalism in female hamsters.
- Lack of experience is the most common cause of cannibalism in hamsters
Finally, when a female hamster becomes pregnant for the first time, she may panic when she gives birth because this is a new experience for her, and sometimes the maternal instinct is insufficient to save the offspring’s life.
Because the female will be unsure what to do with her own children, she will abandon them and then kill and eat them.
This is why the first pregnancy in female hamsters should always be supervised to ensure that the female is taking good care of her babies.
What can I do to prevent my hamster from eating its young?
You should know that weaning of small hamsters begins only 3 weeks after birth; after 21 days, the pups can leave their mother and begin eating vegetables and seeds; and they will become adults at 6 weeks.
So you must make every effort to keep the babies alive during this time:
- Avoid stressing your sow as soon as you discover she is pregnant; reduce the amount of movement in the room, noise, and light at night; keep children and other pets away from the cage; and you can even partially cover the cage for the first three days after the baby hamsters are born.
- Feed your pregnant hamster more food, especially after the baby hamsters are born. Prefer protein food, mealworms, dried meat or cooked chicken meat, boiled egg, cheese, and more fruits. Also, make sure the food is visible and not scattered around the cage so the female can easily find it.
- When you give food to the female hamster, do it calmly and always at the same time, and avoid stressing your hamster too much.
- Never touch the pups, especially during the first week of their life; otherwise, the female hamster may not recognize them anymore and that’s the end of them. If you have to move the babies, pick them up with a spoon and place them back in their nest.
- Give your hamster plenty of space, nesting material, and don’t clean the cage too much during the first week so the female doesn’t feel threatened. You can install a nesting box in the enclosure and add extra paper-based bedding to make the enclosure ready for the pups and make it easier for the sow.
- Make sure that the temperature in the room where the hamster enclosure is installed remains stable.
- Keep the cage clean while the female hamster spends more time caring for her babies, do spot cleanings, pick up fresh food scraps and urine soiled bedding, just make the cleaning as stress free as possible.
- Because the sow may become more aggressive and protective after having babies, avoid interacting with her for 2 to 3 weeks after the pups are born.
My hamster has started to eat her pups, how can I save the others?
If you notice a decrease in the number of hamsters in the nest, you can save the others if you are willing to do so:
- Take a small box, place some bedding in it, and then carefully remove the entire nest with the baby hamsters and place it in the box without touching the newborns.
- Then you have to feed the pregnant hamster with a surplus of protein food, such as worms, boiled egg, boiled chicken meat, cheese and then you have to force the female hamster to lie down near her pups to allow them to suckle milk.
- When she realizes you want to save her babies, she will not refuse and will let go.
- Every two hours, baby hamsters should suckle milk.
- At the age of three weeks, baby hamsters can be weaned and begin eating seeds, vegetables, herbs, and common hamster food.
Cannibalism in hamsters, rodents, and many other species is common and should not only be seen from the human point of view.
Female hamsters can sometimes make the cruel decision to eat their young to save their lives, or to eat half of their litter to save the other half.
It’s the same in other species; for example, birds will often remove the weakest chicks from the nest to give the stronger ones a better chance of survival.
Hamsters are adorable, and the fact that they can eat their babies does not change this fact; I adore them just like any other animal.
Finally, you will know that the baby hamsters are doing well and that the female hamster is caring for her litter. If the babies are dynamic, they appear to be growing day by day, have a belly full of milk, and clean skin.
It is extremely rare for a female hamster to eat her own pups, but it does happen. This is not a hamster-specific behavior, but it is common in many animal species.
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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