Why do some hamsters eat their babies ?
Pet hamster can sometimes eat its own babies and engage in parental cannibalism if it feels threatened or insecure, a stressed female hamster can also eat her offspring ; lack of food and hunger can also push her to kill some pups to save the others.
Be aware that this is a very sensitive subject and that not all hamster moms will do this disgusting thing with their newborns .
I love pets and it is very hard for me to write about this subject, so I ask you to take things from a purely scientific point of view and know that life is like that…
You won’t like everything I’m going to tell you but hamsters are cute and this won’t change anything !
How does filial cannibalism happen in hamsters ?
This is a common practice in almost all rodents and not only hamsters, the sow ( female hamster ) can eat one or more babies for reasons that I will mention below.
The female hamster will start by eating the umbilical cord up to the navel of the baby hamster and she will nibble on his belly and if he does not react, there is a good chance that the female hamster will continue and eat him in this case.
If not the Sow can abandon the weakest babies to save the others, and she will return to the dead babies to perhaps eat them to avoid putrefaction and diseases in the enclosure and that their smell attracts predators.
Who can eat the newborns, the male ( Boar ) or the female hamster ( sow ) ?
The reasons may be different, but both male and female hamsters may attack the babies, kill them and then eat them.
I will talk more about why the female hamster may eat her offspring, and what to do about it, but first, here are some reasons why the male hamster may attack, kill and eat the baby hamsters right after they are born.
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 and stop adding nesting material and will not take care of the nest.
But if you see that the hamster starts to put her own babies in her food supply, you should know that it is already too late and that it is only a matter of time before the baby hamsters are all cannibalized.
You will notice every day that one or two pups are missing from the nest until unfortunately none are left.
What makes the male hamster eat the offspring?
The male hamster may eat the offspring for these reasons:
- To push the female hamster to go back into heat 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:
1- The female hamster can kill her offspring by accident:
During the birth of the baby hamsters, the female hamster might kill one or more babies due to ignorance and lack of experience especially if it is her first litter.
Some pups may succumb just because of over-cleaning and licking by their mom , or the female may lie on top of a pup and smother it without her realizing it.
The female can also kill her pup by accident when she carries it from one nest to another or to put it in a hideout, some females carry their pups in their cheeks which may suffocate them.
The sow must have her nails trimmed before she gives birth to her babies to avoid injuring them, which will cause the wound to become infected and the female will then get rid of the baby.
2-The hamster can kill its pups because of stress and fear
Stress is another reason that can cause a sow to kill her own newborns. Pregnancy is a stressful state because of physiological and hormonal changes, but also the surroundings of the hamster cage can cause stress to the female, such as noise, light, other pets, children and if you handle the pregnant female too much.
The presence of another hamster in the cage can also stress the female hamster and cause her to kill her offspring, get the other hamsters out of the cage especially the evil in Dwarfs hamsters, 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 you have to keep an eye on the enclosure to avoid the worst.
Fear is another reason why the hamster may kill and even eat its newborns , so avoid the presence of other animals near the cage as soon as the pups are born, and avoid noises such as the vacuum cleaner.
If the sow becomes ill, she may show signs of stress and there is a risk that she will attack her young in this case.
The female hamster may 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 when she is in her natural habitat, but 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.
3- The hamster can kill its pups if it does not recognize them anymore
The female hamster may not recognize her own babies and kill them if she can’t smell her own scent on them.
This usually happens when someone touches the pups and puts them back in the nest. This behavior is normal, because the sow does not want to raise babies from another female that might be attracted to her nest.
Therefore, avoid touching the baby hamsters and adding nesting material to the nest yourself.
4-The sow can eat her pups if she is hungry
Hunger is a good enough reason for the female hamster to eat her own young. Pregnancy and nursing of the young will cause the sow to lose her fat and food reserves.
The female hamster may eat some or all of her young if she cannot find enough food for her own survival.
The quality of the food is very important in this case, because the sow who has just given birth, will need rich food, and more protein and fat so that she can produce milk and make sure to keep the nest warm and at normal temperature that will ensure the survival of the young.
In her natural habitat, the sow will seek out more insects in her food supply when she is pregnant.
The female hamster may also kill her babies just because of lack of water, so make sure she has access to fresh water, renewed daily if possible so she can drink and produce enough milk for all her offspring.
5- The female hamster may kill some newborns to save the others
This is a common practice among many animals, especially rodents. The female hamster will eliminate the weaker babies to give the bigger and more dynamic ones a better chance to survive and grow.
This practice of culling the weaker hamster pups is usually triggered by dearth and lack of food. It is also common in accidental winter pregnancies when food is scarce.
The sow may also kill one or more babies in her own litter if she suspects that these 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 she will not ensure the survival of the whole litter, she will surely eliminate the weakest and the ones with deformities, to give the others a chance to survive.
She can just abandon them, but it can happen that she also eats them just as protein food, it’s disgusting but that’s life.
The female hamster also eats the dead babies to avoid putrefaction and the proliferation of hamster diseases in the enclosure (the burrow) and especially to avoid that predators like snakes are attracted by the smell of death and thus risk the life of other living offspring.
6-Disease can cause the female hamster to kill her pups
If the female hamster is unlucky enough to get sick when her babies are born, she may decide to abandon them or even kill them if she feels that she will not be able to take care of them because of the disease.
Illness can also make the sow more stressed and this is the most common cause of cannibalism in female hamsters.
7-Lack of experience is the most common cause of cannibalism in hamsters
Finally, when the female hamster is pregnant for the first time, she may panic when she gives birth, this is a new thing and sometimes, the maternal instinct is not enough to save the life of the offspring.
The female will not know what to do with her own babies, she will end up abandoning them and even kill and eat them after that.
This is why you should always supervise the first pregnancy in female hamsters to make sure that the female is taking good care of her babies.
What can I do to prevent my hamster from eating its offspring?
You should know that the weaning of small hamsters starts only after 3 weeks after their birth, after 21 days, the pups can go without their mom and start eating vegetables and seeds and will become adults from 6 weeks.
So you have to make an effort to keep the babies alive during this period:
1- Avoid stressing your sow as soon as you find out she is pregnant, reduce the amount of movement in the room, reduce the noise, the light at night, keep children away from the cage and especially your other pets and you can even partially cover the cage the first three days after the birth of the baby hamsters
2- Give your pregnant hamster more food and especially after the birth of the baby hamsters, favor protein food, mealworms, dried meat or cooked chicken meat, boiled egg, cheese, more fruits
Also, make sure that the food is obvious and not scattered around the cage so that the female can find it more easily.
When you give food to the female hamster, do it calmly and always at the same time, and avoid stressing your hamster too much.
3- Never touch the pups, especially during the first week of their birth, otherwise the female hamster might not recognize them anymore and that’s the end of them.
If you have to move the babies, use a spoon to pick them up and put them back in their nest.
4- Provide your hamster with enough space , nesting material and avoid cleaning the cage too much during the first week so that the female does not 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.
5- The sow may become more aggressive and protective when she has babies, so avoid interaction with her for 2 to 3 weeks after the pups are born.
My hamster has started to eat her pups, how do you save the others?
If you notice that the number of hamsters in the nest is decreasing, you can save the others if you are willing to do this:
Take a small box, put some bedding in it, then take the whole nest, carefully with the baby hamsters and put 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.
The sow will not refuse and will let go when she understands that you want to save her babies.
Baby hamsters should suckle milk every two hours.
Baby hamsters can be weaned at the age of 3 weeks and they can start eating seeds, vegetables, herbs and common hamster food.
Cannibalism in hamsters, rodents and many other species is a normal practice and should not only be seen from the human point of view.
Evolution has made it this way and female hamsters can sometimes make the cruel decision to eat their young to save their lives or eat part of their litter to save the other half…
It’s the same with other species, for example, birds often get rid of the weakest chicks and throw them out of the nest to give the stronger ones a better chance of survival.
Hamsters are cute and the fact that they can eat their babies doesn’t change this truth, I still love them like any other animal in fact.
Finally, you will know that the baby hamsters are doing well and that the female hamster is taking good care of her litter , If the babies are dynamic, they look like they are growing day by day and have a belly full of milk and a clean skin.
It is very rare that the female hamster eats her own pups, but it happens and it is not a specific behavior in hamster but this practice is widespread in many animal species.