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Why Do Hamsters Sometimes Eat their Babies? 9 Reasons for this Behavior

Ashley Bates

It can be a horrific thing to go to your hamster’s cage to find they’ve eaten their young. But there is always a cause in nature, even if we can’t understand it. Hamsters can be very sensitive and in-tune with their offspring’s health, but they can also do undesirable things as a stress response.

So, if you are in this situation, you can try to understand it by pinpointing why this may have happened. The root cause might depend on stress factors, litter size, and certain smells that could cause the mom to act out. Let’s get a better understanding of what might have occurred.divider-hamster

A Little About Hamsters & Their Younglings

Hamsters, like most rodents, become pregnant quickly. Hamsters can start reproducing as early as 10 weeks old.  They can have as few as three babies—and as many as 20! It depends on the type of hamster and the mother’s egg production.

A hamster pregnancy lasts 16 to 22 days, depending on the breed. Babies are born blind, deaf, and immobile. But by 4 weeks, they are already sexually mature. So, they don’t stay little long. Getting through the first few weeks is the tricky part.

hamster on human hand
Image Credit: Vilde Lauritzen, Flickr

How to Know Your Hamster is Pregnant

Hamsters can get pregnant once a month! If you have both sexes together, you’re bound to have a litter pop up.

If you aren't sure, here are some signs of pregnancy:
  • Growing abdomen
  • Slight personality change
  • Guarded body language
  • Unusually temperamental

If you don’t want to raise a litter of pups, make sure you always keep males and females separated.divider-paw

Understanding Hamster Motherhood

Most hamsters are naturally terrific mothers—it’s an innate ability. But some mothers can be a little temperamental when it comes to raising their young. They may not want to be held, touched, or pet while they’re pregnant or nursing.

This behavior is normal and to be expected. You should always respect the boundaries of the female until she’s comfortable again.

If you find that mom is rejecting certain pups in the litter, you could care for them independently. Since hamsters mature so quickly, you can try to get them through the first few weeks of life. But if something truly is wrong, there might be nothing you can do to prevent an unfortunate passing.

If you noticed that your mother hamster regrettably ate one or all of her babies, there is definitely a direct cause. Anything from hormones to interference can cause this phenomenon. But here are the main reasons this happens.

1. Your Hamster Lacks Adequate Food

hamster biting finger
Image Credit: finger_katfox.art, Shutterstock

A lactating mother hamster requires a full diet that feeds both her and her babies. She’s producing milk for multiple pups and needs adequate nutrition to thrive. If the mom has something lacking in her diet, she might eat a pup to get the proper sustenance.

Mothers need a very high amount of extra protein in their diet while they’re pregnant and nursing.

You can feed your hamster lots of:
They also need lots of fruits and veggies like:
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Dandelion greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrot tops

Also, hydration is essential for proper levels of milk production. Make sure the mom has lots of fresh water. You should change the water daily.


2. There is Something Wrong with a Baby

baby hamster-pixabay
Credit: rodrigof74, Pixabay

Sometimes, there are underlying health conditions that we’re unaware of in baby hamsters. If the mom senses something is wrong with a baby, they will often reject it. But occasionally, they might eat it as means to get it away from the rest of the litter.

The issues could be a wide-ranging spectrum of potentials—from genetic defects to illness. Mothers might not always eat their babies, but they likely won’t care for them. It’s instinctual for animals to care for only the ones they know will thrive—it’s truly the survival of the fittest.


3. Mother Feels Overwhelmed with Litter Size

baby hamster nursing-pixabay
Credit: SanneKTM, Pixabay

While uncommon, hamsters can have up to 20 pups in one litter. That can be a pretty taxing experience. If the mom feels overwhelmed or unable to care for her babies, she might eat a couple to thin things out. Know that this isn’t out of aggression or malice, but survival.

The mother knows she can’t produce enough nutrition to keep all of them alive. Hamsters only have 12 nipples. If she ends up having too many, she might keep what she feels are the healthiest and discard the rest out of necessity.


4. She’s Trying to Protect Them

baby hamster-pixabay
Credit: auenleben, Pixabay

If the mother is very unsure or feels threatened in her surroundings, she might actually be trying to save her pups. If she thinks that her children will be preyed upon, she might handle the problem this way.

This situation isn’t as likely, but it’s within the realm of possibility. There could be a cat lingering around or lots of noisy chaos—or something otherwise unpleasant triggering their danger feelers. If this is the case, they might eat the entire litter.


5. Mother is Stressed Out

baby hamster-pixabay
Credit: Claudia44, Pixabay

Hormones in combination with stress could cause a mother hamster to eat her babies. Maybe she isn’t comfortable with her environment and doesn’t feel safe in her surroundings. If she feels stressed or fearful, it can cause her to eat her babies as a response.

It would be best if you always kept their cage in a quiet, calm spot, so they don’t have too much outside interference. All of this is very new to her, and it’s vital to each hamster’s wellbeing to have a worry-free environment void of triggers.


6. Scent Changed

Syrian hamster - mating
Credit: Augustus Binu, Commons Wikimedia

You should never handle any baby animal right away. Mothers are very sensitive to smells on their babies. Premature handling can cause rejection or worse. You might not realize it, but animals are incredibly keen on different emissions.

Handling the babies before they reach at least 3 weeks old is a recipe for disaster. You might cause the mom to reject and eat the baby you touched. Or worse—she might stop caring for the entire litter. Keep small children, other family members, and visitors away until they’re ready.


7. First-Time Mother Woes

Hamster
Image Credit: La Mary Anne, Flickr

Not every creature has a motherly instinct. It skips over some, and others don’t know how to approach motherhood. If your hamster is very young and inexperienced, they might not know how to handle all of the changes their body is going through.

When they have their litter, they might not fully get the hang of it. Inexperience or lack of natural maternal instincts can definitely play a role in a mother eating her babies.


8. Accidental Killing

hamster-pups-pixabay
Credit: etafotok25, Pixabay

Your hamster might not have meant to kill the baby initially. Mother hamsters might suffocate their young while they nurse. They may also injure or kill them unintentionally while moving the pups in their mouth.

If they mistakenly killed their baby, they might eat it to get rid of it completely. This reason has nothing to do with a stress response, hormonal imbalance, or intuitiveness. It was simply something unintentional—so, the mom is cleaning up the mess, so to speak.


9. Maybe It Wasn’t Mom

Hamster Cardboard
Image Credit By: jcfrog , pixabay

If you are housing multiple females together—or leaving the father in the cage—it might not have been the mother at all. Some hamsters will eat other’s young as a territorial act. Dads are guilty, too.

Mothers need to be totally alone in a cage with their pups until they get a bit bigger. Socialization is vital, so you won’t have to separate them long. But the first few weeks pose a very sensitive time.

divider-multiprintHow to Prevent this Behavior

Sometimes, the harsh reality is that nature is nature—and there’s nothing you can do to prevent the course of things. But that’s not to say you can’t do everything in your power to make sure this doesn’t repeat (or happen in the first place).

The following are things to keep in mind:
  • Don’t handle the babies until the mother finishes weaning. If you touch the babies before the mother welcomes the idea, you could cause her to reject her young. You should never interfere until the babies are at least 3-4 weeks old.
  • Make sure mom is getting well-balanced nutrition. She’s feeding a whole litter—she needs to replenish her own body. If her body is lacking somewhere, it could cause unwanted behaviors as a result. Ensure the right balance of pellets, fruits, veggies, and fresh water are available at all times.
  • Monitor her behavior very closely. You might be able to see visible clues that tell you something isn’t right with mom. Or, you might notice that she’s singling out a pup. It’s best to intervene in that situation—with the advice of your primary veterinarian.
  • Make sure the cage is clean and habitable. It might not be the easiest thing to do—keeping the cage clean while mom is with her babies. But you have to make sure they aren’t living in filth. Mothers are pretty good about keeping their whelping space sanitary, but the whole cage needs it, too.
  • Separate the mother from all other hamsters. It can cause a lot of conflicts when you house a mother and her pups with other hamsters. This leaves lots of room for stress, agitation, and fighting, as the mom might feel threatened—which can cause these types of behaviors.
  • Don’t let small children handle mom and babies early on. If you have children, they will probably be over the moon at the adorable cage additions. But you shouldn’t let children handle the babies unsupervised. It would be best if you also waited to let kids touch the babies until they develop hair and can move around freely on their own.
  • Give the mom nesting materials and a safe space to wean her babies. A few days before the mother is due, start giving her materials to build her own nest. She will feel safe here, creating her own tailored area to raise her young.

Sometimes, these things are inevitable. But taking precautions and staying prepared is the ticket to a successful litter.

divider-hamster

Final Thoughts

Even though it might hurt your heart, animals have different instinctual responses to having babies. It might be hard to understand why your hamster ate their baby—no matter the reason behind it. It seems cruel and vicious, but it isn’t.

The best thing you can do is do your part to make mom a safe space that is trouble-free and private. Give her plenty of food and water. Otherwise, remember to interfere as little as you can in the first few weeks. Hopefully, you can resolve the issue to prevent a repeat offense.


Featured image credit: Martin Javorek, Pixabay

Ashley Bates

Ashley Bates is a freelance dog writer and pet enthusiast who is currently studying the art of animal therapy. A mother to four human children— and 23 furry and feathery kids, too – Ashley volunteers at local shelters, advocates for animal well-being, and rescues every creature she finds. Her mission is to create awareness, education, and entertainment about pets to prevent homelessness. Her specialties are cats and dogs.