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Why Do Hamsters Sometimes Eat their Babies? 9 Reasons for this Behavior
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.
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.
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 don’t want to raise a litter of pups, make sure you always keep males and females separated.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
How 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).
Sometimes, these things are inevitable. But taking precautions and staying prepared is the ticket to a successful litter.
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 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.
- A Little About Hamsters & Their Younglings
- How to Know Your Hamster is Pregnant
- Understanding Hamster Motherhood
- How to Prevent this Behavior
- Final Thoughts