For reasons you might not understand yet, hamsters may eat some of their babies after giving birth. In this post, we will give 12 main reasons why they do this, and some practical steps you can take to prevent this from happening in the future.
- Why Do Hamsters Sometimes Eat Their Own Babies?
- Is it the male or the female hamster that generally eats their young?
- What should I do if I see my hamster eating their babies?
- How do you prevent this from happening in the future?
- When can I touch baby hamsters after they are born?
- Should I remove dead baby hamsters from the cage?
- What other species eat their babies?
Why Do Hamsters Sometimes Eat Their Own Babies?
Listed below are the 12 most common reasons why a hamster mom might decide to have her babies as food. While there is a way to reduce the chances of a mother wanting to devour her progeny, you can’t reduce these risks to zero. Here are the 12 things you could look out for.
1. Lack of food
While pregnant, a healthy hamster mom should be fed nutritious food and be given a healthy hamster diet. These may include fresh fruits and vegetables, pellet food, and healthy treats. If they didn’t get enough food after they give birth, they could be making up for nutrients that are missing by eating some of their newborn babies.
Your hamster mom is going to be twitchy even when they are not pregnant. This is enhanced twice as much during and after their pregnancy. If they are feeling stressed from anything that is bothering them inside or outside the cage, they may feel stressed enough to consume babies.
It could be from you being in the room too long, so limit your visits and try to stay away from them for a few days just refilling food and water only. If you want to keep an eye on your hamster mum, you may do so by using a remote camera.
3. Fearful of a threat
What a hamster perceives as a threat could be excessive noise or disturbances or trying to take pictures of the babies. Pets such as dogs or cats will be a major trigger for a hamster if they see them in the room.
They need to be left alone as much as possible giving them as much peace as young mommy hamsters need. If you move their cage to a very quiet room while she is pregnant, this is a good solution to reduce outside noises too. The room should be the quietest in your home.
4. The cage is too small
The cage you thought was big enough for a little hamster now looks too small for a new family. A hamster can give birth to up to 20 new little babies, so a hamster mom may instinctively want to downsize using cannibalism to fit the amount of space she has. It could also be due to a cage that is not set up properly.
5. Scent on a baby
A mother knows the scent of their babies and will identify them as their own. When you care for a nursing hamster, don’t ever touch a newborn baby since the smell on your hand can be transferred to these little ones. If the mother smells your scent on them, she may not identify them as her own and eventually eat them.
6. Unable to care for so many babies
A new and inexperienced hamster mom will try her best to care for a certain amount of new babies, but it may simply be too many to care for. By choice, she may choose to consume extra babies to balance her chances to take care of fewer babies.
7. There is a male in the same cage
It’s advised to separate the male hamster from the cage even if your hamsters get along normally. A male hamster might eat babies because he is hungry. It can also be from the male perceiving that these babies might be a future mating threat.
8. They got used to eating meats
If you feed your hamster meats, this could lead to a hamster getting a taste for meat. Even if you cook the meat, they will confuse the smell and likely eat their young. This is why you shouldn’t feed them meat very often and avoid doing it while your hamster is pregnant.
9. Abnormal or too weak at birth
Any baby that has birth defects or is simply too weak may end up being eaten. This is simply how hamsters choose which ones should survive out of the strongest of the litter. This ensures that the remaining young is normal and healthy.
10. Animal cannibalism
This is perhaps one of the oldest practices that all rodents do to control the amount of young they produce. It can happen for days when you start seeing fewer and fewer babies in the litter. A mother hamster will eat her young simply because it’s a built-in hard-wired habit.
11. Older mothers
This only happens if a mother has had babies before and ate some of their previous litter too. But more interesting as it may be, they will eat older babies that are about one month old. It seems these young babies are also perceived as a threat to mommies who are worried about them eating their food source.
Is it the male or the female hamster that generally eats their young?
It is generally something female hamsters that do, but both male and female may eat their young if you have them both in the cage. The best advice is to immediately separate the male since this prevents him from being a possible baby eater.
The next step is to give the mother a nice comfortable place to raise her young. The room should have dim light but the cage should not be covered as this can cause extra stress for her as well. The male can be in the same room but not directly next to her cage.
What should I do if I see my hamster eating their babies?
If you spot the mother hamster eating a baby, don’t remove the babies yet because that will cause your scent to get on them. And without the mother, they cannot get milk from her. The best thing is to give plenty of extra food in the cage with water as well. This can act as a deterrent against the young being eaten.
If the cage is too small or the litter is exceptionally large, she might eat the young regardless. When the number of young gets to a number that she can handle, she will stop eating them.
How do you prevent this from happening in the future?
1. Cage size
Opt to put a pregnant hamster into a larger cage, and you will be thankful for this later if you decide to keep these hamsters. A bigger cage will allow the mother to gauge her new home and feel confident there is enough space for a big family. You can keep the male in the smaller cage so he doesn’t become a cannibalism aggressor toward the newborn hamsters.
2. Enough food and water
Give your female lots of extra food so she can stuff herself as much as she likes. You will find she will stash food in her birthing as a result. Don’t give anything that is fresh like fruits but more nuts and seeds that don’t go bad.
But still, even with all this food, they might feel the urge to eat their young. Even in the wild, some hamsters do this naturally.
3. Reduce your visits
You will be excited to see a litter of new hamsters, but keep your excitement to a minimum. That’s why you can use a webcam instead to study how the babies are doing. The less you disturb the hamster mommy and her babies, the fewer reasons she will have to eat them.
When can I touch baby hamsters after they are born?
Leave them alone for the first 15 days or longer if you can. This is so they won’t get confused with your scent and theirs. After this, they will be safe from the possibility of her mother eating them.
If the mother is older, you might want to remove them from their own cage when they start eating solid foods. Older mothers have been known to eat some of these young after 21-28 days sensing they might become food rivals.
Should I remove dead baby hamsters from the cage?
If you can avoid doing this, it’s best not to disturb them at all when there are other babies in the nest. The mother will eat the baby if it died naturally, or was suffocated in her cheek sacks. This can happen if she carries them around to transport them in her cheek pouches.
What other species eat their babies?
It’s common for rats and mice to do this regularly, and all rodents for that matter: gerbils, guinea pigs, and the like. Just like any species that are already skittish, noises and sounds are threatening and scary to them. They will react as they would in nature and eat their young for their own protection. What they are not used to is an owner hovering over them making them feel even more nervous.