Hamsters are adorable, cute, little pets that spend most of their time running on wheels and making our homes warm and lively.
While keeping a pet hamster can be a worthwhile task, there are moments that can make you wish you never had one for a pet. Sometimes female hamsters eat their babies, and as humans, it can be a scary thing.
It’s almost impossible to wrap your head around the idea of a mother eating her babies. So, why do hamsters eat their babies, and is there something you can do to prevent this from happening?
Why do hamsters eat their babies?
Based on studies on animal behavior, the reasons hamsters eat their babies include a nursing mother being sick, animal cannibalism, deformed or weak babies, a mother’s inability to care for all babies, being kept in tight spaces, scent mix-up, insufficient food, and feeling of stress and fear.
1. Stressful situations
Just like humans, mother hamsters can go through stress during pregnancy and after giving birth. Going through pregnancy, giving birth, nursing, and caring for multiple babies can be stressful. If a mother hamster is stressed while nursing her babies, she might end up eating them. This often happens when the environment is stressful and they feel under pressure.
Stressful situations can arise from having erratic lighting hours where you switch lights on and off erratically. Hamsters are also sensitive to bright light, so ensure you have the right amount of lighting for them. Stress can also arise from keeping them in dirty, damp, and uncomfortable places that deny them good rest and sleep.
2. Feeling fearful and scared
Fear is another factor that can make hamsters eat their babies. Just like humans, protecting their newborns is a priority, and will do everything to keep them safe. However, if they feel fearful and scared, the emotion can result in them killing their babies.
Keep in mind that hamsters are sensitive to high-frequency sounds and you should house them away from household items that generate ultrasound, including television sets, vacuum cleaners, computer screens, and sources of running water. Such noises can make hamsters scared and fearful. Here is a simple guide on a suitable environment for hamsters.
3. Insufficient food and water
One of the most obvious reasons hamsters eat their babies is the lack of enough food and water. A nursing mother hamster uses a lot of energy and needs plenty of food and water. However, if she’s anxious about going without food or her newborns going hungry, she is likely to kill one of the newborns for food.
4. Scent mix-up
Scent mix-up can also make a nursing hamster kill her babies without knowing. Newborn hamsters have a unique scent that helps nursing mothers recognize and bond with them. If a mother hamster smells a different scent on her newborn it will kill it thinking it’s an impostor. Scent mix-up happens when humans hold newborn hamsters and leave a different scent on them. This makes it hard for mother hamsters to recognize their newborns.
5. Small cages or tight spaces
Another factor that could explain why hamsters eat their babies is the small cages they are kept in. Small spaces make mother hamsters nervous and could end up killing some of the babies to create more room for their young families.
6. Inability to care for all babies
If a mother hamster feels overwhelmed with taking care of her litter of cubs, especially if it is a large one, it finds it hard to care for them. Maybe she is just anxious and fearful or there is not enough food for the entire brood. Either way, the feeling of being unable to care for all the babies could force her to kill one or a few to increase the chances of the others surviving.
7. Deformed or weak babies
The condition of newborn babies can also force nursing mothers to kill their babies. If a mother hamster sees that some babies are either deformed or physically weak, she might choose to “end their misery” and kill them. This could be based on the thought that they won’t make it and the best thing to do is to kill them.
8. Sick nursing mother
It is also possible that the mother gets sick after giving birth and is lacking nutrients to stay healthy and strong for her babies. Such a sad moment could force her to eat one of the babies to get extra energy and get back in good health.
9. Animal cannibalism
Another thing that makes hamsters eat their babies is natural animal cannibalism. If a mother hamster feels one of the offspring is dangerous to her or the rest of the babies, she will most likely kill it.
How to prevent hamsters from eating their babies
There are a few things you can do to help prevent female hamsters from eating their babies. You can help by:
1. Keep off the cage
To help alleviate stressful situations, avoid checking on the mother and the newborns too much throughout the day. Keep off the cage as much as you can and only go there when necessary. Giving the nursing mother time alone with her newborns reduces stress and makes them feel more at ease.
2. Keep things calm and quiet
You can also help prevent hamsters from eating their babies by creating a calm and quiet environment for her and the babies. Ensure children and other family members stay away from where your hamsters stay. This will minimize noise and help the mother to feel safe and secure.
3. Avoid touching newborn babies
Avoid touching newborn babies whenever you check on them. Touching them leaves a scent that can confuse the nursing mother into eating the newborns. You should avoid doing so for at least 10-14 days after birth.
4. Provide plenty of food and water
Make sure your nursing hamster has more than enough food and clean water. Food insecurity can make her eat the babies, but if she sees there’s enough for her and her new babies then the possibility of her turning on the newborns is reduced. Besides, she needs enough food and water to remain strong and healthy during the nursing phase.
5. Provide a large cage or space
If you’re keeping your nursing hamster in a cage, make sure you choose a cage large enough for her and the newborns. This gives her enough room to move around without feeling the need to create extra space by eating some of her babies.
6. Remove male hamsters from the cage
Make sure a nursing hamster is not sharing her cage with male hamsters. Sharing a cage can increase stress and insecurity levels, which can make the female hamster eat the babies. Male hamsters can also eat newborn hamsters so keep them in a separate cage.
7. Separate sick/deformed babies from the mother
You can also separate a sick or deformed newborn hamster from the rest of the brood and seek veterinarian help on how to care for them until they are strong enough to reunite with the rest.
As noted above, there are many reasons why hamsters eat their babies. Unfortunately, you can do everything right and still find your little, fluffy pet is eating her babies. Nonetheless, try to help as much as you can and leave the rest to her. Besides, some things can be beyond your control no matter how hard you try to help.
(Featured image source: freepik.com)