10 common reasons why hamsters eat their babies (including prevention)

The anticipation of soon being able to welcome the offspring of your pregnant hamster lady is in some cases followed by disillusionment!
The freshly born hamster mom eats her own babies.

What seems shocking at first moment, occurs frequently in nature and is known under the term “hamster cannibalism”.

In this post, we’ll tell you 10 common reasons why hamsters eat their babies and also give you proven preventative measures.

Let’s go!

10 reasons why hamsters eat their babies

Hamsters eat their babies for a variety of reasons. In addition to causes triggered by the hamster’s natural instinct, there are often underlying errors in the animal’s husbandry.

We have collected ten common causes for you here.
Reason 1: Stress

A not species-appropriate attitude can lead to the fact that your hamster suffers from stress.

For the mother animal, this represents a considerable stress in addition to the pregnancy and the subsequent care of the young. In this distress cannibalism can occur. The female thus reduces her own stress load.

Not all offspring are always eliminated. The number can also be simply reduced. This may also indicate that some of the babies were very weak and/or sick.
Reason 2: Lack of experience

If a female hamster becomes pregnant before her third month of life, she is usually overwhelmed with the situation. She lacks experience in handling the young and the stress is too high.

Eliminating the young then serves two purposes.

First, the mother relieves herself and reduces the stress associated with caring for them. Second, by eating the babies, it prevents them from attracting predators.

This is therefore a purely instinctive behavior.
Reason 3: Fear

Frequent conflicts in the group or other pets can put the mother and other adults in frequent states of anxiety.

The young represent a weak link in the group and may also attract predators. So eliminating them serves as a protective mechanism.
Reason 4: Malnutrition

The diet of the mother animal changes during pregnancy and suckling only in the amount that must be available to your hamster.

This is especially true in terms of protein.

So, if there are deficiencies, the animal may be forced to eat some of the offspring so that the entire litter does not have to be given up.

If this is not enough and the deficiency symptoms are not compensated by the feed, it may also eat all the young to save itself.
Reason 5: Stillbirths

Stillbirths, sick and weak young cannot always be recognized directly and immediately by humans.

The mother animal, on the other hand, can do this and will eat affected hamster babies immediately.

By this she ensures on the one hand that stronger young have a better chance. On the other hand, it improves the supply and prevents the spread of diseases within the litter.

Reason 6: Too little space

A cage that is too small causes what is known as crowding, which can also occur in nature.

The term stands for too many hamsters living in too small an area. Competition is high and resources are scarce, or at least perceived to be scarce.

Thus, if more individuals are added by the young, the circumstances worsen further. This is where the self-preservation instinct comes into play in the mother or other conspecifics and the baby hamsters are eliminated in order to survive on their own.
Reason 7: Lack of scent marking

Hamsters living in groups lose the ability to mark living creatures and objects via their sternal gland.

Therefore, the young do not smell their mother.

For this reason, they may be perceived as strange, especially by an inexperienced mother. This in turn can cause them to be considered intruders. To be on the safe side, they may be removed.
Reason 8: Grid floor

A grid floor seems practical when keeping hamsters. Droppings fall right through it and urine runs off.

However, such a floor is not appropriate for the species.

The hamsters can’t walk on it properly, they can’t dig or burrow. This alone can lower the quality of life so much that there is permanent stress. A proper nest can also not be built on the grid. As a result, the young already suffer.
Reason 9: Too large groups

Hamsters are solitary animals, with the exception of dwarf hamsters.

They come together for mating and then go their separate ways again. If you keep them as pets in groups, this can cause immense stress. Even in larger hamster homes it is not guaranteed that the animals can or will get out of each other’s way sufficiently.

Therefore, it is better to keep them individually.

Reason 10: Odor avoidance

Hamsters react very quickly to dead animals. This is because the smell of decay could attract predators.

Therefore, eating dead or dying young is also a protective mechanism to keep the hamsters’ home safe.

7 proven tips: Here’s how you can prevent hamsters from eating their babies

When hamsters eat their young, it’s not a pretty sight.

Usually, however, you will only notice that the number of babies decreases. Leftovers are usually not found. Instead, the babies seem to disappear without a trace.

If this is the first time, there is little you can do about it.

However, there are several preventative measures that can prevent hamsters from eating their babies.

1: Company only for mating

Medium hamsters should be kept singly outside of mating season.

This will reduce stress and prevent conflicts between conspecifics from occurring in the first place. If you want to keep several hamsters, you also need several cages. These should be as far apart as possible, so that the animals have their peace.

An exception are certain dwarf hamsters. They like to live in groups, but they need enough space.

2: Avoid stress

Loud noises, children and pets playing, birds outside the window, and sudden movement around the cage can cause significant stress.

This is true during the day as well as at night.

During the day, animals are disturbed while sleeping, which can negatively affect their rhythm. During the night, on the other hand, the hamsters will get scared and hide all the time.

You can avoid this stress by choosing a suitable location.

The room temperature also plays a role. It should be neither too hot nor too cold for the hamsters, as this can also cause them stress.

3: Provide sufficient space

A hamster cage or hamster home with sufficient freedom of movement belongs to the species-appropriate attitude.

If the mother hamster already feels cramped in it alone, she will also react differently to her young and create space if necessary.

The largest possible floor space and several floors offer alternative options and are usually sufficient for the first few weeks of the baby’s life. If this is not the case, you should choose a larger model early on.

4: Provide nesting material

Hamsters sleep in nests that they pad as softly as possible.

They also give birth to their young in them.

Therefore, provide your pet with the appropriate materials. Soft and clean bedding should always be available. Besides the normal wood shavings, you can also offer cotton flowers and hemp litter.

Shredded paper will also do the job.

It’s best to let your hamster decide for himself!

5: Be careful when cleaning

During pregnancy and the first weeks after birth, you should be especially careful when cleaning the cage.

It’s best to limit litter changes to the toilet corner.

You should not reach the nest, as your hamster may see this as a threat to the young.

6: Adjust the amount of food

Your hamster needs enough food, especially protein, to avoid a shortage of food.

Therefore, a balanced diet is just as crucial as an adequate amount. Also, if you are not sure if mating has occurred, you should provide more food to be on the safe side.

Mealworms are a good source of protein. Low-fat curd cheese and cottage cheese are also suitable. In addition, special protein feeds can be found in stores.

The protein is needed to produce the young during gestation and milk following birth. As soon as the babies are no longer suckling, you can reduce the amount of protein again.

7: Do not mate too early

Since especially very young and inexperienced female hamsters tend to eat their young, you should prevent too early mating. It is necessary to separate the animals by sex in time.

Before the third month of life, pregnancy in your hamster is to be avoided at all costs.

However, this is not always possible. In some cases, you may have already gotten the female hamster pregnant and you are completely surprised by the litter. If that happens, you can always reduce the stress and adjust the diet. Adding more space is also an option.

Also, inform yourself in detail about the pregnancy and the development of the young, so that you are prepared accordingly.

Because after only about two weeks of gestation, the babies’ development is rapid.

Within a short time, the naked, blind and deaf cubs become active hamsters, exploring their world, discovering and learning new things day by day.

During these first weeks, they can still remain with their mother. However, to prevent future conflicts, you should quickly think about a placement or new accommodations. Because the offspring also quickly become sexually mature. Already with about one month the young females can become pregnant.

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