Hamsters are great pets for kids. But, as a parent, the last thing you want your kids (and even you) to witness is the brutal, horrifying, and traumatic scene of a hamster mom eating her babies. In this article, our focus is to make you understand the different reasons as to why do hamsters eat their babies and what you can do to avoid this kind of hamster behavior.
You may ask, is this hamster mom eating babies a normal behavior? Do all hamster moms do this to their young? Let’s find out…
Is Your Hamster Pregnant?
First, how sure are you that your hamster is pregnant or not? Did you socialize her with male hamsters? If yes, you have to guard it very well or you may wake up one morning with one or more of her babies already missing.
Hamsters are only pregnant for a short time and you may not even be aware of her condition. There are hamster species that give birth less than 20 days after being exposed to a male hamster.
If you are not sure if she is an expectant mom or not, here are some of the signs to watch out for:
A swollen belly is one of the indicators. But, then, it could also mean other things like a tumor or an infection. It is still best to have her seen by a Vet to assess if she’s pregnant or not to prevent the issue of ‘do hamsters eat their babies’.
As early as six weeks of age, your hamster can already get impregnated. So, if both males and females live in the same cage, the chance of her being pregnant at about 6 weeks of age is very high.
Your female hamster becomes a voracious eater.
You will observe nesting behavior. If she is stocking up on bedding materials in one corner, it is a sign that she is preparing a nest for her babies. Do hamsters eat their babies? Yes, and if you are not aware of it, she will give birth in about three weeks. How many babies do hamsters have? As much as 12 babies depending on the breed. You have to know the symptoms so you can prevent her from eating those cute and hapless little fellows.
8 Reasons for a Hamster Mom Eats Her Babies
1. Small Living Quarters
The Mom is not happy with the size of the cage. She finds it too small for her and her young. For her to provide an ideal living space to her growing family, she has to make sacrifices by eating some of her babies.
As humans, fear is a normal response to the birth of a child. But, we humans can work on our fears to better care for our babies which is not the case for a hamster mom.
Hamsters may feel threatened each time human owners watch, handle, and take photos of her and her young. She may also be fearful of other pets in the house, too much noise in the surroundings, among others. As a response to fear, she eats her babies.
She is doing this horrifying behavior simply because she wants to save her babies from the ‘wrath’ of possible predators.
3. Stress and Anxiety
The process of pregnancy and giving birth are two stressful scenarios for a hamster mom. Add to that the need to care and feed for multiple babies.
If she is already feeling the burden of caring for her young, she may resort to eating them. This is especially true for first-time moms.
Also, she may not be getting enough rest due to a noisy environment. For example, hearing loud music playing or too much chattering. Though you do not have the intention to stress her out, by constantly bothering her, you are adding stress to her already stressful situation.
3. Scent Confusion
A hamster mom devotes a great deal of time nursing and cleaning her young. This process leaves a scent to each of her babies so she’d be able to recognize them.
Why do hamsters eat their babies? We’d say human interference is one of the reasons. Many hamster owners find the babies too cute and love to hold them in their hands. As a result, the scent of the mom marks on her babies is altered which leads to scent confusion.
You may argue, there’s no big deal about that. But, for a hamster mom, a different scent (scent from human handlers) indicates there is something odd about her babies so she eats them. Or, she may look at these babies with different scent as impostors or threat to her other babies, thus, she resorts to eating them to protect her brood.
5. Lack of Food and Water
The mom feels frightened that she can’t give an ample supply of food and water to all her babies. As a result, she is driven to make sacrifices for her family by eating some of her babies.
She does that behavior so that some of her babies will survive and grow healthy. She shares the meat of her babies with those that are still alive and hungry.
Motherhood may be too overwhelming for her especially if it is a large litter. If she feels that she could no longer take on the responsibility of taking care of all her babies, she could resort to eating some of them.
We may not comprehend it but for a hamster mom, limiting the number of her babies is a ‘noble act’. Her intention is pure and it is all about survival.
7. Mom Is Sick
During the process of giving birth, she may get sick and low in energy. To recover and to heal faster, she might think that eating a few of her babies is the way to regain her strength and health.
By doing so, she gets the nutrients and energy to care for her remaining babies.
8. Maternal Instinct
The ability to reason or to discern is what makes us different from other mammals. Sometimes, if a hamster mom senses that something is not right with some of her babies, instinct and not reason tells her to get rid of them.
Those babies may have some kind of physical deformities or she senses that the babies may be too weak or maybe sick. So, mom’s instinct tells her that these babies do not have the chance ‘to do well in the future’, so she might as well eat them. Plus, instinct tells her to eat the sick babies to avoid the spread of disease to the rest of the healthy litter.
As you have read, there are different reasons as to why do hamsters eat their babies. The common denominator though is mainly as an act of love. She eats some of them to limit the size of her family so she can adequately care and provide sustenance to the remaining babies.
Not to forget that she also eats them because she does not want the predators (humans and pets) to inflict harm on her babies.
But, as a hamster owner, there are things that you can do to stop the hamster’s mom eating behavior.
How to Prevent Your Hamster From Eating Her Babies?
1. Respect Its Place
By this, it means you have to give your hamster a quiet and calm place to rest and care for her brood.
Do not allow your kids to go near her cage (for at least two weeks) so she will not feel threatened and stressed by the presence of excited and noisy kids.
If you happen to have other pets in the house, do your best to stop them from going near the hamster cage.
At this stage in her life, humans and pets may be thought of as ‘predators’ and this is one of the reasons as to why do hamsters eat their babies.
2. Feed Her Well
If your hamster’s date with the stork is nearing, be sure to feed her with more protein so she can regain her strength much faster. Good examples are cooked chicken and hard-boiled eggs.
After giving birth, be sure that she has an ample supply of food (for two weeks) and water so she knows that she has more than enough food.
What you want to achieve is to leave her alone or to have very limited interaction with her while she is still nursing her young. This will stop her from eating her babies.
3. Transfer Her to a Larger Hamster Cage
Even if your hamster’s cage size is the ideal one, for mothers that gave birth to 6 or even more babies, the present cage may be too small for her and her babies.
Also, do not allow the male hamster to stay with her at the cage. This will only increase the mom’s stress level and eat her babies.
4. Check the Babies
You may check the babies but do this as quietly and gently as you can. You can begin doing this in the second week after their birth.
But, avoid handling them. You can only start handling the babies once their mom weans them, which is about 2 to 3 weeks of age. As we mentioned earlier, one of the reasons why do hamsters eat their babies is scent confusion. Thus, to avoid that confusion, do not pet the newborns.
If a Mom Has Eaten Her Babies Before, Will She Do It Again to Her Next Litter?
Eating her babies is not something that she likes doing. The reason behind why do hamsters eat their babies is out of necessity.
If she has eaten her babies before, most likely it is due to stress, lack of food, et al. But, the next time she gives birth and you remove all stressors and make her feel secure, then most likely, all her babies will survive.
Should You Separate the Babies From Their Mom?
It is not a good idea to separate the babies from their mothers. Hamster’s moms will take care of their babies for as long as they know that they have enough resources to keep her litter comfortable and safe.
But, once their mom begins to wean them, which is around 21 to 28 days, they have to be transferred to another cage. This is because of the territorial nature of hamsters. Around that age, the hamster mom considers her babies as a threat to survival, thus, you’d see mothers and babies fighting.
Do Hamster Dads Eat their Babies?
It depends on the hamster breed. The dwarf hamster breeds like the winter whites tend to eat their babies. Why? Because they see them as future threats. This is why we advise you to immediately separate the dwarf male hamster once the female gives birth.
On the other hand, the male Russian hamsters are not known to eat their young. They are even known to help the mom in caring for their babies. But this is done after the second day of giving birth to allow the mom to have alone time with her babies.
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Mothers are very protective of their children, and hamsters are no exception. Why do hamsters eat their babies? As you’ve seen above, the reason is because of a mother’s deep love for her babies.
If she senses a deep threat from hunger, from predators, and little chance of growing up normally (physically incapable of surviving), she eats them because that is the only way she knows how to protect them. Having said that, do not be the perceived predator, leave the mom and her brood alone. Give them enough food in a larger space, and soon, you’d be enjoying the company of these cute baby hamsters.