Hamster Cannibalism: Possible Causes

Anyone who keeps hamsters may have seen a deceased animal being eaten by its own kind or the offspring being eaten by the mother hamster. Cannibalism among hamsters can be natural or caused by poor husbandry. Here’s what’s behind this seemingly cruel behavior.

Hamsters should not be underestimated - poor housing conditions are a possible reason for cannibalism - Shutterstock / stock_shot

Hamsters should not be underestimated – poor housing conditions are a possible reason for cannibalism – Shutterstock / stock_shot

One thing first: If hamsters show cannibalism, you shouldn’t judge it morally. Animals that eat their own kind do not do so out of malice or sadism. But what are the reasons for this shocking behavior for people?

Natural causes of cannibalism among hamsters

Cannibalism among hamsters can also occur in the wild, especially when too many animals have to share a habitat that is too small. This phenomenon is called “crowding” and comes from the English term “crowd” for quantity. Hamsters are under a great deal of stress and fights can ensue among their own species, which can sometimes end fatally for one of the rivals. However, with such overpopulation, deaths also occur for other reasons.

However, the deceased hamsters cannot simply remain in the burrow, since the decomposition releases various pathogens that can infect the surviving animals. In addition, the rodents depend on discretion in order to survive, because they have many predators. If they smell the animal carcass, they track down the hamster burrow – and that is fatal for the entire group.

When a mother hamster eats her young, the reasons are similar. For example, cannibalism occurs when a female hamster is very young – less than three months old – and has no experience with offspring. In addition, hamsters that young are not yet fully developed, so they cannot properly care for the babies. In their distress, they eat the little ones. In addition, the protein requirement of expectant hamster mothers is very high, especially at this young age, and they do not know what to do other than eat their own offspring. Also, when the babies are stillborn or too weak to survive, cannibalism can occur.

Hamsters are very endearing animals that deserve humane and loving care and attention - Shutterstock / GUNDAM_Ai

07/23/2016 – 06:12 p.m

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Hamster cannibalism due to incorrect posture?

The circumstances that lead to cannibalism in the natural habitat of hamsters can also be caused by incorrect husbandry. For example, it is not recommended to keep groups of hamsters in an enclosure that is too small. Anyway, hamsters are usually solitary – especially the larger breeds like golden hamsters or teddy hamsters – and prefer a cage to themselves. Some dwarf hamsters can also be kept in pairs, but unlike guinea pigs and rabbits, these small rodents are not pack animals. In other words, “crowding” in cages can already occur in a group of three animals.

In addition, when overcrowded, hamsters stop producing scents via their sternal glands. A mother hamster can no longer mark her babies with her scent and no longer recognize them as her own. The result is cannibalism. Life-threatening stress also occurs when female hamsters give birth too often and too quickly in a row. It also becomes difficult if the male does not return to his own enclosure immediately after mating. The animals then quarrel, which greatly unsettles the expectant hamster mother. In general, you must take good care of your hamster mom and not disturb her for the first four weeks. Only change the litter in the toilet corner and leave the nest as it is.

Also, avoid keeping your hamsters on the grid floor – their feet cannot grip the bars properly, making it impossible for the rodents to move safely on the grid. This also creates stress and insecurity, which in extreme cases can lead to cannibalism or self-mutilation. But otherwise this is not species-appropriate hamster husbandry, but animal cruelty.

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