Are Hamsters Cannibals?

cannibal hamster

It can be very distressing to find out that your cute little hamster pet has eaten her young. Why do hamsters eat each other and are they cannibals by choice? Let’s find out.

Are hamsters cannibals? Wild hamsters are not cannibals in the sense that they want to eat their own kind. They eat each other so the rest can survive. Females sometimes kills her first nest of babies, and any dead young will be eaten by the mom or by siblings to stop predators finding the nest. Pet hamsters sometimes eat their young for various reasons like stress and fear. The only real cannibalistic hamsters in the wild were found by scientists in northern France. They turned cannibalistic and ate their still living babies due to a severe change in diet due to intense farming in the area.  However, these are the only wild hamsters found to eat their young alive and are an example of how their changing habitat can be detrimental to their survival.  

Are Hamsters Cannibals?

Will hamsters eat other hamsters? 

Hamsters do sometimes eat other hamsters. Hamsters are solitary animals and when housed together they can become very territorial and fight. Sometimes these fights are to the death after which the surviving hamster might eat the dead one.  

Hamsters are not cannibals by nature, they don’t go out to hunt other hamsters to eat for example. They can turn cannibalistic in some circumstances, for example when two territorial solitary hamsters are put together in a cage, a fight could break out after which the dead hamster might be eaten.  

Sometimes females kill and eat their babies, in the wild this is often her first nest. This can be due to stress, hunger or fear. It is thought the babies are eaten to avoid a smelling nest, easy to find by predators.  

The only real cannibalistic hamsters found in the wild are living in Northeastern France where the nerves system of hamsters has changed due to a severe change in their diet which has turned females into cannibalistic hamsters eating and storing their alive babies. See more about that below. 

Why would a female hamster eat her own babies? 

There are several reasons why female hamsters eat their own babies. They are only pregnant for three weeks and can have very large litters very often. This means that she can afford to give up a litter to have another one in the near future when circumstances might be better.  

Here are the main reasons why a female hamster might kill her pups: 

  • Too overwhelming: Many hamster moms kill their first litter of pups, which is probably due to the inability to care for them all. When later litters are very large, the mom might kill some of the babies so she’s able to look after the remaining ones well, so they have a bigger chance of survival.  
  • Not enough food: Pregnant hamsters eat more during pregnancy, so she has enough energy to grow her babies and to give birth in the near future. It can be hard to know your hamster is pregnant and especially when your hamster came home from the pet shop already pregnant. It could therefore be that there is not enough food on offer for your hamster. If she thinks there is a shortage of food, she might kill her babies as there won’t be enough food to go around for everyone. This way she can survive until there is more food available and have a new nest, rather than compete for food with her offspring.  
  • Scent: hamsters don’t have a very good eyesight and live primarily on hearing and smell. She will scent her pups so she can recognize them. If she doesn’t recognize their scent, she will think it’s an imposter and kill it. This is why it’s super important not to touch the baby hamsters at all for the first week or so. While this can be hard, as they are so super cute, it’s really the best way to keep them alive! 
  • Stress: it’s very easy to stress out your hamster as they are prone to stress. In the wild they are constantly looking over their shoulder for the next predator to raise their ugly head. At home your hamster might be stressed because of the cage position, that there’s not enough nesting material available, not enough food to hoard, the size of the cage (which is often too small), a different hamster is placed too close to their cage, or some other stress factor. If your hamster is stressed, she might not feel up to the job and kill her babies. As hamsters can be pregnant often and easily, she can risk having another litter next time. 
  • Fear: Hamsters are fearful creatures, and you will need to make sure she has nothing to fear while pregnant and after birth. This means a quiet space without curious people hanging over the cage to admire the babies. Leave your hamster alone for at least a week. Check on her when feeding but leave her the rest of the time. You can place a blanket over the cage to make her feel more secure. Keep the noise in the house down and don’t move the cage or have children or pets nearby.  

When she does kill her babies, she will eat them to avoid being found by predators due to the smell of decay. 

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How do you stop your hamster from eating her babies? 

If you know your hamster is pregnant then make sure that: 

  • There is plenty of food both to eat and to store 
  • There is lots of nesting material in the cage, think shredded paper and paper towels and wood curls 
  • Keep her cage somewhere quiet so she feels safe to create a nest and to prepare for birth 

After birth put a blanket over her cage so she can feel safe and be left alone.  

Why do hamsters eat their siblings? 

It’s important to remember that the sibling did not get killed to be eaten. What sometimes happens is that one of the young ones dies and gets eaten by the mum or other siblings to avoid the smell of decay as this will attract predators. If a predator finds the nest, it will put all of them in danger. While it’s horrible to think hamsters eat each other, they only do so to survive, not because they are malicious. They are prey animals, and their best defense is to be undetected.  

Why do hamsters eat their own kind? 

While there have been cannibalistic human tribes on earth in the past, as a species we have decided this is no longer acceptable. That’s why it’s hard to imagine any creature wanting to eat their own kind as we automatically see things through human eyes with human values. And to see a cute little animal being so vicious is not pretty either. However, if you see it in context than it makes much more sense. Humans have eaten humans to survive, the Andes plane crash being a good example. And most of us can understand that to survive you must sometimes do things you’d rather not, however horrible.  

Hamsters are under attack all the time as they are great snacks for many other creatures. Sometimes there isn’t enough food to go around, and some babies must die to make space for a few strong survivors, rather than share the food and all starve. Or a baby has died and needs to be eaten to avoid decay in the nest. This can both bring disease as well as unwanted predators who follow their nose to the nest.  

Why do hamsters eat dead hamsters? 

Hamsters are cute little animals that are under constant threat from predators. They are on the lunch menu of many other creatures and being that popular, means you need to be careful at all times. The best way to not get eaten is to not be detected and to go about your business as quickly and quietly as possible.  

However, if you find a dead hamster in your nest, which is normally a baby or young, then you have a dilemma. Do you leave the baby to decay in the nest, with the possibility of getting everyone else ill and to attract predators with the smell of decay? Or do you bring the dead outside? How far does mom need to travel away from the nest, and how long will she leave the rest of the vulnerable nest?  

So, you can see why eating the baby is a good choice from a survival point of view. Unfortunately, hamsters have not been pets for a long enough time to lose this survival instinct. And however, upsetting it is to us humans, your hamsters are just trying to survive the dangerous world they believe they still live in.  

Are dwarf hamsters cannibals? 

Dwarf hamsters are territorial creatures. If the living space is too small or if there is not enough food, they will fight, and one will possibly be killed and eaten. Dwarf hamsters don’t set out to hunt and eat each other. They fight over territory, females and food.  

Will hamsters kill each other? 

Syrian hamsters are territorial and will not tolerate another hamster in their cage. They will fight until one of them kills the other. Dwarf hamsters are slightly better with company but can turn aggressive easily, especially when there is not enough space. They will fight over food and territory.  

Robo hamsters can live in colonies, but again, they will need space and plenty of food in various places as well as several water bowl and hideouts.

Always check your hamsters behavior when you first put them together. If they show hostility towards each other, separate them immediately and house them in separate cages away from each other. Don’t wait until they start fighting.

If you want more than one hamster, buy them from the same nest as they are more likely to get along.

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Why do hamsters eat themselves? 

Hamsters don’t eat themselves, but they do eat a dead hamster in the nest. They do this to survive and to not be detected by predators. It’s simple survival instinct developed over millions of years which is still very much part of them today.

Can hamsters eat themselves to death? 

You won’t see a hamster stuffing their face until they drop. However pet hamsters can get ill from a poor diet which can shorten their life. Hamsters can walk 5 km a night finding food, which means they exercise a lot. They also have a very healthy diet. They keep their weight stable if they can and there is enough food around, but they will not ever be fat. Instead, they store any excess food for later.

When hamsters are kept as pets, they don’t always exercise as much as they would in the wild. On top of that, they are dependent on us for their food. If they receive an unbalanced diet with too much sugar and fat, they can become overweight and get weight related illnesses which can shorten their lives.  

Do hamsters fight to the death? 

Hamsters will fight to the death eventually and it’s important to check their behavior when placed in a cage together. If they seem hostile towards each other, then it’s best to house them separately as they are likely to fight sooner or later. And in a full on fight, they will keep fighting until one of them is dead.  

Cannibal hamsters in the wild: The Cannibal Hamsters of Northeastern France: 

Scientists have discovered wild hamster mothers eating their alive babies. This is very unusual behavior for wild hamsters as they would normally wean their pups.  

The scientists discovered that the diet of these wild hamsters had changed due to industrial farming having taken over the region.  

Normally these hamsters would eat grains, roots and insects, however now some of them only had access to corn as this is all that grows in their territory. So, corn became their staple food. 

You’d say, so what’s the problem? Corn is healthy, right. As it turns out fast amounts of corn changed their nervous system to the point that the mothers became cannibalistic! 

Find the whole story here.  

Conclusion: Are hamsters cannibals? 

Hamsters don’t hunt their own species to eat, however there are circumstances where they eat their own kind, which is normally a survival instinct.  

There is a small group of hamsters which have turned cannibalistic in the wild due to a dramatic change in their diet, and who eat their babies alive. 

Sometimes females will kill some or all of her offspring due to stress, fear or a lack of food.  

If young die, either the mother or the siblings will eat it to ensure no predators can find the nest when the body decomposes and starts to smell. 

When hamsters are placed in a cage together, they can fight. Sometimes the winner will eat the killed hamster. 

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