One thing in advance: If hamsters show cannibalism, you should not judge it morally. Animals that eat their peers do not do so out of malice or sadism. But what reasons can this shocking behavior for humans have?
Natural causes of cannibalism among hamsters
Cannibalism among hamsters can also occur in the wild, especially if too many animals have to share too small a habitat. This phenomenon is called "crowding" and comes from the English term "crowd" for crowd. Hamsters are under a lot of stress and there can be fights among fellow species, which can sometimes be fatal for one of the rivals. However, such overpopulation also causes deaths for other reasons.
However, the deceased hamsters cannot simply remain in the burrow, as various pathogens are released during decomposition, which can infect the surviving animals. The rodents also need discretion to survive because they have many predators. If they smell the smell of the animal carcass, they track down the hamster building - and this is fatal for the entire group.
When a hamster mother eats up her young, there are similar reasons. For example, cannibalism occurs when a female hamster is very young - under three months old - and has no experience with offspring. In addition, such young hamsters are not yet fully developed so that they cannot properly care for the babies. In their distress, they then eat up the little ones. In addition, the protein requirements of expectant hamster mothers are very high, especially at this young age, and they know how to help themselves other than eating their own offspring. Cannibalism can also occur if the babies are stillborn or too weak to survive.
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Hamster cannibalism through wrong posture?
The circumstances that lead to cannibalism in the natural habitat of hamsters can also be caused by incorrect posture. For example, it is not recommended to keep hamster groups in an enclosure that is too small. In any case, hamsters are usually loners - especially the larger breeds such as golden hamsters or teddy hamsters - and prefer a cage on their own. Some dwarf hamsters can also be kept as a pair, but unlike guinea pigs and rabbits, the small rodents are not pack animals. In other words, the "crowding" in cages can already occur in a group of three animals.
In addition, hamsters in overpopulation no longer produce fragrances via their sternal glands. A hamster mother can no longer label her baby with her scent and no longer recognizes her as her own. As a result, cannibalism occurs. Life-threatening stress also arises when female hamsters give birth to their young too frequently and too quickly. It also becomes difficult if the male does not come back to his own enclosure immediately after mating. There is then a quarrel between the animals, which greatly unsettles the expectant hamster mother. In general, you have to take good care of your hamster mom and not disturb her for the first four weeks. Change the litter only in the toilet corner and leave the nest as it is.
Furthermore, 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 lead to cannibalism or self-mutilation. But otherwise, this is not species-appropriate hamster husbandry, but cruelty to animals.