If you watch your pet long enough, you may find that your hamster eats its poop. Scientifically known as coprophagy, this behavior is common among rodents.
It’s normal for hamsters to eat their poop as coprophagy allows them to glean nutrients they didn’t get from their food the first time.
They stay safe from predators by eating their poop to hide the scent. Hamsters only eat the cecotropes, which contain undigested nutrients and vitamins.
While you may be curious about what happens if hamsters eat their poop, there’s nothing to be concerned about. This behavior is completely safe and benefits their health.
Do Hamsters Eat Their Poop?
The Journal of Nutrition explains how rodents are hindgut fermenters. Most hamsters eat their poop as soon as they go to the toilet, while a few eat older feces in the cage.
Even if you’ve not noticed this behavior before, it happens often. Hamsters are nocturnal and most active between dusk and dawn, so your hamster likely eats its droppings while you’re asleep.
Even though it’s unpleasant to witness your hamster eating its feces, it has numerous health benefits. But first, it’s helpful to understand that there are two different types of poop:
- Standard dry poop
- Softer poop, known as cecotropes (and, more colloquially, night feces)
Hamsters don’t eat their dry droppings but the softer cecotropes. Some hamsters move dry poop out of their way with their mouths, hence why there’s confusion about the two types of feces.
During the coprophagy process, the hamster will:
- Eat its food
- Digest it until it reaches its intestines
- Excrete it quickly before eating it again. It then gets redigested a few hours afterward.
As described by the National Chung-Hsing University Department of Animal Science, the hindgut in hamsters includes the cecum, colon, and rectum.
This is the fermentation site where volatile fatty acids (VFA) are absorbed as an energy source. This behavior’s common in the animal world, particularly among rodents.
What Are the Two Types of Hamster Poop?
We’ve mentioned how there are two different types of hamster droppings. Cecotropes vary from typical fecal pellets, so it’s easy for owners to tell the difference between them.
What Does Hamster Poop Look Like?
Normal hamster poop looks like small black or dark brown, oblong pellets. They’re dry and firm and shouldn’t have any noticeable odor.
Healthy hamster poop isn’t moist and doesn’t leave behind any smears or stains. If you hold one between your fingers, it should remain firm, and you shouldn’t be able to squish it easily.
What Do Cecotropes Look Like?
Cecotropes are small and imperfectly round. Hamsters expel them in groups, so you’ll find multiple cecotropes stuck together, sometimes resembling a raspberry.
Cecotropes are dark brown with a soft, squishy texture. They’re also coated with mucus, giving them a slight sheen. Unlike normal droppings, they smell more pungent and are almost unpleasant.
Is It Ok for Hamsters To Eat Their Poop?
As we’ve touched upon, it’s normal for hamsters to eat their waste. That’s because cecotropes aren’t true feces, even though they contain beneficial bacteria. However, they provide several benefits that keep hamsters healthy.
While hamsters aren’t part of the same family as lagomorphs, they have an esophagus that leads to the stomach. The body absorbs all the essential nutrients when food enters the small intestine.
The food then moves through to the colon, where minimal absorption happens. Large fiber particles pass through the colon and get excreted by hamsters as dry droppings.
In the meantime, the food that contains the most nutrients moves back up through the cecum (a sac-like structure between the colon and small intestine) through muscle contractions.
The food remains here while bacteria break it down into absorbable nutrients, including:
- Amino acids
- Simple sugars
Later on, usually during the night when hamsters are awake, the food moves into the colon and through it, exiting the body through the anus. The hamster will eat the cecotrope and absorb the nutrients it didn’t the first time.
Why Is My Hamster Eating Its Own Poop?
Now you know it’s normal for hamsters to eat their poop; let’s look at why they do it:
The main reason hamsters eat their poop is to get the vitamins and minerals they need from them. Hamsters usually eat tough and fibrous foods, such as:
- Pellets (or lab blocks)
These foods contain lots of fiber, which is hard for hamsters to digest. Many hamsters poop the fiber out before the gut can fully digest it.
By eating cecotropes, the hamster gets the opportunity to digest the food and absorb the nutrients it wasn’t able to the first time around.
Unfortunately, hamsters also eat their poop because of nutritional deficiencies. This is closely linked to redigesting nutrients but also signifies that hamsters aren’t getting what they need from their diets.
Hamsters are commonly mistaken as herbivores (they’re omnivores as they eat insects and small mammals), so it surprises some owners to know that hamsters need lots of protein.
Hamsters living solely on a diet of pellets or seeds don’t get vital nutrients and must eat their poop to try to salvage more to get what they need.
Pay attention to your hamster’s diet, which should be balanced and varied with fresh fruits and protein. Dried insects, such as crickets and mealworms, effectively increase a hamster’s protein intake.
To Avoid Predators
We’ve mentioned that hamsters are prey animals because they have many predators in the wild. Predators root out hamsters by their smell, so hamsters eat their smelly cecotropes to hide their scent and protect themselves from being caught.
Captive hamsters do the same thing because they don’t realize they’re safe from predators.
Why Is My Hamster Not Eating Cecotropes?
Hamsters should eat their cecotropes because they contain valuable nutrients they can’t afford to waste. As mentioned, cecotropes introduce healthy microorganisms into the cecum and balance the gut’s natural flora.
In most cases, hamsters eat their cecotropes so quickly that you’ll rarely see them, so they don’t tend to cause cleanliness problems within the cage.
Unfortunately, if you start seeing cecotropes in your hamster’s cage, your pet may have stopped eating them. This is a cause for concern as healthy hamsters routinely consume their cecotropes. This can be due to the following:
- Obesity. Overweight hamsters struggle to reach their cecotropes as they eliminate them.
- Stress. If hamsters feel threatened, they prioritize hiding over eating their cecotropes.
- Injuries or arthritis. These are causes of restricted movement, making it difficult for hamsters to eat their cecotropes.
- Dental issues. Tooth pain or mouth conditions can make hamsters reluctant to eat their poop.
Keep an eye on these things because they can become serious quickly if you leave them untreated.
Can You Stop Hamsters Eating Their Own Poop?
You can’t teach hamsters to stop eating their poop, as they’re instinctually hardwired to eat poop. Also, coprophagy benefits hamsters, so you should allow your hamster to carry out this behavior uninterrupted.
However, you can ensure conditions remain as sanitary as possible by frequently spot-cleaning your hamster’s cage.
As soon as an area becomes soiled, remove the poop and the surrounding bedding, as this will keep the cage fresh while encouraging your hamster only to eat the beneficial cecotropes.
Coprophagy isn’t anything to worry about. Owners don’t like the thought of it, but it’s vital for your hamster’s health and survival.
Don’t get involved with the process; allow your hamster to behave naturally.