Why Hamsters Eat Their Poop (The Answer Might Surprise You)

Why Hamsters Eat Their Poop

Did you catch your sweet hamster in the act of eating its own poop? While you may have been disgusted, don’t be concerned – it is a perfectly normal and even fascinating part of hamster digestion. 

Why do hamsters eat their poop? Hamsters do not eat all of their poop – only a specific type of poop that contains nutrients that a hamster must digest a second time in order to absorb. This nutrient-dense poop, called caecotrophs, is typically only produced at night, which is when you are most likely to find your hamster ingesting them.

Regardless of digestive system differences, every animal needs specific vitamins and nutrients to survive. How a hamster absorbs these differences will be vastly different than how a human absorbs nutrients, and there is usually a physiological or biological reason that an animal will participate in a behavior that would seem repulsive to us – poop eating included. Read on for more information about the interesting digestive system and associated behaviors of hamsters. 

Why Hamsters Eat Their Poop: Hamster Digestive System

Before we can understand why hamsters eat these nutritious homemade nuggets, we need to first learn about the gastrointestinal system of the hamster and how food is processed.

The digestive system of a hamster includes a single chamber – called a simple stomach – in which food is deposited before being further digested in the small intestine.

From the small intestine, the partially-digested food will enter a pouch called the caecum before moving on to the large intestine. From the large intestine, the “food” is now waste and will be eliminated. 

The bulk of nutrient absorption will take place in the stomach and the small intestine. Once food has passed the small intestine, the hamster’s body will absorb almost none of the nutrients.

The digestive system of a hamster moves along at a rapid pace, however, and just because the food has left the small intestine does not mean it has nothing more to give. This would be a detrimental problem for the hamster if not for the humble caecum.

Almost all mammals have a caecum (the exception being the raccoon, the red panda, and bears), but this junction is significantly more developed in herbivores than in omnivores or carnivores. While it is essential to the health of a hamster, the role that it plays in human anatomy is not as well understood.

Within the physiology of a hamster, the caecum is full of good bacteria, and through this pouch-like structure, an important fermentation will occur, which will release a wealth of additional nutrients.

These powerhouse nutrients cannot be absorbed by the hamster, though, because it has already gone through the organs from which nutrients are absorbed. Because of this, a hamster must eat the resulting product – called caecotrophs – to take in all of the nutrition that his or her body requires.

Understanding Regular Hamster Poop vs. Caecotrophs

Caecotrophs are very different from regular hamster feces – in fact, once you know what caecotrophs are, you may find it challenging to call it “poop” at all. Oxford defines feces as “waste matter discharged from the bowels after food has been digested.”

Considering this definition, is it fair to refer to caecotrophs as poop? After all, caecotrophs are discharged from the bowels after (some of the) food has been digested. However, since we have the dictionary open, “waste” is typically defined as something that is no longer useful – and that is clearly not the case with caecotrophs. Whatever you call caecotrophs in relation to the digestive process, you should know that there are distinct differences between edible and inedible hamster “poop.”

The poop that you find all over your hamster’s cage is likely not what your hamster is eating. This is called “hard feces” or “fecal pellets.” These pellets will be hard and dry and will not have any significant odor. This is true poop and is eliminated waste. There is no nutritional value in these droppings, so they will largely be ignored by the hamster. 

The most noticeable difference between poop and caecotrophs is that caecotrophs are less dry – they are slightly wet and almost sticky. In fact, when left uneaten, they are often mistaken by pet owners for diarrhea.

They are in a solid form, though, and the slickness is the result of a protective coating of mucus. This mucus covering the pellets protects the important bacteria from the stomach acid, allowing it to re-populate in the caecum. These pellets also have a much stronger odor than dry poop due to this abundance of healthy (albeit stinky) bacteria.

Why Hamsters Need To Eat Their Poop

Hamsters, like humans, require a healthy microbiome for the body to run smoothly. Research has shown links not only between healthy gut bacteria and the digestive processes but also between healthy gut bacteria and brain health, immune system function, and many other physiological processes.

Because of the fermentation process in the caecum, the caecotroph is invaluable to the hamster’s microbiome when ingested. 

In addition to the bacteria load that a healthy gut requires, there is an abundance of other nutrients found in these pellets that a hamster needs for optimal health. B12 is an essential vitamin that cannot be found in plant matter, which is the majority of what pet hamsters eat.

The hamster’s body actually produces the B12 only after it has passed through the small intestine, so this vitamin, in particular, cannot be absorbed by a hamster unless it is through these pellets. Caecotrophs also contain a high level of vitamin K, protein, and essential fatty acids.

How Much Poop Do Hamsters Eat?

If you have never seen your pet eat her home-grown snacks, don’t worry – it is likely that you simply haven’t noticed. Hamsters usually only produce one caecotroph per day, though pregnant hamsters may produce and ingest several during this same time period.

These pellets are typically only produced at night (causing them to often be referred to as “night poop”), and are eaten immediately. A hamster will not evacuate the caecotroph, walk away, and then sniff it out later. She will actually reach back and take it directly from the anus as it is making its exit, typically ingesting it before it even hits the ground (yes, we realize “warm poop” does not make this sound any less repulsive). 

This means that even if you are watching your hamster at the right time, you may only notice her “grooming” herself. Where it may be more obvious, though, is with hamster pups. Hamsters are born less developed than many other mammals, and their guts are no exception.

To give their digestive tracts the flora needed for a healthy system and to learn valuable skills when it comes to foraging and eating, they will eat the caecotroph of their mothers. 

Should You Stop Your Hamster From Eating Poop?

As outlined, caecotrophs are an essential part of a hamster’s digestive system, and we should absolutely not interfere in this normal and healthy behavior. In fact, caecotrophs only become a problem if your hamster stops eating them. 

If you begin noticing more of these moist, thick droppings left around the cage, your hamster may simply require a diet tweak. If your hamster has stopped eating his caecotrophs, you will want to try two things – 1) limit the snacks, and 2) increase the fiber.

Water-filled snacks like melons, lettuce, and grapes can cause especially liquid droppings, making them difficult to ingest. By limiting the snacks and increasing the fiber intake, your hamster should begin producing more regular, solid caecotrophs. These he will recognize as edible and appealing, hopefully leading to his renewed appetite for them.

If your hamster is still refusing to eat the “night poop” he is producing, it would be wise to call a veterinarian. Caecotroph ingestion is essential to the health, well-being, and longevity of your hamster, so you really do want him snacking on these.

Other Poop-Eating Animals

Hamsters are not the only animals who practice caecotrophy – most other rodents also use this in digestion. Rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs, and chinchillas all create and ingest caecotrophs as an essential part of their digestive health. 

Not all poop-eating is normal or healthy behavior, though. It is not uncommon for dogs to go through phases of coprophagia (the term used to describe the intentional ingestion of feces), especially as puppies.

In fact, there are treats available over the counter that you can give your puppy specifically to make their feces taste bitter to them. Unlike hamsters and other rodents, though, dog feces offers NO nutritional value and is most commonly considered to be a behavioral issue.

Hamster Poop Is A Superfood For Them

While superfood fads come and go in the human world, hamsters were created with the unique ability to produce their own “superfood” that provides all of the nutrients their bodies require.

The next time you catch your hamster partaking in this nutrient-dense snack, try not to look at it from the human lens and instead marvel at the wonder of nature. You can learn more about caring for hamsters here.

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