Hamster Tales - They Eat Their Own Poop!

It was gross – until it wasn’t!

Shoot! They’re cleaning my home. Help! Save my poop stash! Photo of a worried hamster by Anu Anniah

It is true. Hamsters eat their own poop. Other animals do as well. Just one of those ‘not to be discussed openly’ facts, I guess. So we had never heard about it.

Our hamster goes by the name Bushy. It doesn’t matter what we call him actually. Unlike dogs and cats, he doesn’t come running when we call him. We don’t mind. He makes up for this and all other rude behavior by being unbearably cute.

Bushy arrived as a surprise Christmas gift for my daughter. She was excited and spent the next few days sitting in front of his home studying him carefully. She gushed about everything and I was summoned at regular intervals to share the gushiness.

At one point, she said, “Ma, Bushy ate its poop.” I pooh-poohed her. I didn’t believe her at all.

I was immediately summoned to sit next to her and watch Bushy. Nothing happened and I dismissed her claim.

Oh shit! Caught. I plead guilty. Photo by Anu Anniah

A few days later, I was sitting in front of Bushy and studying him. You can’t blame me. Everything he does is so adowwable!! And then it happened. If I had blinked, I’d have missed it.

Bushy bent his head down and with a quick flick of his mouth, he plucked his poop straight out of its exit point and swallowed it. Whoa!

I reached for my phone at once. When you have a pet as cute as Bushy, you always have your phone handy so as to not miss a photo moment. And you miss it anyway since you are never fast enough.

I asked Google ‘do hamsters eat their own poop?

Answer — of course, they do. It is instinctive and necessary. This trait of eating one’s own poop has a name. Coprophagy.

Why? Why? Don’t we feed them enough?

After reading a dozen articles I have understood that hamsters have an underdeveloped digestive system. This means they don’t absorb all the required nutrients at the first pass. That’s why they deftly pop their poop back in to give their body another chance at absorption.

Once we understood this, my daughter and I forgave ourselves and poor Bushy. We don’t have to feel guilty that we are not giving Bushy good food. We also don’t need to hurt Bushy by saying ‘ewwww’ each time he pops a poop in. He knows what’s best for him. We don’t.

Poop hoarder

In the early days, we were very confused hamster parents. We found Bushy eating poop. Researched. Found an answer. Settled down.

But why does Bushy hoard all his poop? It is quite charming to see him pulling out his tiny, pellet-shaped poop and flicking it expertly with his mouth into his food corner. But we didn’t understand why he did that.

I am still a little unclear about this aspect. Some articles stated that he may save some of those pellets for later consumption. That may be true. I have seen Bushy carefully choosing a few of the stored pellets and crunching on them later. Turns out they have built-in mechanisms to figure out the useful poop from the not-so-useful. They are so clever! Human babies on the other hand — never mind, let’s not start a new topic here.

All in all, this little habit displayed by Bushy has been quite a learning experience. Who knew about coprophagy? And who knew we’d one day have a coprophagous animal living in our home? And that we’d still love him and cuddle him without thinking ‘ewwwwww’.

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