Hamsters have to eat their own poop to survive.
As you probably already know, hamsters do things a lot differently from humans. They sleep during the day. They have babies quickly. They use their tongues to bathe. They run in wheels – for hours and hours. They are most active at night.
Small animals (like hamsters and rabbits) are hindgut fermenters. This means they digest much of their food in the cecum, which is located where the large intestine and the small intestine meet. It is in around the same location as the appendix in humans. Cows also have to digest food a second time, but they do this by chewing their cud, which is brought back up from the stomach, not passed through the body and eliminated.
Beneficial microflorae ( bacteria and protozoa) live in the hamster’s digestive tract and help your pet digest food. These microflorae produce by-products such as water-soluble vitamins and amino acids, which are necessary for the hamster to survive. The nutrients that are produced add a great deal to a hamster’s balanced diet.
Some of the nutrients that are produced are absorbed directly into the hamster’s digestive tract. However, some of these nutrients are not available to the hamster unless it consumes special droppings that contain the special nutrients manufactured by the microflorae. The consumption of these special droppings is called coprophagy. Sometimes called night faeces, the soft faeces containing this nutritional material is often eaten directly from the anus, so you will probably never see these droppings.
The droppings that you usually see in the bottom of your hamster’s housing area are a different type, and they are often hard. These are not of any nutritional value to your pet, so they are kept in the same spot that other waste is kept. Consumption of these droppings could lead to illness due to harmful bacteria in urine and bedding. (Do not worry – your hamster can tell the difference and will not consume the wrong type.) The droppings left when a hamster is frightened or stressed are also of no nutritional value and are not consumed.
When does this poop eating take place?
Hamsters generally participate in this activity during the night or early morning hours, so you may not even see this happen. But some concerned hamster owners have become alarmed after seeing this process. It is a perfectly natural activity and is crucial for the good health of your pet. Do not be alarmed if you see your hamster engaging in this necessary behaviour. Please do not disturb them during this process, because this can cause stress and poor nutrition. Stress is a significant factor in causing illness and disease in hamsters, and nutrition is vital in the prevention of illness.
Although it might be a practice you find disgusting, it is perfectly natural for your pet, and digesting food for a second time is crucial for his continued wellbeing.