So, the question we are going to answer here is whether or not a mouse is going to eat its babies. Now, this is a pretty horrible thing to discuss, but cannibalism is something that happens in the wild, so it’s important to look at it.
In this instance, the answer is that mice can, at times, eat their babies.
In some rare situations mice may eat their babies. This usually happens in the first few days, and can be caused by all sorts of reasons – including a child being stillborn, the mother’s milk running out, or the mother feeling under threat.
Now, before that thought puts you off owning a mouse as a pet, let’s get one thing straight.
This is not a regular event by any means. Actually, it’s rare. Also, there will be a number of extenuating circumstances that will eventually lead a mouse to eat its babies.
In other words, it’s not as clear cut as you may have initially thought.
So, what are the facts you should know about this particular act of mouse cannibalism? I’m going to take a look at the top 9 facts about mice (very occasionally) eating their babies.
Perhaps even more importantly there are also some things you can do to try and stop this from ever happening. I’ll be throwing these tips in throughout this article.
Fact 1 – It Will Happen in the First Few Days
First, this is something that will pretty much only ever happen in the first three or four days after the babies have been born. Anything beyond that time period would be exceptionally rare, event that is already quite rare.
The sort of ‘upper limit’ of a time scale when a baby is at risk would be three weeks. But that does mean something else is going on that is highly unusual to then trigger this behavior. Generally speaking, as long as the babies get past day four, then they should be completely safe with their mother.
Fact 2 – It May Happen as She Had Too Many Babies
One of the main reasons why a mother may eat her babies is because she isn’t coping, and a primary reason is that she had too many babies at the one time. Basically, she is overwhelmed by this, and her way of coping is by pretty much getting rid of some of her babies by eating them. [Source]
This does sound like strange behavior, but there is practically no other way for the mother to try to deal with what is going on. She will feel cornered and as if there’s nothing else for her to do, so she tries to remove them in what must seem like the only logical approach.
The mother will even have a sense of how many young she feels she can care for. She will then go ahead and cull the rest to get her stress levels down, and then be in a position where she can cope.
Of course, there’s nothing you can do to stop this. You can hardly control the number of babies she has, so ultimately you need to hope that she doesn’t have too many babies, especially when it’s her first time.
Fact 3 – It May Be Due to Not Enough Food and Water
If you have not been keeping up to date with supplying fresh food and water, then the sense of desperation that the mother will have about there being no sustenance is going to make her do some strange things. Sadly for her babies, that may very well mean the mother eating them.
This is all about survival. If there’s not enough food or water, then the mother will discover that her survival instinct has kicked in, and that can lead to her doing certain things that she would probably rather not be doing.
But there’s also the natural mothering instinct to think about. If there’s not enough food or water, then the mother will realize this, and her instinct is to protect her young from suffering for too long. Cannibalism is her way of trying to put her babies out of harms way, which is a sad thing when you stop and think about it.
Fact 4 – A Baby was Stillborn
The idea of a baby being stillborn is not unique to us humans. It happens in the mouse world as well.
However, the mother does not react the same way as we do, because if one of her babies is stillborn, then she will eat them after they have been born. This will also apply if the baby is born and dies shortly after due to illness. In this respect, it doesn’t matter the cause, because the mother is still going to react in the exact same way.
What is happening here is something that can be found in various animals in the natural world. They do not see it as a baby having died, but rather they do not want there to be wasted energy there, even though we know that it is their very own baby. [Source]
Once again, this is the survival instinct kicking in even though it then leads to something happening that we struggle to comprehend.
Fact 5 – Her Milk Dried Up
This is closely related to the idea of there being no food or water left, so the mother eats her young, but this time it’s connected to the milk she produces.
It can get to the point where the milk production from the mother dries up. She then feels that she is unable to feed or support her young, so that then leads to the mothering instinct kicking in like we described earlier.
However, in this instance, she feels that her babies are going to suffer due to the fact that she cannot supply them with the milk they need to grow. They are going to be losing out on various nutrients, and the mother is unable to deal with that thought.
This then leads to her taking the drastic decision to eat some of her babies. Her hope is that her culling the number will mean it’s then easier for her to look after those that are left.
Her milk is likely to dry up if she is not able to get the correct sustenance for herself. She needs food and water to produce the milk, so keep this in plentiful supply, and she should be absolutely fine. However, as we saw earlier on, not having enough food can also lead to the mother eating her young, so it really is a bad thing to allow to happen.
Fact 6 – The Mother was Disturbed
If you know that your mouse is pregnant and going to give birth, then leave her alone. This is a time when she is stressed and feels very vulnerable about everything. She will be very easily spooked.
But that’s not the main problem.
The most serious time is after she has given birth. Yes, you may want to see her babies, but please leave her alone. If she feels as if she has been disturbed, and remember she is very vulnerable, then she is going to cull her young.
In short, you would be responsible for her carrying out this act just because you wanted to see what the babies looked like.
Instead, please let her work through those early days of being a mother in peace. If, after a few days, you want to check on the status of the babies, then don’t just dive right in there.
What you should do is to remove the mother from the scene and put her elsewhere. Then, check the babies over to see if they are OK, but try not to touch them. Also, don’t disturb the nest beyond what you need to do.
When putting the mother back, leave her alone after it to check on everything herself, and please be as quick as possible with all of this.
Fact 7 – It was a Mistake
Yes, this fact is that there’s every possibility that the mother went ahead and ate one of her babies completely by mistake.
The mother is going to eat the placenta after birth, and that’s completely normal in the animal world, but if she is new to being a mother, then there’s every possibility she could make a mistake. The outcome is the real possibility of her eating one of her young instead of stopping with the placenta.
This is something that is most likely going to happen with the first litter that the mother has. This is a seriously steep learning curve for the mother, and mistakes can happen, with this perhaps being the ultimate mistake that she could ever make.
While this is a real tragedy, this is still very rare.
Fact 8 – It was Her First Litter
If this is the first litter that the mother has had, then it may be the case that she had no idea as to what she should be doing with the litter. Ultimately, she panics and culls some of her young as she is completely clueless.
This is very sad, but then all of the different facts are sad in their own way, as the mother is highly stressed and would not have gone down this road if she understood what it was that she was supposed to be doing.
Now, there is a way around this. You can have something akin to a midwife for a mouse, and that means having another mouse in there that has already been through this process. The mouse that is having their first litter will learn from the other mouse, and that will reduce the stress she feels at being a mother.
This isn’t a guaranteed solution, but it will certainly reduce the chances of anything untoward happening in those first few days.
This is something that will tend to only happen with the first litter. If you see the mother doing the exact same thing with a second litter, then you need to take action and stop her from having a third litter. It means she is practically unfit to be a mother as something is going wrong with the entire process.
Fact 9 – She Feels Under Threat
This is an act of love as the mother has interpreted something as being an immediate threat and danger to her young, so she wants to protect them. She knows they cannot run away and hide as they have just been born, so she comes up with a plan to protect them in another way.
By making sure that they do not suffer from whichever threat the mother feels exists, she is effectively putting them out of harms way in a manner that she feels is better for them. Also, there is partly a sense of her wanting to get some extra energy herself to get away from the threat, so there is an aspect of it being rather self-serving for her.
So, there you have it. A total of nine facts all about the reasons why a mother mouse may indeed go ahead and eat her babies, or even just one of them.
It’s never a nice topic to cover, but as you can see, there are very specific reasons behind it happening in the first place. However, you need to accept that there are only a few of the reasons you are able to counteract and then stop it from happening. Unfortunately, you cannot do anything about nature and natural instinct.
But make sure there’s always water, food, and a safe place to nest. In doing so, you will automatically reduce the chances of the mother getting herself into a position whereby she will then want to go ahead and eat her babies.
Now, surely any pet owner would want to do the best they could for their pet?