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Rodent - Infanticide - Causes & Cures

One thing the owners of pet rodents should remember is that
no matter how "cute" and "sweet" little Fluffy or Fido or
Willard may look and act, pets are all animals. Thus the
majority of their actions and interactions are based on in-
built instinct, not conscious thought. As a person it may
seem "bad" or "wrong" to you for an animal to eat its own or
another animal's young, but to the animal it is just an
instinctive response to some environmental or social

Infanticide is usually caused by one or more of a few
situations. The most common situation that leads to
infanticide is the mother rodent killing a baby or babies
that are deformed or wounded. The instinct at work here is
pretty clear; continuing to feed a baby that isn't likely to
survive takes sustenance away from the mother and the
healthy littermates.

The common cause of the killing of entire litters of baby
rodents is when a litter of babies is disturbed in the first
few weeks of their lives, especially if the babies are
handled or moved. Even if the parents don't eat the babies
they may abandon them, as the disturbance affects the
parents just as if a predator has found the nest and
instinct causes the parent's instinct of self-preservation
to outweigh the instinctive care of the infants.

So if you are breeding rodents, you must be very sure to
protect the breeding cage from disturbances of any kind,
from moving the cage, loud noises, food or water shortages,
changes in the animal members of the colony, or disturbance
of the nest, even for cleaning.

The worst offense of all is if the new babies are handled by
humans. The temptation is strong to check on the well-being
of the babies, count them, etcetera, but restrain yourself
until the young ones are at least three weeks old if you
want to avoid the risk of infanticide.

The reason that moving the cage is a problem is that changes
in the lighting could trigger season-related instincts in
the rodents and cause the adults to begin to prepare for
winter by sacrificing the "late litter." Food or water
shortages can trigger the same instincts, as can dramatic
temperature changes.

The secondary cause of infanticide is from animals in the
cage other than the mother. Males will sometimes kill the
litter if there is a conflict between the breeding males in
the cage, and occasionally an unrelated female will eat the
young simply for food. Adult rodents of either gender are less
likely to kill the young if they are related and have been
raised together.

Some species of rodents are much more colonial than other
species, so it is highly recommended that you thoroughly
research your particular rodent species and its optimum
needs before you set up to breed them.

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