To Be a Hedgehog Breeder

Published: 27th January 2012
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So you want to be a hedgehog breeder. Great! But before making such a decision, you must consider that hedgehogs are now a product and need an active market, or you’ll just be wasting your time trying. You probably shouldn’t go about breeding just because you want some hoglets because of the care required of the parents. The mother alone will have personality changes, often drastic, once she becomes pregnant as well as after she’s given birth. A sad truth that’ll turn many away is the fact that mothers can be very unstable. They may go as far as infanticide if they are disturbed during or after the hoglets’ birth, and may actually kill or actually eat the hoglets. After a birth, you’ll be spending a few weeks time with the hoglets, playing with them and handling them in hopes to bring a lovable personality out in their hoglet-hoods.

Before you make a decision, you must consider a few factors:
Are you able to deal with the rejection your female hedgie may have for you after birth?
Can you be passive and patient, and let her and her hoglet newborns be alone?
When the little ones are old enough, do you have the time to spend playing with them every day until they have a new home?
If you cannot answer “YES” to all the questions above, then stop here! Go no further.

As a hedgehog breeder, you must be very decisive on parents. You generally want them to be comformative, strong, healthy and to come from healthy parents. Both of these parents should come with charming personalities as this trait will most likely be inherited by hoglets. If an animal has a crude personality, or is generally ill-tempered, it is not to be bred with. It’s irresponsible as you don’t want those less-lovable traits passed onto the young!

The female you choose should be somewhere between 5-12 months of age. If she’s any younger, her internal organs may be permanently damaged. If she is older than 12 months, there will be a significant decrease in the chances of conception.

Now, you’re going to be bringing the female hedgie into the male’s cage, as it’ll be a surefire way to get them to breed. You’ll need to clear the cage of any toys, boxes, tubes or other obstacles that might get in their way. After that, leave the female in the male’s cage with him for about seven days.

It’s also rather amusing to watch as the mating process is hardly romantic. The male will actually squeak and chase the female all over the cage, and she’ll be resisting to the best of her ability, hissing, spitting and even butting heads. It might look like they’re fighting, although this is rather typical. Once she decides to give in or stop resisting, her quills will be laid back and she’ll be laying flat upon the floor and push out her soft-haired rump. Now the male will mount and breed. Some male hogs are actually shy and won’t do this while you’re watching and will wait for you to leave. It’s generally best to just leave them along for the entire process — remember, seven days!

Once the seven days are over, it’s time to return the female to her own cage, which should be cleaned and disinfected. Not quite a necessity, but you could always repeat the process a week later if you want to make sure she’s pregnant. A word of caution: don’t leave the male with a female who is pregnant or due to give birth as both parents might eat the babies!

It is imperative that you log your breeding well, down to the calendar date with the names of the hedgehogs as well as the exact days they spent together. Thirty five days after pregnancy is when the hoglets are due, so you should mark down the days you expect them. Write in their names, ages, and colors as all of this information can prove valuable later.

While 35 days is the general expectancy, some give birth as early as thirty days or as late as 46. Though, most of the hedgehogs will have a typical 34-36 day pregnancy. Make sure you wait as long as 46 days before declaring her pregnancy a failure.

You’re going to want to have a nest-box in place about one week prior to the first coming due date. You can pick from a selection of next box designs — there are even some units available commercially. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. For instance, you could build one yourself from a one-gallon plastic ice cream pail (this method is actually pretty popular among hedgehog breeders). If it has a handle, remove it, and make sure you give it a thorough cleaning. The lid is going to become the flooring, so you want to flip the pail upside down and cut a hole that’s about 4 inches wide in the side. Make sure that the bottom of the hole starts about an inch an inch above the floor. Toss some shavings in it and you should have a nice nest box to place in the corner of the female’s cage. Having that one-inch wall will keep the hoglets from getting free. After they’ve been weaned, the plastic can be cleaned and disinfected with relative ease.

While she’s in the ending stages of pregnancy, roughly the last two weeks, increase her food and check on her daily. You should clean her cage (although you don’t really have to disinfect it) roughly three days before her earliest expected due date. Keep checking on her daily until one of two things happens:
She misses a meal
You hear a sort of chirping sound of the newborn hedgehogs

If either of those things happen, do not so much as sneak a peek! That first week is a time where the mother requires a term of privacy, and disturbance can cause her to kill or eat the hoglets. In the case that one of the babies falls out of the nest box, you need to gently scoop it up with a spoon while the mother isn’t looking. If you touch it with your hand, the scent might cause the mother to reject the hoglet.

A litter size can range from as little as one, to as many as nine babies. The average litter will be 3-4. As many other animals, when hedgehogs are just born, they are naked, blind, and totally dependant on the mother. After birth, their spines will be covered in a fluid membrane, which will dry an shrink over the next six to twelve hours and the spines will begin to poke through. Spines soft like hair, the harder spines won’t come around for about two weeks. Much like dogs and cats, the mother lines up her hoglets to let them feed. She’s even as attentive as a motherly cat. The hoglets have a rather rapid growth rate in their early stages, and after 4-5 days, you can take a peek at the hogs. Though she will most likely hiss at you, which is her own way of telling you to keep away. Leave her to herself, but do check on them daily until the hoglets are about three weeks old. Feed the mother more during this time, with a wealthy supply of food in her dish as well as plenty of water available.

You are a successful hedgehog breeder! Three weeks into their new lives, the hedgehog babes are old enough to be held and handled. This is about the time that their eyes are opening, about the age of a mobile toddler. They’ve even learned to roll into a little ball! The mother may not like it very much, but you should be able to hold them in your hand now. She’ll hiss at you, and even try jumping at you to protect her hoglets, though this is actually a sign of a good mother. First, you need to take the mother away from that cage and lay her somewhere else for a little while and then start holding the babies one by one, for no more than a minute a piece. Let them unroll in your hand, poke out their little faces, sniff and lick around. When you’re done and lay the mother back in her cage, she most likely won’t be very bitter. Once you set her back in her cage, leave her alone until tomorrow. Hold the young ones for a little while every day until they’re about five weeks old. At that age, you may hold them much longer than the solitary minute of attention you’d initially been giving them. With the mother weaning them, they’ve learned to eat on their own, but you still shouldn’t remove them from their mother’s cage until about six weeks of age due to emotionally dependencies from both the mother and babes.

At the age of six weeks, the mother is generally tired of the self-sufficient hoglets and won’t mind having them taken away. This can be noted from the way she keeps her distance from them, keeping away from the nest. You should have another cage ready at this point. When you remove the little ones and place them in this new cage, make sure you separate the males and females because it is possible for them to breed at this age and.. well! They’re children. You don’t want children breeding. As they continue to grow to about ten weeks of age, the adult spines will also be growing in, which may be a different color than they initially had. The color might change overnight, but this new color will be permanent.

How to deal with rejected hedgehog babes:
This was the responsibility you chose as a hedgehog breeder! Sometimes, it can be heartbreaking. If the hedgehog babe has been rejected by the mother, you can attempt to provide a foster mother hoglet with babies that are about the same age, or you can try to hand-feed it. The mothers are quite wise, though, and can learn of birth defects that we humans can’t see, and so it might be best to trust the mother’s judgment and not try to foster it. However, in the case that the mother becomes sick, or something happens to her, it’s a good idea to try and foster the little one. If there is no other female to put them under, try using FIRST BORN kitten formula. Feed them every three to four hours like it was a baby bird. When feeding them, you also need to stroke at their lower abdomen for urinary stimulation.

The hand-fed hoglet survival rate is very low, as most of them will die within a couple of weeks. You probably should attempt to foster the rejected hoglet instead of trying to hand-feed, as hand-feeding should be a last resort.

Good luck, hedgehog breeders!

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