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Hedgehog FAQ [6/7] - Advanced Topics in Hedgehoggery
Section - <10.1> Breeding

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Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [6/7] - Advanced Topics in Hedgehoggery
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Next Document: <10.2> General care for babies
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Breeding hedgehogs can be both the most rewarding, and the most
heart-wrenching of endeavors.  Few activities can come close to matching the
wonders and pleasures of having babies, but at the same time the dangers
involved, and problems that can arise are very great.

I'm not going to try and cover all the basics of animal husbandry, here --
that's a topic better left to many books on the subject.  I'm only going to
address hedgehog issues.  Besides, if you don't know the basics of husbandry
and breeding, you should not be considering it -- at least not yet.

Baby hedgehogs are nothing short of addictively cute.  If you think an adult
can steal your heart, beware that a mother being followed by a litter of
adorable little hoglets is many levels of magnitude cuter.  The reason for
this warning is that it can be very easy to fall into the trap of breeding
just to enjoy the babies.  There is an immense responsibility that goes with
breeding, and it should not be undertaken lightly -- these are living,
feeling animals, and that thought must always be at the forefront of your
mind.

If you are going to breed, make very very sure of the following, first:

    (1) That you are willing to risk losing the mother, due to
    complications!

    (2) That you can find good, caring homes for ALL the babies.  This can
    certainly include you, but remember, you may need as many as 8 new
    cages or enclosures to keep the results of one litter!

    (3) If there are complications with the birth, or problems with the
    babies, it might entail some not inconsiderable veterinary bills.

    (4) If mom rejects the babies, you might have to take care of them (a
    very considerable effort), or have them put to sleep.


Okay, you've considered the points, above, and you want to breed your
hedgehog(s).  The following will cover various points of breeding.  For
actual caring for the babies (with or without mom), please see sections
[10.2] and [10.3]

    [Credit for much of what follows is largely thanks to various breeder
    friends that I've met over the past few years, and some of my own,
    minor experiences.  I hope you will forgive me for not listing you by
    name, as the points are `mostly' a blend of all your wisdom! -Ed.]

I would strongly recommend that you seek out an experienced hedgehog breeder
and spend some time talking with him/her.  I don't have the experience or the
space to cover all the information that you really should know.  Also, having
someone you can turn to with questions will prove more than invaluable.

First, a few guidelines for deciding who, of prickly nature, to put together
for the romantic event.  To breed hedgehogs, obviously, the minimum you need
is a male and a female, but there are many other points to consider.
Breeding of ill tempered hedgehogs is not a good idea, breeding of related
hedgehogs can also be a bad idea.  Choose the hedgehogs to be bred with some
care.  This can be for colour, temperament, or other values, but don't be
indiscriminant.

Females should not be bred before at least 5 months of age, as they have not
finished growing and maturing themselves.  Once bred, the hormonal changes
will basically stop further maturation, and the drain on their metabolisms
caused by having babies while still trying to grow themselves, can have
permanent adverse affects on their health.

Males, too, should not be bred before about 4-5 months, although the side
effects are not as problematic for them.  The biggest problem is that they
just may not be up to the task, at least as well as they should be.

Also, don't breed a female for the first time, if she is beyond 1.5 years
old.  If you do, there is a very good chance that the bones in her pelvic
area will have fused, such that she will not be able to have the babies.  If
you are not sure how old she is, but suspect she may be beyond 1.5, don't
risk it!

There is also a point at about 3.5 years of age, when many females become
menopausal.  Breeders will often note that litter sizes may taper off as this
age is approached.

Finally, after each litter, it is important to give your female a break to
recover from the effort.  I would not recommend any more than 3 litters per
year.  Beyond that is going to place an unnecessary drain on the female, and
affect her health (and her ability to produce and care for ongoing litters).
More than this number of litters per year really suggests that you are not
breeding hedgehogs, but trying to run a production line.


Breeding hedgehogs is not difficult, but it does come with a wide variety of
problems.  Probably most notable is that mother hedgehogs will tend to eat
the babies if disturbed at all for a few days prior to, and for up to about
10 days after the birth.  This can be heartbreaking and very frustrating to
would be breeders.

By our (human) standards, this sort of thing is unthinkable, and very hard to
accept.  Before you think too badly of hedgehogs for this, take a look at
their natural environment.  In the wild, any kind of disturbance is all but
certainly a predator that WILL eat the babies (mom can and will try to defend
them, but in a burrow, there's only so much she can hope to do).  Because
finding enough food and energy to develop the babies is a very difficult
thing in the rather harsh conditions in which our little friends are native,
mother hedgehogs cannot afford to lose all of that.  In the end, it's a
matter of survival to ``reabsorb'' the babies, in this way, then to lose all
of that to a passing predator.  If all are lost, try again in 3 months.  If
losing litters continues to happen, it might be that the female is just not
cut out to be a mom, and it would be better not to breed her.


So, for the actual amourous encounter, what is needed?  Actually, not that
much.  Simply put the two loverhogs together, sit back, and watch the fun.
Male hedgehogs know what to do (females do as well, but will often play hard
to get).  Males will usually squeak very loudly and plaintively when they
encounter a female -- and the actual courtship antics are usually VERY
entertaining.

There are opinions both ways on whose cage (hers or his) to use, but most
breeders seem to prefer to use the male's cage, under the assumption that the
female will be more receptive, and the male will feel less out of place and
more inclined to do his `duty.'  It is wise to remove as many items from the
cage as is reasonable, while they are together, such as wheels, extra dens,
and items that make good hiding places for a female who wants to defend her
honour.  Even so, you can pretty much count on the entire cage being severely
`redecorated' frequently and often!

Hedgehogs DO have a `heat,' or estrus cycle, and are not entirely induced
ovulators, as had been previously thought.  The cycle is typically about 9
days on, followed by 7 days off, but is not absolute.

In order to catch the cycle, many breeders will put the male and female
together for about 4-5 days, separate them for 4 days, then put them back
together for another 4-5 days.  Others breeders have suggested using a single
10-day period, while others still will use only a single 3-day get together,
observing the female to see if she is responsive.  Experience and trial and
error will likely be your best guides here.  If you have spoken to a breeder
with experience, try the schedule that they use, or one of the schedules
mentioned here.  In most cases, the pair will get along quite well, but do
watch out as sometimes fights will occur.


Once the romance has passed, it is now time to separate the pair.  Now that
mating is over, the father to be, can drop out of the picture, as he plays no
further role in what follows.  Keeping the male in with the female when the
babies arrive is virtually guaranteed to have them both eat the babies.


Is your female pregnant?  Well, this is another place that I can only offer
theory.  Personally, I have gotten it wrong (both ways) far more often than
right!  As you might guess, it can be quite difficult to tell if a hedgehog
is pregnant, but there are some clues to look for.  Probably one of the best
methods is to weigh her every few days, and watch for a weight gain.
Obviously, this goes part and parcel with an increase in appetite.  Next, if
you are very careful, and gentle, you can palpate her abdomen, and you `may'
be able to feel the babies as she gets closer to the birthing date.
Achieving good results with this is very difficult, even for experienced
breeders, so don't be dismayed if you can't tell anything from it.  Another
sign to watch out for is that her teats or nipples (which run in two rows
along the sides of her tummy, will become more enlarged, and more obvious.

As time gets closer to the birth, typically within about the last week, there
are a few more signs.  One of these to look for is the odour from her urine
often becomes noticably stronger.  She may also exhibit signs of `nesting'
where she may make piles of bedding material, or even block up her den
entrance.  She will also likely lose appetite in the day or so prior to the
babies being born.

In spite of these signs, it's easy to be wrong in thinking she may be
pregnant when she is not, or that she is not pregnant when she is.  Trust me!
This is one place I have AMPLE personal experience to speak from!  Because of
this, I strongly recommend that you always assume that she IS pregnant until
WELL past her last possible due date.


Speaking of the due date, the gestation period for hedgehogs is approximately
35 days.  I have heard of births happening from about 33 days through to
about 42, so the 35 is not absolute.  Most will be within the 34-37 day
range, however.


This generally brings us to the end of the actual breeding topic.  I will add
a few further comments, here, as they relate to the mother, and health
issues, but I would direct you to section [10.2] on general care for the
babies which really takes up where this description leaves off.


After the birth, mom's appetite will likely skyrocket.  Give her all the
high-quality food she wants.  This is not a time for diets, as she is trying
to produce enough milk for her hungry hoglets.  She will also go through a
lot more fresh water than normal.  Just be careful about disturbances as you
go into her cage to feed or water her.  If mom appears overly exhausted, or
wobbly, extra vitamins or supplements, such as KMR (Kitten Milk Replacement)
may help.  Also treats (not too much) of cottage cheese or sour cream may
help keep her calcium levels up, as she produces large quantities of hedgehog
milk.

The good news is that there really isn't much for you to do -- it's largely a
case of mom knows best.


Following the birth, keep an eye on the mother for possible complications.
If mom either loses the babies (not that unusual) or seems very inactive,
possibly lying out of her den, and/or not eating, it may be that she has
suffered a problem during birth, or that one or more babies are still caught
inside her.  If you think this might be the case, get her to a veterinarian,
quickly -- especially if she lost her babies, and is acting like this.  There
is much a vet can do to help in a situation like this, but it is imperitive
that you get her there quickly.  The longer the problem exists, the greater
the likelihood that you will lose the mother in addition to the babies.


Recently, Matt Scott sent me a great synopsis of birthing dos and don'ts and
especially on dealing with mothers that attack or reject their babies.  It
covers things much better than I could:

     Of course the ideal situation is to leave the babies with their mother 
     as her milk will provide not only the proper balance of nutrients, 
     protein and fats, but also necessary antibodies to help the babies 
     fight a world of germs in infections.  Now there are good mothers and 
     bad mothers in this world but sadly it's impossible to know what you 
     have until the first litter arrives.  Good mothers tend to their babies,
     nurse them and raise the litter without problems.  Bad mothers sometimes
     reject and other times attack their babies, but most mothers can be 
     taught to care for their young. 

     Minimizing stress before and after birth is paramount.  Keep the mother 
     in a dark, quiet corner covered with a sheet with an abundance of bedding,
     food and water so you don't need to enter the cage.  If the mother gets 
     stressed for any reason she can kill the babies, especially if she is 
     nervous in the first place (a huffy hedgehog).  If this happens there are
     still some things that can be tried to turn things around.  The easiest 
     approach is to leave the father in the cage with her throughout the 
     pregnancy and child rearing, often with rodents the father will defend 
     the babies from a bad mother and persuade her to nurse.  Removing the 
     father should be done immediately after she is impregnated if he is to be
     moved, removing him just before birth will stress the mother 
     significantly.  A more time consuming approach is to distract the mother
     with a treat she likes (I've heard of jello cubes working well as well as
     slices of banana or mango) while the babies are trying to latch on to her
     nipples.  The idea is that she will care more about the treat than the 
     babies, feel full so she is not stressed about a lack of food  and even 
     begin to associate suckling with something positive and learn to enjoy it.
     Of course, if this doesn't work and she still lunges at them you will 
     then have to remove the babies for hand feeding.

     An alternate approach is to have two pregnant mothers share a cage, one 
     you know is a good mother and the new/bad mother.  If you can time the 
     29 day gestation periods such that the good mother gives birth a day or 
     two before the other mother, and the bad mother still turns on her litter,
     the good mother will generally defend and adopt the extra babies, nursing
     them as her own.  The idea here is that the bad mother will have a tutor
     on what to do with babies when the hoglets arrive.  Next time she has a 
     litter she will be familiar with how to care for her babies and be able 
     to do it on her own.

     If the babies must be removed then you have quite a handful for the next
     few weeks.  One thing I learned is that hedgehogs only require 5 to 10% 
     of their body weight in food each 24 hour period.  What this means is a 
     newborn hedgehog weighing only 10 to 12 grams can have at most 1 
     milliliter of formula over the entire day, divided into hourly feedings.
     This might not seem like very much food, but it is enough to keep them 
     growing and likely more than they would get from their mom in full day 
     of suckling.  Babies of any species (birds, fish and mammals) are 
     voracious eaters and commonly eat more than they can handle.  In fact, 
     feeding a newborn hedgehog even a little more than this will cause their
     intestines to impact, stomachs to bloat and distend, and their colon to 
     rupture.  Within a couple hours of rupture they will die of septic shock.
     This was my error, I was so excited to see them eating and pooping (upon
     stimulation of the perianal area with a warm damp cloth as recommended) 
     that I let them eat until they stopped and it was entirely too much.  
     They all died of sepsis.

     I got these suggestions from Carol Lavery who is very experienced in 
     breeding many different kinds of rodents and Dr. Ali Ashkar a former 
     vet and current university professor.  I think they are valuable for 
     someone who might be in a similar position as me in the future.
     -- Matt Scott 


User Contributions:

Rio
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
Hi, my hedgehog started running around her cage squealing so I took her out to see what was wrong. Her genital area was inflamed and she had open sores all around that area. I gave her a bath, but I'm really worried about her. Do you have any idea what this could be?
Thank you!

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Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [6/7] - Advanced Topics in Hedgehoggery
Previous Document: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE
Next Document: <10.2> General care for babies

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