Hand Raising Baby Hedgehogs
One of the most difficult times for hedgehog owners comes if a new mother hedgehog rejects some or all of her babies, or otherwise can't manage to provide for all of them. Unfortunately, it is fairly common for hedgehogs to eat their babies and/or reject them, especially if it is a first litter or if the mother was disturbed (mother hedgehogs need considerable peace and quiet). Many hedgehog owners are bothered quite badly by these actions on the part of the hedgehog, as they are extremely foreign concepts to humans, but they are (sadly) perfectly natural and normal amongst hedgehogs.
Before deciding to hand feed, try returning rejected babies to the nest (using a spoon to avoid getting your scent on them), or if possible by fostering with another mother who is nursing (rub the babies in bedding from that mother's cage to have them smell familiar). Many breeders will purposely breed two females at the same time for this purpose, though I caution that fostering does not always work.
All that having been said, what do you do if you decide you need to hand feed baby hedgehogs? The first thing is to convince yourself that sleep is an undesirable luxury, as you will be feeding the babies every 2-3 hours (yes, that means night and day) for about 3+ weeks. If you're still up to trying, what do you feed them, and how?
I'll address the easy part first - how. For this, among the best items are plastic syringes (without needles), eye-droppers, or plastic pipettes (the type with the suction bulb at the end). The idea is to be able to provide a minute but reasonably available stream of 'milk' to the baby in a controlled manner.
Next is the question of what to feed them. Generally, the rule about avoiding or limiting cows' milk for adult hedgehogs also applies to babies, and maybe even more so. That having been said, I have heard of one little tyke who wouldn't drink anything else, and at last word was doing just fine.
Caring for the young is simple enough as long as you have a good milk to feed them. I have discovered that sheeps' milk is the closest in composition to hhog milk and acts as an excellent substitute when mixed with raw egg. It may for the first few days cause swelling of the anus, but as soon as they start teething (3 weeks) you can add mashed banana for fibre and their problems clear up. It's a very high protein diet but one must watch for a vitamin B deficiency which can be caused by too much raw egg. I had my two hoglets suckling on a syringe for the first week and 1/2 until their teeth erupted (this takes three days for a full set to emerge!!) then simply start using a saucer and they will naturally feed from it themselves.
Using goats' milk is also a good subsitute. I do need to caution, however, about the use of raw eggs, as they can cause problems of their own, this, however, may be one situation where bending those rules is worthwhile.
Goat's milk can be found in our nursing department.
Please make VERY sure that you follow the steps to induce them to defecate afterwards - not doing so will certainly cause bloating and lead to tragedy.
One thing to watch out for in feeding baby hedgehogs, is that after each feeding you must stimulate them to defecate and urinate, otherwise their bladder and bowel will swell up and can even burst. To do this, simply stroke along their tummy towards the anus, which simulates a mother licking and grooming her babies. You can also do this with a warm damp tissue or cloth. The idea isn't to squeeze anything out, just to stimulate the baby to do it's business.
Remember that hand raising baby hedgehogs is very difficult, and if you try and meet with tragedy, remember that you gave them much more of a chance than they would have had without you. Whatever happens, don't give up and decide that hedgehogs are bad, or that it's not worth having hoglets - it's just hedgehog nature, and next time may well be nothing short of magical.
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