Hedgehog Care (African)
Susan Horton, DVM
Baby Hedgehog (Hoglet) Care
Written by: Dr. Justine Hammond, DVM
Help! My new hedgehog just gave birth unexpectedly!
Lately, Chicago Exotics has received numerous calls and office visits due to unplanned births in recently purchased female hedgehogs. I would like to share some information on what to do in this situation but please realize that this information is not for the purpose of intentionally breeding hedgehogs. If you are interested in starting a breeding operation, I encourage you to contact local breeders, join hedgehog-breeding groups and become active in hedgehog rescue and welfare groups in order to gain a more thorough understanding of hedgehog breeding. If you find that you have a female that has given birth to a litter, I encourage you to call your local exotics veterinarian and join Hedgehog Help Group (Yahoo!) or Hedgehog Welfare Society Group for more information and guidance.
Females reach sexual maturity at 61-68 days old, however, most first pregnancies occur around 6-8 months old. Be aware, that females can become pregnant anytime after sexual maturity. If a female has been in contact with a male and gains over 50g in the following 3 weeks, she may be pregnant. Pregnant females need extra nutrition during pregnancy and lactation. Supplement them with prescription high calorie cat food or a high quality kitten food during this time. Gestation time (number of days in a hedgehog pregnancy) is between 34-37 days.
Females usually give birth at night or early morning. Females are solitary and may injure or kill her young if disturbed. It is important to remove any cagemates and to leave her and her litter undisturbed for at least 5-10 days after birth. If you know your female is pregnant, cagemates should be removed at least 5 days before birth. Mom and babies should be kept in a quiet, secluded spot in your house. Supplemental heat should always be provided to hedgehogs and is especially important for new moms and hoglets (see HH care sheet for more info). Recycled newspaper bedding can be provided for nesting.
The owner should also realize that, unfortunately, females recently purchased and new to the home, may be young and/or under significant psychological stress. Once we add pregnancy to the female’s health demands, mothers may be significantly taxed. Viability of the litter is not always attainable under these circumstances, even with the best of care.
Hedgehog and Her Hoglets
Usually mom gives birth to between 3-5 hoglets but size of litter can range from 1-7. Normally, the hoglets stay in a nest or by mom’s side and nurse frequently. Quietly visually check on mom and hoglets a couple of times daily. Again, hedgehog mothers can become very distressed with handling or noise and may abandon or harm her young. Check to make sure that mom is eating. This may be medical emergency if she stops eating following giving birth. This is because females are prone to complications in the birthing process and our only clue that this is going on may be that she stops eating. Contact your local veterinarian if you are concerned. When looking at the litter also make sure that the babies are in a nest, are unharmed and you may even see or hear suckling. If you see young that are injured, consistently pushed out of the nest and left out or if you are concerned that the young are not nursing, contact your veterinarian. After about 5 days, you may be able to spot clean the enclosure but do not disturb the nest area until about 10 days and if mom seems distressed with you present, stop and try again another day.
Hoglets should open their eyes around day 13- 24 and mom will start to wean the young at around 4-6 weeks. You can provide them with high quality wet food for cats or with a high- quality dry food for kittens. Hoglets can be removed from mom’s care at 7 weeks. Remember, males need to be separated from females around this time as well.
There are situations that arise in which mothers are unable physically or unwilling to raise litters. If this occurs fostering to a mother with a litter of the same age can be successful. Many breeders and rescue organizations can help you find a foster. Joining Hedgehog Help Group (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/hedgehog_help/) or Hedgehog welfare society’s group (http://pets.groups.yahoo.com/group/hedgehogwelfare/) will lead you to these resources and rescues.
Quesenberry, KE & Carpenter, JW, eds. Rabbits, Ferrets and Rodents, Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. St, Louis, WB Saunders, 2004, pp 343- 344.
Johnson, DH. Common Conditions of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Western Veterinary Conference. 2004.
Personal communication, Mr. Floyd Aprill, Vice President of the Hedgehog Breeders Alliance and Owner of Milwaukee SuperPogs (http://superpogs.users4.50megs.com/index.htm)
Please contact Chicago Exotics (502) 241-4117 or your local exotics specialist for more information or if you have any concerns.
Most of the hedgehogs that are kept in the United States as pets are from Africa. Their origin is the African Savanna, though none are brought in from the wild anymore. Most African pygmy hedgehogs, (Atelerix spp.) available are bred locally. These cute little creatures are fun and fascinating. The following paragraphs have some quick helpful hints on basic care.
A wire cage, aquarium, or a plastic children’s pool can be used to house your pet. A heavy food dish and a sipper water bottle attached to the side of the cage should be provided. Hedgies like to hide in burrows therefore a den is needed. A section of 4″-6″diameter PVC (plastic) plumbing pipe works well as a den or hide place. You can get this at almost any hardware or plumbing store. Some hedgies will use a shallow litter box or pan. Bedding should consist of hay, critter country, and aspen shavings or recycled newspaper bedding. Do not use cedar or pine shavings, they contain aromatic oils that cause irritation to the eyes, mucous membranes and respiratory tract. An exercise wheel is also recommended. It should have a solid cylinder so that the hedgies feet don’t get caught. Hedgehogs tend to be surprisingly energetic, and need the chance to use up some of this energy.
Hedgehogs are insectivores, and as a result are essentially carnivorous like cats, as opposed to guinea pigs, rabbits, and most small rodents, which are generally vegetarian. High quality cat or kitten food such as Hill’s Science Diet or Iams, hedgehog maintenance diet (multiple sources) or ferret food (Marshall Farms is recommended. Both dry and canned food should be provided. They also eat earthworms, pinkie mice, and mealworms. Small amounts of beta-carotene rich veggies should also be provided.
Handling your Hedgehog
You may be lucky enough to acquire a very friendly outgoing baby who accepts you almost instantly. Not all-new hedgehogs are so adaptable. Getting your hedgehog to become familiar with you will take patience. Spend more time holding him. He will get used to you and begin to relax. Hedgehogs have poor eyesight. They use smell as their primary sense. Your hedgie will learn to identify you by smell. The best way to do this is to spend time with your pet several times a day just gently holding it to allow it to adjust to you and learn to recognize your scent. Picking up a hedgehog, or otherwise handling him is difficult, at least until he gets to know your smell. Never wear gloves when handling your pet. This blocks your scent and confuses your pet. The best way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him. Never grasp a hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the middle should he decide to roll into a ball. As your hedgehog adjusts to being held, it will come to you with his quills lying flat, allowing you to play with, and pet him.
If a hedgehog smells something interesting, it will often begin to contort itself, start foaming at the mouth and lick the foam onto its spines. This behavior is referred to as self-anointing. The snuffling or snorting while having the head tucked down is a defense mechanism. It leaves them with their quills protecting every bit of visible surface, but still allows the hedgehog to move. This behavior is usually accompanied by sudden lurches in the direction the hedgehog believes its potential enemy is in, to try and give it a good warning prickle. The more your hedgehog comes to know you, the less defensive it will become.
A common concern is whether or not pet hedgehogs hibernate – especially as winter starts to arrive. The answer is generally no. However, if the temperature where they are kept drops too low (below 68 degrees F), they can start preparing for hibernation. If the temperature drops much below this the hog may hibernate for brief periods. If the hedgehog doesn’t respond to stimulation then it needs to be warmed up. Another sign of a hedgehog that is too cool is going off its food. A chilled hedgehog will walk as if it is drunk. If your hedgehog isn’t eating, and is walking a bit funny, it may be because he is too cool. These signs may also indicate serious illness. If these signs do not resolve when your hog is warmed up, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Hedgehogs as young as 6 weeks old can mate. If you do have young hogs, remember to separate them before this age if you do not want them to breed. BABIES! See our Hoglet page!!
- Sarcoptic mange: Mites are fairly common skin parasites of hedgehogs. Signs of mite infestation include loss of quills, crusty deposits around the eyes, ears, and base of the quills. Treatment of the mites involves both injectable medication that kills the mites as they feed on the skin of the hedgehog and medicated baths performed once a week that kill the mites on the surface of the skin. While mites are not particularly difficult to treat, the problem causes discomfort to the pet and can become serious if left untreated.
- Obesity: Hedgehogs can easily become overweight, partially due to their potential for hibernation. They often gain weight in preparation for a lengthy hibernation that never comes. Letting them hibernate is NOT the answer — a diet and exercise are. If your hedgehog is over weight, consult your veterinarian. Decrease in food intake, switching the diet to a light formula and increased exercise may be recommended.
- Diarrhea: Normal hedgehog droppings can range from almost pellet-like to quite soft and sticky. Color is usually very dark brown. Depending on diet, especially treats, they can vary quite a bit. If your hedgehog is having unusual droppings after having had a treat or change in diet a day or so before, then it is probably related to what he ate. If the problem continues (assuming the hedgehog is back on his normal diet), or if your hedgehog is suffering from severe diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately. Giardia is a common parasite of hedgies and should be treated.
- Anorexia (not eating): Loss of appetite is often the sign of either a sick, depressed, or especially a chilled hedgehog. They can also have severe periodontal disease. Remember, given a hedgehog’s small size, not eating can become deadly in very short period of time. If the situation persists for more than a couple of days, contact your veterinarian.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.