FAQ - Caring for hoglets - Part 1

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Always into something...
Jan 28, 2009
Bowling Green, KY
Written by jandshyne:

Caring for and Weaning Hoglets

Caring for hoglets can be very fun and very rewarding. It can also be very heartbreaking. Often there is a runt of the litter who just can’t seem to gather strength. Mom may cannibalize this runt or you may find yourself faced with having to intervene on his behalf and help him along. Unfortunately with hedgehog breeding intervention can awful have fatal consequences so you have to weigh the possible outcomes. You may have to choose to let him fight it out on his own rather than risk the cannibalization of the entire litter. Only you know your female and what she will tolerate. Take your cues from her. If she seems very protective, panicking and huffing if you come near her cage, she will probably not tolerate any kind of intervention from you. If she’s normally a very sweet, very laid back girl and she becomes quite huffy prior to delivery or after delivery then your best bet is to let nature take its course. If however she doesn’t seem any different to you, if she still greets you when you come to feed her, she doesn’t huff, she just wants to be her normal friendly self you may be in luck and you may be better able to monitor the litter’s progress. The preservation of the litter is of the utmost importance. If you haven’t had your female very long, she’s not used to you, and occasionally even if you have, she may just want to be left alone to do what’s necessary. Destroyed litters are heartbreaking to say the least, but often times unless you have another female available to possibly foster, there’s not much you can do anyway. Below you will find some information I hope you find helpful in successfully raising your hedgehog litters.

Hoglets are born naked (or sans quills) with their eyes closed and no teeth. They may have a few very small hair like quills, usually white in color. Within an hour their quills will start to harden but they are still very vulnerable until these quills begin to grow and harden sometime during the first two-three weeks. At around the 1-2 week mark they should begin to lose this first set of quills and replace it with a sharper, fuller, quill bed generally being the color they will eventually become or near to it. They will continually lose and replace those tiny baby quills with larger, longer, sharper quills until they hit their final quilling stage. I have seen hoglets hang on to those initial white quills clear in to the 6 month range, generally you can tell if they are still baby quills because they will be completely white with no trace of banding and they are much weaker than their next quill set. From the time they are born until they are about 14 days old they are highly vulnerable to injury and predators. It is imperative no larger animals (cats, dogs, ferrets, etc…) are allowed near hoglets this young. Until that first full quilling they have literally no protection. We do not allow any animals or strangers in with baby hedgehogs until their eyes are fully opened and even then it’s only under direct supervision. If you use a water dish you will need to be certain the water level is not high enough a wandering hoglet can fall in and drown. Even at a day old some hoglets will try to get away from the nest, we see this especially in new mothers who haven’t perfected their nesting and perhaps didn’t secure the nest quite as well as they should have. You will want to make sure the water stays clean and that it’s replaced often but that it always remains to shallow for a hoglet to fall in to and drown. We use water bottles for this reason, even if they didn’t drown they could still get wet and that could lead to a chill since they can’t regulate body temperature.

At about 14 days old hoglets open their eyes and their teeth may start to come in. Usually by the 3rd week they have notable bumps on the gum line and in some cases even the tips of some teeth poking through. If you pick up a hoglet at about this time you will notice he will anoint with EVERYTHING. Everything is new to them at this age and they want to take it all in. At about 3 weeks the first full quill base should be in and you should be able to tell a color. Keep in mind a Chocolate baby at 3 weeks may snowflake to become a Chocolate Chip before his final quillings. Hoglets can continue to quill in to their 6th month but most are done by about 16 weeks of age. At this point they do have some natural protection in their quills but are still vulnerable to larger predators.

By three weeks of age it is generally safe to handle your hoglets. You can thoroughly clean mom’s cage and the nest box and begin handling hoglets for a short amount of time. Remember they are still nursing so about 30 minutes away from mom is plenty of time. Keeping them away from mom for too long will cause them to lose body heat and grow hungry. If you notice the hoglet begin to squeak or if he tries to suckle your finger while you have him out that indicates he’s hungry and it’s time to put him back in with mom. Hoglets are teething at this point and may gnaw on your fingers, this doesn’t necessarily indicate hunger, if he begins to suck on your finger that’s when you know he’s hungry and had enough. At this age they may begin to wander around the cage but mostly they will remain in the nest.

At around 4 – 5 weeks old hoglets really begin to explore the cage and their surroundings. If you take them out to hold them chances are they will begin to try to wander off from you. You may notice they have begun to try to drink from the water source and even nibble at mom’s food. They can’t sustain life on their own at this point, their teeth are not formed well enough to allow them to truly take in enough sustenance, at this point it’s more exploration and curiosity. At this point if I notice the hoglets actively going after the food source I will start breaking the kibble up in to smaller pieces and cutting fresh foods in to tiny hoglet sized pieces. Make sure the food dish is very shallow at this point because they will most likely sit in it to eat. It will mean replacing food much more often as they often poop in it as well, but this will ensure they are ready to really start eating by weaning time.

By about 6 weeks it’s time to really begin weaning hoglets. Breaking up kibble so it’s not quite so difficult to eat and cutting any fresh foods in to very tiny pieces is the first step. Generally by this time mom has begun to really push them away and she’s not going to want to continue nursing so a large portion of their nourishment needs to be coming from the other foods in the cage. Make certain the food dish is shallow enough for hoglets to get in to without having to tip it over in to their bedding. Mostly the mother will wean them on her own, you just need to be observant and make sure each hoglet is actually eating the solid foods at this point. If you find one who’s not quite got the hang of it, you may have to help him along by offering some foods from your hand to that specific hoglet.

By 7 weeks it’s time to remove the hoglets from mom’s cage and start giving her that much needed break. At this point they will be highly active and should be eating solely from the dish and drinking from the water source. This is particularly important with male hoglets. Males are sexually viable from a very young age. If at any time before 7 weeks you notice a male trying to mate with mom or his female siblings you will have to wean him early. I have heard of this happening as early as 6 weeks so carefully monitoring interactions is your best defense. Female hoglets can also be sexually viable at this point and an accidental inbreeding could easily kill them so it’s imperative male hoglets are separated. It is possible to leave female hoglets with mom but I don’t recommend this. Mom needs that break and if females are left in there they may still try to nurse. If you want to leave the females and mother together I suggest taking the female hoglets out for 48 hours and allowing mom to fully dry up and then placing them back in with mom. The only time I would leave a female hoglet in with mom is if she was a bit under developed, a bit smaller, etc… if you have one that needs an added boost now might be the time to offer it to her.
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