Articles on basic care and considerations for new or prospective owners.
Articles pertaining to health, nutrition, and veterinary care.
Articles and pictures about hedgehog breeding, growth, and development.
Articles for people who already own a hedgehog or want to know more than just the basics.
Learn more about hedgehog shows and hedgehog colors!
Wondering where on earth to buy a hedgehog? Start here!
Where to purchase hedgehog supplies and collectibles.
Meet the hedgehogs of Hedgehog Valley!
Meet the other critters that call Hedgehog Valley
So, you want to breed hedgehogs?
We have gotten a lot of questions from people about breeding hedgehogs, so I thought it might be helpful to put up a web page sharing some of our practices and experiences. We have been breeding African pygmy hedgehogs since summer of '96 and have had over 150 litters born here (as of 1/02). While it may seem like kind of a downer, we feel that we would be irresponsible if we didn't cover some of the negative aspects of breeding first. Here are some important things to consider:
* Can you bear the idea that you may lose the babies? It is very common for first time moms to abandon or cannibalize their litters. The overall survival rate for hedgehog babies (based on a study of 1000 litters) is about 70%. The first litter born at Hedgehog Valley did not survive.
* Can you bear the idea that you may lose the mom? It can happen. I nearly lost the mom who had Hedgehog Valley's first litter, and if I had not rushed her to the vet immediately for an emergency c-section (partially absorbed babies were stuck in the horns of her uterus), she would not have survived. I have been fortunate and have only lost one female to childbirth related problems, but it can and does happen.
* Do you have homes for the offspring, or are you prepared to care for them if you can't find homes for them? Don't assume that you will be able to make a lot of money selling hedgies. You won't. Babies may not sell at all, and in some areas, you might not even be able to give them away.
* Are you prepared to hand feed the babies should something go wrong?? This is very time consuming and doesn't always work. It can be really painful to lose babies after you have spent days or weeks trying to help them along.
* Are you able to leave the mom alone for the two to three weeks that she will most likely want privacy for, after the babies are born?
* Will you have time to play with and socialize the babies once they are old enough to be handled?
* If you live in the US, are you willing to work with a veterinarian and obtain a USDA license? A license is required if you plan to sell, or even give away, the babies.
If you've thought about these things and you're prepared for the worst (but, of course, hoping for the best!), then you're ready for the next set of considerations.
Characteristics of the female:
You will want to make sure, first of all, that your female is healthy. It doesn't hurt to take her to the veterinarian for a health check to make sure she is free of internal and external parasites. You will want to make sure she is not too fat (can she roll into a ball?) and not too thin (are her sides "sunken" looking?). The ideal age for a first time mom is between 6 and 12 months. Any younger, and she is probably not physically mature enough. Female hedgies can conceive when they are as young as 8 weeks old, but it's not healthy for them and can cause nutritional deficiencies and other problems. Older hedgies can become first time moms, but in our experiences they tend to have more problems with abandonment or cannibalization of their babies. Female hedgies do go into menopause at approximately 2-1/2 to 3 years of age, and many of the females we have seen people breed at older than 2-1/2 have had problems with nutritional deficiencies or childbirth related deaths, so typically our females are retired from breeding at around age 2-1/2.
Temperament is an important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to breed a female. There is reason to believe that a good chunk of hedgehog temperament is inherited, so breeding friendly hedgies is the best way to increase your chances of getting friendly babies.
Characteristics of the male:
Once again, health is an important consideration. Males can usually breed throughout their life span (we have a five year old who has sired litters) if they are healthy. Be sure the male is not related to the female. Inbreeding hedgehogs can lead to physical anomalies, health problems, and poor temperament, and should NOT be done. Males have been found to be fertile at as young as 8 weeks of age, though usually our guys wait until they are at least 4 months old before they get their first date. As with the females, look for a male with a good temperament!
Ok, I've got happy, healthy hedgies who aren't related... what now? There are lots of ways to go about breeding hedgehogs. What we will share here is what we do, and what has worked for us. Here goes: The date: We usually place the female in the cage with the male, so that she won't be as likely to be territorial. Some males will pursue the female right away. Some won't. We watch and listen to make sure that they don't fight, and if all seems well, we leave them together for about 3 days to a week, depending on whether we saw action or not. Then we separate them.
The maternity ward: Our females get a private cage, and we supply them with a hedgebag and usually one or two other options (shoe box, pvc tube, etc...) for nesting in. Most of our females prefer the hedgebags, or will line their nests with the hedgebags (write for more info if you don't know what a hedgebag is...). The cage needs to be solid at the base so the babies can't crawl out, and we locate it in a quiet area of the house.
Gestation: Out of the 100 litters in our database, the average length of gestation was 37 days (from the first introduction of the male and female until the birth of the babies). The fewest number of days was 33 and the longest was 50, but most were between 35 and 39 days. At about day 30, you will want to give the mom's cage a thorough cleaning because you won't be able to disturb her for a thorough cleaning until the babies are 2 to 3 weeks old.
How can I tell if she's pregnant?: Sometimes you will feel her tummy get tight and hard, and there may be noticeable lumps. Sometimes she will gain a lot of weight. Sometimes her nipples will become very pronounced. It can be very hard to tell!! Be prepared just in case, and giving her at least 40 days from the last day that she was with the male before you decide she isn't for sure is usually a good rule of thumb.
What if she doesn't get pregnant?: If at first you don't succeed, try try again. Some females just don't like certain males, and some females just require lots of tries. If we have a female who doesn't conceive, we try for a date with a different male. It isn't all that uncommon for it to take 2 or more tries, and we had one female who finally conceived for the first time after over 10 tries! It's up to you to decide, but if she's in good health and you really want her to be a mom, then it shouldn't hurt to try again.
There are babies in there! What do I do?: You may see the babies, or you may hear little squeaks. Whatever you do, it's usually best to give the mom a lot of space to herself. Try not to intrude any more than you have to. Moms will often leave their babies scattered until all the babies are born, so if you are worried about babies being scattered about, wait a little bit and think strongly about it before you intrude. Many females will eat their babies if they become stressed, and that is a risk you will be taking if you decide to intrude. If you decide it is necessary, rub a spoon in the bedding so it takes on smells the mom is used to and scoop the babies up and put them in the nest.
When can I hold the babies?: The general rule of thumb we were always told was "wait 2 weeks" and this seems like a pretty good general guideline. Another thing to help you decide is the mom's attitude. Some moms are relaxed and comfortable letting a familiar person around the babies, and that's ok. The moms will huffle and may bite if they don't want you messing with the babies... take that as a clue to give them more time. With extremely overprotective moms, we will sometimes even wait until the babies are old enough to start toddling out of the nest on their own, which can be as much as 3 to 4 weeks! Usually about 2 weeks is standard, though.
When do I wean the babies?: Babies will start toddling out of the nest when they are between 3 and 4 weeks old. By 3 weeks they should have teeth, and by 4 to 4-1/2 weeks they should be experimenting with solid food and the water bottle. We don't give water bowls because of hygiene (they are messy and get spilled easily) and the risk of drowning. Some time around 6 weeks old (give or take a week) mom will usually let the kids know that they are too old to be nursing. If mom is aggressive toward weaning the babies, we take them away earlier, but we like to give them until they are 6 weeks old. We have caught a 6 week old male trying to mount mama, so we usually separate them from mom and their sisters at 6 weeks old. We often house groups of weanlings together, until they go to new homes or we notice squabbling. If there is an aggressive youngster, they are separated from the others so they won't hurt others or be hurt.
Well, that's the basics. If you have other questions, or can think of anything important that I didn't address, please let me know! Thanks!
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