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 colors!
Wondering where 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
or have called Hedgehog Valley
So, you want to breed pet hedgehogs?
We have been breeding African pygmy hedgehogs since 1996 and have had over 300 litters born here. While it may seem like kind of a downer, it feels like it 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 for an emergency c-section, 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 hedgehogs. Babies may not sell at all, so be prepared to keep them or to have homes lined up before you breed.
* Are you prepared to hand feed the babies if something goes wrong? This is very time consuming and doesn't always work. It can be really heart breaking 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, after the babies are born? Disturbing the babies to early can cause mom to kill them.
* 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 have more than three females.
If you've thought about these things and you're prepared for the worst, you're ready to keep reading!
Characteristics of the female:
You will want to make sure that your female is healthy. It is a good idea to take her to the veterinarian for a wellness check. 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 5 and 12 months. Any younger, and she is probably not physically mature enough.
Female hedgehogs can conceive when they are as young as 6 weeks old. It is not healthy for them to be pregnant when they are still trying to grow themselves!
Older hedgehogs can become first time moms, but in our experiences they tend to have more problems with abandonment or cannibalization of their babies.
Female hedgehogs do go into menopause at approximately 2-1/2 to 3 years of age so older females may not conceive.
Temperament is an important thing to consider when deciding whether or not to breed your female hedgehog. Much of hedgehog temperament is inherited, so selecting for friendliness helps to increase your chance of getting friendly babies.
Characteristics of the male:
Once again, health is an important consideration. Males can breed throughout their life span if they are healthy. We had an eight year old who sired litters!
You will want to make sure sure the male is not a close relative of the female. Early hedgehog breeders line bred to get some of the gorgeous colors and patterns that we have now, but they sacrificed health. The apricot lines tended to suffer from early fatty liver while the reverse pintos were prone to heart conditions. Breeding out to other lines has helped to significantly reduce the occurrence of these problems!
And, of course, temperament matters! Make sure you are choosing a male who is calm and friendly.
Ok, you've got happy, healthy hedghogs who aren't related... what now? What we will share here is what has worked for us. Here goes:
Hedgehogs are not cyclical ovulators so they can be bred at any time. It is our experience that conception rates and success of litters that are born are better in spring and fall.
We place the female in the cage with the male, so the male is comfortably in his own territory. Some males will pursue the female right away. Some won't. We watch and listen to make sure that they don't fight. If they fight, we separate them. If all seems well, we leave them together for about three weeks, then we separate them into their own cages.
The maternity ward:
Our females get a private cage and we supply them with a hedgebag and an igloo for nesting. Most will choose one or the other so we remove the option that is not being used. The cage needs to be solid at the base, not wire, so the babies are not able crawl out.
It is very important to separate the male and female by 4 weeks so that she has time to establish her nest and feel safe. Gestation is about 35 to 40 days so you will need to wait until 40 days after the last day together before trying again if she does not conceive.
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. Once babies are born, you will not be able to disturb her until the babies are two to three weeks old.
How can I tell if she's pregnant?
Sometimes you will feel her tummy get tight and hard. You might even be able to see or feel baby lumps! Sometimes she will gain a lot of weight. Sometimes her nipples will become very pronounced. It can be very hard to tell because sometimes there seems to be no change at all. You will want to be prepared just in case. Giving her at least 40 days from the last day that she was with the male before you decide she isn't pregnant is 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 do not like certain males, and some females just require lots of tries. If we have a female who does not conceive, we try for a date with a different male.
It is not all that uncommon for it to take two or more tries. 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 if she did not conceive.
There are babies in there! What do I do?
You may see the babies or you may hear little squeaks. Whatever you do, it is best to give the mom a lot of space to herself. Try not to intrude any more than needed.
Moms will sometimes leave their babies scattered until all the babies are born. 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 that mom is used to. Use this to 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 has been a good guideline. At two weeks, check mom's attitude. Some moms are relaxed and comfortable letting a familiar person around the babies and that is ok.
The moms will huffle and may bite if they do not want you messing with the babies. Take their cue to give them more time. With extremely overprotective moms we will even wait until the babies are old enough to start toddling out of the nest on their own, which can be as much as three to four weeks.
Early handling does not make babies friendlier, it just puts them at risk.
When do I wean the babies?
Babies will start exploring out of the nest when they are between three and four weeks old. By three weeks they should have teeth, and by four to four and a half weeks they should be experimenting with solid food and the water bottle. We do not give water bowls because of hygiene and the risk of drowning.
Around six weeks old, give or take a week, mom will let the kids know that they are too old to be nursing by being less available. If mom is aggressive toward the babies we take them away earlier, otherwise we give them until they are six weeks old.
We have caught six week old males trying to mount mama so we separate them from mom and sisters around six weeks.
We house groups of same gender 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 will not hurt others or be hurt.
Well, those are the basics! If you have other questions or would like assistance with mentoring, please contact us!
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