Rearing orphan & baby Hedgehogs

cartoon hedgehog proud parentsBefore attempting to hand rear a baby hedgehog yourself please contact one of the help lines or local carers for advice.
It is extremely difficult to rear tiny baby hedgehogs. The wrong food or lack of toileting kills them or makes them very ill very quickly.

The advice in these pages is meant to help you in the first instance whilst you are trying to contact some one or is intended for more experienced hedgehog rearers who need an extra helping hand




Before you consider whether to start taking in hedgehogs or indeed any wildlife it is worth bearing in mind some of the problems with which you might be faced. Any animal, be it wild or a pet, can carry diseases and parasites etc which may be passed onto other animals including we humans. Salmonella and ringworm are two examples. Such diseases are called ZOONOSES. Great care should be taken when handling wildlife to ensure that proper hygiene is maintained. This will reduce, but not eliminate, the chances of you, your family, your pets and other hedgehog patients catching anything from each other.

There is also the current legislation to be considered. Legislation covers the way they are kept, transportation, their release and medical treatment plus many other aspects relating to wildlife rehabilitation. Ignorance in no excuse in the eyes of the law so you must know your responsibilities.

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A telephone call is the most likely herald of the impending arrival of a litter of hoglets. It is at this point that you will have to decide whether the hoglets do indeed need rescuing.

If the hoglet has fly eggs on it, is injured, or it is known that mum has been killed then the decision to take them into care is easy.

There will be some circumstances when hoglets can be left to see if their mother returns. Sometimes the mother will not sleep with her hoglets, so finding a nest with only hoglets in it does not mean that they have necessarily been abandoned. If the nest has been disturbed – even if the mother has not been seen – it is worth leaving the hoglets (unless they have been injured etc) to see if mum will return. If the following morning mum has not returned then the hoglets should be taken in. By putting a small object by the entrance to the nest you should be able to tell whether something (hopefully the mother) is going into the nest. The mother may visit the nest each night just to feed her babies and then sleep elsewhere. After a few nights she may start to move her babies, a few each night, to a new nest. Putting some extra food out for her means she can spend less time searching for food and concentrate on her babies. However, it should be mentioned that, occasionally, a mother will return to her disturbed nest and kill her babies. Unfortunately there is no way of knowing what her reaction will be to the disturbance.

If there is the risk of further disturbance e.g. by dogs or children then the hoglets will need to be moved to a safer place. If the mother is spotted she can be caught and an attempt made to re-unite her with her family. This should be done under close supervision in case she turns on her family or it is the wrong mum!.

On some occasions a hoglet may be found out of the nest. If the hoglet does not seem to be in any distress, and its eyes are open, it could just have left the nest for a wander around. This has been observed a number of times and the hoglet, after a short while, will return to the nest. If the hoglet is in distress and is found at the bottom of a slope it may have ventured out of the nest and rolled down the slope. If it is unhurt, with no fly eggs, it can be returned to the nest. If it is cold it should be warmed on a hot water bottle first and then returned. Handling should be kept to a minimum.

If you decide that it should be brought into care then the finder can be advised to keep the hoglet warm on a hot water bottle and can be asked to check the area for other hoglets from the same litter. This may help prevent wasted journeys.

They should listen out for a high pitch squeak, like a baby bird, but at ground level. Friendly dogs are quite good at finding hoglets and cats will sometimes sit staring at them. Ask the finder to keep checking the area for several days in case other orphans appear.

If the caller wants to look after the hoglet themselves the following advice may be helpful:

  • if it is a baby there may be others;
  • Check for fly eggs and maggots;
  • Check for injuries – by sight and smell;
  • Keep warm (do not attempt to feed if cold) explain symptoms of becoming cold eg wobbly/drunken gait, off food;
  • Keep in high sided box;
  • Provide plenty of bedding;
  • Weigh regularly;
  • Keep an eye on the colour/consistency of its motions;
  • Give advice on feeding requirements and whether to give water or  special rearing milk formula (depends on age) and the amounts they are likely to eat compared to their size;
  • If necessary mention where you get your supply of goat milk  or special rearing milk formula eg supermarkets etc;
  • Release at night in good weather conditions and provide supplementary feeding. Ensure it has reached a good weight e.g. it is at least 650gms if it is being released in the autumn, or possibly slightly  less at other times;
  • If it needs veterinary treatment involving a general anaesthetic it may need to be starved overnight;
  • Give advice on flea treatments;
  • If there are any further problems ring again. If the caller still wants to care for the hedgehog they should be encouraged to ring at frequent intervals (for advice on weaning, release etc.);
  • Give alternative numbers in case you are not available for further advice in an emergency.

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So the hoglets eventually arrive. There are five basic things which should be started in the first few minutes. First quickly check for any injuries which would render further action inappropriate (eg severe injuries, maggots eaten both eyes). Next toilet each hoglet if necessary – as a rough guide if it has teeth it may not need toileting, if the eyes are closed it will, in between it may (if in doubt try anyway). Then mark, with for example a spot of nail varnish on the prickles (if more than one in the litter), and weigh and record each ones details (if there is more than one the others can be kept on a hot water bottle while waiting for their turn). By marking them with nail varnish you can easily tell them apart and once they start feeding it is easy to see which ones have started to eat for themselves and which are the slower ones. Next return them to the hot water bottle and finally while warming they can be checked for fly eggs, maggots, dehydration (the skin on the tummy looks 2 sizes too big and stays wrinkled when pinched), and small injuries etc.

With experience you may, by looking at their age and size, be able to suggest whether there may be more hoglets as yet not found. Hoglets from a small litter may be large for their age, ones from a larger litter are likely to be smaller.

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When warmed they can be given their first feed. Unless they object strongly hold them on their backs in the palm of your left hand (if you are right handed) with your thumb going under the right armpit. The very small hoglets are so wriggly that any position will do. If a larger hoglet dislikes being on its back it can rest/stand on a non slippery surface to feed.

I normally find it much easier to put a tea towel on my lap/chest  & stand hoglet on that and gently gripping both sides of mouth between thumb and forefinger of left hand and feed with syringe using right hand the easiest and rarely find a hoglet that accepts being fed lying on its back (although they always feed that way from their mother)

  • Ease the teat into its mouth or dribble a drop of milk onto its lips. Older hoglets can be fed without a teat. If an older hoglet will not open its mouth rub the nozzle end of the syringe against the teeth and dribble some milk into its mouth.
  • feeding baby hedgehog using a cannula as a feed tubefeeding baby hedgehog using a cannula as a feed tubeThe best, safest and easiest way to feed tiny babies is use an intravenous cannula as a feed tube. They have a very  soft, flexible plastic tip, very manoeuvrable and easy to control the flow. Attach it to a 1ml syringe for use. You can bend them in any direction, so making sure that the hoglet doesn’t get drowned, when wriggling . They come in various sizes between 14g & 24g. The one in these pictures is a 14g ( largest size). I start with a 24g for very tiny babies a few hours or days old  so the flow is much slower and easier for them to take, then move up to a larger size as they start to take more milk. They cost between £1 to £3. Most vets will supply them if you ask them and tell them what you are using it for. They clean & sterilise very easily, just using hot water between each feed. There are several different styles. Some have wings ( like mine), others are just a plastic tube that fits on the end of the syringe. Both are equally good.
  • When they are on milk their motions will be green in colour and its consistency is that of small soft pellets (these are sometimes mistaken for eggs). Once they are on a more solid food their motions will change to a brown colour and be more the shape of a cat’s motion..
  • There are many different milk substitute products on the market, however goat milk is often used or Esbilac or Royal Canin Babydog Milk, either of which seems to be the nearest powdered substitute for hedgehog milk. You will always hear stories of hoglets reared successfully on other types of milk, including cows milk but you are better using the tried, proven and less controversial substitutes. If you try something new early on and the hoglets die you will not know whether it is your inexperience or the new product which has caused the problem.
  • Other milk substitutes which have been used successfully to rear hoglets include sheep milk and Cimicat, the smaller hoglets seem to do well on Cimicat. Each rehabilitator will have their own preferences and indeed these preferences can change as more “experimenting” is undertaken. Some rehabilitators may use several different milk substitutes depending on the hoglets age or size. The choice may also reflect how easy it is to obtain these different products. If, at the end of the day the hoglets do well then the choice of milk is right.
  • We always use Esbilac or Royal Canin babydog milk  and have found it the most successful to rear hoglets of all sizes
  • In an absolute emergency when no other milk is available and you find or are brought a baby hoglet you can get away with using one of the cat or puppy milks from a supermarket ( Whiskas, Felix or own brand) BUT only use for the absolute minimum amount of time until you can get a proper rearing milk formula. You are safer using lectade or rehydration fluid for first 24 hours
  • If they are dehydrated or very thin the first feed can be a rehydration fluid eg Lectade (or a similar product). The diluted Lectade can then be mixed with the milk substitute and gradually the amount of Lectade can be reduced until you are giving pure milk. Depending on their condition, they may need feeding every half hour or so initially until you are happy with their condition. A little and often is better than over loading the hoglets and possibly causing further complications, it also gives you the opportunity to spot injuries you may have missed in your earlier examinations. Remember they are used to demand feeding and may well have been starved for several days – their stomachs cannot cope with too large amounts to start. A night feed would also be beneficial for very poorly hoglets regardless of age.
  • A substitute rehydration fluid can be made by mixing a tablespoon of glucose (or sugar or honey) with a teaspoon of salt in a litre of freshly boiled water, that has been allowed to cool. Many of the rehydration fluids can be frozen without losing their properties.

Goat milk, especially if frozen , will need some vitamins added to it eg Abidec (say 1 drop per hoglet per day). If you use a powder make sure it is well mixed as it has been suggested that lumps of it may form obstructions. If the powder is used after the sell by date add extra vitamins. Age and freezing reduces or destroys the vitamin content.

If you are able to get it, goat colostrum can also be added to the milk substitute. A homoeopathic alternative is Ignatia. A mother hedgehog produces colostrum for 6 weeks. However if colostrum is in short supply it can be stopped at about 3 weeks.

A mix of two parts milk to one part colostrum is usually used although for very small hoglets pure colostrum can be given.

The next question is how much and how often. Each hoglet is an individual and its needs will vary. It is probably better to judge on the size of the hoglet than on its age – although age can help. A hoglet weighing 20 gms can take 0.5 – lml every 2 hours (age is likely to be 1 – 3 days). A feed once during the night for perhaps the first week may be beneficial depending on the condition and progress of the hoglet – otherwise feed from 7am to 11pm. Hoglets only 2-3 days old have been raised without any night feeding. Remember that hedgehogs are nocturnal so mum will be searching for food at night and feeding her young in the nest during the day – so for the babies, being fed during the day is normal.

  • A hoglet weighing 20 gms may take 0.5-lml every 1-2 hours
  • A hoglet weighing 50 gms may take 2-3mls every 2-3 hours
  • A hoglet weighing 80 gms may take 3-4mls every 3-4 hours
  • A hoglet weighing 120 gms may take 5-7mls every 4 hours

Some will take more than this. The very small hoglets’ skin is almost transparent and it is possible to see the milk inside the stomach and judge how full they are.

As mentioned previously it should be remembered that before the loss of their mum the hoglets will have been used to demand feeding ie a little, often. You will be trying to feed more, less often. To start you may well need to feed more frequently to get the hoglets’ stomach used to the larger amounts. The above amounts are suggested for “stabilised” hoglets.

These suggested amounts above are assuming that just milk is being fed. When solids are added (eg pureed puppy food) then the amounts taken may reduce. The best way to judge whether the hoglet is getting enough is to weigh it every morning. If it is losing weight either increase the amount given or give the feeds more frequently. By weighing in the morning any increases needed can be started immediately.

Feeding implements – use small syringes or Catac feeders which are specifically made for feeding small mammals. If using syringes for the very small hoglets use a lml syringe then as the amounts increase go onto 2ml syringes and then 5 ml ones. Teats are available which fit onto syringes or the Catac feeder but it may be necessary to make very fine ones yourself (see below). As the hoglets get bigger, teats may not be required. The 1ml syringes can either be used with or without the plunger – when used without it is the force of gravity that allows the milk to drip out, if it drips too fast put your thumb partly over the hole to slow the drips.

Implements should be sterilised after each feeding session and separate syringes and dishes used for each litter. The plungers of syringes are likely to start sticking after being sterilised a few times so either replace frequently or hold the syringe sideways to the hoglets mouth. If there is a sudden rush when the feed is being given it will go out of the other side of the mouth rather than down the throat. However it has also been suggested that the syringe or feeder be held face on to provide a more natural feeding position.

Keeping the milk mixture warm during prolonged feeds can be a problem. A dish of hot water into which the smaller dish of milk is placed is one way or a babies bottle warmer is also handy. Always check the temperature of each bottle/syringe before feeding to ensure it is not too hot or cold. Microwaving is not recommended for some milk substitutes.

We have found a babies bottle warmer is the best as it keeps milk at exactly the right temperature for long periods  while feeding large numbers of babies

As a defense, very small hoglets almost throw themselves about to deter would be predators. They will do this when handled so care should be taken when handling them as they can easily fall from your grasp. Its almost like trying to hold a prickly frog in your hands! Older hoglets huff, hiss and buck to intimidate.

Some feeding problems:

  • if the hoglet will not suckle properly check the following:
  • is the hoglet warm;
  • is the milk warm;
  • does it need toileting – try toileting and then resume feeding.

Sometimes tickling the roof of the mouth with the teat will encourage it to resume feeding.

Sometimes a hoglet will have such a powerful suck that its tongue will stick to the roof of its mouth – again a tickle with the teat should relieve this.

If it starts to hiccup, pause until it has stopped and then resume the feed.

Slow/difficult feeders in a litter can be fed first and then topped up after the last of the litter has been dealt with or if they are all difficult quickly run through the litter again to top them up.

They will need to be toileted after each feed but this is covered later. Sometimes one of the male hoglets may develop a sore penis due to the others trying to suckle from him thinking his penis is a nipple.

Once their eyes are open you can encourage them to lick spilt milk off the palm of your hand before each feed and once they get the hang of that offer them a shallow dish of milk to lap from.

It is also worth leaving a shallow dish of milk in the pen at all times once the eyes have opened. A jam jar lid will do. Change frequently especially in warm weather or the milk may go off.

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Starting on solids depends on the individual. Hoglets raised from very small develop very slowly and a little HIPP Baby food or Hills AD can be added to the milk at about 7-10 days if they are not putting on weight. Otherwise, as a rough guide, start once the eyes open. Hoglets which are large for their age may be started earlier than this. One indication that solids are needed is when the weight starts to level off.

When they get the first taste of their new diet they may self anoint. Self anointing often occurs when there is a new taste (eg new food; nicotine, soap, perfume or remnants of food on someone’s hands) or sometimes when there is unusual smell (eg a visit to the vets). The hedgehog will salivate and then lick its prickles to spread the saliva over itself. They can contort to such an extent that they can reach the middle of their backs.

Strictly speaking we are looking at pureed foods, jelly from the tinned food or something like Hills AD  or Royal Canin Recovery  or Royal Canin Puppy Mousse which is very nutritious and easily digested (it is available from veterinary surgeons) rather than solids. This can be mixed with the milk and is smooth enough to still go through the syringe – cat food or puppy food seems to have less/smaller pieces of bone than dog food and so, when pureed, does not cause the syringe to block so often.

If you use pureed dog or cat food keep a pin or paper clip beside you when feeding as this allows you to unblock the syringe’s nozzle quickly and easily. A dish of this sort of mix can be left in the pen. Gradually add mashed up cat or kitten food to the rearing milk formula mix left in the pen so eventually they will start to eat more solid food.

As weaning progresses the number of hand feeds can be reduced – drop the last feed of the day first. It is important to monitor their weights during this time as it is difficult to judge how much food each individual is getting. Continue hand feeding the ones which show little gain in weight. One indication which may suggest that the hoglets are feeding at night is that when you toilet them in the morning they will pass a motion as well as urine.

At 6 weeks the colostrum can be stopped and the rearing milk formula watered down so by 8 weeks they no longer have any  rearing milk formula.

The above feeding programme assumes that the hoglet is quite small on arrival and needs continued hand feeding. You will of course also be presented with older hoglets which perhaps already have their teeth. Their needs will vary from those of a hoglet hand reared from say a week old. The hoglet may not be on solids or lapping etc at such an early stage and hand feeding may be necessary until it is used to the “alien” food you are offering. Even hoglets weighing 200 gms should be carefully monitored to check they are gaining weight. Any weight loss should be immediately treated by hand feeding every 4 hours. This may only be necessary for a few days just to get things started. Although this can be a nuisance when you are busy; in the long run if you catch a potential problem early then rectifying it takes less time. Remember not only is the food alien to them so is eating from a dish. In the wild a hoglet usually starts to leave the nest with mum at about 4 weeks so is fed on just milk up to that time.

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Heat is important and small hoglets will need more than just the background heat of a room. Lamps with red light bulbs, heated pads, hot water bottles, heat lamps, heated plant propagators and specially made pet pens with thermostatic heaters can all be used. Hot water bottles are perhaps best used just for the initial examination as once they start to cool they will cause the hoglet to cool as well. They are also heavy and some hoglets like to squirm under things. There have been reports of hoglets being trapped under the weight of the hot water bottle and suffocating.

If a heat pad is used a pillowcase is an ideal cover to stop it getting messy. If a propagator is used a tea towel folded into thirds can be used to cover the bottom and a “bobble” hat or another tea towel used to cover the hoglets.

Depending on the room temperature the heat can be removed after the hoglets are 4-5 weeks old. Single ones may need the heat for longer.

When the heat is removed keep an eye on the hoglet’s weight and any signs that it is getting cold eg wobbly, off food. If in doubt keep the heat on but ensure there is a cool space in the pen which it can move to.

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Traditionally it has always been said that they should be toileted after each feed until they are about 3 weeks old. Sometimes even longer than this. Current best practice suggests that they only need to be toileted 2 or 3 times a day, until they about   2 weeks old ( when their eyes open and they start to wander about ) .

To toilet a hoglet hold it on its back (as for feeding) and use a cotton bud dipped in baby oil ( we use  calendula oil infused in Sweet Almond Oil, because of its healing properties to cut down on chafing & sores ) or a piece of tissue to stimulate it. Vibrate the cotton bud in a head to tail direction very gently but quickly over the area from the anus to the wee hole (penis or vulva). The hoglet should stretch out its legs and relax whilst it has a wee and probably a pooh. Top and tail with a tissue. ( we prefer to use moist perfume free baby wipes to clean them up as that doesn’t rub & chafe like tissue)

Those on frequent feeds ie every 1-2 hours can be toileted at alternate feeds as they can become sore. Soreness can be reduced by rubbing a soothing cream onto the area including the tail. If the hoglet becomes sore (he will bring his legs together whilst weeing) hold the hoglet sideways on or up side down when toileting. This means the urine runs away from the sore area and not over it. A little Germoline with local anaesthetic can be applied before toileting to reduce the pain and act as a barrier when the urine runs over the area. A soothing cream can be applied to the area when the hoglet has been cleaned up. Keep a close eye on them to make sure that litter mates do not lick the cream off each other. The reason they become sore is not necessarily that they are rubbed too hard but more likely because of the acidity of their waste products (wee and poo). In some cases where there is some soreness there may be a little blood around the anus. Some of the milk substitutes seem to produce less acidic waste eg Cimicat and sheep milk.

Almost every litter we have reared has had at least one hoglet with sores & infections. We have found that applying a tiny amount of FUCIDERM GEL ( get from vet) twice daily after a toilet ( morning & evening) works wonderfully.

Lots of babies get a bacterial skin infection as well and the first sign of it is a smell a bit like sweaty feet. This is often caused by the hoglet lying on damp bedding or it’s pee & pooh not being cleaned up from it properly ( remember ALL  hedgehogs only sweat from the underside and that is the only place they have sweat glands )

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Hyperactivity can be a sign of stress and if allowed to continue can be detrimental to the hoglet’s health. Hyperactivity can be reduced by ensuring the hog has sufficient bedding, if it is newly arrived a feed may quiet it down, if it occurs in the morning following cleaning out try changing the timing so it is cleaned out in the evening. If it is on a heated pad is it getting too hot. In some cases providing a bobble hat or a small box for it to hide in may help or tying it in a pillowcase with a little bedding may calm it down – keep a close eye on it as if it becomes more distressed in a pillowcase it will need to be released immediately.

Bloat can also be a problem. A small amount of fennel (eg fennel tea or herbal baby drink) added to the feed may prevent bloat. If a hoglet does become bloated stop feeding the milk and only feed rehydration fluids. Add a little liquid paraffin or gripe water to the feed. When toiletting put a warm damp cloth on the hoglet’s tummy to help it to relax just before toileting.

It is also between 2-3 weeks that they start to walk rather than wobble about.

Occasionally it may be noticed that instead of walking they may only drag their legs. This could be either a vitamin deficiency or a deformity.

Vitamin deficiencies – this may be a lack of vitamin B1 (Thiamin) which can be rectified by adding 200mg of Vitamin B1 to a cup of the feed daily. It may take some weeks before an improvement is noticed. Sometimes the muscles controlling the spines may be affected and “pop off” syndrome may occur. This is difficult to describe but the spines are pulled up the back towards the head and centre of the back, the tail is pulled up and points skywards. Although this looks alarming in some cases it is best left until the hoglet regains a better control of its legs. If the muscles in the legs are weak so may be the ones controlling the spines and it may pop-off again.

Deformities may be helped with a little physiotherapy. However if they improve and it appears that the hoglets are walking normally do not be tempted to release them into the wild. If the problem is hereditary it can be passed on to future generations and after hibernation when weight loss has occurred the problem may show itself once again. Releasing a deformed hedgehog into the wild may be construed as breaking the Abandonment of Animals Act.

Congenital problems of the spine and involving the eyes have been noted.

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These pages about rearing are reproduced by kind permission of the Hedgehog Helpline

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