Rearing orphans & Baby Hedgehogs (Part 2)


Any hedgehog, out in the day, be it orphaned, ill or injured is likely to have fly eggs and maggots. Depending on the weather the eggs can hatch into maggots quite quickly (24 hours perhaps). In orphans they are often found around ears, eyes and in the mouth and sometimes in other damp patches like under the armpits or around the backside.

Fly eggs and maggots can however give you an indication of the hedgehog’s problem. Because they tend to be laid around damp patches they will be near any puncture wounds, or if they are present around the anus this may indicate an enteritis.

Watch the hedgehog to see if any specific area seems to be causing an irritation. If it keeps scratching its ear or a certain part of its body there may be very small maggots present which you have missed.

To remove eggs and maggots from the eyes use Optrex or a sterile non irritant fluid to flush the eyes out with. A very fine paint brush may help, but usually a great deal of patience is needed. We are currently trying some aromatherapy oils to see if they will also kill the maggots.


  • at birth no spines, eyes and ears closed, pink skinned, blackish nose. There is a noticeable furrow down the centre of the back;
  • after about 2 hours the white spines start to push through;
  • at about 12 hours some of the dark spines are just visible;
  • at around 24 hours the darker spines are more visible, the white spines continue to grow throughout this time. The furrow may only be noticeable on top of the head;
  • at about 3 days it may be possible to sex them;
  • days 8-10 they can curl into a ball;
  • days 12-13 the eyes start to open;
  • day 14 eyes are fully open;
  • day 14 they can begin to hear;
  • by day 16-17 they should be more steady on their feet;
  • around three weeks the front teeth start to break through.

These details are based on the study of several sets of hoglets. However just like human babies development may vary – at what age does a child take its first step?

Particularly noticeable is that the hoglets reared from a very early age are considerably behind ones cared for by mum up to a certain point. Eyes may open and then close up again. They may remain slit eyed for longer and one 2-3 day hoglet was nearly 4 weeks before her teeth came through. Even ones born in the wild vary considerably. Weights ranging from 30 to 60 grams have been observed in a litter of 9 day old hoglets.

Provided the hoglet puts on weight daily it does not matter how old it is. If you want to remember 2 important stages then the eyes opening at 2 weeks and the front teeth appearing at 3 weeks are perhaps the most helpful.

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Colostrum contains the mother’s antibodies which help to protect the young hoglet from infection. Antibodies can be transferred from mother to her young in several ways depending on the species ie before birth, after birth (through the colostrum) and a mix of both these ways. With the hedgehog some transmission occurs before birth but most is after birth and occurs for about 40 days and not the three day period associated with many mammals. It would therefore follow that the hoglets continue to suckle to some degree for at least 40 days.

There are many questions which need answering about the use of colostrum in hoglets. For example does the use of the colostrum from a different species eg the goat, which will have different diseases from the hedgehog, secure the required immunity. If goat colostrum does not provide this immunity can its use still be justified as, for example, an enriched milk substitute. The latter is more likely.

There are different types of powdered colostrum on the market e.g. bitch, goat and ewe colostrum.

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To make teats small enough for new born hoglets you will need some latex, some paper clips, a tray and some hypodermic needles.

Unbend each paper clip so it has a “foot” to stand on and a straight part pointing skywards. Dip the upright part in the latex and leave to dry on the tray. A lot will pool on the tray but this is dealt with later. When dry dip it into the latex again. Repeat 3 or 4 times. When finally dry roll the latex off the paper clip and cut the tip off and also the pool of dried latex. You then have a fine latex tube.

Next cut the very tips off the hypodermic needles (if you cut below the eye of the needle you will block it). The tube can then be slipped over the blunted needle to give a fine teat. Take care with enthusiastic suckers as they may pull the teat off the needle and swallow it.

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Small hoglets often like to stay in bobble hats. Single hoglets can have the bobble on the inside to cuddle into. If they keep wandering out of the hat looking for mum the opening can be fastened with cloths pegs.

Other bedding – a layer of newspaper on the floor and for the actual bed either old towels or sheets (check there are no loose threads which may wrap around the neck and legs).

Ensure there is plenty of bedding for the hedgehog to hide in during the day. Note:- white bedding shows blood stains etc. Always use this for new arrivals in case you miss anything during your examination.

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Very small hoglets can be kept in heated plant propagators as this prevents them from moving away from the heat onto a cold area where they can quickly lose their body heat.

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Fleas will be present on most hedgehogs (those without may have received treatment from their finders – find out what was used) but are not essential. Use a very mild flea or mite powder or pump spray  (eg Johnson’s Rid-Mite now called Johnsons small animal pump spray ) which can be safely used on birds. Just a single light sprinkling or couple of pumps should sort out the fleas in ten minutes or so. Any other powders or sprays should NOT be used

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Hygiene is important to prevent the introduction and spread of any infection. Miltons can be used to clean the feeding utensils or a product used to clean wine making equipment (ensure they are thoroughly rinsed before use). Trigene can be used to clean out the pens. When weighing make sure a clean piece of paper is put in the weighing “box” for each litter.

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What is really needed is a piece of equipment which can feed 10 hoglets at a time with the right mix at the correct temperature and which can regulate the temperature around the hoglets and is on 24 hours a day thus providing feeding on demand. There is such a piece of equipment and it is called a female hedgehog.

In some cases the mother may be found with the hoglets but the nest cannot be left where it is. In such cases (and here the lack of legal protection for the hedgehog can be to our advantage) the whole family can be brought into care and the mother left to care for her young.

Sometimes a mother may give birth while in care. A decision whether to leave the hoglets with her or remove them will need to be taken. In some cases where the mother is very poorly the hoglets may have to be removed. But ask yourself what will cause more problems/stress removing the hoglets to aid mum’s recovery or the stress of losing her babies.

It has been noticed that some mothers will not leave the nest for up to 4 days following the birth of her hoglets.

Obviously a careful watch on the family will be needed to ensure that mum is doing the job properly. Families have been reunited after 3 days of separation ie parted at 10 days of age and then reunited at 13 days. This is even when the hoglets are smelling of humans, baby oil etc. Reuniting may be possible after up to a week, however some hand feeding may be necessary until the full flow of milk has returned. In cases of small babies when mum will not have a very great flow of milk in the first place the drying up of milk will be quicker so reuniting may not be possible after such a time away.

Always keep a close but discrete eye on the family when they are first reintroduced as sometimes a mother may attack and kill her young.

Another method which has been tried with some success is fostering hoglets onto a mother already with hoglets of her own which are of the same age as the orphans. Wrap the hoglets in some of the foster mums bedding to give it a familiar smell and then return the bundle to the nest.

There is always a risk with any of these ideas that a natural mother may reject her young following separation and a foster mum may reject both the new hoglets and her own. Rejection may lead to cannibalism!

If a female patient suddenly goes off her food be very careful when you go to clean her out as she may have given birth.

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We prefer to soft release i.e. arrange for food to be put out each night for the hedgehog. If the release takes place early in the season then release at 8 weeks or 550 grams (1 lb) whichever is later. If it is getting towards autumn release at 650gms (1lb 4oz- 1lb 6oz). Release one hedgehog per site as this may help prevent dispersal.

After all the time and effort you have put into your patients you will wish them to have the best possible chance of survival once they are returned to the wild. The following is a useful guide:

  • Release them if possible in an area local to where they were found – they will have developed an immunity to the diseases in that area and if, by chance, they are still carrying a disease it will already be present in that area;
  • Release singly – a family would naturally disperse so if they are released together it is possible one will stay and the others will disperse. This means that only the one which remains in the area will have the opportunity to return for the food;
  • Release in the early evening just after dark – this gives them the whole night to get their bearings, also in daylight they may panic and run into danger;
  • Provide a suitable box with bedding for the first night;
  • Provide supplementary food until it is no longer taken;
  • Protect the supplementary food source from cats etc;
  • Check there are no hedgehog hazards present in the area;
  • Do not release them where there are badgers or other potential predators;
  • Do not release them where there are no other hedgehogs present – there is probably a reason why there are no hedgehogs present e.g. a nearby badger sett or other danger, a poor supply of food or bedding material;
  • Do not release them if they are disabled or if they are unable to curl into a ball or if they do not have a full coat of spines;
  • Do not release them when they are under 8 weeks old;
  • Do not release them when they weigh less than 650gms and will need to hibernate in the near future;
  • Do not release them if you suspect they are carrying disease;
  • Do not use the same site repeatedly nor release where there are large numbers of hedgehogs already present;
  • Do not release them during adverse weather conditions.

If you release, other than on your own property, ensure you have the owners permission to do so. It is essential that you also check if you want to release on a nature reserve as some reserves have restrictions imposed on them or may have studies in progress that your releases may invalidate.

You may find that keeping a list of people who are willing to release the hedgehogs and provide food for them is useful. Warn them of the dangers of using a torch when putting out the food – the hedgehog may associate a torch with food and not differentiate between a torch light and car or motorbike light.

When people bring you a hedgehog ask if they would be willing to release it in their gardens or near where it was found. If the patient dies they may still be willing to release another hedgehog into their garden. You can be fairly certain that as they have taken the trouble to bring you a poorly hedgehog they will keep an eye on their new charge.

If a hoglet starts to lose weight or refuses to eat or has green poo (other than when fed on just special rearing milk formula) or is sneezing it may have an infection and will need immediate veterinary attention. Skin problems ie thickening of the skin, scabs in the fur or loss of prickles, will also need veterinary treatment.

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  • Baytril 2.5% oral or by subcutaneous injection 0.2ml per kg bodyweight twice daily ( avoid Baytril as much as possible in young animals )
  • Synulox 50mg – an eighth to a quarter of a tablet twice daily. Will dissolve in water. (or in drops from vet)
  • Bisolvon – pinch twice daily.
  • Panacur 10% liquid – 1 drop per 100gms bw daily for 10 days.
  • For ringworm in small hoglets, we prefer Tea Tree cream which is safer & has less side effects for both hog and carer

Note: all these dosages are experimental no research has been carried out on dosages for hedgehogs. Oral drugs should be hand fed i.e. by syringe to ensure they are taken.

If you have any problem please feel free to ring any of the rescue centres or carers for a chat and advice. This is not intended as a substitute for advice from hands on hedgehog rehabilitators. Although we are not experts we are happy to pass on what we know.

Finally please do not expect all your hoglets to survive – in the wild they would not all survive even with mum to look after them. Before they arrive at your door they have already been through a lot of trauma and may be passed the point of no return or considerably weakened.

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

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