To help ease the gory side of this story, please enjoy photos of our adorable hedgehogs.
Some of you know that I have raised African Pygmy Hedgehogs for a few years, and just recently expanded my herd and received my USDA license. My goal is to produce happy, healthy, hedgehogs that make wonderful pets. So far, I have had nothing but wonderful experiences with exceptional moms and perfect babies. However, a few days ago I experienced the horrible side to raising hedgehogs.
Spike playing in a box of peanuts.I have read many stories and heeded the warnings about upsetting the mom (especially first time moms) and handling babies too early. I have discovered even in understanding, and hopefully being prepared, these horrible situations are upsetting. So let me get to the story...
Lucy, our lap hedgehog, snuggling with my son, Aaron.
I have a female who is 7 months old and never been bred. She is a little moody and not always receptive to being handled. Sometimes she's happy to be in our hands or lap, other days she wants no part of it. This is not surprising as a lot of hedgehogs can be this way. I chose her for my breeding program specifically for her beautiful cinnamon color and pinto markings. I had her bred by one of my super friendly males. As always, I watched her closely for habit changes, nesting, and I weighed her weekly. Sure enough, between the second and third week her weight started to increase.
Harley's adorable baby boy doing a little self-anointing.As the due date approached, she began some unusual habits. One day she was building a nest, and the next day she was sleeping on the other side of her cage and out from under her house. I was concerned about her not being in her house as hedgehogs love to be in their hiding places, especially during the day. I also noticed her appetite had decreased. I was puzzled over these behavior changes, but that evening she was running around in her cage as usual. The next day, I find her sleeping out from under her house again. I didn't want to upset her, but I had to see her nest to see if she had given birth and the babies were dead. So I lifted her house to find nothing. Did she have her babies and then eat them (hedgehogs will do this)? On inspection, I seen no blood evidence, her milk had not come in, and she weighed the same as the last weighing. Not wanting to stress her, I left her alone, but checked on her throughout the day.
Hermie the hedgehog just being adorable.
The next morning I checked on her she was in the process of giving birth, with two babies already born. She still was not in her house, so it made it easy for me to check on her progress. I sat there very quietly and watched two more babies being born. She cleaned them off and then proceeded to go into her house leaving the babies where they were. What is she doing? I leave and come back a little while later to see if she collected her brood and put them in the nest...she didn't. I jumped online to refresh my memory about new mothers, and then decided I would move the babies in the nest for her. Of course I didn't touch them, but used a spoon to transfer the babies. She hissed at me, but seemed to be worn out from her birthing experience. I put the house back into place and left to do a few chores. A couple of hours later, I find her asleep on the other side of the cage. I lift the house to find all babies inside. I'm starting to really worry now. Using my spoon, I placed all babies at her side again, then left.
Cute little feet.
Contemplating that I might be hand feeding these babies, I went to do a little more research. After researching, I contacted a friend of mine who raises dairy goats and went to pick up some fresh goats milk. Later that afternoon, I checked on her again. I found her in her house with the babies crawling around squeaking. I felt I was now strapped with the chore of hand feeding these little cuties. Using my spoon, I placed them in a small container to keep them warm. I fed them all with a small syringe. They were very receptive to the goats milk. I also had to wipe the bottoms to encourage them to eliminate. With their tummies full and their bowels/bladders empty, they went off to sleep. Two hours later, I'm summoned by the squeaks that it was feeding time again.
Does this house make my butt look big?
Later that evening, when all the hedgehogs are out playing, I check on mom. She was out running around her cage like nothing had ever happened. I began to think that maybe she just had a very hard labor that made her weak. Then I contemplated putting the babies back with her. The war in my mind was great. I had read so many stories of mothers killing their babies because they had been touched by human hands. On the other hand, the loss of hand feeding hedgehogs is great too. The babies have a better chance of survival if they are raised by their mom and her milk. Put them back...don't put them back...put them back...don't put them back. I eventually decided to put them in the cage, while the mom was up and active, to see what she would do.
Precious albino baby.
She cautiously approached the babies, sniffing each one. She even started licking the babies. When she picked up one of the babies and placed it in her house, I was encouraged. I didn't throw caution to the wind because I knew she could still harm them. I watched as she gathered each baby and toted it to the nest. Then the waiting game began as I sat listening for distress squeaks. An hour later, all was still well. Reluctantly, I decided to leave the babies and head to bed. It was difficult to go to sleep with thoughts of her killing the babies running through my mind, and questioning whether I did the right thing or not. The next morning I shot out of bed to check on the babies. All babies were still alive with two in the house with mom and two who crawled outside. I took my spoon and place the two babies back inside the nest with encouraging feelings. After all they were all still alive. We went to church, and out to lunch with friends. After arriving home and changing clothes, I went to check on the babies. My heart soared with excitement because all babies were in the house and nursing on mom. I felt total relief that I had made the right decision.
I was sat scanning the Internet downstairs when I heard distress squeaks. I ran upstairs to see what the problem was. I wasn't concerned because I have seen moms lay on the babies, and they squeak in distress trying to get out from under her. I wasn't prepared for what I saw. The mom was walking around, carrying one of the babies, and it was screaming. I was able to get it away from her, but it was too late. She had bit through the abdomen and the baby bled out. I was in shock! I lifted her house to the other babies, only to find one upside down and flat like it had be mashed. As I removed the baby, I discovered that its head was gone. I thought the other two were still alive but found that one had its head removed too. So that leaves one lone baby.
Tibby getting a bubble bath.
I spent the rest of the day and night feeding this little boy every two hours. So far so good. I have named him Squeaks because he has no problem letting me know when it's feeding time. Two hour feedings and bottom wiping went on for four more days, with me thinking everything was going to be all right for Squeaks. Unfortunately, when I went to get him for his 2 o'clock feeding, he had passed. I was totally heart broken.
Celebrating ChristmasAfter questioning other breeders with more experience, this behavior is not uncommon especially for new moms. I was told that a lot of times the moms won't do this the next time, but I don't think I want to take that chance. What I hope to achieve with sharing this story, is to warn those considering breeding their hedgehog of this possible outcome. Can you handle it?
Our little Fickle Pickle.