Before making the decision to breed hedgehogs, you should first consider the reasons why you intend to breed them and, more importantly, who will take the babies that are produced. It is never a good idea to breed hedgehogs just to have babies since the care that both they and their mothers will require is very great indeed! If you have a pet female, you must also face the fact that her personality will likely change once she is pregnant and even more so after she gives birth. Another unpleasant facet of breeding hedgehogs is infanticide. If disturbed just before giving birth or during the following week, she may make the ultimate sacrifice and kill or eat her hoglets. Over the next several weeks you will have to spend time each day handling and playing with the babies.
Before you begin, ask yourself these questions:
If you are going to breed, you will want to choose the parents carefully. Ideally, both should have good conformation, be strong and healthy, and come from large healthy litters. Both potential parents should have wonderful personalities as this characteristic will then be passed on to their young. Never breed ill-tempered animals! This is very irresponsible since that bad attitude will be passed on to the
The female should be between 5 and 12 months when you first breed her - no younger and preferably, no older. If she is too young, it could cause permanent damage to her internal organs. After she is one year old, her chances of conceiving for the first time drop dramatically.
Since you will be bringing the female to the male's cage, (this ensures better breeding success) clean his cage, and remove any obstacles such as toys, tubes or boxes that might get in their way. Then, take her to his cage and leave them together for about 7 days.
The courtship itself is an interesting sight to watch! Soon after being placed together, the male will start to squeak and squeal (sometimes called plaintive squeaks) as he chases the female around the cage. She will resist is advances quite vigorously and, in an attempt to chase him away, will hiss, spit, and bang heads with him. For all intents and purposes, it will appear as though they are fighting, but don't worry - this is typical behavior. Once she finally accepts him, (or just plain gives up - it's hard to say which!) she will lay her quills down, flatten to the floor, and push out her soft-haired rump. It is then, and only then that he will mount and breed her. Not every male will do this if you are watching and will wait until you have left. It is, therefore, usually best if, after putting them together, you then leave them alone for a time to assure a successful breeding.
After the 7 days are up, return the female to her own, clean, disinfected cage. Although not usually necessary, an option is to repeat the breeding one week later to ensure pregnancy. Again, leave them together for another 7 days and then remove her to her own cage. DO NOT leave the male in with a female who is due to give birth. If the male is with her when the babies are born, the both parents may eat the babies!
It is very important that you keep good records of the breeding. Use a calendar and mark on it ALL of the days that the two were left together. The gestation period is approximately 35 days, so mark down the expected due dates as well. A good breeder will keep very comprehensive records, so make accurate notes of the male's name, the female's name, (yes, you sometimes can forget!) their ages as well as their color, etc. All of this information will be useful to you later on.
As has already been mentioned, the pregnancy will last about 35 days, although some will give birth in as few as 30 days and others have been known go as long as 46. Most, however, will have a normal 34 - 36 day pregnancy. If the female does not give birth by her last expected due date, give her at least another 11 days before assuming that the breeding wasn't successful.
Your expectant mother will require a nest box at least one week before her first due date. There are a variety of nest box designs to choose from and even a few commercially available units, but it does not need to be too elaborate. As an example, a popular and very simple to build nest box can be made from a 1 gallon plastic ice cream pail. Clean it thoroughly and remove the handle if it has one. Keeping the lid on (this will become the floor) flip it upside down and, using a sharp knife, cut a 4 inch wide round hole in the side. When cutting, try to keep the bottom of the hole at least one inch above the base. Put a few shavings inside and place it, lid side down, in the corner of the female's cage. The one inch lip at the bottom of the doorway will help to keep the babies inside and, since the entire box is made from plastic, it can be easily washed and disinfected after the litter has been weaned.
If you want to build something more elaborate, you can construct a special breeding cage. Using a regular cage, add a 4 diameter right angle PVC tube with a 5 piece of straight PVC added to each end. To the other end, add a small cooler chest. This will be the nest box. You will need to cut a hole in the side of the cage and cooler with a 4 inch hole saw. Fit the pieces together and, depending on whether you intend to disassemble the unit at a future date or not, glue the pieces together with epoxy cement. The advantage of this type of nest box is that when the female comes out to eat on the second or third day after having given birth, we can lift the cooler lid and take a quick peak in to check on the babies without disturbing her. We do a quick head count and make sure that all of the hoglets are doing well. As well, the length of tube acts as an effective barrier to any hoglets that try to venture out of the nest too soon.
Although some breeders recommend the use of a 6 diameter piece of PVC tube as a nest box, we do not. The tube does not provide enough room for the babies to nurse properly and since there is no physical barrier to prevent the highly mobile babies from wandering away and becoming lost in the shavings, the mortality rate during the first week can be high. If provided with a tube, many females simply move their litter outside of the tube anyway, so we recommend that you stick to using nest boxes.
During the last two weeks of her pregnancy, increase her food a little the last two weeks. Look at her daily. Clean her cage (you don't have to disinfect it) three days before her earliest expected due date. Continue to look in on her daily unless she misses a meal. If she does not eat a meal or if you hear the bird-like chirping of the newborn hoglets, do not look in the box! The first week is a very critical time for the female and any disturbance could cause her to kill or even eat her babies. If one of the hoglets falls out of the nest box during the first week, do not touch it! The smell of your hand on the hoglet may very well cause the mother to reject or kill it. Instead, gently scoop it up with a clean spoon and return it to the nest when mom isn't looking.
Litter sizes can vary from as few as one to as many as 8 or 9 babies. Most litters, though, will consist of 3 or 4. At birth, the hoglets will be about one inch long, blind, naked and completely dependent on their mother. When born, they have a fluid saturated membrane covering their spines and as this dries and shrinks over the next 6 to 12 hours, the spines will begin to poke through. These first spines are very soft and hair-like. The first hard spines do not grow in for another two weeks. While nursing, the babies line up along their mothers belly just like puppies and kittens and the mother is no less attentive to her brood than a mother cat is to her kittens. The babies grow very rapidly during this time. After about 4 or 5 days, you may look in and peak at mother and babies. She will likely hiss at you to telling you to keep out. Leave her be but continue to look in on them everyday until they are about three weeks old. Remember to feed mom more during this time. Keep an ample supply of food in her dish at all times and make certain that she has plenty of water.
At three weeks of age the babies are old enough to be handled. Their eyes are just opening and they have entered the "toddler" stage and are becoming quite mobile. By this time they have even mastered the hedgehoggy art of rolling into a ball. You should be able to gently pick them up now. Mother will not like this and she will hiss and jump at you while trying to protect her babies. Don't worry, though, as this is the sign of a good mother. Pick her up and move her into another area and then pick the babies up one at a time. As soon as each one unrolls onto your hand and pokes out its adorable little frowning face, put it back in the nest and then pick up the next. Don't handle them for more than a minute each this first time. The mother shouldn't be too worried when you put her back - especially if she is a friendly pet. Tell her how lovely the babies are and how good a mother she is. Then leave her alone until tomorrow. Handle them briefly each day until they are 5 weeks old. At 5 weeks you may hold them considerably longer. The mother has begun to wean them and they should be eating on their own. It's is generally recommended that you not remove them from her until they are at least 6 weeks old, though, since they are still emotionally dependent on their mother, as is she on them.
At 6 weeks, the female will be tired of the now-weaned hoglets and this can be seen by the amount of time she spends outside of the nest. By this time you should have another cage ready for the youngsters. Remove them from the mother and place them in this new cage. Handle these young hedgehogs constantly to ensure that they are comfortable around people and will make super pets. At 8 weeks separate your young males and females as it is actually possible for them to breed at that age. This is not good. They are still children. At about ten weeks, they grow their adult set of spines. When this happens, their color may remain the same or it may change overnight. This new color will not change again and can be considered to be their adult color.
DEALING WITH REJECTED HOGLETS:
If you find a hoglet that has been rejected by its mother, you can try fostering under another mother with babies that are about the same age or you can hand-feed if you choose. I find that many rejected babies have birth defects the mother knows about and we don't see, so I don't try to fosters these. If something happens to mom, or she gets sick, though, I do try to foster the babies. If I don't have another female to foster them under, I use FIRST BORN kitten formula, (goats milk also works well) and feed every 3 - 4 hours - just as you would a baby bird. While feeding them you must also stimulate them to urinate by gently stroking the lower abdomen.
Hand-feeding should only be used as a last resort and does not need to be used to produce friendlier animals. The survival rate is very poor for hand-fed hoglets at the present time. Most die within the first two weeks. If at all possible, foster the babies rather than hand-feed.