• Breeding Stage 3- Week two to weaning

    This is usually the point in time where it becomes safe to have first contact with the babies, but special care is still strongly required.

    Mother- At this point, the babies are getting big enough to put a big strain on the mother. Especially with very large litters, moms eating habits may change a lot. Watch your mother's food bowl carefully, and make sure she always has plenty of good food available. Her food needs may as much as double in this stage, which is not surprising seeing as the babies are growing very rapidly. Treats are a good idea, and usually well recieved, but care should be taken to only offer the highest nutritional quality treats possible, and not to give her so many that she doesn't eat her base diet. Water as well may go down a lot faster. If you notice that your mother hedgehog is losing significant amounts of weight, you may have to upgrade her food sources, often adding some quality kitten food to the mixture of her kibble may help provide the additional boost that she needs.

    Any changes that are made to your mom and babies at this point such as cage cleaning, handling, other people in the area, etc. need to be controlled by the mother hedgehog's behavior. Introduce any stresses VERY gradually. If mom is calm and accepting of changes, then proceed cautiously. If she shows agitation or stress, either by huffing and popping, pacing, carrying the babies, or any other abnormal behaviors, then take the hint and give her more time. If you ignore the signals given by your mom hog, she still can destroy the babies.
    At this point, depending on the mothers' behavior, it may be safe to start having contact with your babies. Every breeder recommends a different method of this introduction to handling, but this is what I recommend.
    Step 1- very briefly touch one baby on the back with a finger tip. Do not pick up. Do not disturb anything else.
    Step 2- Pick one baby up very briefly, basically just enough to lift it out of nest, turn it over to check sex, and say "aw, isn't it cute". This should take under 10 seconds, and is best done when mom is distracted with a treat.
    Step 3- Pick each baby up one at a time, look them over, and return them to nest.
    Step 4- Hold entire litter for about 1-2 minutes.
    Step 5- Hold litter for 5 minutes
    I usually move forward through these steps over the period of about a week. If at any time mom appears stressed out by your contact, go back to the previous step for another day or two.

    At 3 weeks, the babies eyes are usually opening, and they are starting to toddle around a bit. During this week, I usually spend half an hour tops with the litter each day, usually remaining close to the cage, and if mom is interested, bringing mom out with the babies.

    By week 4, the babies may be sampling small amounts of solid food. Do NOT take this as a sign to wean them, they still rely very heavily on mom's milk, and will not do well if weaned at this point. Add a small shallow dish of softened food for the babies to eat, but make sure you clean this out at least a couple of times per day, as it can and will go bad. Start it out where it is about the consistency of slightly runny pudding, and then gradually reduce water content. Lower the water bottle so it is more easily accessable by the babies who are interested. During weeks 4 and 5, I usually slowly up the time, so I am spending an hour or so with them.

    By 5 weeks, the babies should be adequately able to eat solid food, though they still should be left with mom for nursing and maternal comfort. From week 5-6, mom is usually glad to get rid of the beasts, and you can start spending a couple of hours over the day with them, returning them to mom occasionally so they can nurse.

    At week 6, you can usually wean the babies. At this point, I usually seperate out any little boys into one cage, so they adjust to being without mom but still have a sibling to snuggle with. I usually leave the girls with mom for an additional day or two, unless she is getting tired of them. At this age, they are still fine for a bit living in same sex groups, but I usually recommend seperating the boys into individual cages at around 8 weeks old. Do NOT sell the babies immediately after weaning, keep them around for at least a week to make sure they are able to eat and drink well enough to maintain themselves. If they seem to be struggling, soften the food in their cage and let the mom back in with the babies for a couple of hours a day, but make sure that she is not having contact with the little boys after 7 weeks of age, due to the slight chance of one of them getting her pregnant.

    After the babies are weaned, give mom her much deserved break. Maintain plentiful food supply, though expect the food consumption to slack off once the babies are gone. Make sure you give her a good break before you breed her again, at least 2 months minimum.

    Enjoy your babies!

    photo courtesy of Connecticut Hedgehogs