• The Runt Phenomenon

    Written by Antigone Means-Burleson

    In the latter part of '99 and early part of '00 we noticed an interesting phenomena... a seemingly large number of runt hedgehogs. In our first year of breeding, we didn't see any. Then we saw them occasionally. In a three month period we saw several in our own litters and also heard others report them more often than ever before. Among ours, some were smaller than their siblings at birth and remained somewhat smaller until final adult size was achieved (when they often ended up as large or larger than their siblings). The ones that really concerned us were those who start out the same size as their siblings and appeared to simply "fail to thrive."

    Of the babies we have had like that, most have either been in large litters, or have been fostered with slightly older litters. That led us to theorize that perhaps they have been pushed out of the way and have gotten enough milk to survive, but not enough to thrive? To try to remedy this, we have given supplemental feedings when possible- though some of the little guys just anoint with it! Another thing I have noticed about the runts of this type is that they seem to open their eyes and get fur and teeth at the same time as their siblings,
    but that they don't lose their baby quills and get adult quills until they finally hit a growth spurt. I refer to them as DD (Delayed Development) babies, due to this lag in reaching developmental milestones.

    We have had some who didn't survive, despite our best efforts, but have also had others who eventually thrived, such as our Lady Sampoernella, and a little guy named Squidge who now lives with the wonderful Musgrove family in Texas! Our most famous runt was "Tiny Tim" and he was quite the trooper! The pictures on this page are of him. Tim and his sister Latte were rejected by their mother, and were placed with different foster families. Tim's family had 5 babies and a mom I knew to be an excellent foster mom, and Latte's family had just two babies and a mom I wasn't sure about as a foster mom. Both Tim and Latte were normal sized at birth. Latte was a bit behind her siblings in size and growth rate, but not too badly. Tim, however, never seemed to grow much. When he was about 4 weeks old I placed him with a foster family of newborns, since he was the same size as they! He weighed 24 grams! At almost 7 weeks old we gave Tim a place of his own and put him on Select Diet (a nutrient dense hedgehog food that is soft enough for him to chew). We also provided him with a shallow water dish and a shallow dish with a little formula (kitten milk replacer) in it. He seemed to eat his weight in Select Diet, but at first didn't gain any weight. We kept rooting for him and hoping he would be ok!

    Note added 12/28/99: Tiny Tim has grown up to be a normal sized sweetie, who surprised us by becoming a very handsome chocolate white! Using the same techniques we tried with Tim, we have been able to help several more severely runt babies survive and thrive. I've started referring to these hedgies as "DD" babies because they are not only small in stature, they also exhibit several developmental delays. For example, they do not begin the process of quilling, which marks the transition from adolescence to adulthood, until their size catches up, and some do not grow hair until much later than would normally be expected. Bravo to these tiny troopers, the spirit with which they fight to survive against all odds is truly amazing!

    Note added 2/19/02: Tiny Tim crossed over the Rainbow Bridge at the age of 3-1/2. His first health problems started at age 2 when he developed a weeping tumor on his side. He went to stay at the Flash and Thelma Memorial Hedgehog Rescue, where he was able to be taken care of by one of the top hedgehog vets in the country, Dr. Dressen. She successfully removed this tumor, then another from between his brain and his skull when he was 3. The tumor on the brain returned about 6 months later and began slowly robbing Tim of his gross motor functions. He crossed on peacefully in his sleep and will be remembered with love by all those whose lives he touched.