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Dormouse rearing, feeding & care
The Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus
avellanarius) is a very attractive
animal and can be identified easily by its thick, furry tail,
ginger coat and prominent black eyes.
Dormice are nocturnal, live in trees and hibernate for the winter until
late spring in woven nests hidden in bramble thickets or hollow trees.
They are very rarely caught by cats and more likely to be found when
their nest is disturbed while gardening.
Can they be returned to the mother?
Is the mother still around or has she been killed or frightened away?
What you do depends on what has happened to the nest.
If the nest was exposed when brambles were cut back, try reconstructing
the protective cover then move away and wait to see if the mother comes
Don't get too close, use binoculars to keep watch and wait at least an
hour to give her a chance to return.
Scan the trees and brambles and if you see her in the vicinity be
patient and give her time to check it is safe to come back.
Orphaned / Abandoned
If the mother was killed or there is no
sign of her, the babies will
need to be kept warm and taken to someone who can rear them.
A warm woolly sock or glove makes a good temporary nest.
Fold over the top and secure with a clothes peg to prevent it escaping
and keep close to your body to keep warm while you find a small,
Line the box with layers of kitchen roll and if the baby is cold, place
the box on a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel to moderate the heat.
Take it to a rescue centre for rearing.
Rearing is most successful if it can be
done by one person. The carer
gets to know the animal and so can detect any changes in behaviour.
The animal is less likely to get distressed when the same person has
sole responsibility for its care and the carer will learn much from the
which will help them and the animals they care for in the future.
A deep glass or plastic tank with a
very secure, solid lid is
recommended. Dormice are great escape artists.
The tank needs to be at least 38cms (15") deep so that when their eyes
open you can put fresh hazel and birch twigs inside for the Dormice to
Initially, when very young, place a vivarium heat pad under the tank
and put their nesting material above this.
Line the bottom of the tank with white kitchen towel and provide a good
handful of hay, dried leaves and moss for bedding.
Later, if you can provide sections of honeysuckle stems the dormice
will use the peeling bark to make a nest.
Feeding equipment and technique
Use a 1ml syringe with a 0.8 mm IV
catheter (with needle removed)
Trim this down to about 1 cm in length to be more controllable,
otherwise the babies try and swallow the whole tube.
Bald, pink, helpless blind babies
Develop fine grey fur, eyes still closed
Grey/brown fur, eyes begin to open
Able to forage with the mother
Independent. Sandy/ginger coat
This is always Lectade or a similar
rehydrating fluid. If the baby is
very dehydrated give Lectade for all or part of the second feed.
Place one drop at a time into the mouth, making sure each is swallowed
before another added.
Very young babies will take only 0.1-0.2 ml but older ones should
take up to about 0.3ml
Record the date and time of feed, amount taken and whether urine and
faeces produced by toileting.
Weigh daily before the first feed is
Use Esbilac mixed 1 part powder to 2 parts cooled boiled water.
Mix enough for the day, stir well, place in a lidded container in the
fridge and remember to shake the container before taking out enough for
Add 1 drop of Abidec to the first feed of the day.
Very young mice will need about 0.1 - 0.2 ml per feed
Older babies need about 0.2 - 0.3 ml per feed.
Do not overfeed; observation of the animals' behaviour and weight will
tell you if they need more or less food
Gently stimulate new and very young
patients to urinate and defecate
before and after every feed.
Using a small piece of damp cotton wool, gently stroke the genital area
until a tiny stream of urine is produced.
Faeces will not be produced every time and once you have established
that excretion is regular, you need only toilet after feeding.
Once the babies are fully furred and
the eyes are beginning to open,
leave some solid food in the cage.
Any of the following will be welcome: Ripe rosehips, mixed seeds,
sunflower hearts, chopped walnut, hazelnut, blackberries, chopped
apple, insectivore food,
wild blossom, wild honeysuckle flowers and fruit, hawthorn haws,
sycamore and ash seeds, beech nuts, sweet chestnut.
Also put in a very shallow container for Esbilac milk. The lids
of the containers photographic film comes in are about right.
The milk (or water with 1 drop of Abidec) should barely cover the
bottom so they can drink without inhaling it.
Release should ideally be in the same
area where the dormouse was found
as a breeding colony already exists and it is important to maintain the
The Mammal Society have experience of setting up release cages for
groups of animals.
A single individual could be put into a Dormouse nestbox and allowed to
escape into the territory at its own pace.
The Dormouse Rearing information was given by Sandra Harvey of Taunton,
Devon and I am indebted to her for her kindness in allowing me to
reproduce it here.
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