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The Hazel Dormouse

Dormouse rearing, feeding & care

The Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) is a very attractive animal and can be identified easily by its thick, furry tail,
almost 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.

dormouse

Adult dormouse

Unweaned babies

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 back.
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, ventilated box.
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 information

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 experience,
which will help them and the animals they care for in the future.

Housing

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 climb about.
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) attached.
Trim this down to about 1 cm in length to be more controllable, otherwise the babies try and swallow the whole tube.

Dormouse Development

Newborn
    Bald, pink, helpless blind babies
1 week
    Develop fine grey fur, eyes still closed
2½ weeks
    Grey/brown fur, eyes begin to open
3 weeks
    Able to forage with the mother
6-8 weeks
    Independent. Sandy/ginger coat

First Feed

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.

Milk Feeds

Weigh daily before the first feed is given.
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 a feed.
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

Toileting

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.

Weaning

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

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 population balance.
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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