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Rearing Hoglets - The Early days
Peto ( Hedgehog Welfare)
The hand rearing of very small hoglets
(0-3 days old) is not difficult
but how these animals are treated within the first few hours of rescue
will make the difference
to the success rate of the animal reaching maturity.
Over the past 20 years I have tried to improve what I do. With
the first litter of babies that were given to me to hand rear, I did
In my defence I would say that I was not given much instruction. (About
1 minute) I had never hand reared any animal.
I was a volunteer in a wildlife sanctuary, keen to help and
I was told that I had little chance of rearing the litter as they were
too small; one being only 6gms.
I could not find any books on looking after hoglets but I did find one
on rearing kittens and did my best to apply that.
They all died within a week. I felt terrible, a murderer. I
had over-heated them, over-fed them and goodness knows what else I put
those animals through.
I knew there had to be a way of hand rearing. Although that first
litter and many more since have died, I learned from them all.
I still lose the odd hoglet so I am sure I still have a lot to
As I have gained my knowledge I have passed it on to others, to ensure
that my mistakes were not repeated.
No hoglets have lost their lives in vain because now I am pleased to
say that our success rate is very high.
The smallest hoglet raised was a premature (by 3-4 days) female whose
weight was just 4 grams.
I also know that she has raised at least 3 litters herself and is now
just coming up to 3 years old (July 02)
When you first receive the call that
small hoglets have been found and
the finder states that they are pink or grey/pink with white spines, it
is very important that you give them
a few instructions to help these small animals immediately.
You should stress to the finder how important these very basic
instructions are; they must be caring people, they have gone to the
trouble of finding you,
they could have just left the animals where they were.
Ask them not to handle the hoglets with bare hands.
Pick them up in soft tissue handkerchiefs or pieces of clean, soft
cotton and to place them in a small box lined with very soft material
with no holes or sharp edges.
Facial tissues or soft cotton material are fine, hay, straw, sawdust or
cut grass is not warm enough.
Ask them to place something in the box to keep the hoglets warm.
A small screw capped plastic drinks bottle filled with hot water,
makes a good temporary heater when wrapped in soft material
so the hoglets do not burn themselves.
It is also important to keep the box away from noise.
The hoglets should be transported to a carer or centre as soon as
I have found the public very helpful but they need to know why
they are doing things and they will usually do as you ask.
instructions in the care for very young hoglets
Only handle the hoglets with cotton
I have found that when they are very young ( pink, 4-20grams) their
skin is very delicate.
Any rough skin or nails can damage them; also the acid on your skin can
sometimes affect their skin.
I have lots of pairs of white cotton gloves; they also give you a
little protection if the hoglet has an infectious skin problem such as
I only wear the gloves once (1 hoglet or litter of hoglets) and then
they go into disinfectant before being washed.
Anything that you wash that comes into contact with the hoglets skin
should only be washed in a gentle soap powder designed for washing the
clothes of very young babies.
a warm heat pad ready
Before the arrival of your hoglets make
sure you have a heat pad
heating up, covering it with something soft.
I use nappy liners, the old fashioned muslin sort.
As soon as the hoglets arrive they can be placed on the pad to keep
them warm while they are being examined.
Being so small they lose body heat very quickly.
The first thing I do is to stimulate
them to see if they need to pass
urine or faeces.
To do this I use the very best cotton wool (some of the cheaper sorts
have rough bits that can cause tears in the hoglets’ skin)
Take a small piece of the cotton wool, form it in the shape f a small
tongue and soak it in baby oil.
Smooth the oily cotton wool pad over the complete rear of the hoglet,
ensuring you reach into every skin fold.
This will place a thin film of baby oil over the skin to protect it
Then using the oil soaked cotton wool, I tickle very lightly over the
genitals with a side-to-side flicking movement.
(Imagine the light but firm touch of a mother hedgehog’s tongue, that
is what you are trying to imitate.)
Ensure you keep the hoglet on the heat pad while you stimulate it.
Try to soak up as much urine as possible as it is passed; the delicate
skin will be burned if it gets in contact too often.
Once urine has stopped flowing (it always surprises me how much one
little hoglet can pass) .
Any faeces passed should be placed on a microscope slide and covered
with a slip, so they can be checked later.
Change the oily cotton wool for another clean oily piece and clean the
rear end first to ensure that any urine left on the skin is removed as
quickly as possible.
Then change to a new oily cotton wool pad and wipe over the whole
hoglet, in short movements like a hedgehog's tongue.
This not only cleans the hoglets but stimulates the internal organs and
helps the blood to circulate.
while you are doing this, remember to keep the hoglet on the heat pad.
Check for fleas, maggots, fly eggs.
These last can be removed by
washing the area with a warm salt solution.
1 teaspoon (5ml) salt dissolved
pint (300ml) warm water
Check for any cuts and puncture wounds and use the solution to clean
away any eggs or maggots in or around them.
Flush out wounds with salt solution in a syringe until it is clean, dry
with clean soft cotton and apply dermisol cream twice daily.
I do have a golden rule; if the animal has maggots in two or more
orifices then euthanasia must be considered.
I spent a summer checking all hoglets, performing post mortems on all
the ones that had been put to sleep because of maggot infestation
or had died where maggots or fly eggs had been present.
It was found that the maggots had got into one or more major organs;
brain, liver, kidneys or heart.
I know it is difficult to make the decision but talk to your vet. it
may be kinder to have a hoglet put to sleep at the start, rather than
suffer a long slow death.
If maggots have reached these major organs they would not survive long
term, whatever you do.
Once the hoglet is made comfortable
with an empty bladder and is all
clean and checked over, I weigh them (ensuring the scales are not cold)
and complete a patient record sheet, sexing and ageing the animal.
Everything that I do to the hoglet is recorded on this sheet; date,
time, how much, notes on what it passed.
Details of the condition of the animal, where it was found, who found
it, telephone numbers.
This sheet is kept with the patient from the time it comes in to the
time it is released or dies.
It is a complete record of the animal while it is in care; you can use
these also to improve what you do.
Dehydration is the next problem to
tackle. The hoglet is usually too
cold and frightened to feed at first. I now never attempt to feed
at this stage
but inject 0.5ml of warm Hartmann's solution No 18 (with glucose) with
a very fine
needle. (23g or less). I ensure the fluid is warm and inject it just
under the skin.
The animal can now be left to relax, warm up and sleep, but ensure it
is covered, to stop heat loss.
I try to ensure that from the animal comes in to the time it is left to
sleep is a maximum of 15 minutes, keeping them on the heat pad as much
Be prepared and have everything ready.
If you are going to collect the animal this can all be done at the
You can educate them as you work; very often they become interested and
become volunteers, helping you in your work.
I keep my hoglets in small plastic
boxes which are easy to clean and
big enough for the heat pad to go at the side, not under the bedding.
The hoglet must be able to
get away if it is too hot.
I make little beds up from mini tea cosies that an old lady makes for
me. These are lined with very soft tissue handkerchiefs or muslin nappy
The heat pad goes against the back of the box, then the nest cosies go
against the heat pad.
If you only receive one hoglet always give it a small soft toy to
cuddle up to.
Then I cover the box with a piece of net curtaining to ensure that
flies do not get in to the hoglets.
They are then left for two hours; I keep a watch on them but do not
touch them, move the box or disturb them in any way.
I also put in a Rose Crystal; I do not really believe in them but my
patient record sheets show that the animals with a Rose crystal are
less stressed and do better.
I did do a small trial over 14 litters and it did appear to work.
I use them but I am not convinced; it may work but certainly cannot do
You can now check the faeces that you
left on the microscope slide
earlier; even new-born hoglets can have internal parasites.
I check them at least once a week for the first three weeks and again
one or two days before release. Only if there is a heavy infestation of
parasites do I treat them.
I do not treat for a low count of parasites as I feel it is natural for
the hedgehog to have a healthy balance of parasites and if every one is
removed the balance may be disturbed.
I have only found Capillaria and Coccidia in the very young hedgehog
I treat them as I would an adult but reduce the dose according to
Esbilac Milk Replacers (Pet Ag) are
available in two forms:
Liquid Milk in 235ml (8fl oz) and 370 ml (12.5 fl oz) and Powdered Milk
340g (12oz) and 793g (28oz)
I use the liquid milk for hoglets
between 4 and 40 grams for the first
four days only.
Mix 3 parts Esbilac Liquid Milk with 1 part Hartmann's solution No 18
(with glucose) and 1 part goat colostrum or kitten colostrum substitute
Hartmann's Solution is used as I have found that when hoglets first
in, they are cold, frightened and inactive and this is a real
But if the hoglet becomes very active I change the Hartmann's Solution
to cold boiled water.
I do not know why, but if the small hoglets are on the liquid milk for
more than four days their urine gets very strong and makes them sore.
It appears not to affect the urine if they are on it for only four days
and it appears to give them a better start.
I use this on all hoglets up to 40g
after they have been in four days.
Hoglets over 40g can go straight onto the powdered milk.
Mix 1 part Esbilac Powder to 2 parts warm boiled water.
If a new hoglet over 40g comes into
your care, for the first 24 hours,
part Esbilac powder with 2 parts warm Hartmann's Solution.
According to the age of the hoglet up to 21 days, I add 1 part goats
colostrum or the Kitten Colostrum Substitute.
I have found the best way of ensuring
the Powdered Milk is properly
mixed with the water is to make up enough for the day's feeds, putting
a drinks container that has a secure top and giving it a good shake.
Usually I make up enough feed for a complete day and leave it in the
fridge to ensure it stays fresh.
I only take out enough for that feed so that it is never warmed up
If any is left after a feed or at the end of the day it is thrown away.
I also add to a complete day's feed for the first 48 hours 0.5ml of Cat
Breeders nutri-drops (Net-Tex Ltd)
I feed all hoglets regularly for the
first 24 hours of care including
all through the night.
After 24 hours I do leave them for longer periods as I need sleep as
Feed amounts depend on each animal, but the following table can be used
as a general guide.
- Feeding Guide for Hoglets 4g - 100g
- Weight 4-20g
Amount 0.5ml every 2-3 hours (6 hours overnight)
- Weight 23-30g Amount
0.7ml every 2-3 hours (6.5 hours overnight)
- Weight 30-50g
1ml every 4-5 hours (7 hours overnight)
- Weight 50-100g Amount
every 4-5 hours (8 hours overnight)
Remember feeds should always be warm;
test on your wrist to ensure that
it is the correst temperature.
Never give a hoglet a cold or too hot feed.
Do not over feed; once the stomach is full, the milk will drain into
I prefer to feed them a little less and more often rather than drown
them in milk.
In all the literature that I have seen
it shows hoglets being fed in a
hand, lying on their back.
To me this is so totally unnatural and I feel that it is too easy to
flood their mouths this way.
Hoglets suckle lying on their stomach and I copy this as a
I usually sit at my desk or dining table with the head pad in front of
me, covered with a muslin nappy.
To feed I use a shortened kitten teat.
I use ones made by Catac and cut ½ inch off the end that is
pushed on to the syringe or pipette but do remember that
only a very small amount is cut (shaved) off the other end to allow the
milk through slowly.
As the hoglet gets bigger and can take the milk faster a little more
can be taken off this end
- Never attempt to rush a feed as the hoglet will sense it and play
up or refuse to feed.
- Keeping the hoglet flat on the heatpad with my gloved hand
lightly cupped over it with a finger and thumb either side of its head
- to guide it, I offer it the teat. They usually take
to it very quickly.
- If a hoglet will not feed try a little honey on its tongue and on
the end of the teat.
- Allow the milk feed to slowly go into the mouth; do not allow
more milk feed to enter until the first has been swallowed.
- If you do by accident flood the mouth, immediately take out the
teat and allow the feed to drain out by holding the hoglet with his
head slightly down for a few seconds.
- Wipe any excess from the mouth, wait a little while to give the
hoglet time to recover, then start again.
I always follow the same feeding routine. I hum a tune (always the same
one) so the hoglet knows I am around.
Then I pick it up, weigh it, stimulate it, feed it, wash it, stimulate
again and wash again.
I leave it on the heat pad while cleaning its nest out, put it back in
the nest, cover it and leave to rest undisturbed until the next feed.
If hoglets are not putting on weight,
try increasing the feed slightly or getting an extra feed in during the
I do get hoglets feeding themselves as
soon as possible; it is better
for their digestion to lap rather than to take it from the bottle.
So I often hold either side of the head and drip feed onto a plastic
lid to encourage them to lap at it.
Then once they get the idea and can lap I leave a very little on a lid
in the box outside the nest and even hoglets that do not have
their eyes open appear to be able to find it.
Of course I still feed them with a bottle until such time that they can
take a full feed and maintain their weight.
I do not sterilise the feeding
equipment each time I use it.
I do wash it out in warm water and have one set of equipment per
I put it in to be sterilised overnight but wash it really well
afterwards, as the hoglets hate the smell of the sterilising solution.
I only start to wean once the first
tooth buds show.
I use liquidized kitten food or Spike's dinner hedgehog hood (Spike's
World), mixing it in very small amounts in the feed and slowly
Small biscuits (Spike's or good star shaped chicken and rice cat
biscuits) can be used by the hoglets to help bring on their teeth; in
the wild they would have small beetles.
This is not the only way to raise
hoglets but I have found that this
works for me and you will find that the more you hand rear, you will
find your own ways of doing things.
If you find another way that may help others, please share it.
We are not in competition with one another, we are only trying to give
Nature a helping hand.
This paper was presented by Janet Peto at the European Hedgehog
Research Group 5th Workshop in Onferno, Italy.
Published in The Rehabilitator, Newsletter XXXVII Autumn 2003 of the
British Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.
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