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Hand Rearing Hoglets  -  The Early days

Janet 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 everything wrong.
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 learn. 
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 learn. 
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)

New Babies

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 possible.
 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.

Basic instructions in the care for very young hoglets

Only handle the hoglets with cotton gloved hands. 
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 ringworm.
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.

Have 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.

Toileting

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 from urine.
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 hoglet up;
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.

Examination

Check for fleas, maggots, fly eggs. These last can be removed by washing the area with a warm salt solution.
Salt solution
        1 teaspoon (5ml) salt dissolved in ½ 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.   

Note the Details

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

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 as possible.
Be prepared and have everything ready.
If you are going to collect the animal this can all be done at the finder's home.
You can educate them as you work; very often they become interested and become volunteers, helping you in your work.

Housing

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 liners.
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.
Crystal Healing
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 any harm.

Parasites

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 and I treat them as I would an adult but reduce the dose according to weight.

Milk Feeds

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)

Liquid Milk

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 (Net-tex Ltd).
Hartmann's Solution is used as I have found that when hoglets first come in, they are cold, frightened and inactive and this is a real pick-me-up.
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.

Powdered Milk

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.

New patients

If a new hoglet over 40g comes into your care, for the first 24 hours, mix 1 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.

Preparing Milk feeds

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 it into
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 twice.
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)

Feeding times

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 well.
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     Amount   1ml  every  4-5 hours  (7 hours overnight)
Weight   50-100g   Amount   2ml  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 the lungs.
I prefer to feed them a little less and more often rather than drown them in milk.

Feeding Position

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 feeding position.
I usually sit at my desk or dining table with the head pad in front of me, covered with a muslin nappy.

Feeding Equipment
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

Feeding Technique
Feeding Routine
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 day.

Self feeding

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.

Steriliser

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 hoglet..
I put it in to be sterilised overnight but wash it really well afterwards, as the hoglets hate the smell of the sterilising solution.

Weaning

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 increasing it.
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.

Finally

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.
e-mail: ehrg.members@virgin.net

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