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About Hedgehog Breeding

If you are considering becoming a hedgehog breeder we hope you find this page enlightening.

We have outlined some of the important facts to know about breeding hedgehogs and being a responsible breeder.

Your Mission

When it comes to breeding, the first thing you must do is determine your mission, your goal.
What is your reason for wanting to breed hedgehogs? 

Is your goal to make money?
     You may turn a profit but you may also go broke paying vet bills.  It's a gamble and money definitely should not be your main goal.
Do you just want to see cute babies?
     Photos of baby hedgehogs are posted on the internet every single minute.  This is a terrible reason to create living animals.
Do you just want your pet hedgehog to have babies?
     You are risking your hedgehog's life and the lives of the offspring for your own selfish reasons.  This is never how breeding should begin.  Continue reading.
Is a hedgehog breeder encouraging you to breed hedgehogs?
     If yes, find another breeder.  Unethical breeders will encourage potential buyers to breed hedgehogs just so that they can sell multiple animals to the buyer.  They will sell animals that they no longer want and even animals that didn't work out as a breeding animal for them.  They will sell animals with grumpy temperaments as breeding stock because they have a hard time selling it to a pet home.  This is an awful thing to do and the breeder should be reported to USDA.

We respectfully ask that you not join the ranks of many other misguided and thoughtless individuals who are producing babies without any consideration for the hedgehogs, their health or where they end up.

Things that should be considered BEFORE breeding:

  • Have you thoroughly researched the species and its proper husbandry?
  • Do you have a truly experienced mentor to guide you?
  • If you already have a hedgehog was it sold to you as Pet Only?
    If yes
         You likely do not have the pedigree and should not breed without knowing the lineage.
         The hedgehog may have been sold Pet Only because it is not genetically appropriate breeding stock.
         Breeding the hedgehog could cause you legal issues as you likely signed a no breeding contract.​
         NOTE:  Never assume that because hedgehogs come from different states or regions that they are not related.  Breeders buy, sell, and trade with each other frequently to keep their arrays/herds diverse and it is quite common for breeders on opposite sides of the country to have hedgehogs with similar lineages.
  • Are you knowledgeable about the ramifications of inbreeding hedgehogs?
  • Are you prepared to attain the proper permits, licensing and certifications that may be required for you to breed hedgehogs legally?
  • Do you understand that there is a possibility that you could lose your breeding female during pregnancy or delivery?
  • Do you have a financial cushion for any veterinary costs that could arise?
  • Are you  prepared to hand-rear babies if necessary?  This includes feeding every 2 hours and helping them urinate and defecate.
  • Do you know how to properly socialize the babies?  Do you have adequate time for them?
  • Is there truly a market for hedgehogs in your area?  Is your are area already saturated with hedgehog breeders?
  • Have you checked with rescues in your area to see if there are already a great number of hedgehogs in need of adoption?
  • Are you prepared to keep the babies if they have health issues?
  • Are you prepared to keep the babies if they do not sell?
  • Do you know how to properly screen potential buyers to ensure that the babies are safe?
  • Are you willing to provide post-sale support to buyers?  Indefinitely?
  • Are you willing and prepared to refund or replace any hedgehogs that you sell who are found to have genetic defects or WHS?

Types of Hedgehog Breeders

Hobby Breeders
Regulations allow up to 4 females.  Males are unregulated.

  • Educate themselves extensively and provide adequate husbandry for the hedgehogs in their care
  • Typically have a very experienced mentor or network of other breeders to assist them when needed
  • Track pedigrees and carefully consider pros/cons before pairing
  • Provide veterinary care whenever necessary and abide by the laws and regulations
  • Focus on breeding/producing hedgehogs with better health, temperament and traits
  • Have a clear and concise policy and carefully select new homes for their hedgehogs
  • Provide care information to and post sale support to their buyers


USDA Licensed Breeders
Licensing is required for all breeders with more than 4 females.

  • Are expected to educate themselves extensively and provide adequate husbandry for the hedgehogs in their care
  • Typically have a very experienced mentor or network of other breeders to assist them when needed
  • Are expected to track pedigrees and carefully consider pros/cons before pairing
  • Are expected to provide veterinary care whenever necessary, have annual vet inspections by their vet and abide by all laws and regulations
  • Are subject to random USDA inspections annually and must provide the inspector with info on all sales
  • Are expected to focus on breeding/producing hedgehogs with better health, temperament and traits
  • Are expected to have a clear and concise policy and carefully select new homes for their hedgehogs
  • Are expected to provide care information and post sale support to their buyers

NOTE:  Not all USDA licensed breeders have the same policy or ethics.  ASK QUESTIONS.


Back Yard Breeders (BYB)

  • Often do not educate themselves on the species
  • Often do not have a mentor or network of experienced breeders to guide them
  • Often do not know/track the pedigree/lineage of the hedgehogs they’re breeding (this often leads to inbreeding)
  • Often shortcut veterinary care including euthanizing their own animals to avoid the expense
  • Disregard laws and regulations to avoid the inspections and expenses
  • Often have very poor or no screening process for buyers and will sell to nearly anyone
  • Often do not provide care information or post sale support to their buyers

Selecting Your Array / Herd

A collective group of hedgehogs is called an array but many breeders refer to their group as their herd.

Planning - It is wise to to have a detailed plan.  You should know in advance how many hedgehogs you can realistically accommodate; do not forget that you have to accommodate the babies once they wean from mom.  Many new breeders forget to consider the babies and find themselves scrambling to purchase extra enclosures/supplies and make extra space days or weeks before weaning.  Deciding how many hedgehogs of each gender you plan to have in your array can also help you stay within your licensing requirements if your plan is to remain a hobby breeder.

Choosing the hedgehog breeder - It is vital that you have a certain amount of trust in the breeder that you purchase your hedgehogs from.  You must trust that they are honest with you about the pedigree/lineage and the health of the animals that they are offering you.  Do not be afraid to ask questions and follow your instincts.

Choosing the hedgehogs - Hedgehogs typically have a teardrop shaped body, beady eyes, perfect quills and furry tummies and faces.  That being said, some hedgehogs have a "Runner Body" meaning that they are longer bodied and have a leaner appearance.  Hedgehogs should never be bony or thin.  They should not have any mucus or crustiness on the eyes, nose or mouth.  Ears should be clean, not tattered and should not contain any skin growths, all of which are signs of fungal infection or mites which are both transmittable to other hedgehogs.
 ·  Everyone is excited about the colors and patterns but health and pedigree should always carry more weight than appearance.
 ·  Many breeders try to ensure that their sires have the best lineage possible and most diverse from their array because they are often bred to more than one dam.

Best lineage meaning the most diverse within the first 8 generations of his lineage and should have few or no flags, few or no ancestors known to have health concerns, and few or no inbred or line bred ancestors.
Most diverse meaning that there are no common ancestors in the first 4 generations of lineage and no or few common ancestors from the 4th to 8th generations.  Also diverse from your dams, having no common ancestors within the first 4 generations and no or few from the 4th to 8th generation.

Before Breeding Begins

What to know and what to consider before pairing

Males are fertile as young as 6 weeks of age.  Some will eagerly breed and that young age while some are reluctant until they reach a year of age or more.  The age at which they first breed does not necessarily reflect their fertility.  Those who do not produce until an older age are typically just as procreative as those who produce at a very young age.  Males are often known to breed, and produce, right up to their passing.  There are few breeders who scrutinize over "retirement age" when it comes to males.

Females should be at least 20 weeks of age but no older than 1 year of age for their first breeding.
Before 20 weeks of age their bodies have not fully developed and are not ready for pregnancy or delivery.
After 11-12 months of age females could have some degree of pelvic fusion and should not be bred if they have never delivered a litter before.
NOTE:  Females could be fertile and become impregnated as early as 6 weeks of age but it is incredibly dangerous and often results in complications and even death.

Waiting period after delivery
After a female delivers a litter she needs time to fully recover before being bred again, even if she did not nurse the litter.  It takes approximately 20-21 weeks for the uterus to return to its normal state and for her body to be physically prepared for another pregnancy.  Breeding a female before she has recovered can lead to uterine prolapse which can result in a necessary spay or her death.

Plan the pairing - Take a good look at the lineage that you plan to breed.  Look at the lineage of each potential parent but also look at the lineages combined.  If you are pairing hedgehogs that have many of the same ancestors, understand that you could be doubling the risk of undesired traits with each ancestor that they have in common.
Hedgehog breeding differs from other species.  In the worlds of breeding dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, etc. it is widely acceptable to inbreed or line breed to bring out desired traits.    Inbreeding and line breeding hedgehogs carries a much greater risk of bringing out undesired traits such as congenital or hereditary defects, skin conditions, certain cancers, fatty liver disease, and other serious health conditions.  It is also thought that it increases the risk of W.H.S. if there are potential carriers in the lineage.  This is a debated topic but most breeders feel that it is better to be safe than sorry.

It's Go Time!

Introducing the pair

By this point you should have an experienced mentor.  Your mentor will likely share with you their tips, tricks and techniques for pairing.  Different breeders have different methods but we will cover the basics.

Unlike dogs, cats and many other mammals, hedgehogs do not have a cyclical ovulation (heat cycle).  When a female is in the presence of a male, she will typically begin ovulating with stimulation from him.  Many breeders find this convenient as it allows you to plan the window in which babies can be expected (helpful when planning vacations and such).  Do keep in mind that some females go well past their due date but most are reasonably close to the 35 day mark.

Methods
Some breeders:
 ·  offer the female extra insects every day for a week before pairing
 ·  bathe the hedgehogs directly before pairing
 ·  feel that females can exhibit aggressive or territorial behavior so pairing is done in male's enclosure or an enclosure that does not belong to either hedgehog
 ·  stay and observe until breeding has occurred and then separate
 ·  leave the pair together for 1-3 days - It is recommended to observe long enough to witness the face to face meeting in case they squabble
 ·  leave the pair together for 1, 2 or 3 weeks - It is strongly recommended to remove the male no less than 1 week before the due date
 ·  check the female for the tell-tale sign of blood on the female's back and remove her as soon as it is seen

Tips:
 ·  It may be helpful to offer 2 bowls of food while the pair is together.
 ·  It is usually a good idea to offer 2 hides (or even 3 if your enclosure is large enough) while the pair is together.
 ·  It is usually a good idea to remove the wheel because hedgehogs do get territorial over wheels.
 ·  If you use a water bottle it is advised to check it a few times a day or hang a second bottle.
 ·  Listen for the sound of the male "singing" to his female.  This can help you know when to check for signs that breeding has occurred.

Your mentor can instruct you on their own success and what they feel is appropriate.

NOTE:  CHART EVERYTHING.  You need to keep records of the dates (introduction and separation) so that you know when the expected due date is.  This is important so that you know when to provide certain provisions to help with gestation and prepare for delivery.

Gestation and Nesting

What to do for pregnant females and how to prepare for delivery

Gestating females should be housed alone.

The average gestation time for hedgehogs is 35 days.  Some hedgehogs have been known to gestate as long as 70 days and surprise their owners with an incredibly late litter that they weren't expecting because they'd given up.

The diet of a gestating female should not be drastically changed from what she's been eating.  You do not want to make changes that could cause stomach upset or cause her to gain weight that isn't related to pregnancy.  During the 4th and 5th week of pregnancy it is recommended to offer a few extra crickets and possibly other insects but remember that you do not want to "fatten her up" as extra weight gain can cause complications during delivery.

It is crucial to offer a roomy hide for gestating females.  They need this hideaway to retreat to when they feel stressed.  They also need this hide to help them prepare for the delivery of their babies.  Most will build their nest inside of their hide.  Hedgehogs rarely choose to deliver their offspring out in the open.  They will find a nook where they can feel secure and protected.  By helping them feel at ease, you are lowering the risk of complications.

Nesting material should be offered around the 4th week of pregnancy.  Many small mammals will pull their own hair and make a nest but this is not the case with hedgehogs.  They will collect nesting material and build their nests.  Suitable nesting materials are paper bedding, fleece or flannel fabric, and kiln dried wood shavings.  It is not recommended to use cotton fill, fiber fill, or poly fill as the fibers can become entangled around their toes, feet and legs causing injury.  It is also not recommended to use any fabric that has loose fibers or raw edges as the threads and fibers can become wound around toes, feet and legs.
NOTE:  When cleaning the enclosure during gestation be sure not to remove the nest if one has been built.  Remove all other soiled bedding but leave the nest in tact as much as possible.  Remember to wipe down (with sanitizing solution) all surfaces that are accessible.

It is safe to handle and bathe gestating females.  It is recommended that you refrain from holding them on their back during the last couple of weeks before delivery as it may possibly cause twisting that could interfere with delivery.

It's time for delivery and it's a private affair

Delivery, Complications, Fostering, Hand-rearing

Be Mentally Prepared!
Understand that the possibility of losing your female to complications is real.  Know that nature sometimes makes mistakes and babies are stillborn, deformed, or will not thrive.  And sometimes mom knows that something isn't right and will eliminate (eat) the litter.  It's heartbreaking but it is the reality of the breeding world.
Sometimes breeders have to make hard decisions and allow nature to take its course.  Sometimes genetics of parents are just not compatible and while it sucks, it is life.  Sometimes you will do everything in your power and it just won't matter.

Moving on...
If you've entered the scene early, you may witness the mom actually delivering.  However, please, please, please understand that hedgehogs get very nervous during delivery and if your presence is noticed she could experience complications, she may cannibalize or mutilate the litter, or she may abandon the litter.  If you walk in on the actual delivery, please exit the scene quietly and allow things to proceed.  Most breeders will tip-toe back in and take a peek about every 15 minutes to ensure that things are progressing but it is vital to keep your presence unnoticed.
TIP:  Baby monitor cameras are helpful for some breeders as they allow you to watch without being present.

Delivery can vary in duration but most females have finished delivering within 1 - 4 hours.  If she still appears to be in labor (panting, pushing, straining, bleeding, visible tissue protruding, etc) after 4 - 5 hours, it is likely time to go to the vet.  If you delay, she and the litter could be lost.

Many females will have their babies inside of their nest, however, it is not uncommon for females to have them strewn about their enclosure.  Do not panic.  Give her some time after the delivery.  She's just had a traumatic experience and may need a bit to recover before getting her act together.  If it has been 3 or 4 hours since she finished delivering and she still has not collected the babies, you may choose to use a spoon to scoop the babies up and place them in the nest.  Try to avoid upsetting her as much as possible and do not touch the babies or the bedding to avoid getting your scent on it.
If she refuses to accept the litter, you should contact your mentor and/or a breeder close to you to see if they have a mother who has recently delivered so that the babies might be fostered if necessary.  Fostering is usually the best chance for survival of the babies.  Your mentor should have already had experience with fostering and should know tips and tricks that help to ensure successful fostering.

NOTE:  The babies can remain viable for up to 8 - 12 hours after birth without her attention as long as the temperatures are ideal and they are warm.

If she begins to cannibalize or mutilate the litter, you must remove them immediately and attempt to get them to a nursing female to be fostered.

NOTE:  Hand-rearing newborn hedgehogs is a complex and arduous task.  Even some of the most experienced breeders struggle to hand-rear newborns so hand-rearing should always be a last resort.

NOTE:  The wheel should be removed from the enclosure as soon as she delivers and should not be placed back in until the litter is at least 4 weeks of age, preferably weaned/removed.


Hand-rearing - If you have found yourself with no other choice than to hand-rear the babies we have a few tips but you should always seek the advice of your mentor as well.
Commonly used formulas for hand-feeding hedgehog babies:

  • Kid (goat) milk replacer
  • Kitten milk replacer
  • 1/2 kid milk replacer & 1/2 kitten milk replacer
  • Puppy milk replacer

TIP:  It may be necessary to add gas reducing drops (Simethicone) to the formula if bloating occurs.

Some breeders use a syringe with a very small tip.  Others use an eye-dropper.  Some use a clean cloth to absorb the formula and allow the hoglet to suckle the formula off of the cloth.  If using a cloth extra measures must be taken to ensure that it is clean and well rinsed to remove any chemicals or detergents.

NOTE:  If you find yourself hand-feeding older babies, perhaps to supplement for a large litter, you can sometimes put the formula in a bowl and allow them to lap it up.

!! IMPORTANT !!
It is necessary to "potty" the babies after feeding them and then again 30 - 45 minutes later.  This is done by using a cotton swab or piece of fabric dipped into warmed oil such as vitamin E oil or wheat germ oil.  Gently stroking the genitals of the hoglets should incite them to urinate and/or defecate.  If you find that you have difficulty getting them to go potty you can alternate between slow strokes and quick strokes to increase the stimulation.  If you still aren't having any success, your mentor may have other advice.


If mom has settled in and is nursing her litter, fantastic!  Congratulations on your babies ... but your worry isn't over yet.  For the first 2-3 weeks females remain guarded, apprehensive and nervous about their babies.  There is still a chance that she could abandon (or worse) if she feels threatened.  It is torturous to stay away but it is truly what is best for mom and babies.  Other than feeding and cleaning, your presence is unwanted and potentially dangerous.
If the female comes out when you are feeding or cleaning, you may be able to sneak a quick peek a the babies but do not touch for at least 10 - 14 days.  Even your scent on them could cause rejection.

 

After Delivery

In many cases the mom is a little more relaxed when the litter is around 2 weeks of age and will tolerate you nosing around the nest.  If she doesn't fuss, you can check over their little bodies and even assess gender.  That being said, remember to take your cues from mom.  If she is aggressive toward you or begins carrying the babies in her mouth, leave.  Just walk away.  Try again in a day or two.  It's never worth risking injury to the babies just to get a look at them.

Babies typically begin to open their eyes between 16 - 22 days of age.  By this time mom is usually tolerant of you handling the babies and that is great because they need to be handled regularly once their eyes are open.

When handling the babies be calm, mellow and speak softly.  Most babies are timid and hyper-reactive.  They will roll up at anything and everything.  Once they realize that you pick them up regularly without harming them, they usually come around nicely.  For any who are stubborn or scared, just keep trying.  Hold them but don't try to directly interact with them.  Sometimes just the proximity is enough to gain their trust.

Babies begin nibbling on kibble around 4 weeks of age.  Some will attempt to have a taste at an earlier age but they cannot "eat" it until around 4 weeks.  Remember that even though they begin nibbling at kibble they still need to nurse mom until they are 5.5 weeks of age.  Weaning them too early can cause developmental issues and could result in death.

Males should be removed from the litter at 5.5 weeks of age as long as they are eating kibble well enough to sustain them.  At 6 weeks of age males could impregnate the mother and possibly female siblings so it is important to keep a check on weaning dates and remove all males no later than 6 weeks of age.  If you notice that the males are not eating enough kibble to keep them healthy, you will need to syringe feed them to supplement until they are doing well on their own.  It is uncommon for males to require supplemental feedings at 5.5 - 6 weeks of age but there is always a possibility and you should be prepared for it.

Babies should not go to new homes until they have been on their own and eating well for at least a week.  If you take a baby away from the mom and send them to a new home immediately, there is a chance that they are not yet self-sufficient and could become ill or even die.  Ensure that your babies are doing well on their own before sending them to a new owner.

NOTE:  You should supply new owners with a sample of the food that your babies are currently eating.  Abruptly switching foods can cause stomach upset and even illness.  New owners will need to gradually wean babies to new food if they choose to feed something different than the food that you use.
You should also provide all new owners with basic care information to ensure that they have all of the information necessary to help them properly care for their new pet.  Never assume that new owners have done their research.

Retirement

What age to stop breeding a hedgehog

Some hedgehog breeders retire females at 2 - 3 years of age.  Others may continue breeding them until they no longer express an interest in breeding or start producing small litters of 1 to 2 babies.  Your mentor can advise you on what they feel is appropriate and the advice may change from one female to another as some females seem to sulk or even become depressed when not breeding.  Please do give careful consideration to health aspects of breeding females over 3 years of age.

Most breeders retire males when the male no longer expresses interest in breeding or fails to produce litters any longer.  Age does not pose health concerns for males as long as they are healthy enough to perform and not at risk of being injured by the female.