Written by Antigone Means-Burleson
When raising hedgehogs, sometimes it becomes necessary to hand feed the babies. Situations where hedgehog babies should be hand fed include mom neglecting or hurting the babies, or the mother becoming sick and not being able to care for the babies. I've had a few people ask about whether or not they should maybe hand feed their hedgie babies to improve socialization, but I haven't seen any evidence that hand fed babies are any better or worse socialized than mom-raised babies, and I have seen that hand feeding hedgie babies is a risky endeavor, at best. Many hand fed babies do not survive, despite the best efforts of the caretaker, so it's my opinion that it shouldn't be attempted unless there is no available foster mother and the babies would otherwise not have any chance to survive. That said, here's a list of some of the things we have found helpful when hand feeding:
We place the baby in a box (shoebox sized) with soft cloth for bedding. A heating pad on low is placed under half of the box, so that the baby can get closer or further from it as needed. It is very important to have the extra heat source, since baby animals can't make their own heat.
We have used either kitten milk replacer (kmr) or goat's milk, both have worked equally well. We typically mix the kmr using chamomile tea to aid in digestion. I have heard of others using lactaid (the people product) successfully, too.
Administering the food:
A small tuberculin syringe is usually the easiest way to feed the baby. An eyedropper can work, but the syringe allows more control over the rate the milk comes out at. You can get one from your veterinarian, at a farm supply store, or ask at a people pharmacy for a "tuberculin syringe without the needle." I will usually hold the baby in my left hand (I'm right handed) so that the face is sticking out over my thumb and the body is enclosed in my hand. I put the syringe to the baby's lips and let just a little bit out. If the baby does not start to suckle, I gently use the syringe to open the baby's mouth and let a few drops at a time go in, giving baby time to swallow before giving more.
How much food to give:
It seems like the babies have very different amounts that they want or will accept. Remember that tiny babies have tiny tummies, and overfeeding will be just as fatal as underfeeding. Usually I will try to make sure they get at least 2 to 3 mouth fulls per feeding, and I start young babies out on feeding every two hours, or more often if they start squeaking. As they get older, they will be able to eat more and will be able to have their feeding times further apart.
Stimulating the digestive system:
This is VERY important. Moms usually lick their babies' bellies to help get the digestive tract going. We have to simulate this by rubbing gently from chin to rectum with something like a damp q-tip or cotton ball. There isn't any "magic number" of times, I usually just make sure to do about 20 to 30 strokes after each feeding, and that seems to have worked out fine. You'll know the baby's digestive system isn't working well if the belly becomes blackened in color and/or hard.
The baby's poop is bright green, what's wrong?
Most likely, nothing is wrong. When you give hedgie babies anything other than mom's milk, they get green stools (and sometimes it's really, shockingly bright). As they get weaned on to hard foods, the stools will become a more normal color.
How do I start weaning them?
At about 3 weeks old, the babies will start to get teeth. At this time, I provide some ground up dry food that's been moistened with warm water in a low jar lid so they have the opportunity to feed themselves between hand feedings. They may anoint with it at first, but keep offering it. Once they are eating the moistened food, you can then switch to ground up dry, and then whole dry (by about 5 to 6 weeks, they should be able to handle adult food). When the babies are about 3 weeks old, I'll often start adding a little bit of meat-based baby food to the formula to add some variety and some solids to the diet, and may put some in the dish with the moistened food. If the baby doesn't seem to be gaining weight, a high calorie nutritional supplement like nutri-cal or dyne can be added to the formula.