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Unfortunately, a lot is unknown about why hedgehogs might eat their babies (also called hoglets). One of the most likely causes of a mother eating its hoglets is being under stress. A hedgehog is an animal and will resort to its natural instincts if it feels as if its life, or the lives of its babies, is in danger.
If a hedgehog and its newly born hoglets are in a safe, quiet environment, it is highly unlikely that she will eat her babies. A mother hedgehog will eat her newborn babies when she thinks that her environment is not safe.
It may seem counterintuitive for the hedgehog to eat the babies herself when she feels as though they are unsafe, but this behavior stems from their survival instinct. If the babies are in danger of being eaten by a predator, it’s more biologically advantageous for the mother hedgehog to eat the hoglets as opposed to a predator eating them.
Another reason why a hedgehog might eat her hoglets is if the hoglet isn’t doing well. For example, a weaker hoglet might not be able to compete with its siblings for the mother’s milk.
In this situation, a weak hoglet might be eaten by the mother for its nutrients. This allows her to better feed the other hoglets, who will then be stronger and have a greater chance of survival.
What Causes Stress?
There are a number of things that could cause stress for a hedgehog. One of the most common reasons is loud noises. This can be anything from the sound of a TV to loud conversations or a barking dog. For the most part, loud noises are preventable.
If there is anything that changes the environment, the hedgehog might view this change as being potentially unsafe. For example, if you move the cage (even just a few inches), it could cause the hedgehog to feel unsafe.
Try not to approach, open, or touch the cage during the first week after the hoglets are born.
How Can You Prevent Stress?
It’s important to create a calm, safe environment for the hedgehog before the hoglets are born. About five days before birth, the hedgehog should be moved to a quiet room.
Any loud noises in your house should be quieted to the best of your ability until the hoglets have grown. Make sure that any other household members know to keep quiet when they are near the hedgehog’s enclosure. Keep the volume down when playing music or watching TV so as not to disturb the hedgehog.
Try to keep as far away from the cage as possible. The further away you are from the cage, the more likely the hedgehog’s surroundings will be quiet.
Any movement of the cage, whether accidental or not, can cause stress. Make sure that wherever you leave the hedgehog will be a reliably quiet space for the next few weeks while the hoglets grow.
At What Age Are the Babies Safe?
As the hoglets age, it will become less likely for the mother to eat them. In general, it’s a good idea to wait at least two weeks before interacting with the mother or the hoglets, moving the cage, or letting your household return to its normal volume.
How to Prepare the Mother for Birth
As mentioned above, one of the most important precautions to take with a hedgehog about to give birth is to make sure that her enclosure is in a reliably quiet space. This includes moving the enclosure to a different room and asking any other household members to do their best to reduce the amount of volume they create over the next few weeks.
If your hedgehog is housed with other hedgehogs, make sure to move the pregnant hedgehog to her own enclosure so that any potential stressors are reduced and she can be alone when raising her hoglets.
You must also create a comfortable space inside the enclosure for your hedgehog to give birth. Make sure that there is plenty of bedding in the enclosure for your hedgehog to make a nest.
When you’re preparing the enclosure before the hoglets are born, leave plenty of food and water in the enclosure. You shouldn’t go near your hedgehog before or after birth, which includes any cleaning or maintenance of the enclosure.
Make sure that any changes you might make to the hedgehog and her enclosure are done at least five days prior to birth so the hedgehog has time to familiarize herself and grow comfortable in her new environment.
If you must clean or make any changes, wait until at least a week after the hoglets are born.
What If the Mother Eats Her Babies Anyway?
Sometimes it might seem that you’ve done everything right, yet something caused the mother to eat the hoglets regardless. It’s possible that this could be due to an oversight.
The room could not be quiet enough or something that caused stress could have happened when you were away, such as a car alarm going off on the street outside where the hedgehog’s enclosure is placed.
It’s possible to do everything right and the hedgehog still eats her babies. Some hedgehogs aren’t suited to be mothers and they might eat all of their hoglets whether or not they feel stress.
The only way to know that a hedgehog isn’t suited to be a mother is for her to eat multiple litters in a stress-free environment. Only then can you assume that this behavior is due to the hedgehog herself rather than something that you can control.
If one or more of the hoglets are born weak, sick, or stillborn, the mother might eat them after they are dead. It might appear that the mother has killed its hoglet; however, in reality, the hoglet died of natural causes and the mother ate its body for the nutrients.
What to Do if the Hedgehog Eats Her Babies
There isn’t really anything to be done. Sometimes a hedgehog won’t eat all of the hoglets. If there are any surviving hoglets, make sure that you still try your best to keep the hedgehog’s environment as stress-free as possible.
If the mother hedgehog doesn’t experience another stressful episode, the remaining hoglets will survive.
If you have wild hedgehogs in your backyard and you notice that one hedgehog might be about to have a litter of hoglets, do your best to create a safe environment. If you have pets, do not let them out into the backyard.
Even if you supervise your pet in your yard and make sure that it doesn’t go near the hedgehog and hoglets, its presence could still cause stress.
If you have a dog, it could bark and charge at the hedgehogs even if you keep it on a leash. Cats won’t be as loud as a barking dog but they can still pose a threat to a mother hedgehog.
Cats are harder to control and most of the time they cannot be kept on a leash. If you let your cat into the backyard, it would be hard to stop it from going after the hedgehog and hoglets.
If you see a hedgehog with hoglets anywhere outside, resist any urge to get closer. Getting to see baby hedgehogs close up might be tempting but you’re risking their safety by approaching.
If you see a hedgehog or hoglets out in the open, something could be wrong. Don’t intervene on your own as it could be dangerous to you or the hedgehog. Call your local wildlife rescue and let professionals help.