Hedgehogs

They may be covered in spikes but they are not as hardy as you might think. Hedgehogs suffer from a wide variety of illnesses and can be difficult to treat.
They may be covered in spikes but they are not as hardy as you might think. Hedgehogs suffer from a wide variety of illnesses and can be difficult to treat.

Hedgehogs are very delicate creatures. They have a wide range of illness and injuries which they suffer from. One of the most common is slug pellet poisoning. If found early enough then they can be treated, but many are lost. Look for the green staining round their lips. Hedgehogs are frequently caught by strimmers and end up with nasty head wounds which can easily become infected and fly blown as a result.

Dog attacked hedgehogs don’t always end up being as damaged as they look as sometimes the blood is actually from the dogs mouth and not from the hedgehog. We also see numerous road casualties. It is amazing how fast a hedgehog can run when it wants to, but late at night some people just can’t resist running over whatever they get a chance to.

If you find an injured hedgehog pick it up using a cloth or gardening gloves and place it in pet carrier or box lined with ideally a white cloth or tissue paper, and then call for help. Do not leave the hedgehog outside, in your shed, garage or outside toilet, bring it inside where it will benefit from a bit of warmth. Most people are worried about the fleas, but they can not survive on cats, dogs or any other pet nor ourselves.

DO NOT FEED HEDGEHOGS BREAD AND MILK. This is dangerous for their digestive system and can cause weak hedgehogs to die.

When to rescue hedgehogs

Apart from the obviously sick and injured hedgehog, if you find a hedgehog:

  • out during the day time
  • they are too small to hibernate (see below)
  • covered in a substantial number of ticks

September / October hedgehogs

At this time of year we are frequently called to young hedgehogs being found. They should not be found out during the daytime, but many youngsters are seen during the evening and night with their mum. The most common concern is whether the young are going to be able to put on enough weight to survive hibernation. This is a difficult questions to answer at this time. As a general rule if they are with their mum at night and they look healthy and mum is taking care of them then leave them alone regardless of their weight.

However if there are complications of any sort it MAY after seeking advice be necessary to pick up mum and all her youngsters and bring them in to a rescue centre where they can be looked after until they weigh enough to be released back into the wild. If the youngsters are at an age when they could be suckling from mum (and found with her), then it is important that mum is picked up with the young so that she can continue to feed the young whilst in care. The hedgehog carer which takes them on will place the family into a large hutch and run and place in food for mum so that the young can naturally suckle from mum still, rather than the carer trying to replicate this suckling with artificial milk re-placers.

To Small To Hibernate over Winter.

There are so many different trains of thought on, what weight a hedgehog needs to be, and by when, in order to survive hibernation. Most rescue centres no longer say hedgehogs should be a minimum weight by a certain date.

Studies have shown that juvenile hedgehogs born late in the year can survive hibernation weighing as little as 450grams.

You need to take into consideration the time of year, the current weather patterns, and the health and condition of the hedgehog.

A juvenile hedgehogs which is nice and round and healthy weighing 400grams early November may be fine to leave if they are visiting a garden where they are fed and seen regularly and the weather is mild. But, if the weather was very cold with repeated night time temperatures below 3 degree C the hedgehog could be in trouble.

However an adult hedgehog which has a visible neck-line or the skin is tight around the pelvis causing the spines to stick out at strange angles and weighs 500grams, may struggle to survive hibernation if the normal body weight for that particular hedgehog is 800-1000grams. This low weight will indicate that there is a health concern and the hedgehog is in serious trouble having lost so much weight. However a juvenile weighing 500grams may be fine as it is still developing and thats its natural size for the hedgehogs development stage.

Bringing in any wild animal or bird into captivity is stressful and can have a negative impact on the health of the creature, for example internal parasite pick up stress which will encourage them to multiple faster as a result, leading to heavy parasite burdens just because they are in captivity.

Once a hedgehog is a suitable health and weight, it should be released back to the wild (ideally back to its home range), as soon as their is a suitable spell of mild weather to do so.  The hedgehog must have enough weight ideally at least 6-700grams during the winter before release, but there is no definitive weight at which a hedgehog can survive hibernation.

If unsure what to do, please phone and speak to your local wildlife rescue.

Bonfires

It is unclear how may hedgehogs and other wildlife is killed in bonfires each year, mainly because they rarely get found afterwards. Numerous people have unfortunately had their bonfire celebrations ruined after finding escaping hedgehogs and other wildlife crawling out from bonfires burnt or injured.

WRAS has produced the following top ten tips for keeping hedgehogs and other wildlife safe during the bonfire season:

  1. Re-site the entire bonfire pile before being lit where possible
  2. Use broom handles to lift the bonfire up to check for wildlife sleeping inside before lighting the fire. Use torches to check underneath and listen carefully for any signs of life.
  3. With larger bonfires, erect a mesh fence with an overhang round the bonfire to avoid small wild mammals getting inside
  4. Light the bonfire at one side rather than all round so that any animals or bird inside have a chance to escape
  5. Move bird feeders and other food left out on the ground for wildlife away from the bonfire site for at least a week before building a bonfire
  6. Light bonfires away from over hanging trees and bushes
  7. Use fireworks away from trees and woodland
  8. Place a hedgehog house or simple small hutch with clean and fresh straw, hay and hand shredded paper to provide an alternative home for any animals which might be visiting your garden
  9. Have a bucket of water available in care you need to put out the fire or an animal on fire
  10. Know who to call if you find an injured wildlife casualty

What not to feed hedgehogs.

As a general rule there is no need to feed any wild animal or bird as they would not be there if there was not a local sources of feed already available.

However, people take pleasure out of feeding wildlife and this can be useful from an education perspective. Feeding any species should be done in moderation to avoid local over populations.

If you want to encourage hedgehogs please use a moist food like pouches or tins of cat food or soaked cat biscuits. Please avoid:

  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Spicy Food
  • Salty Food
  • Meal Worms
  • Peanuts
  • Cooks meat on bones
  • Pumpkins / Pumpkin seeds.

The best and most sustainable way to feed hedgehogs is to do so naturally by encouraging insects and beetles into you garden by planting flowers, fruits and vegetables as well as leaving weeds and nettles which encourage insects and bugs which hedgehogs can feed off.

Contrary to popular belief hedgehogs don't eat that many slugs and snails which can also carry parasites which can affect the hedgehogs heath.

Breeding of Hedgehogs in response to population decline.

East Sussex WRAS has joined forces with several other wildlife organisations to release this statement on the breeding of hedgehogs in response to population decline.

To read the statement and report click here.

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