Helping Hedgehogs

At this time of year Hedgehogs should rarely be spotted but unfortunately, it seems that more than ever are struggling to survive and may need our help to make it through the winter.

After recently having a hedgehog visit our garden in the middle of the day we were aware something wasn’t right, but not sure exactly what to do. After contacting local hedgehog carer Anne Watts we were advised to bring him to her home rescue centre. Anne currently has 49 hedgehogs residing with her, half of which are hibernating, the other half requiring care and around the clock attention.  Anne carries out this work voluntarily out of her love for these adorable little creatures.

Sadly, the hedgehog we brought to Anne didn’t survive despite medication, rehydration fluids and being placed in an incubator. Could we have done more? Could we have been better educated? We think so, which is why we wanted to share some useful information with you. So, here are some FAQs we’ve put together with Anne in the hope of helping more hedgehogs survive and thrive within our town this winter.

What should you do if you find a hedgehog out in the fay this time of the year?

At any time of the year, a hedgehog out in the daytime is usually unwell. The longer you leave it out, the worse it will become. Seek help as soon as you see a hedgehog in the daytime. At this time of year, a young hog (below 400gms) out in the day or at night is in need of immediate care. Autumn juveniles are often abandoned by their mothers who are intent on putting on weight and hibernating. Autumn juveniles don’t hibernate and so often don’t make it through the winter.

How do you know if something is wrong with a hedgehog?

As a wild animal, sick hedgehogs will try to be active until they die. People tell me that their hedgehog is trying to escape and appears active so is perhaps not in need of attention. That hedgehog is running on adrenaline. Another noticeable feature of hedgehogs out in the daytime is that they attract the bugs who recognise a sick creature. The hogs often have ticks, fleas, fly eggs or maggots on them by the time they are found. It is important to get a carer to remove these bugs as, eventually, they will kill the hog. You can tell if a hedgehog is dehydrated by looking down on it from above its back. The rear end should be well rounded. The more pointed, the more dehydrated.

What food should you offer a hedgehog and what should you avoid?

Don’t feed hedgehogs the traditional milk and bread as they are lactose intolerant and cow’s milk will kill them and bread is of no nutritional value to them. Also do not feed them mealworms. In recent years it has been found that, much as the hedgehogs, and also birds, love them but mealworms are addictive. They enjoy a very long drink of water when available. They appreciate meat-based cat or dog meat/biscuits. Natural peanuts are also a good addition to a wild hedgehogs’ diet and are very good in winter months as they are ‘high protein, least effort’.

Who can I contact if I find a hedgehog that needs help?

If a hedgehog appears in daytime, or is sick or injured, it is essential to seek immediate help. The Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890801), local vets or Social media will know of local, trained hedgehog carers in your area who will assist. A word of warning though. At certain times of the year, particularly at the moment with high numbers of Autumn juveniles around, many carers reach full capacity and close their books. The Hedgehog Preservation Society have recently updated their lists of carers who continue to offer help.

What should I immediately do to look after a hedgehog I find that is unwell?

It is important to pick up the hedgehog BEFORE you contact a carer, otherwise you will turn round and find it has vanished. Place the hedgehog in a cardboard or plastic container. Hedgehogs are very good escape artists and so make sure the container is secure. The hedgehog skeleton shows that their shoulder and hip joints are very different to ours and the widest point of a hedgehog is from ear to ear across its head. Wherever it can get its head through, the rest of the body will follow. Offer food and water, cover the hog with towel or blanket and place it in quiet place such as a garage. A hot water bottle if you have one (not too hot) also helps. Then call the carer.

What can I do in my garden to make it hedgehog friendly?

Hedgehogs love bushes and ‘wild’ areas where they can remain hidden while they search for food. Tidy gardens are not a hedgehog’s favourite place but if you leave a wild corner then everyone is happy. Hedgehogs are good swimmers but ponds are also a danger if they can’t get out. Keep them covered or put in escape routes e.g. plastic coated wire over the side of the pond to make a ladder or, when making a pond, have a gentle slope to at least 1 side. Keep drains covered and check regularly. Ensure hedgehogs have not nested under broken fences. Make a hole the size of a CD in dividing walls/ fences to enable them to travel between back gardens which keeps them safe from roads and traffic. They love to nest under sheds or in compost heaps. Remember this when disturbing compost or pulling down sheds

Shine a torch outside before letting your dog out or have a look round beforehand.

Provide a (or several) suitable nesting/hibernating boxes in your garden and, hopefully this will attract hedgehogs and prevent accidental disturbance.

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