• Caring for hedgehogs

HEDGEHOGS

They are. A hedgehog out during the day (unless pregnant or out on a warmer day, during winter) is a sign there is almost certainly something wrong. Often, pregnant hedgehogs (and semi-hibernating hogs) will be out in the day, searching for food, looking for bedding/nesting materials and, generally, preparing for giving birth to their young. If the hog is a healthy-looking adult and is busy carrying grass and leaves to a dry space, then leave it alone. If it is asleep in the sun, staggering or walking in circles, it needs to get to a rescue centre, as soon as possible. Using a thick towel and/or gardening gloves, pick it up and put it in a cardboard box or pet carrier, lined with newspaper or an old towel. If you haven't got anything to put it in, ask a neighbour for help, or wrap the animal up in an old towel and put it into a shed or garage to save it wandering off while you make arrangements for its transportation to the nearest wildlife hospital.

Hedgehogs are prone to lungworm and respiratory diseases. If you suspect this is the case, please, call us on 01372 360404. We may well advise you to pick the hog up, carefully, using stout gloves, and place it in a box, lined with towels or newspapers, to bring in to our hospital.

You are right – ‘bread and milk’ is not a good or healthy diet for a mammal that is carnivorous, and can be fatal to hedgehogs! The fact that your hedgehog laps up any bread and milk left out for it, doesn't mean it is a good thing to feed it, any more than sweets are good for us, no matter how much we like them! Cat food, cat biscuits or hedgehog biscuits and water is a far better way to keep the hedgehogs in your garden fit and healthy. Mealworms should also not be fed to hedgehogs, they are one of the main causes of metabolic bone disease in hogs.

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, and so feed during the night. You can leave cat or dog food out, along with a shallow saucer of water. Under no circumstances should they be fed bread, milk, peanuts or mealworms! Feeding should only be supplemental; this food is not a suitable long-term diet and they should forage to find suitable prey.

Like many mammals, hedgehogs can swim if they have to, but it is not a natural activity for them. Rescue the hedgehog, using gloves, as they can be very prickly! Once you have removed the hedgehog from the water, provide a gentle slope or ramp so that any future hogs can get out, easily.

Please, pick up the hog, wearing gloves to avoid prickles, and place it in a ventilated box. Please, then, call us on 01372 360404 and bring it to the hospital, as soon as possible, to be checked over.

Probably! Do not be tempted to handle the babies, as the mother is likely to abandon or kill them if they are contaminated with human scent. Wait and see if the mother returns to the nest in a reasonable time. The babies have a penetrating cry, but she may be a few gardens away and even hurrying back will still take some time. Often, people interfere far too quickly because they think an animal has been abandoned, but this is rarely the case, and you should always be absolutely sure before getting involved in any way. If, after several hours, the mother has still not returned, contact us or your local rescue centre for advice on what to do next.

Please, cut the netting free around the hog, and then take the hog to your local wildlife rescue. They will be able to remove the rest of the netting and provide any necessary veterinary care.

The hedgehog must be taken to your local wildlife rescue, immediately.

Hedgehogs can suffer from a condition called ‘ballooning’, which causes them to bloat up to an unnatural size. It is caused by air getting trapped under their skin, and can hinder the hedgehog’s ability to curl up and move easily. It is treatable, so, please, pick up the hedgehog, using thick gloves or a towel, place it in a box and take it to your local wildlife rescue centre.

These are ticks, which need to be removed. Please do not attempt to remove them yourself, as these are often an indication that something else is wrong. Please take the hog to your local wildlife rescue centre. Make sure you wear gloves to pick up the hog, as they can be quite prickly!

The presence of flies or their eggs/larvae (small yellow clusters of eggs/grubs), means that the hedgehog has an open wound. Please, take the hedgehog to your nearest wildlife rescue centre for treatment.

I have found a small hedgehog in my garden, and the weather is getting cold. What should I do?

Once the weather starts getting colder, and the temperature regularly drops below 5°C at night, hedgehogs will start to obey the instinct to hibernate. To successfully survive hibernation, a hog must have sufficient body fat.

Often, youngsters born in late summer/early autumn will not have put on enough weight to survive hibernation, and may need to be ‘over-wintered’ at a wildlife centre.

Try to weigh the hog, if you can. Use kitchen scales and pick the hog up with oven/gardening gloves or in a towel.

If the hog is under 600g then it must get to a local wildlife centre. It is not advisable to “over-winter” them at your home, because they usually have parasitic burdens that require veterinary care.

If the hog is over 600g, then it should be fine, unless it is out in the daytime. Being out in the daytime is usually a sign that something is wrong, so, please, call us for advice. It may be that it is just gathering nesting materials, so we may need to ask you more questions.

If it is not out in the daytime and is over 600g, then there is no need to intervene. The hog will find the best place to hibernate and, provided your garden has suitable areas where it can do this, then it will be fine. Moving them while they are actually hibernating or about to hibernate is not a good idea, as their bodies become accustomed to the temperature in the spot they have chosen. Moving them would upset and stress them, so, as long as they are free to roam, they will sort this out for themselves.

Most British winters follow a similar pattern of alternating periods of cold and mild conditions, plus the occasional really cold spell. Consequently, hedgehogs follow a pattern of hibernation techniques that have not changed for centuries. Any time from November onwards (mainly after Christmas), fit mature hedgehogs will construct a hibernaculum (a hibernation nest), where they will, more or less, stay until March.

During the early stages of hibernation, or if the weather changes and become particularly mild, hedgehogs may still wake, occasionally, and come out of their nest to feed. As long they are over 600g, you can offer a bowl of good quality tinned meat (dog or cat food), along with fresh water (never milk!). During very cold spells, they may not come out at all, but if they are seen during milder spells, it is a good idea to offer some supplementary feeding to help them along.

Remember!

Hedgehogs can sleep inside sheds, garages, bags of rubbish, etc. Please, check before clearing out these areas that there are no sleeping hedgehogs inside.

Dealing with damaged or destroyed nests

Twice a year, our phone rings off the hook with calls from people who have managed to uncover or destroy a hedgehog nest, while gardening. Some people just dive in without thinking; it helps, no end, if you can just have a careful look at the area you are about to work on, before you attack it.

It's illegal to remove, move or damage an occupied bird nest, but there is, currently, no similar protection for hedgehogs.

Hogs will nest in all sorts of places. Under sheds, decking, shrubs and bushes, compost heaps, inside sheds, greenhouses and garages, and even in long grass. The injuries we see from mowers, strimmers and garden forks are horrific, so, please, take care!

IN ALL CASES, IF IN DOUBT, CALL A RESCUE IMMEDIATELY FOR ADVICE. Please do not leave it for 24 hours, as by then the babies are likely to have died or be close to death.

Uncovered nests

Nests can be difficult to see. If you have just uncovered a nest, rather than completely destroyed it, cover it back up, quick. DO NOT TOUCH THE BABIES. If you get your scent on them, Mum may well kill or abandon them.

If Mum is still in the nest, she may well just freeze, so you can cover without worry. If Mum runs off, cover the babies with what you removed, then, back off and watch from a distance to make sure she comes back. Do not keep going to check by uncovering the nest. If the babies are distressed or hungry they will peep loudly, if this goes on for more than an hour, call us on 01372 360404 or your nearest rescue centre for advice.

Destroyed nest

Follow the advice for an uncovered nest. You may well have to touch the babies to put them back, so rub your gloves in soil, grass, anything to mask your scent with garden smells, first. Put as much of the nest back as you can, pop the babies in and cover them up, then, hope that Mum will return. Do not keep uncovering the nest to check. Wait as instructed, above, then, call us or your nearest rescue centre, if necessary.

Inconvenient nest - aka moving Mum and babies

Mum may kill newborns, if disturbed, and nests should not be moved. From birth to the hoglets leaving home is 6 weeks. If you can, please, wait and let them have a normal start in life; if not, please, call your local wildlife rescue. Do you really need to demolish that shed, right now? Many nests, uncovered, have larger hoglets in them and they will be gone in a couple of weeks.