Hedgehogs should spend much of the winter snoring away in a nest of leaves a dry grass, however, even at the time of year they can need our help especially if you find an autumn baby too small to hibernate.
Hedgehogs born in the autumn are often too small to hibernate. If you find a small hog over winter (day or night), weigh it – if it is under 600g, it needs to be taken to help immediately. Do not try to care for it yourself, but follow the steps below and seek advice from a hedgehog rescuer straight away – you can call NWT’s Wildline (01603 598333), the RSPCA (0300 1234 999) or contact local hoggy experts via the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) on 01584 890801 or their website
. The advice below is drawn from the BHPS and from local rescuers:
Firstly, pop the hedgehog in a pet carrier, high-sided box or deep garden tub with an old fleece or towel for the hedgehog to hide in.
Secondly, get it warm!
The biggest killer of autumn babies is the cold as they get hypothermia very quickly. If it is struggling to curl up or wobbles like it is a bit tipsy when it walks, then it is probably very cold. The only exception to warming them up is if they have fly eggs on them – this is very rare in winter, but if you can, turn the hedgehog over and see if they have little white or yellow clusters of eggs, like small grains of rice or clumps of pollen on them. As long as there are no fly eggs, give it a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or similar as they need direct heat – not just a warm room. If you don’t have a hot water bottle, then use a glass or plastic bottle. Make sure the hedgehog can get off the heat if it needs to and if the bottle gets cold, keep it re-filled with warm water as a cold bottle could chill the hedgehog and do more harm than good.
Finally, phone for help and keep the hedgehog in a warm, dark, quiet place. Captivity is stressful for them, so leave them alone until help comes.
Any hedgehog out in daylight over winter is struggling, even if there is no sign of injury, so follow the above advice, even if it seems large.
If you are confident handling the hedgehog (using gloves of course), do so quietly and gently and follow the steps below before you put it in the box, keep it warm and call for help:
If it has fleas, just ignore them and don’t treat with cat or dog flea spray – the rescuer will do that and will also deal with ticks.
Bathe open wounds with salt water unless near the eyes, when just warm water will do and tell the rescuer there is an injury.
Once the hedgehog has warmed up – which often takes a good few hours – you can offer food and water; never offer bread and/or milk. The best food is cat or dog food (the pâté kind) that contains no fish – check the ingredients as some contain fish even if they are not fishy flavoured. In an emergency non-fishy cat biscuits soaked a little in water are okay.
Listen to hear if the hog is wheezy or coughing – this can be an infection and again, it will be good to tell the rescuer.
Helen Baczkowska is a Conservation Officer at NWT.