Hedgehogs are nocturnal mammals and one of the three British mammals that hibernate through winter (usually November – mid March depending on weather).
Hedgehogs have few natural predators, badgers being the main one but dogs and foxes can also seriously injure or harm hedgehogs.
The decline in hedgehog populations is not fully understood; habitat loss and fragmentation and the loss of food source through manicured gardens and use of pesticides are likely to play a part.
A hedgehog’s diet mainly consists of slugs, worms and other invertebrates. Wet dog or cat food can be offered as a supplement in gardens but hedgehogs must not be fed bread and milk.
Signs of an injured or sick hedgehog
- ‘Staggering’ behaviour during the day and in winter. Staggering is an indicator of hypothermia of which hedgehogs are particularly susceptible. It should be noted that it is not uncommon for hedgehogs to change their nesting site during the hibernation period so if you see a hedgehog on the move during winter and it looks healthy and stable it may not need any help.
- Sleeping on the lawn. Healthy hedgehogs will only sleep in a nest and not out in an open space.
- Very small hedgehog on approach to winter. Hedgehogs need to have enough body fat in order to survive hibernation. A healthy hedgehog should weigh 500g by the start of November and 600g by mid-late November. If you are concerned they can be weighed on kitchen scales and if necessary can be looked after by an experienced rescuer over winter.
How to handle a sick hedgehog
Handling a hedgehog can be extremely stressful for the animal so only handle them if it is essential and limit the amount of handling time.
- Before handling a hedgehog prepare a high sided cardboard box with scrunched up newspaper or a towel inside so the hedgehog can hide.
- Wear a pair of thick gardening gloves and use both hands to scoop the hedgehog up from underneath.
- Fresh water and wet cat/dog food should be made available but don’t attempt to force feed.
- The box should be kept somewhere quiet, dark and warm.
- If you are concerned about hypothermia a hot water bottle can be filled with hot tap water (not boiling), wrapped in a towel and placed in the box. It should feel warm to touch and should be monitored- it is essential that it is removed before it gets cold.
Who to contact for help
British Hedgehog Preservation Society, 01584 890801
RSPCA – 03001230708
Contact your local vet if you are concerned that the animal is injured.
If you find a dead hedgehog you can report it online at Garden Wildlife Health (www.gardenwildlifehealth.org) to support research into disease and threats to British wildlife.
Tell us about your hedgehog sightings
Hedgehogs are a wonderful part of our local wildlife and we would love to hear about where you are seeing these iconic mammals. Please record all your hedgehog sightings at www.durhamwt.com