hibernating hedgehog
Helping hedgehogs

Hibernating hedgehog – dead or alive?

How can you tell if a hedgehog is hibernating? This is a question I am frequently asked by my foster carers, a network of special people who support me with looking after rehabilitated hedgehogs over the Winter period. These hedgehogs missed the deadline for release before the weather turned cold and, if they are well enough and heavy enough (absolute minimum of 650g), they will be allowed to hibernate in captivity.

Hibernation is not like sleeping. The hedgehog won’t be roused by touch or by noise. Hibernation is a state of torpor, where the core body temperature has dropped, the heart rate and breathing have slowed right down and normal activity has stopped. A hibernating hedgehog will be completely rolled up into a tight ball with no face visible.


Lucky, a hibernating hedgehog, just before his weight check

You can tell that the hedgehog is hibernating and not dead by the fact that it will ‘ripple’ when touched very gently. It may also emit a little ‘snore’! Hedgehogs also generally don’t die curled up….

Video of a hibernating hedgehog

Please don’t read this post and think you should go around disturbing the hibernating wild hedgehogs in your garden to check on them. I only check on these hedgehogs during hibernation because they have been poorly. Weight checks every few weeks will alert me to any potential problems and they can be woken up again if they have lost too much weight. I use a special calculator from a wildlife rescue to assess whether their weight loss in hibernation is acceptable or not. Waking up a hibernating hedgehog is also a specialist task, so please do not try this yourself. You will kill the hedgehog if you try to warm it up quickly. It can take several days.

The best advice is not to disturb a hedgehog in hibernation. Take care when gardening in Winter. Don’t be tempted to tidy up piles of leaves or logs – they may be home to a hibernating hedgehog. If you do accidentally disturb one, cover it back up straight away – unless there is a chance that you have caused injury e.g. with a fork. In that case, you must take it straight to a hedgehog rescue.

If you disturb a hedgehog that has hibernated in a completely unsuitable spot – such as inside a garage that is normally left closed – then you will need to very carefully relocate the hedgehog. You should move it to inside a wooden hedgehog house filled with plenty of hay. You will need to site it properly to give the hedgehog a good chance. It takes a long time for a hedgehog to waken from hibernation so it will likely stay curled up whilst you relocate it. Don’t relocate it to a completely new area – hedgehogs know all the best places for nesting and food in their area. You will seriously disadvantage a hedgehog by relocating it to a completely different area.

Hibernation is also not a continuous state. Hedgehogs will wake up during periods of milder weather for a quick snack or sometimes even to move their hibernaculum if the warmer spell lasts for a few days. I always leave out a bowl of water in the garden and a little food year round to help hedgehogs that have briefly woken from hibernation.

With a little luck, hedgehogs that were healthy when they hibernated will wake in the Spring. The exact timing depends upon the temperature and can be as early as March or as late as May. They will emerge hungry so Spring is a great time to put out hedgehog feeders and make sure that you can give them a hearty breakfast when they emerge….

The start of hibernation also varies each year and around the country. It tends to be triggered by consistent low night time temperatures but there can be considerable variation in these temperatures even between country and urban areas that are quite close together and even between individual gardens in the same city. Some hedgehogs may start hibernating as early as October, whereas it may be much later in a milder Autumn or for mums that may have had a late litter of babies. Hedgehogs might not hibernate at all if there is a good food source and a warm microclimate. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt them.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. My hospital is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about me and my work here and also how to support my work.

I make silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to raise funds for my hedgehog hospital. You can visit my online jewellery shop here.

Handmade silver nature jewellery by little silver hedgehog
Handmade silver nature jewellery by little silver hedgehog

13 thoughts on “Hibernating hedgehog – dead or alive?”

  1. We have one that we found in the middle of the road when really it shouldn’t have been out,so we picked it up as we could see it was small from a late litter,so we took it to a friend of our who rehabilitates them.he said it was under weight and needed to be feed up and over wintered,but for some reason after a few days it stopped eating and wasn’t doing well so we took the decision to have it in our garden to over winter it,we built an insulated nest box and put it in the green house.I made a little private entrance so it could nose around the garden if it wanted to.and I put some nesting materials under one part of my shed so if it wants to move it can but so far it seems happy with the nest box in the green house.then for food I put that in 3 locations,under the BBQ,under the other part of the shed and a little bit in the green house with water in the green house and under the shed.I am happy to say the so far it has chowed down every night bar one last week since we have had it.we have seen it nosing about the garden a few times at night.Its still smaller then some of the older ones that our friend has coming to his garden but the main thing is it is doing so well.come the spring I’ll open up the front garden so it can leave if it wants to and if it doesn’t well that’s ok too.We just tend to leave it to do it own thing and just put the food down and that seems to be working for the little fella we call Reggie,no idea if its male or female.Thanks for the follow,xx Rachel and Speedy

    1. So great to meet you and to hear that you have hedgehogs visiting and that you care for them so well! Hello to Reggie! Do you know what he/she weighs now? Hibernation is so late this year with the mild weather but hope she/he is now a good weight! Take care Emma x

      1. Hi Emma,I have no idea how much “Reggie” weighs but I can tell that he/she has grown from the last time I saw him/her.I accidentally left the side gate slightly open Friday night so I was concerned the Reggie had wandered off,and after the food wasn’t touched for the last 2 nights.I decided to check on Reggie’s nest box had a bit of a panic to find it empty so I checked under the shed….laid on my back pulling the nest materials I left under there.Then I could feel his/her Spines so I stuffed it all back in and a bit extra to be sure,So it looks like Reggie has Hibernated at least for a while,I got to get some more of the dry Cat food Reggie likes tomorrow so from tomorrow I just leave a bowl of that out and water in case Reggie wakes up hungry again.Reggie is the only Hedgehog we have at the moment,but in the spring and summer we often find droppings in the garden,Leave part of the garden to do as it wants during the year,with just a rough clear up this time of year and I don’t use chemicals as I have Tunneling Bees in the garden so I am careful to leave where they are too,xx Rachel and Speedy

  2. found a young one in road about to be run over ! and looking after it at home, was very happy and lively and now looks fast asleep as if dying, hibernating, but its NOT curled up in a ball !! does this mean he is not hibernating and doing this….Aestivation ?? not total sure what this means
    he came out into the cage to lye on top of the towel and his back legs are spread outwards straiight, i will keep checking on him at mo.

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