Can wild hedgehogs survive with three legs?
Meet Rupert. He arrived with me in 2016 as a small hoglet. He was only 300g. When I inspected him I could smell that something wasn’t right. Wildlife rescuers go a lot by smell – you get to know the smell of infection and poo that is not normal. I often know something is wrong before I see it. On closer inspection I could see that Rupert was missing half of his rear back leg and it was infected.
I’ll never know what caused Rupert to lose his leg but it is possible that it was a fox or dog attack. I cared for him for several months to get him fit and healthy. As well as a stump leg, he was also full of internal parasites, like many Autumn juvenile hedgehogs.
Despite intensive treatment, Rupert’s stump did not heal fully (although the infection cleared) and it opened up whenever he tried to walk any distance. It was impossible for him to return to the wild in this state. The stump would get infected and cause pain and suffering.
Once he got to a good weight and parasite free, I took him for an amputation to remove the remaining stump.
Rupert then had bed rest whilst he recovered from the operation and before his stitches were removed. I made sure his hutch was lined with soft fleece blankets, to reduce the risk of the wound rubbing. I also made sure that he did not walk around on any dirty surfaces until the wound was completely healed.
What happened to Rupert? There are mixed views about returning three legged hedgehogs to the wild. Some say they can survive okay. They can certainly still move fast with three legs. Others say that they cannot groom properly and will be more susceptible to things like ticks or unable to clamber out of holes. So…. I had to find my personal resolution for the dilemma of whether to release him fully back to the wild or to an enclosed garden where he would be safe but will not be able to contribute towards maintaining the hedgehog population.
What would you do?
Update April 2018
Rupert’s wound got infected not long after his operation. After a course of antibiotics, he was eventually well enough to return to nature. Due to the amount of intensive care during his rehabilitation, I decided to release him to an enclosed garden with rabbit proof fencing. However, Rupert managed to dig his way out several times. The last I heard he was living fully wild near to where he was released and was doing fine. I have since learnt that the only way to fully prevent a hedgehog escaping is to use a secure walled garden. However, in future I would release a three legged hedgehog back to the wild.
Front limb amputations
Unfortunately there are no circumstances under which a front leg amputation is ethical. It does not provide sufficient quality of life, even in captivity. I would only consider amputation for a rear leg.
My work is entirely self-funded and I have to pay for operations like amputations as well as antibiotics and pain relief post operation. You can find out more about me and my work here and also how to support it.
I also make silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife and you can visit my online shop here.
I am a member of many wild hedgehog rehabilitation forums and I also follow the Vale Wildlife Hospital protocols for treating hedgehogs. I don’t put detailed information on my pages about the treatments I use but, if you are a hedgehog rehabilitator and would like to know more or would like any help please contact me.
Not all hedgehogs with injured legs will require amputation. The most important thing is to get an x-ray as soon as possible to identify the problem and whether deep infection has set in. Some vets, including mine, will pin legs if it is a recent break. There can also be other causes for hedgehogs dragging legs, including ligament damage and neurological issues. Sometimes infected legs can be treated without the need for amputation. A very recent break (within a few days) could also potentially be pinned. My vet will do this but not all vets will or it can be very expensive.
Building up a good relationship with a vet is essential in wildlife rescue. Without the help of my vet to perform the amputation and to treat the infection, saving Rupert would not have been possible.