Blind hedgehogs – how to tell if a hedgehog is blind

Blind wild hedgehog
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How can you tell if a hedgehog is blind?

I’ve only personally encountered three blind hedgehogs in over six years of hedgehog rescue but I’m often asked this question by other hedgehog rescues.

Sometimes it is obvious that the hedgehog is blind because it will have no eyes at all due to injury or disease. One blind hedgehog had opaque eyes that were tinged blue. It was likely born that way.

With others, it can be less obvious and takes a number of steps and tests to diagnose. Hedgehogs mainly rely on their sense of smell and so they can cope well without one eye and can be released to the wild. This is not the case for a completely blind hedgehog.

Heathcliffe blind hedgehog

Blind hedgehog Heathcliffe walking with his nose high in the air

These are some of the tests that can be used to help diagnose blindness. These should always be undertaken alongside a diagnosis from a vet and working closely with an experienced wildlife rescue.

1.Vet test of the eyes to check pupil reaction to see if they react normally. This check will also look at any abnormalities in the eyes eg cataracts or injury.

2. Setting up an obstacle course to see if the hedgehog is able to easily navigate around obstacles. Heathcliffe (pictured) ran up to walls and bumped into them and was not able to identify shallow steps. Over time, a hedgehog may learn to navigate obstacles as the location becomes familiar so it is important to observe this behaviour early on.

3. Behavioural observations. A blind hedgehog will often come out in the day when it is first released into an outdoor enclosure. Over time they can become accustomed to the difference in temperatures between night and day (enabling them to exhibit more normal nocturnal behaviour) and so it is also important to monitor this from the start of them being placed outdoors.

When I was inexperienced, I released a hedgehog in my garden thinking it was normal. I couldn’t understand why I kept seeing it coming out in daytime, even though it was free of parasites and injuries that might otherwise cause this behaviour. In fact, he was completely blind.

4. Use of the nose and vocalisation. In my experience, blind hedgehogs use their sense of smell more. They may walk with their nose higher in the air – like Heathcliffe (pictured) and may sniff the air more than other hedgehogs. They may also be noisier in their snuffling compared with other hedgehogs – almost like they are using this for echo-location. Of course, this requires a good knowledge of ‘normal’ hedgehog behaviour!

Heathcliffe trying to escape

Heathcliffe trying to find an escape route from his enclosed garden. He is blind but he knows someone is there due to a combination of smell and sound.

So what happens to blind hedgehogs? This is where it gets contentious. The welfare of the animal and laws around captivity of wild animals are, of course, paramount. For this reason, some wildlife rescues will put a blind hedgehog to sleep.

I have released all 3 blind hedgehogs to enclosed gardens. These are sites where I am confident that they will receive a good quality of life and be able to exhibit natural behaviours. They learn their way around the enclosed areas and are able to forage naturally for food, as well as being given supplementary food. Enclosed gardens should not have heavy foliage, such as ivy, growing up the walls. Hedgehogs (even blind ones!) are very good climbers and can climb the foliage and escape.

Hedgehogs can live for many years in captivity and so this care needs to be provided indefinitely.

What would you do?

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

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

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5 thoughts on “Blind hedgehogs – how to tell if a hedgehog is blind

  1. I would do exactly as you did find a safe enclosed garden for them to live out the remainder of their life,Some people want hedgehogs in their gardens but can’t because it is enclosed and they are happy to feed these beautiful creatures.And as you say they adapt quite well to an enclosed garden.The first Hedgehog we had was a late summer juvenile when we found him he was underweight so we took him to our friend down the road who is a hedgehog rehabilitator ,he said he wouldn’t be able to gain enough weight and wouldn’t have survived winter but the little fellow didn’t like being cooped up in the pen so stopped eating ,we offered to keep him in our back garden where he could roam and foraged and make his own nest as well as me feeding him every night and it worked he started eating again so I left little dishes of food in several places in the garden for him to hunt out to encourage his foraging instincts and it work he hibernated on Christmas day that year and woke up in the spring and went off on his marry way after a few weeks of opening up the back garden to the front garden.The one we have now comes and goes as he wants but I think he’s under the shed and he has just gone in to hibernation now about 5 days,He came to us in the summer in the day time and was found to have lung worm it took a few weeks at our friends to get him fit for release in September but he’s been with us ever since and I expect he will go on his merry way in the spring when he wakes up.But for now I am just putting out dry food and water in case he wakes up again just to be safe,xx Speedy and Rachel

  2. Release them into the care of people with enclosed gardens. Win. Win. Death is final and depriving a hedgehog of what is left of its life when it can survive and indeed flourish is not helpful. a

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