How to age a wild hedgehog
Old-timer Elsie is a great great great grandmother hedgehog – possibly even greater! She has likely survived at least four winters.
In a hedgehog, ginger can be a sign of longevity. Their spines turn ginger and Elsie almost glows orange! (Be careful though because ginger spines can also be a sign of illness, so you need to see this in combination with other signs of age outlined below).
Hedgehog skin pigmentation also changes with age. A majority of wild European hedgehogs are born with brown noses but elderly hedgehogs start to lose this pigmentation and their skin starts to turn pink. This is particularly striking in this old lady hedgehog.
Elsie has survived harsh winters, numerous hazards including roads, ponds, strimmers… but this year she has not fared so well. She is thin for her size. Her rear is baggy and pointed, whereas it should be round.
As with humans, their dental health can also suffer with age. Teeth get worn and rotten and infection can set in. Elsie has received antibiotics to treat an infection in her mouth.
So how long do hedgehogs live? They can live for over five years but, sadly, many don’t get this old. Many die during their first hibernation but, if they survive their first Winter, their chances of living another year or two increase. The causes of death are many and varied including road casualties, garden injuries due to strimmers, drowning in ponds, being injured by dogs and also poor habitat leading to starvation and internal parasite burdens.
Whether an elderly hedgehog can return to the wild after being rehabilitated depends on whether it has any complications, such as ongoing infections due to bad teeth. Older hedgehogs are also more likely to be partially or completely blind – due to historic injuries or just old age. I release any hedgehog that cannot return fully to the wild to an enclosed garden with as natural a habitat as possible where they can be cared for until the end of their days.
You can find out more about me and my work rescuing hedgehogs here
My hedgehog awareness work is entirely self funded. If you have found this information useful, please take a look at all the ways to support what I do.
I also make silver nature jewellery inspired by hedgehogs and the other wildlife and plants in my wildlife garden. You can take a look at my online jewellery shop here.