Hand rearing baby hedgehog orphans

Hedgehog orphans, orphaned hoglets
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Hoglet season is in full swing and I am inundated with little spiky orphans.

The reasons for them coming into care and many and varied. In some cases nests have been disturbed whilst gardening and mum has abandoned the babies. In other cases, it is likely that something has happened to mum – she has been killed or injured.

Each of the babies will be cared for until it is big enough to go back to the wild. That is likely to be at around 8 weeks old and 500g+.

Their treatment depends upon their age and what is wrong with them. Hoglets whose eyes have not yet opened will need hand feeding by syringe until they learn to lap by themselves.

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Hoglet being hand fed formula

Even tiny hoglets can pick up internal parasites if they have spent any period of time in the wild having to fend for themselves. If mum had internal parasites, she can also pass them on to her babies and these start to show up from a few weeks old.

It is hard but rewarding work caring for hoglets. Hygiene has to be scrupulous because they can be very vulnerable at a young age. All feeding equipment must be sterilised after every feed. Bedding needs changing frequently.

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Baby hoglet whose eyes have just opened. They can get covered in food and need cleaning regularly to avoid them having a build up of food on their skin

Once weaned, they make a huge mess stomping through their food bowls and so their cages can need cleaning several times a day. Like with adult hedgehogs, their poo needs testing regularly if they are not gaining weight or show symptoms of illness. This is to check for internal parasites that may need treating. Whilst some baby hedgehogs come into rescue and do not need any treatment, others can struggle with parasite burdens from a young age.

 

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Hoglets moving to an outdoor run to prepare for release back to the wild

Once they are ready to return to the wild, they are released to where they came from or to other suitable locations if that is not possible. They will be given food, water and nest boxes to ease their transition back to the wild.

Hedgehog behaviour comes naturally to them and being raised by humans does not disadvantage them as long as handling has been minimised during care. They soon learn to forage for themselves back in the wild.

The video below shows hedgehog behaviour at a very young age. The huffing is his natural warning to stay away and is used as a defense in the wild.

This year seems to be particularly bad for hoglets. Many are coming in at a much lower weight than is normal for their age, which suggests that mum may be struggling to give them a good start. I’ve also seen a 400% increase in admissions of orphans compared with last year.

There are many other factors that can influence the numbers coming into rescue, including increased awareness of the plight of hedgehogs, other hedgehog rescues in the vicinity closing and hot dry weather….

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. You can read more about me here and also how to support my work.

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

 

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Hedgehog courtship behaviour

Wild hedgehogs courting
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It is that wonderful time of year when hedgehogs are courting. You’ll hear them before you see them – they make a really loud ‘huffing’ snorting sound that can keep your neighbours awake at night! Courting generally happens between April and September but, milder weather means that litters are now sometimes being born even in Winter.

David Attenborough sums it all up perfectly

Hedgehogs normally have four to five babies. They stay in the nest for around 4 weeks and then will accompany mum on foraging trips for around a fortnight, before leaving to go off on in their own directions.

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A female hedgehog with her baby on my patio

It is very important to avoid disturbing a hedgehog nest because mum may kill or eat her babies. Avoid garden maintenance, such as removing sheds or outbuildings, during the nesting season. If you do disturb a nest accidentally, cover it straight back up. Do not touch the babies. Check from a distance to see if mum returns. If she does not and you hear ‘peeping’ (like a baby bird noise) from the nest, the babies are in need of rescue. Seek advice from a hedgehog rescue urgently. Do not touch the babies with your bare hands and you need to keep them warm.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. To support my work please visit www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com. You can also follow my hedgehog rescue stories at www.facebook.com/littlesilverhedgehog

How to identify hedgehog poo

Hedgehog poo
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Hedgehog poo

Hedgehog poo – the morning after the night before!

Many people get excited about the first signs of Spring – daffodils raising their sunny heads and delicate snowdrops swaying in the breeze…. But for me, poo is the most exciting sign of Spring….

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and, unless you plan to spend endless hours camped out by your patio doors or invest in a wildlife camera, you are more likely to see hedgehog excrement than the creature that left it.

Hedgehogs emerge from hibernation any time from March onwards and the sign of fresh black droppings on the lawn is a wonderful sign that my spiky friends have emerged safely from their deep sleep. The ‘poo calendar’ reminds me that it is time to leave out fresh water and food every day to help my prickly guests.

Top tip: If you want to know if you have a hedgehog visitor, go on a poo hunt around your garden!

Healthy hedgehog droppings are black or dark brown in colour, solid and usually oval or tapered. They can be up to 5cm long. Stools also provide a vital insight into the hedgehog diet. Hedgehog poo will often ‘glisten’ due to being packed with the remains of invertebrates, such as beetle wings and other body parts. Contrary to popular belief, hedgehogs don’t just eat slugs. Beetles are their favourite foods and eating too many slugs can actually be bad for them as they are an intermediate host for lungworm. This horrid parasite can cause weight loss, breathing problems and ultimately death.

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Top tip: Help your hedgehogs to have lovely healthy shiny black poo by packing your garden with native plants and log piles to attract beetles. There more plants the better!

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Flowers in my wildlife garden

Hedgehog poo is also a vital indicator of health in other ways. Green slimy poo can be a sign that a hedgehog is poorly and in need of rescue, so keep a close eye on your hedgehogs if you see any dodgy poo around your feeding stations. It is vital to keep the feeding stations clean (just like you would with bird feeders).

Hedgehog rescuers like myself also love looking at poo under the microscope. Parasites can be identified under the microscope that can then be treated, with the most common being lungworm (from slugs) and roundworm (from earthworms). Bacterial infections can also be identified. Studying poo is one of my favourite passtimes…

Looking at hedgehog poo through the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

Roundworm in hedgehog poo under microsope credit Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Roundworm eggs under the microscope: courtesy Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Lungworm in hedgehog poo under microscope credit Whitby Wildlife Rescue

Lungworm under the microscope: courtesy Whitby Wildlife Rescue

If you’re still not sure if the poo is from a hedgehog or a different visitor, please also check out my guide to other common wildlife poo….

So, poo glorious poo, my favourite sign of Spring!

I’d love to know when you spot the first hedgehog poo in your garden….

My hedgehog rescue is entirely self-funded. If you’ve found this blog post useful, you can read more about my work here and also how to support it.

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

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Hedgehog leg amputation – three legged hedgehog

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Meet Rupert. He arrived with me a couple of months ago 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.

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Gorgeous Rupert has such a lovely nature despite the challenges posed by his stump leg

I’ll never know what caused Rupert to lose his leg but it is possible that it was a fox or dog attack. I have been caring 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.

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The stump has never fully healed and opens up when he walks any distance

Rupert is now on bed rest whilst he recovers from the operation and will return in two weeks to have the stitches removed.

What next for Rupert? Well, assuming there are no complications, the next stage will be the difficult bit. There are mixed views about returning 3 legged hedgehogs to the wild. Some say they can survive okay. They can certainly still move fast with 3 legs. Others say that they cannot groom properly and will be more susceptible to things like ticks. So…. next for me will be 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 will be safe but will not be able to contribute towards maintaining the hedgehog population.

What would you do?

My work is entirely self-funded and I have to pay for operations like amputations as well as antibiotics and pain relief post operation. I will also have to pay again for him to have the stitches removed. I believe it is worth it to give him a second chance of life. You can support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com.

You can also make a donation here.

I’ll share more news about Rupert as he hopefully recovers….

Update May 2017

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. He is now safe in a half acre garden where he can be monitored.

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Rupert on his release day

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Treating a hedgehog with a strimmer injury

Hedgehog with strimmer injury
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The sound of people people using a strimmer sets my teeth on edge. I hate them! They do so much damage to wildlife including hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

This is the story of Holly and her journey to recovery from a terrible strimmer wound. She was found at the end of July with her head sliced open, underneath a Holly bush. You can see from the pictures where the strimmer blade has cut deep into her head.

Holly is lucky – a few mm closer and the blade would have entered her skull.

When Holly was found, it was Summer and flies had laid eggs in the wound and hatched into maggots. These had to be painstakingly removed one by one and then the wound washed out with antimicrobial wound treatment and saline.

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You can see where the blade has cut across Holly’s head

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Flies had laid eggs in the open wound, which had hatched into maggots

Holly was put on a course of antibiotics and pain relief. The wound was cleaned daily to stop infection and a special wound gel was added to aid healing.

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Holly’s wound after around 10 days of treatment. It has scabbed over but needs cleaning daily to prevent infection.

Eventually, the wound healed and new spines started to grow through where the wound was.

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New spines starting to grow though – around a month after treatment started

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Holly fit and well and ready to go back to the wild.

Holly is incredibly lucky. Sadly, injuries like Holly’s are far from uncommon. Many hedgehogs are not so fortunate and strimmer and mowing injuries are a major cause of suffering and death. It also took me 6 weeks of intensive care to nurse her back to health. To help prevent injuries and suffering please:

  • Check all areas of long grass carefully before mowing or strimming. Hedgehogs nest in long grass.
  • Ideally keep areas of grass long for wildlife and don’t strim at all.
  • Encourage everyone you know to check before they mow – a simple check can save hedgehogs as well as frogs, toads and other wildlife that loves to nest or forage in long grass.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England and have nursed hundreds of hedgehogs back to health. You can find out more about my work here and also how to support it.

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

My blog is full of tips and advice on helping wild hedgehogs – please take a look around my other blog posts and see what you can do to help our spiky friends.

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Releasing rehabilitated hedgehogs back to the wild

Wild hedgehog
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It has been a very busy few weeks as the over-wintered hedgehogs are returned to the wild. I’ve released 38 so far since the start of Spring!

It has been late releasing them this year due to the cold night time temperatures until May. It has to be 5 degrees or above at night for at least 5 days in a row after release for them to be able to go. If it is too cold and frosty, there wont be enough insects around for them to eat.

Where possible, the hedgehogs are returned to where they came from. They will remember the area and the food sources and nest sites. Sometimes this isn’t possible though if the area has dangers – for example, if a hedgehog has been attacked by a dog in the garden or if it was found in a pond. I have strict criteria for new sites.

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Derek was found in early Spring struggling after hibernation. He had a high worm burden and ringworm.

To give them the best start back in the wild, the hedgehogs are all supported for at least the first few weeks. They are provided with food and water daily and they are given nest boxes filled with hay to give them shelter whilst they seek their own homes.

It is a bittersweet time because they have been cared for over winter for many months and I will miss them deeply but it is what hedgehog rescue is all about – getting them back to the wild to play their part in maintaining the wild population. Keeping them too long can cause them to get stressed, particularly males so, as soon as they are fit and well and the temperatures are okay, they are off!

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Autumn was found out in daylight – which 99% of the time means there is a problem. She had a wound, was missing an eye and had a high roundworm burden.

People often ask me if rehabilitation is successful. Well, I mark them all with a tiny bit of nail varnish which should last at least 12 months. So far, not a single hedgehog has come back to me poorly. Beyond the 12 months though is unknown….

Good luck out there hedgehogs!

I run a hedgehog hospital in York – to support my work please visit Little Silver Hedgehog jewellery

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How to sex a hedgehog – how to tell if a hedgehog is male or female

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Is my visiting hedgehog a girl or a boy? I’m often asked this question. The challenge of working it out often leads to many just being called ‘Spike’, which I guess works for either…..

There are a few ways you can tell what sex your hedgehog is. The first does depend on the hedgehog being cooperative and uncurling for you. You could also pop it into a see-through box so that you can take a sneaky look from underneath.

A male hedgehog has a large ‘belly-button’ about halfway up its tummy. This isn’t really a belly button but is actually his penile sheath. You can see this clearly in the pic below.

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Alex with his manhood proudly on display

You can tell a female hedgehog because her vulva is directly above her anus. You can see this in the pic below. Although it looks as if she has a protruding part, you will see that there is no gap between it and her anus. If she were a boy, she would have a ‘belly button’ like Alex a couple of cm up in the area of belly that you can see exposed and a gap between that and the anus.

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Female hedgehog

Another way of identifying the sex of your visiting hedgehogs is to observe their behavior. If you aren’t able to catch your visiting hedgehogs physically ‘in the act’ (which makes it very clear which is which!), you are more likely to see hedgehog courtship behaviour. You will certainly hear it! The male will chase and circle the female. The female will be the one being circled around and making the ‘huffing’ sound. This brilliant film featuring David Attenborough shows you everything you need to know and more!

 

Many people wonder if male and female hedgehogs can be identified by their size. Unfortunately, this isn’t possible because there are so many other factors influencing the size of a hedgehog including age, nutrition and whether females are pregnant. Like humans, some hedgehogs will naturally be smaller or larger than others and some will eat more or less than others!

Good luck and do let me know how you get on!

I run a hedgehog hospital in York. You can read more about my work here and also how to support it here.

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