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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Day in the life of a hedgehog rescue

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby
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I’ve started to write this blog about 100 times and failed. That tells you quite a bit about a day in the life of a hedgehog rescue! Well, no two days are the same but let me give you a secret glimpse into a day here.

6.00am – Get up and go and check all the patients to see who has survived the night. Collect up food bowls, empty uneaten food and soak them in sterilising liquid. Check on the wild hedgehogs in the garden and top up their food bowls.

Washing up in my hedgehog rescue

There is always piles of washing to be done

6.15am – Grab a quick breakfast on the go

6.30am Weight checks for all hedgehogs. Check list of who needs which medicines. Give all treatments. Some hedgehogs may require 3 or more different medications. Hand feed hoglets. Update all medical records. Clean all cages and replace newspaper and blankets. Put fleece blankets on to wash. Sanitise all hospital surfaces. Clean and sweep the floor.

Towels drying in my hedgehog hospital

Fleece blankets are quick drying. I do at least one wash a day.

7.30am Respond to messages received asking for advice about hedgehogs.

8.00am Try and fit in a couple of hours of freelance work. I used to have a full time job but it was impossible to fit it around the hedgehogs.

10am. Check up on sick patients and administer fluids under the skin/syringe feeds for the sickest. Hand feed any baby hoglets.

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby

10.30am Receive two calls about poorly hedgehogs. Make arrangements for admission.

11am Check on stocks of food and medicine. Order any items that are running low.

12 noon Admit two hedgehogs. Checks done to identify injuries and illnesses. Fluids given and hedgehogs placed into intensive care.

1pm. Try to fit in some more freelance work in between following up leads about potential release sites for hedgehogs. Check out the locations on google earth and schedule in visits to go and check them.

2.30pm Undertake final health check for a hedgehog that is ready for release. Poo sample tested under the microscope. Test a line up of poo samples for my hedgehogs and those out with foster carers. Mark the hedgehog ready for release. Pack up a bag of food for the finders to use over the first few days. Hand feed hoglets.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

3.30pm. Another call asking for advice about a nest of hedgehogs that has been disturbed. Offer advice for the nest to be monitored.

4pm. Check messages asking for advice about poorly hedgehogs. Make some jewellery (which I make to raise funds for the rescue). Update hedgehog admission records and tidy up the shelves in the hospital to put away items of food that have kindly been donated.

5pm. Clean out any hoglets. They make such a mess that they need cleaning at least twice a day. Check on any patients in intensive care. Undertake food rounds to top up food in all cages. Hand feed hoglets.

6.30pm Finder arrives to pick up a hedgehog for release.

7pm Manage to grab some dinner but it is interrupted by a call about a sick hedgehog.

8.30pm. Admit a hedgehog covered in fly strike and ticks. Spend the rest of the evening removing fly strike, giving fluids and intensive care. Hand feed hoglets.

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Ticks removed from a new admission

9.00pm. The hedgehogs have pulled up the lining of one of the cages. Ask my lovely husband to undertake some maintenance whilst I look after the new admission.

10.30pm. Final hedgehog checks.

Try and get some sleep and do it all again the next day!

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

Like all wildlife rescues, my hospital is entirely self funded. I make handmade silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to raise vital funds for the hospital. You can visit my online shop here.