How to tell if a hedgehog is too thin or too fat – the importance of a rounded bottom

Round hedgehog
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How can you tell if a hedgehog is a healthy weight? Thin underweight hedgehogs are likely to be sick and will need specialist treatment.

Hedgehogs being kept in captivity (because they have been sick or were too small to survive hibernation) can also get too fat. For optimum health and survival chances, it is important that hedgehogs are neither too thin or too fat.

Hedgehogs need to be over 650g to have a good chance of surviving hibernation but, like in people, the right weight depends on their size and will vary between individual hedgehogs.

Firstly, whatever its weight, any hedgehog found out in the day is likely to be poorly. This is unusual behaviour for a nocturnal animal and is usually a warning that something is wrong. Always seek advice from a hedgehog rescue.

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You can see that this hedgehog is underweight for his size. His rear end is tapered and a ‘v-shape’.

You can tell if a hedgehog is too thin by holding it on its back (wearing thick gloves) and looking at its rear end. A hedgehog that is underweight for its size will have a tapered ‘v-shaped’ rear end like in the picture above. It may also appear ‘baggy’. A healthy hedgehog should have a nice firm rounded end like in the picture below.

You can read more about the importance of the size/weight ratio here.

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Healthy hedgehog with a nice round rear end.

Being too fat can also cause problems. If a hedgehog gets so fat that it cannot curl up fully into a ball, it will be vulnerable to predation and other problems. Sadly, it is not unknown for hedgehogs that have been kept in captivity for Winter to end up being too fat. Fed on a high fat diet (especially meaty dog or cat food), if the carer does not carefully monitor the hedgehog’s weight, it can end up so obese that it cannot fully curl up into a ball. You can read about an obese wild hedgehog here.

It is much easier to prevent this happening than to put the hedgehog on a diet. It can take many weeks for the hedgehog to lose the weight and they will get stressed being kept in captivity for so long. This in itself can cause more problems. Ringworm, for example, is often triggered by stress, along with the bacterial infection Coccidiosis.

If a hedgehog in captivity is getting so fat that it can no longer fully curl, its food needs to be restricted until it starts losing weight.

This is also where the size/weight ratio is important. For some hedgehogs, 900g may be too fat. For others, they could be well over 1kg and still the right size for their weight. Being able to curl fully into a ball is critical.

The picture below is of a wild hedgehog from my garden. This weight would be too heavy for some hedgehogs but you can see that he can still fully curl into a tight ball.

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Wild hedgehog that I named ‘Whopper’. Despite being heavy at over 1.3kg, he can still fully curl into a tight ball.

The importance of making sure the hedgehog is a healthy weight means you should always seek guidance from an expert wildlife rescue if you are considering looking after a hedgehog. A thin, underweight hedgehog is likely to be very sick and in need of urgent specialist treatment.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about my work here and also how to support it. I also make silver jewellery to raise funds for my hedgehog hospital and you can visit my shop here.

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Treating hedgehogs with ringworm and mange

Ringworm and mange hedgehog
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Ringworm and mange are two of the commonest ailments that I have to treat in the hedgehog hospital. They can make the poor hedgehogs look super ugly and can take weeks, if not months, to cure.

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Hedgehog with severe ringworm and mange. Ringworm often starts on the nose area and can be the most persistent in this area. He has also lost fur.

Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection. Many hedgehogs will carry this fungus without showing any symptoms. Other illnesses and the stress of captivity can often cause it to develop and it is vital to be constantly vigilant for the signs. A hedgehog that has been doing fine in captivity may suddenly develop ringworm later on.

Ringworm varies in severity from a mild crusting around the nose to large scabbed areas and complete fur and spine loss.

Mange is caused by mange mites which burrow into the skin. It causes a white powder on the skin, often accompanied by fur loss.

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Mange mite under magnification

Ringworm and mange often appear together and I always treat for both simultaneously.

If caught early, the spread of both ringworm and mange can sometimes be stopped. If not, it can take many weeks or months of treatments to clear.

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Spine loss due to ringworm

 

Hedgehog with ringworm and mange

Fur and spine loss due to ringworm and mange. The fur has also been lost from the feet, which would normally be brown.

Identification

Mange mites can sometimes be seen by the naked eye. A skin sample tested under the microscope may also show mange mites. See pic above.

A skin culture may be sent for testing via a vet. This is often required in severe cases, where there may also be other potential skin conditions.

Treatment

There are lots of different treatments available for ringworm and many rescues will select their personally preferred option.

I use an anti-fungal treatment for cattle to bathe the hedgehog, with the frequency varying according to the severity of the condition. Alongside this, I use human athlete’s foot creams, brushed onto the skin gently with a toothbrush. Tea tree cream can also be used effectively in mild cases.

Ringworm treatment video

Mange mites are treated by topical or injected ivermectin, available from a vet.

The treatment can take a long time and it is vital to continually remove crusty flakes to ensure that the treatments can get right down into the deeper layers of the skin. Ringworm can become resistant over time and so I alternate between a number of different treatments.

Eventually, the fur and spines will regrow. I find that they often grow back even thicker than before, leaving a very beautiful hedgehog! You can read Octavia’s story, a hedgehog who recovered from ringworm and mange, here.

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Hedgehog following completion of treatment for ringworm and mange with fur and spines regrown

Ringworm in particular can be very debilitating for a hedgehog, especially if they are also suffering from other illnesses. I add a vitamin supplement with zinc to their diet to assist with the growth of new fur and spines.

It is vital to maintain the highest standards of hygiene throughout treatment. Ringworm and mange can both spread to humans and between hedgehogs in the rescue. Gloves must be worn and washed between hedgehogs. All bedding must be washed separately and any chance of cross-contamination between hedgehogs eliminated. Hutches used for infected hedgehogs must be thoroughly cleaned out following treatment.

I run a hedgehog hospital in York. My work is entirely self-funded. You can read more about me and 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 rescue work. You can visit my online jewellery shop here.

 

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.

Octavia’s story – a hedgehog miracle!

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I wanted to share this video with you all – Octavia’s story. She came into my hedgehog hospital as a tiny hoglet only 153g. She had a terrible infected bite wound. It took weeks to treat the injury. Then she lost all her fur and most of her spines due to ringworm. This is common when a hedgehog is run down or sick. It has been a long journey to recovery but she is now over 650g and ready for hibernation.

 

You can read more about Octavia’s injury was treated here.

UPDATE MAY 2018.

I am so proud to say that Octavia was released back to the wild on 6 May 2018. Stay safe miracle girl!

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Octavia upon her release in May 2018

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Octavia on release evening. See how well this side of her face (which was injured) has healed

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about how to support my work here.

Burnt hedgehogs – watch out for wildlife in your bonfire

Hedgehog bonfire poster
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Don’t toast anything but marshmallows on your bonfire this Bonfire Night.

Sadly, every year wildlife dies a cruel and painful death by being burnt in bonfires. It isn’t just bonfires built for Bonfire Night on November 5 but also those created to burn garden waste at any time of year.

Hedgehog nest in pile of leaves

Hedgehog often nest in a loose pile of Autumn leaves – a bit like those created for bonfires

Piles of twigs, logs and Autumn leaves are the perfect hibernation spot for hedgehogs and other wildlife, such as frogs and toads. Bonfire Night falls right at the time when all these creatures are seeking a snug home for the Winter. The middle of a bonfire pile is the ideal spot – out of the wind and the rain.

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To prevent this needless suffering, please consider whether you need a bonfire at all. A pile of twigs and leaves is a perfect home for wildlife year round and makes a great garden feature.

If you must create a bonfire, build it on the day it is going to be lit. Create a pile and then move it to the bonfire site on the day itself. Choose a site that is clear of leaves and other vegetation where you are sure there are no creatures already hibernating.

If you have no choice but to build your bonfire in advance, check thoroughly with bright torches and watch for movement and listen for noises. Hedgehogs will be in the bottom 2 feet of the bonfire. They will often dig down into the ground beneath it. Ideally a team of people should check to cover all sides of the bonfire. Only ever light the bonfire from one side – giving wildlife a chance to escape from the other sides. Whilst it helps, this way of checking is not as good as creating the bonfire on the day. If a hedgehog is hibernating, it will not stir….

If you find a hedgehog, capture it and keep it safe and away from noise in a high sided box. You can find more info on how to look after it here. Only release the hedgehog back when the bonfires are finished and you are certain that the embers have gone cold.

Even with checks, some hedgehogs are unlucky. Below is a hedgehog that was found in a bonfire and all the spines on its back have been singed. This hedgehog did survive but it took many months of treatment for it to recover and the spines to re-grow.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesty Dorthe Madsen

The hedgehog below was not so lucky, its injuries were too severe for it to be saved.

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Burnt hedgehog. Photo courtesy Dru Burdon

So, remember, whilst you might be having fun on Bonfire Night, it is not so fun for wildlife that may be living in your bonfire. Always always check and ideally make your bonfire on the days itself. Please don’t create a needless wildlife casualty.

You can help to spread the word about checking bonfires. Get in touch with people organising bonfire parties in your area and ask them to check for wildlife. You can also download awareness posters here to put up at work, school and in your neighbourhood – look in the ‘information’ section.

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

Hedgehog wound and abscess treatment

Hoglet with facial injury
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Octavia is being treated for a nasty facial wound that has sadly become infected. I’m sorry for the graphic nature of these pictures but this is the kind of reality that wildlife rescues face on a daily basis.

I wish hedgehogs could talk and that I knew the cause of the wound. This one is possibly a strimmer or bite wound. Sadly, the wound has got infected and the skin underneath is dying (necrotic). She has an abscess in the neck area on the same side that you can’t see in this picture.

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Octavia when she arrived and prior to any treatment

Upon arrival, hedgehogs are checked to assess the nature of their wounds. They will also go through a range of other checks to assess their size, weight, general health and whether they have internal or external parasites.

Some hedgehogs will immediately be taken to a vet for treatment if the wound is very severe. Many will require x-ray to ascertain the extent of any damage and infection. With any wound, it is possible that an impact may have caused bones to break. Abscesses can also track deep into the bone. Many of these things are beyond the skills of a hedgehog rescue, who must always work closely with a vet. You can read more about abscesses here.

Depending on the nature of the wound, it may also require draining. This is done by a vet using a syringe/scalpel to draw out the infected pus. The hedgehog is usually ‘gassed down’ for this procedure.

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Octavia after 5 days of treatment

I clean wounds using a mix of hibiscrub (an antibacterial fluid used in surgery) in a warm saline solution. This softens the scabs and aids their removal. It also cleans and sterilises the wound. Hedgehogs are obviously wild creatures and wounds may have picked up all kinds of dirt and debris.

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Some of the wound treatments I use

The treatment for wounds like this takes a long time. This wound is being cleaned regularly to soften the scabs and to keep it sterile. I alternate the application of various different topical treatments to the area beneath the scabs. In this case, I am alternating between a wound gel and veterinary grade manuka honey. These help to clear the infection and to promote healing.

Depending on the nature of the injury, pain relief may also be required as well as antibiotics. Octavia is receiving a special antibiotic that is very good at treating open wounds and abscesses. She will receive this for at least 7 days.

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 to support my work.

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.

 

My hedgehog rescue story – how I became a hedgehog rehabilitator

European hedgehog hoglet
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I’m frequently asked how I started rescuing hedgehogs and became a crazy hedgehog lady…. so here goes!

The inspiration started way way way back. Here is my mum as a girl with a hedgehog in her garden. So it must always have been in my genes!

Mum with hedgehog as young girl

My mum as a young girl with a hedgehog

I remember camping trips with my parents where we would hear hedgehogs snuffling around outside the tent. We even fed them hedgehog flavour crisps – well it was the 1980s! I now know better and would never feed crisps or bread.

One of my first dates with my now husband was to a hedgehog sanctuary in Devon. I got to hold a baby hedgehog and was smitten.

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Me in 2002 with a young hoglet at a Devon hedgehog sanctuary

When we relocated to York, I never expected to find hedgehogs in a city but I hoped and hoped. Then, one night, we came home to a hedgehog on the doorstep. I started feeding and watering them and more came. We soon had 7+ visiting every night.

It turns out that suburbia is one of the last and best refuges for hedgehogs.

After a few months, I spotted a hedgehog with a leaf on its back. I thought it was so cute that it had got a leaf stuck on its prickles. But I was wrong. Closer inspection revealed that the ‘leaf’ was green plastic netting from one of those fat balls that you feed to birds. The plastic was entangled all round the hedgehog.

I googled ‘hedgehog rescue york’ and found an amazing lady who has been rescuing hedgehogs for many years and it all started from there. I never knew until then about the plight of the hedgehog, how numbers were rapidly dwindling and how lucky I was to have them visiting my garden.

I have taken in more and more hedgehogs over the years as my skills and knowledge have grown. I started off looking after hedgehogs that had been treated for ailments but just needed fattening up for release. Then I started taking on poorly ones. I bought a microscope and joined lots of forums where hedgehog rescuers share knowledge and advice.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

This is now my 6th year of hedgehog rescue and my success rate is around 80%. There are always hedgehogs that are found too late and are beyond help but I try my best with every hedgehog that arrives.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story of how it all started. Like all other wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self-funded. Many people are surprised to hear that rescues receive no money from the Government or larger charities. We all fund our work ourselves and could not do it without your help. 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 the hedgehog hospital. You can visit my jewellery shop here.