Why you shouldn’t feed hedgehogs mealworms

Hedgehogs feeding in garden
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Like many people, I used to feed dried mealworms to my visiting garden hedgehogs. I used to feed them in moderation but I had no idea quite how bad they were for the health of my spiky friends.

I knew that mealworms were to hedgehogs what sweets are to children. If given the choice, they would live on nothing but this junk food. They are highly addictive and hedgehogs will soon choose to consume nothing else.

What I didn’t know though was that mealworms, and probably also foods like peanut kibble and sunflower hearts, actively strip bones of calcium. This is the likely cause of increasing numbers of hedgehogs coming into hedgehog rescues with metabolic bone disease, including Benjamin who was cared for here last year.

Hedgehogs feeding in garden

I used to feed visiting hedgehogs a mix of kitten biscuits and a few mealworms. Now I’ve cut out the mealworms completely.

Please read the article to find out the full reasons why you shouldn’t feed these foods. A good quality kitten or cat biscuit, water and some meaty cat or dog food is all you need to keep your prickly visitors healthy.

You can also help by making your garden insect friendly to ensure there are plenty of beetles and caterpillars – their favourite natural foods. There is plenty of calcium in the exoskeletons of beetles.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. You can find out more about me and my hedgehog hospital here. Like all wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self-funded and you can find out how to support my work here.

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

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Make a hedgehog highway – link your garden with a hedgehog hole.

Hedgehog hole to link gardens
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Making a hedgehog hole to link your garden with others is one of the most important things you can do to help hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs need access to a large number of gardens and other habitats to find sufficient food and mates. They roam up to 2km a night between gardens, parkland and allotments. Habitat loss and people fencing in gardens and other green spaces may be a major contributor towards their declining numbers.

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A hedgehog hole in my garden

Make a 13cm (5 inch) square hole in or under any fences. This will provide hedgehogs with access but should keep any neighbouring dogs out. Remember to create a hole on all sides of your garden.

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Hedgehog highway sign. Pic: PTES

I love these hedgehog highway signs from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. If you move house, it hopefully means that future residents will understand why the hole was created and keep it open.

You can also purchase special gravel boards that have hedgehog holes already built in from a number of fencing suppliers including from Jacksons Fencing.

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Hedgehog friendly gravel board. Pic: Jacksons Fencing

When you’ve made your hedgehog holes, please map them on the Big Hedgehog Map to help build a picture of hedgehog habitats across the country.

Don’t delay – do it today! Then, when you’ve done it, ask your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues to do the same….

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

Hedgehog wound and abscess treatment

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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.

 

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.

Squashing the myth – hedgehogs are full of fleas….

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The phone rings. “Help, I have found a baby hedgehog but I can’t pick it up to put it in a box because it is full of fleas. The fleas will get onto my dog and I have a baby and the baby will catch fleas.”

It’s a myth that all hedgehogs are covered in fleas. I’ve been running a hedgehog rescue for over 5 years and I have seen around 6 hedgehogs in that time that have had fleas. That is out of over 350 hedgehogs admitted. Yet, you’d be surprised how many people say that they cannot help rescue a hedgehog due to the risk of fleas.

The very few hedgehogs that have had fleas have either been incredibly poorly or have been young hoglets that were orphaned some time ago and have been struggling on their own.

In the very rare instance that a hedgehog has fleas, the fleas will not infest your dog, your cat, your house, your baby….. The hedgehog flea (scientific name: Archaeopsylla erinacei) is host specific. That means that it can only live on hedgehogs. It cannot live on anything else.

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The hedgehog flea

“But” I hear you say, “I’ve got a resident hedgehog who visits every night and I often see it scratching….” Well, itches can be caused by many things, just like they can in humans. It is nothing to worry about unless the hedgehog is found out in the day, which is a sign that is is unwell. If it is only seen at night, leave it alone.

What you are more likely to see on a hedgehog, are ticks. These blood-sucking critters also affect other animals and there are many species of them. Hedgehogs are affected by the hedgehog tick (scientific name: Ixodes Heagonus).

Increasingly mild winters mean that ticks are not being killed off and it is quite common and normal to see a hedgehog with a few ticks. One or two will not cause any harm and will drop off naturally once they’ve had their feast.

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Ticks removed from a hedgehog. Notice the variety of sizes and colours – they are all the same species.

Sometimes a hedgehog is found that is absolutely covered in ticks. The ticks can cause anaemia and pass on other infections. Sometimes this is an indication that the hedgehog is sick, likely to be the case if the hedgehog is found out in the day. But lots of ticks don’t necessarily mean that the hedgehog is sick because milder winters mean that fewer ticks are being killed off. The unlucky hedgehog may just have slept in a tick nest and been targeted. But, the ticks will need to be removed to prevent anaemia.

The treatment of fleas and ticks is a specialist job and you can do more harm than good if you try to treat them yourselves. Flea treatments for cats and dogs will kill hedgehogs. If you remove ticks the wrong way, it can lead to infection and disease.

if you find a hedgehog that you suspect to be ill, follow the advice here and remember that a few ticks are absolutely normal and fine…..

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can help me continue my work by supporting me here.

 

 

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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Build a hedgehog feeding station

Hedgehogs feeding in garden
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Want to feed hedgehogs but not your neighbourhood cats? A hedgehog feeding station may well be the answer. It also helps to keep the food and the hedgehog dry when it is raining. Hedgehogs aren’t keen on rain!

There are lots of options for feeding stations. You can buy a ready made one, I use a wooden hedgehog house (see header pic) or you can also build your own very cheaply from a plastic box. Please remember that a feeding station should only be used for food – don’t mix dinner with bed and breakfast. Use a separate hedgehog box to provide a house.

You will need:

  • A plastic storage box with a lid. A minimum of 12″ wide by 18″ (but can be bigger)
  • A stanley knife or strong scissors to cut the hole
  • Measuring tape to measure the size of the hole
  • Strong tape to cover the cut edges of the hole
  • A brick
  • Small but heavy ceramic bowls for food

Building the box

  • Decide whether you want to have the box with the lid on or whether you want to turn the box upside down with the lid underneath.
  • Carefully cut out a hole around 4.5″ square.
  • Tape up the edges of the hole – they may be jagged
  • Line the box with newspaper
  • Put the food at the far end of the box
  • Place a brick on top to help prevent the lid being taken off by a fox/cat
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Feeding station lined with newspaper. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

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Place a brick on top of the box. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

Check the box daily and change the newspaper when it gets dirty. Wash the food bowls regularly to keep them clean.

You can also decrease the risk of cats getting into the feeding station by placing the entrance up against a fence or wall with only a hedgehog sized gap behind it….

If you want to check that your visitor is, in fact, a hedgehog, you can place a non-toxic ink pad at the entrance followed by a white paper lining. You should then be able to spot hedgehog footprints made by the ink….

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Hedgehog footprints. Pic courtesy http://www.hedgehogstreet.org

For suggestions of what food to put in your feeding station please read my blog.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. I make silver jewellery to raise funds to support my work. My work is entirely self-funded. You can also make a donation to support my work here.

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