Your average hedgehog might not look like a natural athlete, but they are full of surprises. They climb, they run, and yes, they swim. The garden pond can be a great resource for neighbourhood hogs, but it can be a death trap too. In this article, we will take a closer look at hedgehogs aquatic abilities and how you can make sure your pond is a safe place for them to swim.
Can Hedgehogs Swim?
Hedgehogs are pretty good swimmers. In his book Hedgehogs, Pat Morris records them swimming for over half a mile, crossing rivers and swimming to the middle of lakes.
Not only do they swim, they also float. Hedgehog spines are hollow, air-filled tubes. So a hedgehog who gets tired whilst swimming can turn onto her back and float on her spines. Think of it like having your own built-in lilo.
Why Do Hedgehogs Swim?
Swimming for hedgehogs is part of the nightly foraging process. If they smell food on the other side of a body of water, they will jump right in and swim across to get it.
The water itself can also offer a drink, but it might offer food too. A pond or stream can attract a great range of insects, and hedgehogs will also eat frogs, toads and newts if they get the chance. Even fish could be on the menu.
Rescuers also eat up hedgehog swimming pools and use hydrotherapy to help injured hogs recover muscle tone.
So, all in all, hedgehogs are quite at home in the water.
Do Hedgehogs Bathe?
Although hedgehogs may swim to get at food, they don’t bathe in water. In fact, washing in water may disturb the natural oils on hedgehogs skins.
Instead, when hedgehogs need to clean themselves, they take a dust bath, like many other wild animals.
So Why Do So Many Hedgehogs Drown?
Whilst hedgehogs are good swimmers, they are often found drowned in garden ponds and swimming pools. Why is this?
There are a few reasons. First off, without wishing to be rude, hedgehogs aren’t that bright. So they don’t do a whole lot of route planning. When they jump into a pond or pool, they don’t seem to take any time to consider whether they are going to be able to get out.
Hedgehogs don’t seem to have much fear of falling, maybe because their spines can act as a shock absorber to cushion a landing onto a hard surface. But this same devil-may-care attitude means they are happy to launch themselves off over handing edges, like the lip of a swimming pool, without any thought of how they will get out again.
Most natural ponds and streams offer a natural escape route, like gently sloping banks or beaches.
But a garden pond, particularly the rigid plastic ones, offers steep, slippery sides, making escape impossible for hedgehogs or other wildlife.
Swimming pools, which generally have completely vertical walls topped by overhanging coping stones, are even worse.
So even though the hedgehog can swim and float when tired. If he is trapped in a pool or pond for long enough, there will come a point when he can’t keep his head above water any more and will drown.
If you have hedgehogs in your garden, you are sure to want to avoid this sort of an accident, so let’s look at how to make your pond or pool hedgehog-safe.
Keeping your Pond Or Pool Hedgehog-Safe
You can put several measures in place to ensure your pond or swimming pool is safe for hedgehogs and other wildlife.
- Provide a shallow beach area at one side of the pond; this will allow hedgehogs and other wildlife to simply climb out.
- Add stones or upturned plant pots that are near the edge of the pond and protrude above the level to the water. These will also give hedgehogs a way out.
- Use a plank of wood to make an escape ramp. Be sure to keep it clean. If the surface becomes slimy, it may be difficult to climb.
- Get a pond escape ladder. You can buy a range of wildlife ladders for ponds and swimming pools. These tend to offer more grip than a simple plank of wood.
- Cover it. Some ponds simply don’t lend themselves to any of the measures above. If this is your situation, then we suggest you cover the pond with netting, the kind you would use to make the pond child safe. When you choose, be sure to check the size of the holes and go for a rigid mesh rather than a fabric net, as this will be less likely to tangle around a hedgehog.
- Avoid pond chemicals. If you want your pond to be safe for wildlife, it is best to avoid using chemicals in the water.
With vertical sides and overhanging edges, swimming pools can be a huge hazard for wildlife. Add to this the fact that swimming pool water is almost always heavily loaded with chlorine and other chemicals, and it’s easy to see why it’s best to keep wildlife out.
The best way to keep wildlife out of your swimming pool is to cover it securely when not in use. To be effective, your cover will need to be securely anchored to the edges of the poo, so nothing can crawl under it. A floating cover is more of a hazard than a benefit as hedgehogs and other wildlife are liable to become trapped under it if they do fall in.
If you are unable to keep your pool covered, then get an escape float. These will save the lives of hedgehogs, frogs and other wildlife too.
Rescuing a Hedgehog from Your Pond
Hedgehogs are famous for getting themselves into trouble. So even if you follow all the advice for keeping your pond hedgehog safe, there is still a chance one may fall in.
Check your pond or pool every morning; you never know what might have stumbled in during the night. We once woke up to find three cows from a neighbouring field in our swimming pool. It took the fire brigade to get them out (all unharmed, but with the gifts they left on the bottom of the pool nobody was that keen on swimming for quite a while!) Most pond rescues though, you’ll be able to handle easily on your own.
If you find a hedgehog in your pond who is swimming around happily and doesn’t look tired or distressed, you can just watch and leave him to it.
So long as your pond has a suitable escape route, the hog should find it in the end and be on his way.
If the hog looks tired or distressed, which it may well be if it’s been swimming around in there for a while, you will need to get it out.
It may be enough to place an escape route, like a plank, in the hedgehogs’ path, so it can clamber on board and get itself out of the water.
But if this doesn’t work, you will need to fish it out. If you have a large skimming net (for removing leaves etc., from the water), you may be able to gently scoop the hog out with this.
If not, you will need to go in with your gardening gloves or a towel for prickle protection and gently scoop it out.
Whichever method you use, the hedgehog is likely to ball-up, so there is not much danger of you dropping it.
If the hedgehog has been in the water for a while, it could well be cold. So once you have it safely on dry land, unless it takes off right away, we would recommend placing it into a box with a warmed towel under it and a little food and water on hand. Your hog should revive and be keen to leave quite quickly.
But if after a couple of hours the hedgehog is still looking sluggish, then do call your local hedgehog rescue for advice.
Hedgehogs can and do swim, but you will be lucky to ever witness this as it’s most likely to happen at night.
Your garden pond can be a valuable resource for hedgehogs and other wildlife, providing a place to drink and a source of food.
Your pool or pond can also be a wildlife death trap, but by following the simple steps set out in the article, you and your local wildlife can enjoy the water in safety.
Thanks for reading! We hope you’ve enjoyed the article and found it useful. Do you have suggestions or questions? We would love to hear from you; leave us a comment below.