How to Rescue and Over-Winter a Hedgehog

Generally speaking, the help you offer to hedgehogs by providing food, water and a nesting box is enough, and very much appreciated by our prickly friends. It is always better to leave animals in the wild and minimise human contact wherever possible. But with an endangered species like hedgehogs sometimes we can’t let nature take its course. Because hedgehogs are so rare now even sick or weak individuals need to be given a chance to survive. This is why there will be times when you will need to take a hedgehog out of its natural habitat and into your care. 

A hedgehog might need your attention for a few minutes or hours, days or weeks or even for the whole winter. 

In this article, we are going to look at:

  • When you need to take a hedgehog into your care.
  • How to safely handle a hedgehog
  • Setting up a hedgehog “Emergency” box
  • Setting up a temporary enclosure 
  • Overwintering and releasing autumn juveniles

Let’s get started!

When Does A Hedgehog Need Taking Into Care?

If a hedgehog can fend for itself in the wild, then that is what it should do. Keeping hedgehogs as pets in the UK is illegal.

But there are occasions when a hog may not be able to survive without human intervention. In these circumstances, because of the precarious status of the species, we need to intervene.

A hedgehog may need to be rescued if:

  • It is out in the daytime. Seeing a hedgehog out during the day is very often (but not always) a sign that it is in deep trouble and needs your help. Read our full guide here.
  • It is visibly injured. A hedgehog that has visible injuries should be taken in and got to your local hedgehog rescue as quickly as possible.
  • It is wobbling, weaving or staggering around looking drunk. This usually indicates that the hedgehog is ill and should be taken to your local rescue centre.
  • It is lying still in the open. Day or night if a hedgehog is lying still, out in the open, it probably needs your help. The hedgehog may be curled up or layout flat, either way, lying still out in the open is not natural behaviour.
  • It is a young or skinny-looking hog out in the autumn. These are autumn juveniles and may need support to make it through the winter. We go into detail on when and how to help in the first part of this series, here.
  • It’s trapped. Hedgehogs are exceptionally talented at getting themselves stuck in places they shouldn’t. Garden netting is a classic, but yoghurt pots, tin cans, drain pipes and more all feature on the list. If you come across a “stuck hedgehog, go very carefully, they are delicate creatures, and you don’t want to injure it trying to get it out of the mess it’s gotten into. If in doubt, call your local hedgehog rescue.

Caution!

There are 2 situations where you should think carefully before you act.

  1. Baby hedgehogs or hoglets that appear to be on their own. If a baby hedgehog has lost its mother, it will need help from a rescue centre to stand any chance of survival. But you should make certain that the mother isn’t around before intervening. Mothers can leave their hoglets to gather food. They will also relocate the whole litter to a new nest if they have been disturbed. So before you rescue hoglets, watch them for a couple of hours from a safe distance to be sure the mother isn’t coming back.
  2. Dead Hedgehog. A hibernating hedgehog, in shock or ill, may well look dead. Remember that when hibernating the hedgehog’s temperature drops right down, her breathing slows to just one or 2 breaths per minute. A shocked or ill hedgehog can go into a similar state. If a hedgehog is just still and cold, it may well not be dead. Take it in, place it in your emergency box with a wrapped hot water bottle, and it may well revive.

Never Move a Hibernating Hedgehog

If you should accidentally uncover a hibernating hedgehog do not move it. Cover it up again gently and leave it in peace. If you move it, you will rouse it from hibernation. This uses a lot of energy for the hedgehog, eating into the reserves it has to survive the winter. If you have accidentally disturbed a hibernating hog, once you’ve covered it back up place dishes of food and water nearby. So if it does wake it won’t have to go far to find sustenance.

How To Rescue A Hedgehog

If after careful consideration, you have decided that your hedgehog does need some human care and attention the first thing you will need to do is pick it up. Considering the hedgehog is a wild animal; this is surprisingly easy to do.

How To Safely Handle A Hedgehog

Hedgehogs do not seem to view humans as much of a threat, so when you need to pick up a hedgehog, it’s unlikely to run from you and will not be too disturbed by the whole experience.

To pick up a hedgehog, first, you will need thick gardening gloves, or a towel or blanket. You don’t want spines in your hands!

Pick the hedgehog up by gently scooping it up in your two hands. Remember to be gentle, underneath all those spines the hedgehog is a surprisingly delicate creature. 

As you pick the hedgehog up, it’s not likely to struggle or try to getaway. It is more likely to curl up into a ball and be still. This makes your work easier, and there is no reason to try and coax your hog out of his ball.

It is very unlikely that a hedgehog would try to bite you. Even if it did, hedgehogs have very weak jaws and it wouldn’t do much damage.

Hedgehogs do have fleas and can have other parasites. This is another good reason to be wearing gloves when you handle one.

Although it can be tempting to hold on to the hedgehog and enjoy looking at it up close, don’t do this. Keep handling to a minimum. 

If you are weighing the hog, do it as quickly as possible, then return it to where you found it.

If you have decided the hog needs some care, place it straight into your emergency box.

How to Set Up a Hedgehog Emergency Box

If you need to get your hog to a rescue centre or want to warm it up for a few hours, you are going to need somewhere to put it. 

Choose a cardboard or plastic box. Go for something at least 12×18 inches. If you are using the box to take the hog to a rescue centre, it may be best to choose one with a lid. If using a plastic box with a lid, be sure to cut a few air holes in it. The holes should be about 1cm across, not much bigger or the hedgehog may push its head through and get stuck. Remember, once he is feeling a little better, your hedgehog will try to escape. So making sure the box is reasonably deep is a good idea.

Line the box with old newspapers. There will be a mess: water, food and poop.

Put a small towel or tea towel in the box for the hog to hide under.

Place something in the box to warm the hedgehog. A hot water bottle or drink bottle wrapped in an old towel is ideal. If the hog is with you for a while, you will need to refill this every couple of hours. 

https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/animals/species/european-hedgehog

If the hog is not going straight to hedgehog rescue or the vet, you should also provide dishes of food and water in the box.

The Emergency box is a very temporary solution. It will do for a few hours, or overnight at most. If the hog is to be with you for any longer, you will need to set up a temporary enclosure.

Setting Up A Temporary Enclosure

Hedgehogs are wild animals, and they should not be kept as pets. Sick hedgehogs need specialist care, so you should take these straight to a vet or rescue centre. But healthy, underweight hogs out in the autumn do need help, and you can provide it.

This is the main reason you would set up a temporary enclosure.

For this, you will need a plastic box. The hedgehog will be in residence for anything from a few days to a few months. Cardboard will quickly disintegrate with spillages or food and water, plus hedgehog poop and pee.

The box should be large enough for the hog to move around and get some exercise. A 120-litre plastic storage box, the kind that goes under the bed, is ideal. It will need a lid with air holes.

A rabbit hutch could also work, but be sure it does not have chicken wire on the doors, as this could cut the hog’s snout.

Line the floor with old newspapers. This will need to be changed daily.

Provide some nesting materials. Old fleece clothes or blankets, cut up, will be ideal along with some extra newspapers.

Provide food and water and change these daily. Look at our article here on what hedgehogs eat for the dos and don’ts of feeding hedgehogs. We would generally suggest that you provide around 100gms of food per day to a hedgehog who is not hibernating. 

Clean the enclosure daily – it will need it.

An enclosure set up like this will house a hog comfortably for a few days or the whole winter if need be. 

Overwintering Autumn Juveniles

So, as we saw in the previous article, there may be some situations where you decide that a young hedgehog who is underweight in the autumn cannot hibernate successfully and needs your help.

For full details of how to decide whether to take an autumn juvenile in, please read this article.

Once you have made the decision, be aware that the hog will be with you for anything from a few days to the whole winter. To start with the hog will need to be kept indoors to keep it warm. Later it may need to be kept in a cooler environment, like a garden shed or garage. You will need to feed, water and clean it out every day.

It’s a big commitment, so think carefully before you take it on. If you don’t believe you are going to have the time or space needed, hand the hog over to your local rescue centre. You will still have saved its life.

Step-by-step Autumn Juvenile Care

The first thing you should do when you take in your hog is to weigh it and keep a note of the weight.

The hog will need to be taken out of its enclosure and weighed each day. 

Whilst the hog weighs less than 500gms you should keep its enclosure in the house. The temperature needs to stay above 18c to stop the hog from trying to hibernate.

The enclosure should be placed in a quiet room, away from children and pets. Ideally, leave the curtains open and avoid turning the light on as much as possible. This will mean that the hog is exposed to natural daylight patterns.

Keep feeding and weighing the hog. You should be giving at least 100gms of a hedgehog or pet food each day, along with fresh water. And don’t forget to clean out the enclosure every day and wash the nesting materials from time to time.

If the hog is putting on weight, things are going well. Keep up the good work.

If, after a week the hog isn’t putting on weight, or is showing other signs of illness, you will need to contact your local hedgehog rescue.

Once the hedgehog reaches hibernation weight, you have options.

How Much Should a Hedgehog Weigh to Survive hibernation?

This is a contentious issue. 

Lots of rescuers will tell you that a hedgehog should be 600gms or more to survive hibernation. Some even say 650gms.

Pat Morris points out that although a hedgehog hibernating in its second year will probably weigh over 600gms very few yearlings, even those from early litters, reach this weight for their first hibernation. 

His studies indicate a high success rate for juveniles hibernating at 500gms.

So we would suggest that you think of 500gms as an absolute minimum weight to aim for, a little more would be a bonus.

When Your Juvenile has Reached Hibernation Weight

Once your juvenile has reached a minimum of 500gms, it can safely hibernate. So you need to decide what to do now.

If it is still relatively early in the year, say November, there are other hogs and some food about, and the weather is not too cold you could release the hog back into the wild at this point. Check that there are nesting materials and suitable sites available for hibernation. You can help out by providing a nesting box, although hedgehogs being hedgehogs, there is no guarantee he will choose to use it!

Keep putting out food and water, and it should hibernate naturally in the wild.

If your hog reaches target weight later in the year, or the weather has already turned wintery, it will need to spend the winter in captivity.

Now it has reached the target weight your hog can safely hibernate. If you have a garage or outbuilding move the enclosure there. The lower temperature will encourage hibernation. Ideally, choose a building with some natural light and one where the hog won’t be too much disturbed. Make sure you have added plenty of nesting material. Even though the hog has hibernated, still leave food and water, most hedgehogs wake up several times during the winter for a drink.

Although the hog can safely hibernate now, it does not need to. Some hedgehogs living in warmer climates don’t hibernate at all. And if you keep your hog in the house where it is warm, it probably won’t hibernate. This will do it no harm. So if you don’t have a garden shed or garage, you can safely keep the hog in the house all winter if you wish. 

If you are doing this, be sure to minimise human contact and keep up the feeding, watering and cleaning. If you see any signs of illness or distress, contact your local rescue centre right away.

Releasing in The Spring

Once spring comes around it’s time to release your winter visitor back into the wild.

There is no set date for doing this. It all depends on the weather and availability of food. 

Roughly though, you are looking at some time in March or April. Look for the presence of other hogs, or check with your local rescue centre.

When the time comes to release your hedgehog, release him as near to where you found him as possible, so long as this is a safe place for him to live. If your garden is hedgehog friendly and this is where you found him then that’s perfect. You will be able to release him and still put out food and water, and hopefully keep an eye on his progress.

If you found the hog in a location that would not be safe, by a busy road, for example, contact your local rescue centre. They generally have a network of safe release sites in your local area.

Conclusion

With hedgehogs, an endangered species every hog’s life counts. It’s important to know how and when to take a hog out of the wild to give it extra help.

In these two articles, we hope we have given you all the information you need to make these decisions and provide extra help when needed. When you need to seek specialist help and when you can offer the necessary support yourself.

If you have questions or suggestions, we would love to hear them – leave us a comment below.

And for more hedgehog reading take a look at our hedgehog blog here.

SHARE ON

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Share on print

21 Responses

  1. Thanks for e-mailing this to me. Very helpful. I have 3 or 4 hedgehogs in my garden every night since last autumn when I first became aware of them…having sadly become such rare sight around here until then for several years. This year I have seen a youngster(s) so they have successfully bred around here. They don’t seem to mind the dog discovering them most nights so I then bring him in and my trail cam shows them busily going about their business around the garden, including the odd bust-up between adults! The dog got agitated in the shed last week so I moved some stuff around and he kept nosing at an open compost bag I had moved out. I looked inside and there was a hog in a nest inside. I put it back in the shed and my trail cam caught it going out that night (there’s a hole in the side of the shed) but then it struggled to find its way back into the bag later that night and seems to have gone elsewhere. A pity but I had no idea it was in there! Appalling that the humble hedgehog is threatened with extinction in this country! Thanks for all the advice.

  2. thank you this is very helpful i have two purpose made bed/boxes which my friends use every day and i’ve also got next door to them an additional two feed station/boxes which in dishes i fill with a mixture of cat food,mealworms and a commercial brand of semi dried hog pellets at the moment we have in residence four hogs we’ve had upto six i put food out for them with fresh water everynight right thro’ winter (if its not eatern i throw it away and replenish with freshfood and water)
    cheers
    Vince Menichetti

    1. Thanks for sharing Vince.
      When I read about all the hogs people are helping in their gardens it really does give me some hope that the species might have a brighter future.

      Clare

  3. Thank you for this information, very useful for reference. I feel very honoured to have a hog that comes every night for food, special pellets, nuts, sunflower seed & water. Hedgy has his own feeding box to protect his food from cats & rain & another box under bushes for sleeping. On odd occasions I’ve forgotten to put out his food & have found him waiting in the corner of his box after dark for his treats. When we are on holiday a friend comes to leave food for him so he doesn’t miss out & is ready for hibernation. He really is a member of our family.

  4. Hi Clare. Yery useful advice. We spotted a hog in the garden some weeks ago and I purchased a trail cam to record his movements. The camera has been a boon as we have been able to identify 3 or 4 hogs (2 are easily identifiable because of different pale markings on their backs). My wife bought me a hog house for my birthday and I filled with straw and leaves and it looks like one hog is going to hibernate as he is busily taking extra bedding into the house. We have been leaving food and water out but cats have been eating the dried food; any recommendations as to a cat proof feeder ( I see one mentioned earlier).

  5. Hi Clare I love reading all this useful information on hedgehogs it’s very helpful. I have 2 youngsters that I will over winter their weights are 143grams and 199 grams I find they are putting on 10 grams a day and both are on heat pads . I have been looking after them for 20 years and there is always something new to learn.

    1. Hi Valerie,
      Glad you are enjoying the blog. I love writing it, as you say, always something new to learn.
      I am guessing your youngsters may be with you for the whole winter?
      Best
      Clare

  6. The hedgehogs in my Dutch garden are the highlight of what has been a very strange human year. Most of my regular hedgies have gone off now for their “winterslaap,” but an autumn juvenile hoglet started showing up at the feeding station about a week ago. So tiny and so cute! He appears to be healthy, but thanks to your priceless hog-blog advice, I’m going to give Beetje (Dutch for “little”) an official weigh-in to see if he should overwinter indoors or not. To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to spend a quarantined winter than to fatten up and save a hedgie hoglet. Stay tuned for Beetje’s progress reports!

  7. Hi I have at least 6 hedgehogs in my garden but I have noticed 2 smaller hogs that are very small they are moving about fast and freely but worried about size should I catch and weigh them or leave them as long as possible they get fresh food and water every night any advice welcome

    1. Hi Gina,
      Depending on where you are in the country I would catch them and weigh them, just to get an idea of how far they have to go. but then put them back and put plenty of food out at night for a while.
      The general rule is that if the night time temperature drops below 5c for a full week, hedgehogs will start to hibernate.
      We were below 5 last night here in Gloucestershire and will be again tonight, but after that our nighttime temps are forecast to get much higher again.
      so if you’re in the south or Midlands they should be fine out for a while.
      Keep us posted!
      Clare

  8. Hi, we have adult hogs visiting regularly but have noticed a small but healthy hedgehog visiting alone early every evening to feed and drink. We weighed him last night – 285g. We have a purpose made house in the garden that remains unused but has hay and leaves in it. The weather here in Milton Keynes looks to be less than 5c overnight for the next week at least after tomorrow. Having read your articles I think I should take him to a rescue centre but am happy to try myself as I’ve heard that once in a rescue centre they never leave, meaning our local population misses the chance of having a healthy breeding adult for next year. I’m in a dilemma!

    1. Hi Sally,

      Yes he definitely needs taking in for the winter. And since he is under 300 grams he should at least have a check over by a trained rescuer.

      I don’t think what you have heard about rescue centres is correct. The whole purpose of Rescuing hogs is to get them fit to go back into the wild.

      I would suggest you bring him in, then get in touch with a local rescuer, vet, or the RSPCA and take it from there.

      Best of luck!

      Clare

  9. Hi Clare, Great article!
    This morning I noticed that I’d caught a hedgehog in a humane live capture rat trap. I know a bit about hedgehogs and realised she was probably an autumn juvenile due to her size, and sure enough, she weighed in at a neat 399grams.
    We have decided to overwinter her, or at least keep feeding her and keep her indoors for the next few weeks (if she doesn’t gain enough weight to hibernate then the whole winter). It’s abt 4 degrees here.

    Otherwise fit and healthy but I just wanted your advice about exercise, this would be the first hedgehog we’ve overwintered and I was just wondering how best to keep her fit and healthy, in your article you suggest keeping a juvenile in a storage box nest (which I am doing) but should I try and let her run around in the living room every now and then, or is the box alone enough space? It seems awfully small!

    Just wanted to check with you that we’re doing the right thing? We have vet friends and have rescued several wild animals over the years, but if you think it’s best to take her straight to a centre then I would trust your expertise, but she seems to be really happy and healthy and active! (just underweight)

    Hedgehogs seem to be thriving here in Somerset, in August I counted ten in one night!

    Any more advice would be more than welcome,

    Thanks!
    Ben

    1. Hi Ben,

      If she is healthy and not too small there is no reason not to overwinter her yourselves. And I am sure she will appreciate a bit of a run around occasionally. You would probably want to be prepared for the poo and put some newspaper down though!
      Best of Luck!

      Clare

  10. Hi, Clare, i live in central portugal and have a huge garden, and 4 dogs who have access ro all parts of the garden. About an hour ago, one of my dogs deposited a rolled up hedgehog on my doorstep ! Its covered in dog hair and saliva, but its breathing steadily and seems fast asleep. I’ve put it in a big plastic box lined with cardboard, on a bed of leaves and gently covered it with more leaves. The box is lidded and vented, and on the bedroom floor where the dogs can’t get to it. My main concern is its saftey as it was obviously dug out of its nest and i have no idea where it had been sleeping. I’m considering overwintering it in the house, i have a good supply of dog food, both wet and dry and no problem with poop or mess ! All my dogs are rescues ( ive had 7 in all ) but this will be my 1st hedgehog ! I want to do the right thing for it, so, any advice i would be grateful. I havent weghed it yet, i thought i would leave it in peace till a bit later on this evening ? xxx

    1. Hi Luisa,
      Sounds like your hog is hibernating, I believe it’s been pretty cold over there recently? Anyway, it sounds like you have set up a good box for it. If you keep it in the house it’s going to be warm and will probably wake and stay active all winter. So daily feeding and cleaning, and a bit of a run round if you have a safe space, will be needed.
      If you put the box in a cold outbuilding it could well stay in hibernation for most of the winter. You would still need to leave some dry food and water in case it woke, but much less work for you.
      Then when the weather warms, you are going to need to find a safe release site for it, which may not be your garden by the sounds of it! I wonder if you have a rescue centre over there who might know of suitable sites near you?
      Keep us posted.
      Best Wishes.
      Clare

      1. Hi, Clare, its now day 4, i did weigh it, 2 days ago, 175g so its definately too small to hibernate. Today when i weighed it, it was 200g. Ive been feeding it 3 – 4 ounces of a mixture of dog meat, crushed up dog bix, cooked lamb, chicken and turkey, a few grains of cooked rice, a little cooked squash, sweet potato and carrot and a tiny piece of apple at around 7 pm, and then about 1 ounce of the same in the morning as its looking for more. I clean it out every day, and i’m keeping a book about its food, weight, condition and poo of which there is plenty and normal as far as i can tell from research. No rescue centres anywhere in the centre of portugal so i will have to do the best i can. Surrounded by forest here, so a spring release is no problem far from harm, but as for now, we’ve had temps of -4 so i think an overwintering is best ? Dont know if its a boy or girl, i dont want to stress it by handling it any more than i have to and to be honest, it doesnt matter as long as it gets thru the winter safely. I keep saying ‘ it ‘ but i have named it Pogle so until i find out any different, Pogle will be a boy ! He is now on my dining table in his box as that is the only room we have heat, but all the activity with the dogs and tv etc doesnt seem to bother him at all, and even when the dogs bark, he will carry on eating ! I hope all i am doing is ok for him. Luisa xxx

        1. Hi Luisa,
          That weight gain is brilliant! Definitely too small to hibernate and it sounds as though you are doing exactly the right things with him .
          Best of luck – let us know how you get on.

          clare

  11. Hi we have a hedgehog living somewhere in our garden (we managed to record it ,eating cat food, on our wildlife camera). I was just wondering- do I need to make some other houses around the garden for if the hedgehog has hoglets?
    Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hedgehogs

Do Badgers Eat Hedgehogs? Do They Threaten Hedgehog Survival?

Yes, badgers do eat hedgehogs. Badgers are the hedgehog’s main predator in the UK and whilst hedgehog numbers are in drastic decline badger numbers have doubled since the 1980s. Early studies have shown that where badgers are culled hedgehog numbers bounce back remarkably. Yet the British Hedgehog Preservation Society is clear that badgers aren’t to blame for the plight of our hedgehogs.

Read More Now »
Hedgehogs

Wildlife Friendly Slug Pellets – Do They Exist?

Traditional slug pellets, made using metaldehyde are now banned from manufacture in the UK and you’ll be committing a crime if you use any old ones in your garden after March 2022. Most of the slug pellets now for sale in the UK use iron or Ferric Phosphate as their active slug killing ingredient. They are often labelled as organic, but are they really wildlife friendly slug pellets, and safe to use around pets and children?

Read More Now »
Where do garden birds sleep
Garden Birds

Where Do Garden Birds Sleep At Night?

Though our garden birds spent their days flitting through low branches, hopping around the lawn and handing off our feeders this isn’t where they choose to spend their nights. All of these places would be far too exposed to weather and predators to offer a good nights sleep. so where do the birds go at night?

Read More Now »
help baby birds in your garden
Guinea Pigs

How To Help Baby Birds In Your Garden

Seeing, or more likely hearing the first baby birds in the garden each year, is such a treat. But what if you see a young bird without its parents? What should you do, and how can you help? In this article, we will take a closer look at how you can help baby birds in your garden. When you need to intervene and lend a hand, and when it’s better to let nature take its course.

Read More Now »
Hedgehogs Need Our Help

Get Awesome Hog Content Every Week

Plus discounts and Special Offers