How to Rescue and Over-Winter a Hedgehog

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.

2 thoughts on “How to Rescue and Over-Winter a Hedgehog”

  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

    Reply
  2. I took in a hedgehog at the end of October that was only 240g and out in the day. He was very hungry and ate 100g of dog food straight away! It is now coming up to mid-december and he has reached 580g. Should I release him to hibenate? We are in the UK. Weather is currently about 4 Celsius at its coldest.

    Reply

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Clare Stone

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