There are some 15 species of hedgehog in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The hedgehog was named because of its peculiar foraging methods. These animals root through hedges and other undergrowth in search of the small creatures that compose the bulk of their diet—insects, worms, centipedes, snails, mice, frogs, and snakes. As a hedgehog picks its way through the hedges it emits pig like grunts—thus, the hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have a coat of stiff, sharp spines. If attacked they will curl into a prickly and unappetizing ball that deters most predators. They usually sleep in this position during the day and awaken to search for food at night.
Hedgehogs are primarily nocturnal, although, depending on the species, they may be more or less active during the day. The hedgehog sleeps for a large portion of the daytime either under cover of bush, grass, rock or in a hole in the ground. Again, different species can have slightly different habits, but in general hedgehogs dig dens for shelter.
Hedgehogs hibernate in cold climates. In deserts, they sleep through heat and drought in a similar process called aestivation. They remain active all year in more temperate locations.
Hedgehogs are fairly vocal and communicate through a combination of grunts, snuffles and/or squeals, depending on species.
Hedgehog found – what to do?
- Which hedgehogs are in need of help?
- German) Legal provisions
- First aid checklist
- Orphaned baby hedgehogs (hoglets)
A love of animals on its own is not enough to help a hedgehog in trouble. If you find a hedgehog should get in touch with a hedgehog rescue center and/or a vet at once. Then the hedgehog will be given medical treatment and you will be given expert advice, without which orphaned hoglets and many sick and injured hedgehogs would be condemned to a distressful death
Not every hedgehog needs help – but every rescue must be appropriate!
Which hedgehogs are in need of help?
Those that need help are:
- Injured hedgehogs:
Often the place and circumstances (road, construction site) in which the hedgehog is found will alert you to its injuries. Animals which have been trapped possibly for days in trenches, light wells etc. without food and water are also in need of help.
- Sick hedgehogs:
You can recognize sick hedgehogs in that they walk or stagger around foraging or lying out of their nests in daytime. In warm weather swarms of flies lay their eggs on sick, injured and baby hedgehogs. Sick hedgehogs are sluggish and can barely roll up, they are often very thin (they go in behind the head and their hip bones stick out). Their eyes are not prominent and bright but are sunken in and half shut..
- Orphaned baby hedgehogs (hoglets):
Baby hedgehogs found out of their nest in the daytime, with their eyes and ears still shut, possibly feeling cool to the touch, have lost their mother and are in urgent need of help
- Hedgehogs walking around in winter when it is freezing hard and/or there is snow on the ground:
You will also usually find these hedgehogs out in daytime. They can be sick or weak adults, more often they are juveniles which were born late in the year and are sick and/or because of the lack of food in the late autumn could not put on enough fat for hibernation.
Exceptions are usually hedgehogs whose nests have been disturbed. Hedgehog nests can be destroyed if piles of leaves or branches are removed, log piles dismantled, work done in parks and gardens, construction work started, or dogs allowed to rummage around. Then even a healthy animal will go looking for a new hiding place during the day. Sometimes during the day, lactating hedgehogs will move between the breeding nest and another separate day nest.
In Germany, it is generally prohibited to remove from the wild, animals belonging to specially protected species – and this includes hedgehogs. The relevant German Legal provisions however, permit hedgehogs in need of help to be properly reared or nursed back to health.
The aim of every hedgehog rescue must be to release the animal as soon as it is healthy again.
First aid checklist
Basically, treatment of any sick hedgehog will only be successful once it has regained its normal body temperature (approx. 36° C).
Start a record sheet!
Date found, time found, weight found and exact details of the place where found So begins the Record sheet (German version) on which are entered: further weight gains, visits to the vet, treatments given etc.
This is very important in mature animals in the summer, because it could be a nursing mother. To sex a hedgehog, gently stroke its back until it unrolls, then (on a table) slowly roll it onto its side with the flat of the hand, so that the underside is visible.
- Males have a knob of skin (penis sheath) in the middle of their tummies, towards the rear end.
- Females: the vulva is immediately in front of the anus.
Looking for injuries!
You must inspect the head, underside and legs.
Warming up hypothermic hedgehogs!
The animal is hypothermic when its underside feels considerably cooler than your hand. Fill a hot water bottle with hand-hot water and wrap it in a towel (without loops, loose threads or holes which could injure the patient) and put it in a deep-sided box of suitable size. Put the hedgehog on the covered hot water bottle and place another hand towel over it.
Removal of ectoparasites!
In summer, fly eggs and maggots are often found in wounds, as well as in the ears, mouth or anus of uninjured but ill and weak hedgehogs. Fly eggs must be removed at once. Fly eggs are whitish and rod-shaped, about 1.5 mm in length and usually clumped together; maggots resemble little white worms. They must be picked off carefully with tweezers. Hedgehog fleas are killed with a special spray (do not use powder) available from the vet or pet shop. Don’t treat ticks with oil, nail varnish or glue! Grip the tick with tweezers, as close to the hedgehog’s skin as possible and pull it out with a twist. These hedgehogs should only be bathed in very exceptional circumstances as this will cause them additional stress.
Consult a vet or a hedgehog rescue center!
You should call a hedgehog rescue center and/or a vet as soon as possible. Treatment for injuries must be left to the vet. He (and any rescue center) will help with the treatment of ecto- and endoparasites and he will also prescribe the right treatment for weakened animals. A sick or injured hedgehog is in urgent need of expert help -board and lodging on their own will not put him right!
Hedgehog enclosure and nest box!
Hedgehogs are solitary animals. So each hedgehog patient will need his own enclosure with sufficient space and a nest box for properly equipped Housing.
Tinned cat or dog food or minced meat (briefly cooked, never feed it raw) or scrambled egg (cooked with a little oil but no seasoning and mashed with a fork). Provide a bowl of water to drink (never milk). Weak animals are given sips of tepid, unsweetened fennel or chamomile tea through a plastic syringe (with no needle!)
If the hedgehog does not eat for himself on the first night in care, you must inform the vet or the rescue center immediately, as he will need fluid by injection or “hand feeding”. Apart from medical provision, the be-all and end-all of hedgehog care is correct feeding.
Collect droppings for examination!
Vets, hedgehog rescue centers, and the communal veterinary department will have addresses, but often do some examinations themselves
Release healthy hedgehogs immediately!
If the vet or hedgehog rescue center decides that the rescued animal is not in need of human help, it must be returned at once to the place where it was found, or to the immediate vicinity.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals. Each hedgehog patient needs his own accommodation of about 2 square meters floor space and 50cm in height and a nest box. Read more about properly equipped Housing.
Apart from medical provision and correct housing, the right nutrition is the be-all and end-all of hedgehog care. Learn all about the Feeding of hedgehog’s patients.
Orphaned baby hedgehogs (hoglets)
Tiny hoglets, with eyes and ears still shut, present the animal lover with a difficult task. You need specialist knowledge, time, patience and lots of commitment! Detailed information can be found under Rearing orphaned hoglets.
Hibernation in human custody
If a hedgehog in care reaches an adequate weight for hibernation (600-700g) just before or after winter sets in, you must wait until spring before releasing him. But even a hedgehog who has to over-winter with humans, should hibernate. Read more about Hibernation in human custody.
Most hedgehogs in need of help that have no external injuries are not just underweight, they are sick too. Don’t put off going to the vet or to a hedgehog rescue center. Warmth and food alone cannot cure diseases! Make sure you observe the basic rules of hygiene when dealing with hedgehogs in care! Wash your hands thoroughly every time after you handle them! Advice on hedgehog diseases and information on first aid for prickly patients can be found under Diseases.
We refer experienced caregivers and vets to our German booklet “Igel in der Tierarztpraxis” (“Hedgehog in the vets’ practice”) written by a vet who is very experienced with hedgehog patients. The booklet is revised with each new edition. The newest edition, which is made available here, was published in December 2005.
After getting fit again and/or over-wintering in care, it is time to release the hedgehog.
© Pro Igel e.V. 1996-2013