A Detailed Guide to Caring For Hedgehogs

It is no news that the hedgehog[1] population have experienced a significant decline in number within the past few decades and the numbers keep dropping. Hedgehogs are a well-known part of the extensive mammal kingdom. They are small creatures, usually brown with spines made of keratin all over their back and pointy snouts. They come out in the dark to search for food.

They’ve been called different names in the past; urchins, furze-pigs or hedge-pigs. Male and female hedgehogs live together producing an average of 4 or 5 offsprings during the summer and they have a life span within 2 to 5 years at their natural habitat.

We have a total of 14 hedgehog species in existence. However, the most common one you’ll find in Britain is the Erinaceus Europaeus. You might it wandering around your garden or even on the streets. There are other hedgehog species which serve as pets. This means they’ve evolved as domestic animals so they won’t be able to survive living in the wild.

This is basically a summary of current hedgehog situation. Read on to learn more about these amazing creatures and what you can do to save the hedgehog population from decline and ultimately going extinct.

 

Hedgehog Habitat

Perhaps you can make a quick guess just from the name. They favour the woods; they’ll scourge for food, sleep and reproduce in woodlands. You’ll find the around hedges, compost heaps, and green lands. Hedgehogs enjoy lounging in a warm and dry location, so be on the lookout in your garden and even underneath your decking. You should find a hedgehog sometime.

These mammals will frequently visit your garden if it is filled with food sources especially insects. If you grow flowers and native shrubs in your garden, you’ll be sure to have an insect party which will ultimately drag in some hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2 km in a single night. Although they form their paths, they do not exactly territorial animals. Usually, they have multiple nests.

Hedgehog Food

As you probably know, hedgehogs feed on other smaller organisms. They’ll eat caterpillars, slugs, snails, worms, millipedes and all kinds of insect they can find. A decrease in the insect population means less food for the hedgehogs. Due to less and less favourable habitats for little organisms, that seems to be the case.

It is important you know what kind of food is unsuitable for hedgehogs. Don’t make the mistake of feeding them milk. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so they’ll get diarrhoea from taking milk.

In an attempt to provide additional food sources for hedgehogs, some gardeners will give some cake, pastries, and mealworms. This isn’t really great for hedgehogs; instead, they get excess sugar and fat ultimately resulting in rotting teeth and obesity which will cause the animal to struggle even more than necessary.

Apart from insects, you can read up on other substitute food suitable for hedgehogs. You can purchase hedgehog food from the market. However, ensure you’re buying the right thing.

Hedgehogs also need water to keep them hydrated. A bowl of nice, clean water will go a long way to help especially during hot weather. You can do this easily; just provide a clean, bowl of water for your spiny friends.

Hedgehog Predators

Hedgehogs have predators they try to protect themselves from. Badgers are tougher animals capable of releasing a tightly curled hog using their strong paws. While cats or foxes won’t really be problematic for adult hedgehogs, baby hogs need to be away from them. Dogs can also hurt hedgehogs. If you have a dog around, it is best to keep them away from hedgehogs. In some cases, they could both hurt themselves, but hedgehogs could die from an infection.

Big birds, including crows and magpies, may eat up stray hogs waltzing around during the day. Hedgehogs can also die when flies decide to lay eggs on their exposed wounds; this is a common issue which increases the hedgehog mortality rate. They die once the maggots begin to feed on their muscles and skin. If you notice a hedgehog having white blobs on its skin, transport the animal to a veterinarian. They won’t recover without taking some medication.

Do Hogs Hibernate?

The simple answer is yes, hedgehogs hibernate too. During very cold weather, their food sources are even more limited as they get dried up. However, they need to weigh not less than 600g to survive through the winter.

Hogs will hibernate during winter which begins around November till somewhere in march. If there are any warm days in between, they’ll go in search of food around. Monitor the forecast so you’ll know the right day to keep out some food and water for hog visitors. They’ll be starving and dehydrated when they wake from hibernating.

They favour hibernating locations that are completely dry and devoid of moisture and frost. You’ll find them in flower borders, bonfires as well as compost heaps. When you begin cleaning up your garden at the beginning of spring, keep an eye out for hibernating hogs so you don’t mistakenly hurt them.

How Hedgehogs Benefit the Garden

Hedgehogs are amongst the friendliest creatures not quick to bite. Don’t get in their way or disturb their normal lives, you’ll really enjoy watching and even caring for them. Hedgehogs will visit gardens that remind them of their natural habitats. If they come to yours, then you’re doing really well.

Hedgehogs will help keep snail under control so you can do away with pellets if you do use them. While hedgehogs do not feast on pellets, they’ll eat up snails that have taken in these pellets. This poisonous substance will end up in the hedgehog’s system ultimately and could kill them. This is bad news for hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs are beautiful, peaceful creatures to have around your garden. They won’t cause any damage. You’ll probably not notice their poo as it’s really small in size. If hogs are well fed at your garden, they are bound to relieve themselves somewhere.

Hogs love to move around at night too so they are probably the culprits if you leave out food in the evening but can’t find it the next morning. If you’d love to see them in action, you might want to stay up a little or get a CCTV.

What Can We Do To Help? Caring For Hedgehogs

We are completely to blame for the decline animal population has suffered over the years, including the hedgehogs.

The increased construction of fences is one of the major problems hedgehogs face. Although they have long legs, they lack the ability to climb fences up to six foot tall and they concrete footers make a mockery of their burrowing ability.

Hedgehogs travel long distances at night in search of food and owing to the obstacles all over, it makes foraging more difficult. Adult hogs cover about 1 to 2km at night, so imagine how frustrated a hedgehog will be when it comes meets so many obstacles. You can help out by forging a hole underneath your fencing through which hogs can access your garden and feat on insect delicacies. Also, digging a tunnel beneath your concrete will grant them easy passage into your garden.

If hedgehogs do come into your garden, don’t try to hold them hostage. They like to move around and enjoy different foods, so don’t deny them the opportunity. Remember to not use slug pellets, they are detrimental to hedgehogs. Below are some other issues hedgehogs suffer.

  • Wrong Food

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant hence feeding them milk is a horrible idea. They’ll suffer serious diarrhoea when could lead to death. They’ll drink milk if you give it to them, so we have to make the correction. Instead of milk and bread, wildlife rescue advice to give cat biscuits and clean water.

Mealworms are another food choice which isn’t so great for hedgehogs. Hogs will definitely eat it up because they taste great, however, they are lacking in nutrients. They contain a high amount of phosphorus, but little calcium. Researches have shown that hogs could suffer from bone diseases and teeth loss when they consume too many mealworms, sunflower seeds, and peanuts.

Avoid giving food that could potentially lead to health complications. A simple bowl of fresh, clean water and cat biscuits will do hogs a lot of good especially during cold weather when it becomes even more difficult for them to find some food.

  • Landscape

In a bid to keep things very tidy and organised, our gardens are landscaped and that makes it appear less natural to wildlife creatures. Usually, hedgehogs prefer corners with logs and leaves scattered around. Allowing some areas in your garden to mimic their natural habitat will be great. Hard landscaping, including decking, translates to less natural options for these already struggling creatures.

  • Fleas

Fleas on a hedgehog indicate an unhealthy animal. This doesn’t occur often, but when it does it gets really problematic. When you notice hogs with fleas or ticks, it is best to transport them to a vet or wildlife rescue or ask what you can do to remedy the situation over the phone.

Usually, ticks drop off the hog with time, but they may cause anaemia if the ticks become much. Don’t pull off ticks using your hands, use tick-twisters instead. They are very affordable.

Hedgehogs have specific fleas so you don’t have to worry about your pets. However, ensure you get help from the right source.

  • Garden Tools & Activities

As a gardener, you’ll have to perform some tasks from time to time and they’ll require tools. While these machines are really helpful, they can inflict some horrible injuries on these little animals. Unfortunately, these injuries could lead to death.

Before using a strimmer on the grass, gently poke around so you give hedgehogs and other wildlife the opportunity to escape. Also, be careful when using clippers on long grasses so you don’t hurt sleeping hedgehogs especially during warm weather.

Bonfires Hedgehogs may decide to settle in bonfire heaps as well as other wildlife. If you intend to light it up, first turn over in case or better still, burn the exact day you built it. Once you light up the heap, hedgehogs will simply curl up instead of trying to escape and then, more deaths.

  • Ponds

Ponds serve as a source of water for wildlife and they’ll troop into your garden for a drink if you create one. While hedgehogs can swim, if they mistakenly fall in they won’t be able to climb out the slippery edges. After moments of struggling, they’ll drown if no one comes to save them. To prevent this unfortunate scenario, use rocks or anything that’ll suffice to help them escape in the event they fall into the pond. There are pond liners that can be made into steps too.

  • Drains & Holes

A hedgehog can get into a hole or drain and remain stuck in there. During that time, they get exposed to chemicals. They may suffer hypothermia and die if there’s no rescue. Keep any holes and drains covered up to avoid hurting these little fellas.

  • Netting

Wildlife also gets tangled up in netting. Hedgehogs, frogs, snakes, birds, cats and other small animals could get trapped in netting. If you find an animal stuck to netting, cut around it and transport the animal to a vet. Do not attempt to free the animal yourself, leave the job for professionals to prevent hurting the animal even further.

  • Lack of Interest and Ignorance

Most people pay little or no attention to the unfortunate events affecting wildlife population. Some kids haven’t observed a hedgehog with their own eyes and if we don’t do anything to help, it might continue that way and get even worse.

Talk to your friends and family concerning all you know about hedgehogs, including what they should and shouldn’t be fed. Learning about these animals and what we can do to help will bring about a significant change.

Accommodate and Feed a Hedgehog

What better way to help than to provide accommodation and a feeding station too? Leaving out food at night attracts other wildlife and they may get to it first before hedgehogs arrive. This defeats your purpose if you were focused on feeding a hedgehog.

To ensure that the hedgehog food gets to its rightful owner, you’ll need to build a feeding station. Use a plastic box and cut out a little 15 by 15cm door. Place a brick on top as a weight to wade off unwanted eaters. However, a hedgehog can eat as much as it wants without any disturbance.

You can purchase them online or at garden centres. Select one which has a tunnel as entrance so predators can’t pull out babies with their paws. In addition, they should be positioned at cool locations during hot weather so the animals don’t suffer heatstroke. Keep in flower borders or edges, so your visitors will be comfortable.

Basically, you need a simple wooden box with a tunnel, roof and floor or a nice nest box. There are some very inexpensive straw and wood that may appear ideal, but they’re far from being so as they permit frost and dampness. Metal products aren’t good as well due to condensation. For bedding material, some shred newspaper and hay will do just fine to keep your visitor comfy when they decide to sleep.

When Should A Hedgehog Be Rescued?

You shouldn’t just pick up any random hedgehog strolling on its own or probably foraging in the evening or early mornings. If you do find one doing just fine, just observe the animal and allow it to go about its activities. You can take a picture if you want, it lasts longer.

Be on the lookout for hedgehog nests and don’t disturb them. When disturbed, mothers of little hogs may abandon or even kill them. If the mother leaves without taking all her babies with her, you should call wildlife rescue immediately.

There are different scenarios where it may be necessary to help a hedgehog and in those times your assistance will go a long way. These are times where you can help out:

  • Out in Daylight

Hedgehogs in broad daylight might mean there’s a problem. They usually move around in the dark hence they’re examples of nocturnal animals. If you find one during the day, have them get checked with wildlife rescue or a veterinarian. Observe the animal first for a while if it’s still early in the morning or evening.

  • Sickness

Definitely, you should get a sick hedgehog help. If you notice the animal is wobbly or has difficulty walking, you should get the hog treatment.

  • Sunbathing

Hogs are not exactly lovers of sunlight so if you find one sunbathing, that isn’t normal. They prefer to sleep in dry, dark nests or corners. If you notice one sleeping when directly exposed to sunlight, get some help as soon as you can.

  • Fly Strike

Flystrike is characterized by white bobs on the hog’s skin formed by maggots. This condition needs to be remedied immediately by a veterinarian.

  • Baby Hedgehogs

If you find a baby hog out during the day, you need to jump in and help. They may be searching for food at early mornings or evenings so you can feed them as well. However, baby hogs may not do well without their mothers so it’s best you contact professionals.

  • Winter Months

The winter period is especially difficult for hedgehogs. They’ll need to hibernate and those not weighing up to 600 grams by November will probably not survive through the cold season. Weigh hedgehogs to find out if they have the minimum weight required and call wildlife rescue so you’ll know what next to do. They might ask you to bring the animal over.

  • Think it’s Dead

When hedgehogs hibernate during the winter, their temperature gets really low and the animal will feel cold so it’ll be easy to mistake it for dead as you may not detect breathing as well. If you thing a hog is dead, it is wise to first confirm by contacting a professional. Don’t be quick to bury the animal so you don’t kill a live hog.

  • Appears Different

There are exotic hedgehog species reared as pets and they won’t thrive in the wild when abandoned. When you find a hedgehog that appears different from the native species, probable paler looking or with an uncommon colour, take the animal to an expert to confirm whether they’re an exotic species.

How To Properly Pick Up A Hog

While it’s true hedgehogs have spikes that can hurt, don’t be afraid to help a struggling animal for that reason.

Hogs won’t bite you. To pick up one, use a towel or garden gloves. If you intend using your bare hands, first rub your hand right down the hogs back so the bristles form a ball, then place the animal on your hand lying sideways to prevent getting spiked. Hogs are lightweight, fully developed adults weigh around 600 grams so you can comfortably carry one.

Don’t make the mistake of dropping the animal, they’re not exactly bouncy. Keep in a high cardboard box or cat carriers in a cool spot while you seek advice from experts.

If you pick up a hog during winter, you’ll need to provide some warmth. Put some hot water in a bottle and wrap with a towel or fill a plastic bottle and keep close to the hog, but ensure it can move away in the event of overheating. You don’t want to rescue an animal only to hurt it yourself.

Final Thoughts

It is so unfortunate the hedgehog population keeps declining in number. If nothing is done to change the narrative, they may become endangered and completely extinct within some years.

Your garden will feel even more natural if you have these harmless and cute creatures around. There’s something you can do to help remedy the major issues hedgehogs face all thanks to our current lifestyle. Don’t you want your kids and grandkids to sight some healthy hedgehogs every now and then just like you did growing up?

If you’re unable to help out physically, making donations to wildlife rescue will do some good as well. They’re constantly taking in patients and they need funds.

Let’s do all we can to support the wildlife around us and save our spiky friends.

Glossary

[1] Hedgehogs – Link

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