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Hedgehog emergency care guide

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What to expect

Wild hedgehogs are not pets - but that doesn't mean you can't help them. One way and another, humans have decimated their population - and some of us are working hard to try to remedy this decline. They must each reach the grand age of two to be old enough to mate, so our mission is to help them make it to maturity!

Hedgehogs do only good things; especially eating garden pests. They're regarded as an indicator species for the health of the natural world because they feed on soil invertebrates, so a big decline in hogs indicates a decline in the bio-profile of our gardens.

However, not every hog needs rescuing. If they're perfectly well, the trauma of human intervention could be the very opposite of a good deed. So think before you do anything.

When to act

Nursing mothers:  They are nocturnal animals so if you find one out during the day this is usually a sign that something is wrong. The other alternative is that it is a mother foraging for food for a nest of young. If so, leave the nest completely alone and move well away – a scared mother can abandon her nest or, much worse, harm or kill her young.

Sometimes the nest has already been disturbed and mum has died, done a runner or been killed. If you think this might be the case, from a distance,and preferably downwind, keep close watch on the nest to see if she returns. If there's no sign within a couple of hours, and the babies are making peeping noises, put on thick gardening gloves and place the entire nest in a cardboard box and get them to BARKS, a wildlife centre or vet immediately.

Other daylight hogs: For other hogs seen outside in the day, if he seems to have a purpose and is heading somewhere, or has a mouthful of leaves, he's probably OK. If he's wobbling about or lying still out in the open then he may have an internal injury, be dehydrated or hypothermic.

An injured or hypothermic hog will be so cold that he'll be unable to eat, drink or curl up and will desperately need your help. In the autumn, second-litter juveniles are often orphaned, injured, poisoned or cold and starving so, once again, your help is essential.Sometimes, young hogs will make a very shrill, loud, call if they are in distress.

What you do next will make the difference between survival and death: so many well-meaning people get it wrong, so often, that we feel it's really worth emphasising the advice here.

How you can help

Keep calm and quiet – hedgehogs have very keen hearing and can easily be traumatised; you don't want to frighten him more than he is already.

Gently but firmly pick up the hedgehog using thick gardening gloves or a towel. If the animal is uncurled you can slip your hand under his tummy and lift that way - but be prepared for him to then curl round your fingers which can be rather painful.  

Place him in a high-sided box lined with newspaper. It must be a deep box as they're very good at crawling out of shallow-sided containers! If the hog feels cold, place a hot water bottle, covered with a towel or cloth, inside to provide heat. The water should be hot – and refilled if necessary – but never boiling. Leave enough room for the hedgehog to move off if it gets too warm. Place a small dish of water in the box – but never any food. Giving food to a dehydrated hog may kill him: his body channels fluids away from vital organs to digest the food and he collapses.

At this point you have done all you should. Now contact BARKS or your local vet for help.

Please don't get it wrong

  • If the hog isn't moving and seems dead, don't jump to this conclusion too quickly. Please don't bury him until you're certain he's dead and not sick or
           hibernating. A hibernating hog will be very cold. He rarely breathes and, when he does, it's shallow breathing. There's no movement but he won't smell of         decomposition.
  • During an emergency rescue, never feed them – just give clean water.
  • Never put two hogs into a box together – they are solitary animals and may fight.
  • In the autumn or winter, if the hog is small (less than 500-600g) he has too little bodyweight to hibernate and definitely needs expert care.

Footnote:If you have a hedgehog feeding station in your garden or you'retrying to encourage hogs to visit, well done you! However, never eve leave out milk and bread as they make hedgehogs very poorly. And they must have meat-based food – no fish and no offal.They love dried mealworms and you can leave them plenty of those, but there's not much nutrition in a mealworm so do supplement the daily food dish with dry dog or cat food kibble (small pieces).

One last word – please avoid slug pellets. Most of them kill hedgehogs.Garden chemicals should be kept to an absolute limit.