Autumn and winter is a Dangerous Time for Hedgehogs as we come into cooler days and the nights have started to draw in, it is now time to start thinking about what you can do to help the hedgehog in your garden (our little gardener’s friend).
Hedgehogs hibernate as the ground starts to freeze not at a set time of the year, some years they could go into hibernation at the end of October but in other years it has been as late as the middle of January. Hedgehogs need to be a minimum of 450g to get through hibernation but it is not just weight we need to take into consideration, if you look at the hedgehog it should have a good round bottom and not pointed (or we call it pencilled effect).
With a big round bottom and 450g plus weight then you can almost be certain that your hedgehogs are in the best possible shape to face whatever the winter has to throw at it. If a hedgehog is thin and does not have enough body mass the animal will not make it through the winter. However, never feed bread and milk, as this can kill hedgehogs. Although they do eat seeds, nuts and fruit they find these difficult to digest and will often pass straight through the hedgehog undigested.
Remember it is good to put at least a little food (6-10 biscuits) out every night all through winter, if you do have a hedgehog that wakes up, or the nest is disturbed, he will always have some food to find, especially if you feed in the same place all the time. Remember to check the water just before you go to bed as it may freeze overnight. To help the hedgehog to get to a peak of fitness for winter, we suggest that you start feeding the hedgehogs about now with any kitten biscuits. Kitten biscuits are better as they are smaller biscuits and if you have any young hedgehogs still about they will find them easier to eat and the kitten biscuits are higher in protein which will help all the hedgehog put on weight.
Ensure that you have at least one cat bowl or large plant pot saucer of water in the garden as the hedgehogs will need water to drink and many die from the lack of water. If you wish you can add a few meal worms, live or dried, these are also high in protein but only feed a few as they are not a good balanced diet on their own. To stop the local cats from eating the biscuits overnight, we suggest that you either use a 4” drainage pipe which is between 18” and 28” long, if you put the biscuits in- side the tube the hedgehogs will be happy to go up to get the biscuits but the local cats will not be able to get them.
You can also use an under the bed clear box without the lid, cut four 4” holes one on each side at ground level (hedgehogs may bite one an- other over food, so with four holes they can always escape if one is a bully). Place the box over some kitten biscuits which are on the ground, not in a dish, and put a small brick or something heavy on the top of the box to stop it being blown away in the any strong wind. The clear box will mean that you can then have the joy of watching them while they eat.
Try to be careful if you light bonfires which have been in place for more than a few hours as hedgehogs may think you have made a nest just for them.
Signs of problems and what to do The general rule is, if a hedgehog is out and about in daylight, or underweight, it generally means there is something wrong. Hedgehogs never sunbathe, if they are ever found out of a nest lying on their sides or non-active for more than half an hour, there is a problem, whether it is in the daytime or not. If a hedgehog at any time ap- pears wobbly, unsteady on its feet (almost drunk like) there is a problem, it could be only hunger or thirst, but if they are wobbly they will be dehydrated caused through one of a number of things. You should al- ways pick up any hedgehog, which has obvious signs of injuries or any breathing problems. The sooner you get help for the animal, the more chance there is to save it and delay can be fatal. When picking up a hedgehog, wear gloves or pick up in a towel, never with bare hands.
Place in a high sided box cardboard or plastic (at least 18” high) or a pet carrier. Line the bottom with at least 5 sheets of newspaper (making sure any staples are removed or taped over from the bottom of the box). Tear more newspaper, at least 12 sheets, into 1”-1.5” strips the full length or width of the newspaper. Put the newspaper strips at one end of the box to make a nest. Then fill a plastic or glass screw top bottle with hot water, (making sure the top is on really tight), wrap another couple of sheets of newspaper round the bottle, placing it in the torn up newspaper strips.
Then gently place the hedgehog next to the hot bottle and cover with the strips of newspaper, a sick hedgehog will be cold and if they are cold they will not eat. At the other end of the box place a plate of food (as described above) and some water in a glass or pot ramekin. Change the hot bottle every three/four hours and just before going to bed. Place the box somewhere away from any noise and cover any open boxes to stop the hedgehog from escaping as they will try to escape but remember they do need to some air getting into the box.
Call for help – Hedgehog Welfare 07940 714830 (Grantham-Retford Area) or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society 01584 890801 or take it to the nearest vet.
If you would like more information about hedgehogs please call Hedgehog Welfare after 18.30 and before 22.30 any evening and we will be pleased to send you some information sheets.