One Voice for Animals UK Guest Blog by Prickly Edge Hedgehog Rescue
Hedgehogs usually start to emerge from hibernation between March and May in the UK. However, this varies depending on where they are in the country and on the individuals needs and condition. Male hedgehogs tend to emerge from hibernation earlier than females as females raise a second litter of hoglets in autumn they need time to recover and gain enough weight to sustain them before going into hibernation. Research suggests that there is a correlation between increased daylight, a reduction in the production of melatonin and an increase in the production of testosterone which affects the male hedgehogs and triggers their arousal from hibernation. It is thought that this could be the reason that hedgehogs emerge from hibernation from time to time, to check the state of the environment and search forefoot and water. Emerging from hibernation is a dangerous process for hedgehogs. They need to have built up enough white fat to see them through the winter, but they also need to have built up enough brown fat which is used as a source of energy to help reverse the hibernation process. Whilst in hibernation, the hedgehogs heart rate slows to around 10 bpm, their body temperature drops from 36°C to around 10°C, they may only breathe 2–3 times per hour and brain activity decreases, with only the hippocampus active to monitor vital signs and signs of threat. You can support hedgehogs by setting up a feeding station and providing fresh food each night. Brambles hedgehog food is a good source of nutrition, but equally meat based cat / kitten / small breed dog food would suffice. If you are concerned about wasting wet food, kibble is fine as long as the main ingredient is meat or poultry. Anything marketed towards birds should be avoided. Any hedgehog food that contains dried fruit, mealworms, nuts, and sunflower seeds is not suitable either. In fact, these foods are potentially harmful to hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and should never be offered milk. Bread has no nutritional value to hedgehogs, so please do not provide these.
If possible leave an area of your garden, wild and overgrown. If you must clear leaves, please check before raking piles of leaves, to avoid accidentally injuring, a hedgehog that may be hibernating / nesting there. We have raked leaves from our garden path and left them piled up under bushes. Leaves are natural frost protection for plants and grass, so they’re actually useful in your garden, as well as obviously providing nesting material for wildlife. Hedgehogs like to hibernate in compost heaps. Not only are they warm and generally well protected, but it’s the perfect environment for natural food sources, such as arachnids and insects to inhabit and be ready available meals for the hedgehogs.
If you have bought a hedgehog house, the hedgehog will usually take nest materials in to the house independently, but you could provide extra nesting material by leaving leaves and straw under bushes. If you don’t have bushes, an alternative would be to cut a hole in the side of a plastic storage tub, cover the hole with waterproof tape to ensure there are no sharp edges, place your dry nesting material, such as straw inside and place a brick on top to prevent the plastic box from blowing away. Some rescues prefer to use hay, but I find that once it gets damp, it goes mouldy. I provide straw for my hedgehogs to use as bedding because it dries out quickly, is a better insulator and is generally used as bedding, where as hay is a source of food and contains more moisture.
We currently have 58 hedgehogs on site, with a further 12 in foster placements. The majority of these hedgehogs were admitted in autumn as babies/juveniles and were too small to survive hibernation. They were also on treatment for heavy endoparasite infections. A couple of them had injuries that required a longer period in care for them to fully recover, and some have been admitted more recently with injuries and infections requiring treatment.
Any hedgehog out in daylight needs to be assessed by a rescue. Appearances are deceiving and although it may be active, eating and drinking, this is not a good sign. It’s vital you follow the advice catch the hedgehog and place it in a deep sided box.
* Provide a towel or ripped up newspaper for the Hedgehog to hide
* If you are confident that the hedgehog is not bleeding, and there are no signs of fly strike, provide a hot water bottle, filled with warm, tap water, at body temperature and drop it in a towel. A drinks bottle will be sufficient if you don’t have a hot water bottle.
* Offer a shallow dish of water
* Contact a rescue for help
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