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Supporting Hedgehogs Throughout Winter

One Voice for Animals UK Guest Blog by Prickly Edge Hedgehog Rescue CIC

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you had a lovely Christmas and wish you all the best for 2023

This month, I’d like to talk to you about supporting hedgehogs throughout winter.

It’s a misconception that all hedgehogs go into hibernation during the winter months. We often find that autumn juveniles and some adults choose to stay awake. It’s also a misconception that hedgehogs go to sleep in the autumn and don’t wake up until spring. In order to support hedgehogs throughout winter, it is vitally important that you continue to place a heavy based, shallow dish of water outside each night and if possible, keep it topped up all the time. This will support other wildlife such as birds and foxes.

You can set up a feeding station and provide 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 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, generally the hedgehog will 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.

When the night time temperatures are consistently below 8° C, the hedgehogs natural instinct to bulk up, wind down, and hibernate is usually triggered. However, as mentioned above, not every hedgehog hibernate.

Research has shown that hedgehogs weighing over 650g prior to hibernation, are more likely to survive the process.

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:

  1. Catch the hedgehog and place it in a deep sided box.

  2. Provide a towel or ripped up newspaper for the hedgehog to hide

  3. 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.

  4. Offer a shallow dish of water

  5. Contact a rescue for help


One Voice for Animals UK has a rescue directory of almost 300 organisations that need support. If you enjoyed this blog, head over and find your local rescue and make a donation

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