It’s not news that our hedgehogs are struggling. Estimated numbers of around 30 million in the 1950s fell to just 879,000 in 2018.
Climate change may be contributing to hedgehog litters being born later and urbanisation is reducing the hedgehog’s natural food supply. This is leading to many young hedgehogs not being big enough to survive hibernating in their first winter.
How you can help #
- Put food out for any visiting hedgehogs. Meat flavoured cat food of either the loaf or chunks in jelly types is best, with some crunchy cat biscuits added for dental health. There is no need to add anything else like mealworms, dried fruit, or peanuts as is sometimes suggested, as these can cause nutritional and dental problems.
- Monitor the size, shape, and weight of visiting hedgehogs during Autumn and Winter. In order to survive hibernation, hedgehogs must have sufficient fat reserves otherwise they will essentially starve while they sleep. It’s often said that hedgehogs must weigh X amount (usually 450 – 600g) to hibernate but in reality, it’s a little more complicated. A large hedgehog might be underweight at 600g. In this case body shape is also important as shown in the image below (Click to view larger image. Credit Toni Bunnell). If the hedgehog is longer than they are wide or has a visibly tapered back end, they are likely to be lacking fat reserves.
When to Intervene #
Hedgehogs of any age, at any time of year, showing any of the following signs are likely to need help
- staggering or wobbling
- heavy parasite burden (such as ticks or fleas)
- visible wounds or spine loss
- tapered back end as described above
A small hedgehog out in the day during Autumn and Winter will also need help from a rescue.
If and when a healthy but small hedgehog needs help depends on quite a few factors including temperature forecasts.
Hedgehogs don’t hibernate based on calendar but are triggered to do so by available food, age, and night time temperatures. A hedgehog weighing 350g may be best left in the wild if the forecast is mild and you’re able to provide supportive feeding, for example. Your local hedgehog carer will be best placed to advise on specific cases.