Hedgehog first aid

Many people contact us about injured and orphaned hedgehogs. Injured animals are not our area of expertise but we've teamed up with the Grove Lodge Veterinary Group to provide some basic information so you can help any injured hedgehogs you may find.

You can also phone the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (01584 890 801) for advice and to be put in touch with a local hedgehog carer.

How do I know if a hedgehog needs help?

Hedgehogs are nocturnal, so you won't see one in the daytime unless it is sick or injured.  Hedgehogs out in the daytime will need help.  

If you have accidentally disturbed a nest, try to put the hedgehog back or arrange a more suitable habitat for it.

Hedgehogs hibernate through winter, usually from November to March, but this does depend on the weather.  If you find a hedgehog still active in the winter months, it is likely to need help. It may be too small to survive hibernation and trying to push on through the winter. These hedgehogs need to be overwintered by a hedgehog carer and should be taken to a vet or local wildlife rescue.

Baby hedgehogs, called hoglets, will almost always be better off with their mother, so only remove a hoglet if it is injured or has clearly been abandoned by its mother. Click here for more information about hoglets.

How should I capture the hedgehog?

Once you’ve established that a hedgehog needs help, find some thick gloves or a towel to handle it. The spines are incredibly sharp and a stab can quickly become infected. A box with air holes and high sides will be needed for transportation.  Contact a local vet, wildlife rescue or the British Hedgehog Preservation Society as soon as possible for advice on what to do next.

Provide warmth quickly

Hypothermia (dangerously low body temperature) is the major cause of death for struggling wildlife and hedgehogs are very vulnerable. Hypothermic hedgehogs will be sluggish and unlikely to curl up. They will also usually feel cold to the touch, but not always, so do not rely on this as an indicator.

To help raise body temperature, wrap the hedgehog loosely in a towel and place on a hot water bottle, also wrapped in a towel, in a box. Make sure the hedgehog isn’t directly in contact with the hot water bottle as you don’t want to scald it. Make sure there is room in the box for the hedgehog to move away from the hot water bottle if it wants to.

Emergency First Aid

Hedgehogs should automatically curl up into a ball when first approached. This is a good sign. However, it can also make assessment hard. If it doesn’t curl up immediately, check its vital signs by listening to its breathing:

  • Breaths should be regular and gently move the chest
  • Rasping, gasping and abdominal breathing are of concern
  • Coughing can be an indication of lungworm. But don’t confuse coughing with snorting, which hedgehogs do when stressed. The two can sound very similar.

How can I assess injuries and general well being?

Remember that hedgehogs are prey animals and incredibly good at hiding any weakness that would make them vulnerable to predators. Many will continue eating even with life threatening injuries. A curled up hedgehog can be a challenge, so gently stroke its back to tempt it to uncurl. This will not always work and some hedgehogs may hiss, snort, jump or even bite, which is why gloves are important. You can visually check the exposed areas, but will need to rely on other senses to really assess its state:

  • Can you see any parasites like ticks, mites or fly eggs? Please don't try to remove these yourself, you may do more harm than good
  • When you hold the animal does it feel underweight, crackly, puffy or crunchy? A healthy adult weight is around 900 g
  • Does the hedgehog have a coppery smell (which indicates blood), a rotten smell (some kind of injury) or a chemical smell (which might indicate poisoning)?
  • Check for normal faeces, which should be firm and dark brown. No green diarrhoea, blood or worms should be seen

Sometimes none of the above will be applicable but the hedgehog will appear very lethargic. It may have internal injuries, and this is where the vet will be able to check under anaesthetic.

What to do next?

Once you have done your checks and decided whether the hedgehog needs veterinary attention, you can provide some food and water. Please do not give bread and milk, it’s really not good for them and will give them diarrhoea. Instead, offer a non-fishy plain cat or dog food and some fresh water.

Many local vets are happy to treat wildlife or provide you with information to assist you, so please contact a vet or wildlife rescue service as soon as possible. Please don’t be tempted to try to look after injured hedgehogs at home. They will be in pain and need specific hedgehog-friendly medicine.

Posted in: Hedgehogs on 07 May 2015

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