Everybody loves Beatrix Potter’s iconic character, Mrs Tiggywinkle the apron-donning hedgehog don’t they? It’s around this time of year that we really start to see them foraging for food in the late evening shadows, so I thought it would be a good moment to share ways in how you can help these fantastic British creatures.
You shouldn’t ever see a hedgehog during daylight hours, they are a truly nocturnal mammal, so if you do see one it could be a clear sign that they’re in need of help. If you come across one whilst you’re in a car at the side of the road, it may well have been hit by a previous vehicle. Most of us don’t normally travel with carry boxes or containers in our cars – I do, but obviously it’s a matter of habit for me! – so it isn’t always easy to get them to a local rescue centre.
Where possible though, do please make the extra effort to pick them up (using gloves to protect your hands from their prickly spines) holding them around their tummies, and get them checked over. If you don’t know where the local wildlife rescues in our area are, you can contact us here at Saint Leonard Veterinary Centre, use Google, or even good old Yellow Pages – yell as it’s called now!
Hedgehogs usually Hibernate from November or December through until March or April, although if we’re having a milder start to late autumn/ early winter ‘Hogs can remain active into December. Hedgehogs tend to have more than one “nesting” site and do move around between them as they hibernate, so you may see them out and about from time to time.
During hibernation, ‘hogs drop their body temperatures to that of the outdoor weather, slowing their bodies’ functions right down to preserve energy; this is all fine and dandy, but it makes every day, normal activity impossible! Whilst they’re hibernating, hedgehogs use their built-up summer reserves of body fat as a fuel source, and it’s essential that they’re heavy and therefore fat enough to survive on their stores over winter.
Tiggywinkles should weigh about 600g by early December; at this weight they should have enough fat accumulated to survive. If you see a ‘hog snuffling around and you’re not sure if it needs a bit of feeding up (more on that in a while), pick it up gently and pop it onto some kitchen scales. Those individuals that aren’t far off 600g will probably be fine with a little extra from yourselves and neighbours, but very underweight ones will need the help of wildlife centres so please get in touch with a suitable one.
In the wild, Hedgehogs eat all manner of creepy-crawlies, including ground Beetles, juicy Caterpillars, Worms and Slugs, making them popular with gardeners :-). During cold or dry spells these insects tend to be thin on the ground (no pun intended – although you have to admit that was good!).
We’ve just had an exceptionally dry summer in 2018 so any hedgehogs in your area will benefit massively from a shallow dish of water and some food; meat-based, wet cat or dog food, specific hedgehog food or cat biscuits will be fine. If you’re lucky, you might get left one of their calling cards (a.k.a. poop) next to the dish to discover in the morning, by way of thanks.
There is a common myth that hedgehogs love to slurp a dish of milk and eat bits of broken up bread, and I just want to categorically de-bunk this theory right now. Please don’t give them milk, ‘hogs are lactose intolerant; you’ll make them poorly and give them a case of the trots at the very least! Bread is a poor energy source, so they not only will fill up on it quickly, they won’t get much nutrition from it either.
This is the time of year when we start to gather piles of wood, twigs and leaves for our Bonfire Night celebrations, and unfortunately these piles look like something akin to the Ritz Carlton Hotel to hedgehogs. Even small piles of garden debris collected for routine garden fires need checking before you set them ablaze. Every year there are cases of burned hedgehogs reported, and those that don’t get burned can inhale too much smoke to survive, so please take a couple of minutes to check before you strike your match!
To those of you lucky enough to have the space, why not make a “’Hog Hotel” in your own garden? It doesn’t need to be anything fancy or professional enough to win an architecture award. If you fancy giving it a go, the Tiggywinkles website has a nifty guide that you can download and follow to make your own “Tiggy Towers” 🙂
In a nutshell, the shelter needs to be pretty much waterproof and with access big enough for the hedgehog, but not allow badgers or dogs in (the main predators of hedgehogs believe it or not!). Pop some soft hay or straw in, and some dry leaves that the prickly prince or princess can arrange to their own liking as they create their slumber palace.
As always, if you do need advice about a hedgehog you’ve got, then give us a call here at SLVC.
Until next time; stay safe, stay well, and be happy :-).