Maureen has always had a soft spot for animals, and she was summoned when a neighbour ran into a wildlife dilemma. They were dismantling a shed in their garden, and when they took it apart, they discovered a hedgehog hiding beneath it. The hedgehog stirred when disturbed, but didn’t run off, and they weren’t sure what to do with it, so they came to Maureen for help.
Maureen has helped hedgehogs in distress before, so she knew the basics of hedgehog care. She brought the hedgehog into her conservatory, which is single glazed and so not too warm, and she placed him inside a box which was inside a bigger box. This gave him some freedom while still keeping him enclosed in a secure, safe area. She offered him special high energy cat food, and she left him in peace. She’s aware that with wild animals, minimal contact with humans is important. First, wild creatures get highly stressed when close to people, because it goes against all their self preservation instincts. And second, for wild animal to thrive, they cannot be tamed: they have to keep up self-reliant behaviour rather than learning to come begging to humans.
After a few days, Maureen began to worry about the hedgehog, who she had named Sparky. What if he was suffering from an illness that she hadn’t spotted? It’s difficult to check over a hedgehog, as they curl into a spikey ball, preventing anyone from inspecting them thoroughly.
To be safe, she brought him in to see me. Even for a vet, it’s not easy to unroll a hedgehog: anaesthesia can be the only way, and there’s no point in going this far unless there’s good evidence of a problem that needs to be addressed.
Instead, I carried out a few basic health tests.
First, I weighed Sparky: he tipped 900g on the scales which is perfect. As long as a hibernating hedgehog weighs over 600g, he is likely to have enough brown fat reserves to allow him to continue hibernation until late spring.
Second, I inspected him as far as I could, given that he remained curled up. I could see his face, and there were no injuries, and no discharges from his eyes. I could tell that his breathing was quiet and comfortable, so there was no serious infection with lungworm or pneumonia, which are often seen in hedgehogs. He had no visible parasites, such as fleas.
To be sure that we were not missing any key aspects of his care, I contacted a centre that specalises in hedgehog care: they reassured Maureen that hedgehogs often go in and out of hibernation, and its common for nests to be disturbed. As long as the animals are not injured or unwell, the best approach is to try to release them back into the wild as soon as possible. They suggested that Maureen should move her temporary nest for him from the consevatory to an outdoor site, perhaps replacing the cardboard box with an upturned plastic dog bed, to make it more weather-proof. They also confirmed that she should continue to offer him dog food, but not to worry if he stopped eating: he would probably go back into hibernation till later in the spring.
Maureen did as instructed, and Sparky has gone back to sleep. She’s waiting to see her new garden resident emerge later, perhaps in April. He’ll be welcome to stay as her new spikey neighbour for as long as he wants.