Many hedgehog carers (like ourselves) have no medical training, so this is where vets/nurses such as you come in. If you feel you wish to help conserve our hedgehog population the first step is to find a local carer/rehabilitator who you can work with. Perhaps the largest database of such carers can be found on the British Hedgehog Preservation Societies website. Contact the carer and should they wish to work with you (I'd be surprised if they did not) then agree a system that will work for both of you.
What follows is a breakdown of how local vets help me by taking the first few simple steps.
When a member of the public contacts you to ask for advice giving the incorrect advice is worse than giving no advice at all. If the carer you have teamed up with gives their permission to give their phone number out then do so. If they haven't then ask them to provide you with a questions and answers sheet. But in general any hedgehog out during the day, screaming or making any noise will need help as soon as it can be given.
First steps - sexing
This is extremely important during the breeding season, which is normally April to September. However we have had hoglets born as early as March and as late as October. If it is a female who has given birth recently (is in milk) then the person who rescued the hedgehog should be urged to locate the nest and rescue the hoglets. The father takes no part in rearing his offspring. So by removing the mother her young are unlikely to survive without help. To do this you will need to uncurl the hedgehog. This can be a problem but you could try the following:
One: Place the hedgehog on your hands face down with the head facing away from you. Bounce your hands up and down a couple of centimetres and as you bounce the hedgehog will hopefully uncurl. As it does, try to get your index finger under the front feet. You can then raise your hand and support the hedgehog with the other one; this will allow you to look at the underside.
Two: Use a shallow glass dish, place the hedgehog in it and they may uncurl. Hold above your head or get a colleague to bend down and look at the underneath. Either way this is a two-person job as an uncurled hedgehog is likely to run. If this does not work place a little warm water in the dish as well. However do not do this if the hedgehog is showing signs of respiratory problems.
Three: Lastly if all else fails a small amount of gas will do it. This should only be administered if you feel doing so will not endanger the hedgehog's life further.
Looking for injuries
The most common injury is loss of a limb, often caused by the careless use of a strimmer. We have successfully rehabilitated hedgehogs that have lost a back leg (but have never released back into the wild) but have never managed to do so with a hedgehog that has lost a front leg. If any injuries are found then they should be treated or if it is felt the injuries are too severe the hedgehog should be euthanised.
During autumn and winter many hoglets will be fending for themselves for the first time. Often they will not weigh enough to survive the process of hibernation. So if a member of the public calls stating they have seen a small hoglet out during the day or early evening, showing no other signs of distress they should weigh the hoglet. If it is found to be under 600 grams they should be told to pick up, place in a high sided box with a towel and bring it in for a quick check up prior to being placed with a carer. If they do not mind then ask them to touch the hedgehog's feet. Often small hedgehogs become cold very quickly. As long as there are no wounds then give direct heat in the form of a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. When the hoglet is with you it may benefit from being kept on heat pad. Even if it is not showing signs of being cold it must be kept in a heated environment.
Dealing with parasites
If a hedgehog is well then it will be round and will not have a waist. If they appear skinny they could have an infestation of internal and/or external parasites. If these are left untreated it can be fatal. It is therefore advisable to carry out a float test. If you are unsure of what to look for visit the Vale Wildlife Rescue website and click on the 'rehabbers' button. Here you will find a page of hedgehog faecal sample photos plus two downloads:
- Faecal sampling - hedgehogs
- Hedgehog drug dosages
As a standard precaution we administer Xeno 200 Spray (an ivermectin based spray, which covers a range of parasites both internally and externally) and Panacur (in liquid form, which is effective against roundworms, some tapeworms and lungworms). Both of these are administered based on body weight. The Panacur should be given over a minimum of five days to ensure all stages of the worms are killed. Never treat with Frontline; I know from personal experience this can kill a hedgehog.
Whilst the hedgehog is in your care keep an eye on droppings. If they do not improve once Xeno and Panacur has been administered or they become smelly or have signs of blood it is possible there is an infection, which needs treatment. The information sheet from the Vale Wildlife website provides a drug regime to follow.
Food and water
Hedgehogs are nocturnal however provide food and water at all times as unwell hedgehogs are likely to eat during the day. For extremely unwell hedgehogs we have found AD Hills is helpful in supporting them whilst their health improves.
Handing over to the carer
If you have a system in place with a local carer then after you have done all you can they can take over. When they pick up give them a full medical history. In this way they will know what signs to look for and should the hedgehog need further treatment they can ensure the correct treatment is given.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society have some very helpful PDFs which can be downloaded from their website plus a fantastic book called Hedgehog Rehabilitation written by Kay Bullen. If you'd like to purchase this book and help support our work at the same time please return to the main page, click on the book and purchase via this link.
I must thank Helen Pringle BVSc. MRLVS (Branch Partner and Head Clinician at
Medivet A120 Branch) for checking the medical facts.