Help a hedgehog to stay safe in winter

18 October 2018

Although hedgehog numbers have declined, they’re still numerous in suburban environments. The areas in and around towns can be an excellent habitat for these prickly little nomads.

They certainly like to get around the neighbourhood – during their nocturnal wandering, hedgehogs can walk up to two miles foraging for food and scouting out potential nest sites. They’re pretty hardy little creatures, but a little help can go a long way in helping them to prepare for the colder months.

Feeding

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and will get diarrhoea from eating bread or milk, which could lead to them being dehydrated and unwell. Instead, provide them with some plain meat-based cat food and some cat biscuits, these are good for their teeth. They’re also pretty keen on cooked potato, small pieces of fruit (not citrus) or even unsweetened muesli or Weetabix.

If you have a problem with cats eating the food, place it under a brick shelter with a gap only big enough for the hedgehog to get through. It’s best to leave out some water too, in a shallow dish that’s easily accessible. You can find out more about what to feed hedgehogs in our guide to creating a hedgehog friendly garden.

Build a hedgehog house

Hedgehogs like to have a safe, warm place where they can nest and potentially hibernate. They usually hibernate from October/November through to March/April and during that time, their fuel supply comes from the fat stores that they’ve built up. That’s why it’s vital that they’ve eaten enough before hibernation.

When it comes to a good spot, a log pile or compost heap can provide a quick and simple solution. Alternatively, you can build a hedgehog house that will provide shelter that’s even safer. There’s a great guide for building one from the Wildlife Trust.

Make sure your hedgehog house is in a quiet spot in the garden, as far away from any activity as possible – you shouldn’t attempt to move a hedgehog once it’s hibernating, unless it’s sick. And make sure you don’t get rid of an empty box during winter. Hedgehogs tend to move hibernation spots once or twice throughout the season!

Caring for sick or injured hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are nocturnal so if you see one out in the daytime it will most likely be unwell and will need to be taken to a wildlife rescue centre.

With thick gardening gloves on, pick it up using both hands round the middle. You should place it in a high sided cardboard box lined with newspaper and cover it with a tea towel so that it can hide.

Give your local sanctuary a call to get some further advice. You should be able to take it into them, or if you feel comfortable they may be able to give you the advice you need to care for it at home.

Autumn orphans

Most hedgehog mothers will have their babies in June and July, successfully weaning two or three hoglets from an average litter size of four or five. It’s really important that a nest is left undisturbed during the first few weeks after birth, as disruption may cause the mum to abandon the nest or even eat her young.

Females can have a second litter in late September or October but the young are almost always unable to gain enough weight to survive hibernation. These hoglets will often look underweight and can still be foraging around well into winter. If a hedgehog is too small to hibernate, follow the advice above and contact your local sanctuary.

Hedgehogs are a great addition to any garden, so doing what you can to invite them in will help them to flourish and provide you with free pest control. By following our tips, you may well have a well-rested hog coming out of hibernation around March or April. They’ll appreciate some fresh food and water at this time of year, giving them a great start to a new season.

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