TECHNIQUE

Long Term Care of Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog (Mammal Husbandry & Management)

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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Hedgehogs: Health & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords
Description This page has been prepared for the ""Hedgehogs: Health & Management" Wildpro volume, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog
  • Hedgehogs may be maintained in long term care if they have an injury/disability which would be considered to significantly disadvantage the hedgehog if it were released into the wild, but is of a nature to allow the hedgehog a good quality of life if it is maintained in a sheltered environment.
    • Hedgehogs which fall into this category may include blind individuals and those which have had one leg amputated.
  • The most common long term care environment for such a hedgehog is a securely enclosed, hedgehog escape-proof garden.
  • For underweight juveniles which need heated accommodation see: Accommodation of Casualty Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog
  • Escape-proof gardens or enclosures may also be used to provide temporary accommodation for:
    • Female hedgehogs with young (e.g. if the nest has been disturbed), until the family is ready to disperse. (V.w45, B337.4.w4)
    • Juveniles which have been over-wintered in care without hibernating, in the spring prior to full release. (D89, V.w45)
    • For assessment of a hedgehog following treatment, as an aid in deciding whether it is suitable for release. (D89, V.w45)
    • For hedgehogs considered to be elderly, e.g. with badly worn teeth and "gingery" colouring to the spines. (V.w45)
  • Males and females must be kept in separate areas (e.g. separate enclosed gardens) to avoid breeding in captivity. (V.w56)
  • NOTE: an enclosed garden will NOT provide sufficient food and this must be provided daily.

Perimeter:

  • If a garden is to provide long term accommodation for a hedgehog it is essential that its perimeter wall or fencing is hedgehog-proof (escape proof) so that the enclosed hedgehog(s) cannot get out.
    • Hedgehogs are able climbers and have been reported to climb even high brick walls. (B274)
    • A hole as small as 10 cm (four inches) square in a wall or fence may provide an entrance/exit hole for hedgehogs. (B274)
    • Blind hedgehogs are more likely to climb walls than those which have lost a limb.
  • The perimeter fencing must also provide protection for the hedgehog(s) from predators such as badgers, foxes and dogs.
  • A walled garden is likely to be hedgehog-proof providing the gate(s) are constructed appropriately. Fences must be solid and of a design which minimises the risk of a hedgehog becoming trapped in the fencing.
  • The perimeter, including entrances, should be checked regularly, preferably daily, to ensure that it is still proof against hedgehogs getting out and against the predators mentioned above getting in.
  • See also: External Fence (Permanent Enclosure) Construction (Techniques) for further information on predator-proof fencing.

Nest boxes and nesting materials:

  • A weatherproof nest box must be provided in which the hedgehog can construct its winter nest or hibernaculum. This should be placed in a sheltered part of the garden which will not become waterlogged. (D104)
    • A suggested pattern for nest box construction is a 30 cm (12 inch) cube, with a removable lid (for inspection), waterproofed using roofing felt (which should overhang the sides) and provided with an air inlet in the form of a piece of hosepipe set into it at an angle. The box may be entered by the hedgehog along an entrance passage, 45 cm (15 inches) long and 15 cm (6 inches) wide and high. The box should be lined with a thick layer of dry newspaper and then filled with bedding such as dry straw. (D82)
    • Nest boxes and patterns for making boxes are available from: British Hedgehog Preservation Society Trading Ltd., Hedgehog House, Dhustone, Clee Hill, Ludlow SY8 3PL, UK (British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS)).
  • Plenty of dry leaves must be provided, left outside the nest box, with which the hedgehog can construct its nest. Hay and straw may also be provided but it should be remembered that wild hedgehogs generally build their winter nests mainly from leaves.
  • Remember that the nesting materials will be compacted as they are used and a much greater quantity will be required than may at first seem necessary. (D104)
  • Nesting materials must be checked regularly and damp or soiled materials replaced. (D89)
  • Make sure that there is at least one other appropriate site in the garden for building a good nest and that plenty of extra nesting material is provided near that place also, since in the wild hedgehogs do not always stay in the same hibernaculum all winter and may feel the need to build a second nest.
  • Wild hedgehogs generally use more than one nest (several or many) during the summer.
    • At least one additional nest site should be provided e.g. by filling a paper sack with suitable dry leaves, hay or straw, waterproofing it by placing it in a dustbin bag and placing this under a shrub or bush. (D104)
    • Any bag of bedding should have an entrance hole at ground level and several air holes punched higher up. (D82)
  • Nests should be checked regularly (once weekly) to confirm that they are dry and that sufficient bedding materials are available. (D104)
    • Care must be taken not to disturb the hedgehog(s) while checking nests and in particular not to disturb a female hedgehog which has recently given birth. (D104)
  • A sprinkling of a pyrethrum-containing flea powder such as Head-to-Tail (Coopers, Schering-Plough Animal Health)) or Rid-Mite (Johnson's Veterinary Products) may be used to discourage external parasites such as fleas and ticks. (D82)

Vegetation:

  • The area in which one or more hedgehogs are to be kept long term should provide the hedgehog with opportunities for natural behaviour including natural foraging. 
  • Long grass, ground-covering plants, low growing bushes, areas of garden rubbish (old leaves, twigs etc.) all provide the hedgehog with suitable foraging areas.(D89)
  • Sharp-edged plants, including Pampas grass (which is appreciated for nesting in by healthy hedgehogs) may be unsuitable if an amputee is being housed in the garden. A case is known of an amputee cutting its belly severely on Pampas grass. (B337.4.w4)

Feed & Water: 

  • Water must be available at all times. If the garden does not contain a suitable water source such as a pond from which the hedgehog can drink easily then a bowl of water, preferably shallow and non-tip, must be provided.
    • The availability of water must be checked every day, preferably in the evening to make sure water is available to the hedgehog in its active period (i.e. at night)
    • In freezing conditions an effort should be made to keep the water from freezing if hedgehogs are still active. The water bowl may be placed under a box (with a hole allowing hedgehogs to reach the water), upturned dog bed or similar shelter. (V.w56)
  • Feed must be provided daily. Do NOT assume that the garden will provide enough food for even a single hedgehog. DO ensure that somebody else will feed your hedgehog(s) if you go away on holiday, or even for the weekend.
  • Food should be provided at night since hedgehogs are nocturnal. 
  • In summer food should be put down at dusk after the flies have gone and removed in the morning before they are active again. (D82, D104)
  • To reduce the chance of other animals (e.g. neighbourhood cats) eating your hedgehog's food it should be provided in a protected location:
    • A 16 cm (6 inch) diameter 74 cm (29 inches) long piece of drainpipe, wedged with a brick on either side to keep it steady, may be used as a feeding site, with the food, on a fresh piece of newspaper, placed in the middle of the pipe. (D82)
    • Alternatively the food may be provided under a cover of a square of wood raised on a brick at each corner and weighted down with another brick to prevent cats knocking the wood off to get at the food.(D104)
    • Food may be placed under an upturned box with a hole cut in one side to allow access by the hedgehogs. (D89)
  • In the wild a hedgehog generally fills its stomach twice in one night, eating a total of about 71 g of food every night (J180.21.w1). This can be used as a guide for how much food to provide [note that with dry food a smaller weight of food is required than with tinned food, but the provision of water is even more important].
    • A daily food requirement of 60-90 g wet weight (18-28 g dry weight) of food per day has been calculated based on an estimated daily energy requirement of 90-140 kcal (377-586 kJ) per day for a 500-700 g hedgehog. (B228.6.w6)
    • For pregnant or lactating animals the amount of food required is increased and may reach three times normal. (J213.2.w1)
  • Dry food rather than tinned food may help to keep the hedgehog's teeth healthy.
  • Dog food is probably preferable to cat food long term. Cat food is very high in vitamin A and in some strictly insectivorous species this has produced problems long term, although it is less likely to be a problem in hedgehogs as they are more omnivorous. (V.w16)
  • Special diets for feeding hedgehogs are available, e.g. "Spike's dinner" and "Claus Hedgehog Food." (D82)
  • Scraps such as raw or cooked meat (not liver or pork), raw chicken (including the carcass) or cooked chicken, raw mice can be given as part of the diet. (D82)
  • Hedgehogs must be given sufficient food to gain weight ready for hibernation but not so much that they get overweight.
  • Hedgehogs will feed themselves on invertebrates around the garden but it should never be assumed that they will find sufficient food in one garden without supplementary feeding.
    • It is important to remember that natural food will be scarce in hot, dry weather and in very cold weather. (V.w45)
  • In winter when hedgehogs may be hibernating dry food rather than tinned food may be advisable as this may be left for several days without going off. (V.w56)

Safety:

  • It is essential that an enclosed garden used to provide long-tem care is maintained in a state which minimises the risks of further injury to the hedgehog. This includes:
    • Not using slug pellets or other pesticides. (D82)
    • Ensuring ponds have gently sloping sides, ramps, stones or other means of easy exit even for disabled hedgehogs which have lost a limb, with more than one exit point in large ponds.(D82, D104)
    • No netting at or near ground level where a hedgehog may get tangled in it. (D82, D104)
    • If there is a swimming pool, it must be covered and the pool checked daily. (D82)
      • Keeping a hedgehog in an enclosed garden which contains a swimming pool is not recommended as it is extremely difficult to make sure that the pool is safe and that the hedgehog cannot get into the pool and be trapped under any cover and/or be unable to get out. (V.w56)
    • Open drains and similar holes/pits must be covered to prevent a hedgehog falling in. (D104)
    • Rubbish including jars, pots, car batteries, loose wire or netting, oil, paraffin, barbecue fuel etc. must be picked up and put away safely.
    • Consider removing sharp-edged plants (including e.g. Pampas grass if amputees are to be kept.
    • Consider whether one or more steps (e.g. to a patio area) may be too high for an amputee to negotiate. (B337.4.w4)

Breeding: 

  • Males and females must be kept separate (except for juveniles before their first winter) i.e. in separate enclosed gardens, to avoid breeding in captivity. (V.w56)
  • If hedgehogs in permanent care do breed it is necessary to release the offspring, when they are old enough (about 4-6 weeks (B142, B261) and at a body weight of about 250 g (B261)), into a habitat which is not enclosed (e.g. nearby gardens, if suitable). See: Release of Casualty Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog

Requirements for additional care:

  • The weight of hedgehogs should be monitored regularly to ensure they do not get too thin or too fat. Hedgehogs should weigh at least 500-700 g before hibernation for juveniles (D97), 700g to 1 kg (1.5-2 lb) for adults (D82), and should not be allowed to pass 1.361 kg (3 lb) for a female, 1.588 kg (3.5 lb) for a male. (D82)
    • It has been recommended that each hedgehog should be weighed every three to four days. (D89)
    • Hedgehogs which lose weight, and juveniles which are not gaining weight, require further examination and treatment as appropriate. (D89)
  • Hedgehogs should be monitored to check they have not been injured or particularly in summer, struck by flies (see: Myiasis).
  • Hedgehogs should be checked regularly for signs of internal parasites including lungworm (respiratory signs) and intestinal parasites (roundworms, flukes, acanthocephalans and coccidia) causing signs such as weight loss or diarrhoea.
  • Hedgehogs should be checked regularly for external parasites to ensure that large burdens do not build up, and for development of baldness which may indicate ringworm. Hedgehogs which have lost a hind leg, in particular, have a reduced ability to scratch and remove parasites such as fleas.
  • Consider prophylactic worming in March/April and in September/October to prevent worm burdens becoming too large. Fenbendazole or Ivermectin are suitable wormers for this use (both available from veterinary surgeons). (D82)
  • Droppings should be inspected daily to check for illness, and removed. If abnormal droppings (e.g. green and slimy) are found then the hedgehogs in the area should be placed in separate boxes until the hedgehog affected is identified, so that it can be examined and treated as appropriate (D89).
  • Hedgehogs which are found outside during the day or are lethargic and not showing their normal activity need to be examined by a veterinarian.

B274, B337.4.w4, D82, D97, D104, V.w5, V.w26, V.w45, V.w56

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Hedgehogs should be maintained in long term care only if they are permanently disabled such that they are considered unfit for release into the wild, but are sufficiently able that they are considered able to have a good quality of life in a protected environment.
    • Hedgehogs which fall into this category may include blind individuals and those which have had one leg amputated.
  • Escape-proof gardens may also be used to provide temporary accommodation for:
    • Female hedgehogs with young, until the family is ready to disperse. (V.w45)
    • Juveniles which have been over-wintered in care without hibernating, in the spring prior to full release. (V.w45)
    • For assessment of a hedgehog following treatment, as an aid in deciding whether it is suitable for release. (V.w45)
    • For hedgehogs considered to be elderly, e.g. with badly worn teeth and "gingery" colouring to the spines. (V.w45)
Notes
  • Hedgehogs may live for several years in long term care.
  • Hedgehogs vary considerably in their determination. One hedgehog may settle well in a particular garden and make no attempt to move outside it while another immediately climbs the fence or wall of the same garden to escape. This is not necessarily related to the apparent level of disability of the hedgehog concerned.
  • Colour marking with paint/varnish is ideal to allow individual marking of animals being kept in an outdoor enclosure or escape-proof garden. It allows individual records to be kept of the animals without relying on natural features for identification. See: Marking Hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus)
  • Just before and just after hibernation the faeces may become dark green or have a dark green plug at the end. This is normal and should not be a cause for concern. (V.w56)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Fit healthy hedgehogs should not be kept in long term care such as an enclosed garden.
  • For hedgehogs with injuries/disabilities which will prevent them from enjoying a reasonable quality of life even in a protected environment, euthanasia is a more humane option (See: Wildlife Casualty Assessment (with special reference to UK Wildlife): Introduction and General Information).
  • Fences may be broken or burrowed under in a very short time (e.g. overnight).
  • Cat food may not be suitable as the main component of the diet for a hedgehog long-term as it contains a high level of vitamin A, while the natural food of hedgehogs is low in this vitamin.
  • Juveniles must not be allowed to enter hibernation if they weigh less than 500-700 g as this has been estimated to be the minimum necessary to provide energy allowing a hedgehog to survive overwinter hibernation in the UK. Animals weighing less than this in late autumn should be kept in a warm environment to prevent hibernation and fed through the winter. Once they reach an appropriate weight for hibernation (e.g. 600g) it may be appropriate to place the hedgehog in an unheated but frost-free shed or an outside enclosure, with an appropriate nest box and plenty of bedding material, to allow the hedgehog to hibernate. (D97); regular monitoring is important. (V.w56)
  • Hedgehogs should not be allowed to get overweight. This is unkind and may prevent the hedgehog from rolling up properly, thus depriving it of its natural defence against predators.(D82, V.w5)
  • Hedgehogs kept in an enclosed garden must be fed every night. Never assume the hedgehog will find enough natural food in a single garden.
  • Arrangements for daily feeding and water must be in place before a site if offered to provide long-term care for a hedgehog.
  • Regular, preferably daily, inspection of the enclosed site is required to ensure the hedgehog is protected from predators such as badgers, foxes and dogs.
  • HIND LIMB AMPUTEES are unable to groom properly; extra inspection is required to ensure they do not get overburdened with external parasites such as mites, or get maggots in the ears etc. (V.w45, V.w56)
  • FRONT LIMB AMPUTEES cannot lift themselves clear of the ground as well as normal and should not have access to sharp-edged plants such as pampas grass as these may case severe cuts to the animal's underside. (V.w56)
  • If the quality of life in long term care is not adequate then euthanasia should be considered for the welfare of the animal. See: Euthanasia of Hedgehogs
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Materials for constructing one or more waterproof boxes (widely available from e.g. DIY stores).
  • Bedding materials of dry leaves, hay or straw (dry leaves may be gathered in autumn and stored in a dry place. Hay and straw are best bought by the bale from farms or from stores selling horse equipment (tack shops).
  • Food (widely available in the form of dog and cat food. Specialist hedgehog food may be available from some pet stores or via Websites).
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • No particular expertise is required.
Cost/ Availability
  • All items required are generally readily available and inexpensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Any wild animal casualty which is not either released back into the wild or euthanased by definition remains in care. This implies a duty on the part of the carer to ensure that the needs of the animal are supplied.
  • Disabled casualties should be assessed on an individual basis by experienced personnel to determine whether their quality of life and ability to fulfil the 'five freedoms', as defined by the UK's Farm Animal Welfare Council, will be adequate within an enclosed garden habitat.
  • Whilst opinions will vary on the subject, injuries for which long term care in enclosed gardens has been suggested to be appropriate include forelimb or hindlimb amputation (D82, V.w56) and visual impairment.
  • Members of the public who wish to offer their enclosed garden as a safe habitat for disabled hedgehogs must contact an experienced wildlife rehabilitator for advice. Site assessment is required for identification of potential hazards in the local environment.(D82)
  • Under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000 it is an offence not to provide animals (including captive wild animals) with necessary food and water. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, P19.2.w1)
  • The release of animals which are not fit to survive when released may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960.
  • See: Wildlife Casualty Legislation (with special reference to UK Wildlife) - Keeping (holding) of Animals for further information on legislation applicable to wild animals in care.
Author Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26); Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Kay Bullen (V.w45); Dru Burdon (V.w56)
References

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