Over-wintering Underweight Juvenile Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehogs (Mammal Husbandry & Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Hedgehogs: Health & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords

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Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" and "Hedgehogs: Health & Management" Wildpro volumes, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog
  • Juvenile hedgehogs may need to be maintained in sheltered accommodation over the winter period if they are considered too small (weigh too little) to survive hibernation.
  • It has been estimated that a hedgehog needs to weigh a minimum of 400-600 g before it has sufficient fat reserves to have a reasonable chance of surviving hibernation.
  • A weight of 600 g would be preferable. (V.w45)
  • If an underweight juvenile is a regular visitor to a particular garden it may be least stressful to the hedgehog simply to ensure that food is provided every night to assist with rapid weight gain. (B337.3.w3) See:
  • Individuals which are searching for food in the daytime, or are found sleeping in the open, such as on a doorstep, may need to be taken into care. (B337.3.w3)
  • Juveniles maintained in sheltered accommodation over the winter must be kept in single-sex groups to avoid any chance of breeding. (V.w56)

Initial care:

  • These individuals may be cold when brought into care and require initial warming, for example on a wrapped hot water bottle. (B337.3.w3)
  • Hypothermic individuals may have little appetite. A bland diet, provided in small quantities frequently, is recommended initially. (B337.3.w3)
  • Warmth is essential until these individuals become bright and shop steady weight gain. (B337.3.w3)

Accommodation for over-wintering underweight juveniles: 

  • Individuals which are not to be hibernated must be maintained at a temperature of at least 15 to 20oC over the winter. (B260.5.w5); 18-20C recommended. (B284.6.w6)
  • An individual juvenile hedgehog may be kept in a container providing about 60 cm x 60 cm (two feet by two feet) of floor space. (V.w45)
    • After the hedgehog reaches about 300g a larger space is preferable. (V.w56)
  • Single-sex groups may be kept in larger areas, including sheltered stables or sheds with plenty of bedding provided. (V.w45)
    • A floor area of at least 1.0 square metres per individual should be provided. (B284.6.w6)
  • For juveniles which have reached 600 g, 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)

Nest boxes and nesting materials: 

  • For indoor accommodation a small cardboard box and shredded newspaper (not shredded office paper) is suitable for bedding. Bedding must be replaced daily (more often if soiled). (D97)
  • In a larger enclosure (e.g. a shed) for older juveniles several boxes should be provided and plenty of bedding in the form of hay, straw or dry leaves.

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)
  • Feed must be provided daily. 
  • For hedgehogs which are hibernating, food must still be available at all times.
    • Dry food may be advisable as this may be left for several days without going off. (V.w56)
    • A little bran may be added to the diet when overwintering hedgehogs, to provide more bulk. (V.w45)


Requirements for additional care:

B274, D82, D97, D104, V.w5, V.w26, V.w56 

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Juvenile hedgehogs should be maintained in care over winter only if they are too small to be likely to survive hibernation. The minimum weight required to survive hibernation is generally estimated to be 400-600 g. 
  • 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
  • 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 (juveniles should not be allowed to pass about 700 g bodyweight. (D97)). This is unkind and may prevent the hedgehog from rolling up properly, thus depriving it of its natural defence against predators. It may also lead to liver problems. (D82, D97, V.w5)
  • Juveniles kept over the winter may reach sexual maturity sooner than expected. It is important to keep the animals in single-sex groups from before Christmas to avoid accidental breeding. (V.w56)
  • Feeding cat food long term may provide excessive amounts of vitamin A in the diet. This has been found problematic in some strict insectivorous species but may be less of a problem in hedgehogs as they are more omnivorous. (V.w16)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Appropriate accommodation.
  • Materials for constructing one or more nest boxes (widely available from DIY stores).
  • Bedding materials of shredded soft paper for indoor enclosures, dry leaves, hay or straw (dry leaves may be gathered in autumn and stored in a dry place) for outdoor enclosures/sheds/stables. 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 and insectivorous 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
Author Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26) and Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Kay Bullen (V.w45); Dru Burdon (V.w56)

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