Looks like a picture of Jupiter, doesn't it? In fact, this is a view down a microscope of a poo sample taken from a very sick hedgehog. What looks like a cobblestone path running across is actually hundreds of fluke eggs. Fluke is a deadly internal parasite contracted by drinking dirty contaminated water, or by eating an intermediate host, like a slug or snail. Once inside the hedgehog this flatworm parasite migrates to the liver, which it feeds on. This is very painful and will eventually prove fatal.
Hedgehogs only eat slugs and snails if they are starving and desperate. So by providing food and clean water in your garden you will be saving your visiting hedgehogs from so much more than hunger.
Baby Porter was spotted out in the daytime, curled in a pile of leaves, trying to get warm. She was taken in, which is great, and kept for three days, which is very bad. During those three days she didn't eat or drink and by the time she was brought to me she was losing gastrointestinal blood. She was so dehydrated her eyes were sunken and her spines lay flat to her thin body.
She was suffering from a very heavy burden of internal parasites and the blood loss had made her anaemic and extremely weak. It took a lot of intensive care and medications to keep her alive, and it was 6 days before her tummy had healed sufficently to be able to digest food. After a month of treatment she is now gaining weight and on her way back to full health.
A hedgehog out in the day is an emergency. You can't love or feed them better, so please take them to a rescue immediately.
Milo was found laying out in the daytime, unmoving. He was suffering from severe dehydration and starvation and was close to dying. He had woken early from hibernation by the unusually warm February weather and it was too early for his natural food of beetles and larvae to be around, so he had been forced to survive by eating slugs and snails, and scraps from beneath bird tables.
The slugs and snails had given him lungworm, and the bird food had given him Metabolic Bone Disease. His bones had become so thin and weak they could no longer support him. Both of his front legs were broken. He had woken a healthy, but hungry little hedgehog. If he'd been lucky and found a garden that fed hedgehogs he would have been safe. But no one in his area supplied food for hedgehogs so he was now dying, in agony.
Metabolic Bone Disease in hedgehogs is a crippling, agonising condition that eventually kills. It is caused by eating foods that are too high in phosphorus and too low in calcium. The worst foods are mealworms, sunflower hearts, peanuts and oats.
Eating these foods forces the hedgehog’s body to make up for the lack of calcium by taking it from the bones. The bones then become weak, thin, and very painful. Despite this agony the hedgehog's survival instincts will force him to keep moving, trying to find to food and water. Eventually the leg bones break, the soft tissues swell, and the pain becomes unbearable. The hedgehog will no longer be able to leave the nest and will die there of starvation.
Hedgehogs would never naturally find these foods, they are supplied by humans; either directly, or by leaving leftovers under the bird feeders. Please ensure the hedgehogs visiting your garden never have access to these harmful foods.
Always clean up spillage beneath your bird feeders before dusk. And if you have a so-called 'hedgehog food' that contains mealworms, sunflower hearts, or peanuts, no matter what the seller tells you, IT IS HARMFUL. Throw it out now.
You won’t be able to see the damage you are causing - you’ll just notice that not so many hedgehogs visit you anymore.
Hedgehogs should ONLY be fed cat or dog food.
On returning from the vets with another hog, I found this poor little girl on my doorstep, in a shoe box. She had a severe respiratory infection which had caused her nose to become blocked, and she was gasping for breath. Hedgehogs do not mouth-breathe very well, so she was extremely distressed. It's a shame the finder didn't leave a note, as it's important to know where she was found; wild animals have a certain immunity to the pathogens in their local area, so releasing them back there raises their chance of survival. It took seven weeks and several medications and treatments, but eventually Shelly was restored to full health.
Eden was an adult female who was passing bloody poo containing maggots. I suspect the maggots had been ingested while still eggs, which had been laid by a fly on the food Eden had found. To reduce this risk, when feeding your garden visitors always wait until dusk before putting out the food, and throw away any uneaten food in the morning. Apart from fly eggs in the day, it's likely the food has been contaminated overnight by slugs and snails, which are intermediate carriers of lungworm - fatal to hedgehogs if untreated.
These two sisters were autumn orphans, rescued from a garden on a cold November night. As 99.9% of autumn orphans will be carrying one or more potentially fatal conditions, the finder saved their lives by taking them in. The finder also inadvertantly saved many more lives by bringing them here, as she discovered that the mealworms and peanuts she had been putting out are extremely bad for hedgehogs, particulary babies, and will cause Metabolic Bone Disease and, eventually, death.
Both Hope and Joy had pneumonia and lungworm, as well as fluke. They made a full recovery but it was too late to return them to the wild, so they will hibernate here, in safety, and be released in the spring.
If you see a hedgehog limping or walking strangely please don't wait and see if it improves. A prey animal will disguise any weakness if possible, so a hedgehog limping is in severe pain and needs urgent specialist care. This poor baby's foot was almost detached and twisted backwards. From the colour of the wound and the extent of bone infection he had been dragging this foot around for at least a week.
By the time the householder decided her garden visitor's limp wasn't getting any better and brought him in, it was too late for little Pez.
Tiny Peggy was found down a hole in an overrun garden. There was no telling how long she'd been down there with no food or water and she was almost lifeless. The RSPCA referred her to me. Aside from being dehydrated and starving she had pneumonia and was covered in infected bites. I got in touch with the finder and asked her to watch out for more, as there may be littermates also in trouble. Once warmed, hydrated and her wounds tended little Peggy slept for 20 hours. I think it was the first time she had felt truly safe for a long, long time.
The finder went to the garden each night, standing quietly in the dark for hours, listening for movement. The first night she found two more little girls, both in a very bad way.
All of the hoglets had mange and ringworm, and several small bite wounds from either a cat or a rat. All the wounds were infected and smelt very badly.
She continued her nightly vigil and over 6 nights found three more hoglets, brothers to Peggy and her sisters. As well as their skin complaints and wounds, all of the siblings had heavy internal parasite burdens. All were malnourished.
One of Finley's bite wounds had pierced the bone of his leg, and infection had spread through the bone. It was too late to save him and he was in such terrible pain that he had to be put to sleep.
They needed a lot of treatment and it took three months for them to fully heal. By then it was too late to release them so they stayed here, to hibernate for the winter. In spring they will return to the wild.
Logan self-admitted. This happens quite often - an extremely sick hog will turn up and move into one of the release pens. My head says a sick hog will head for shelter with food close by. My heart, however, knows differently. This poor boy had a deep wound across his head which was infected, and was also suffering with fluke and lungworm. He had so many ticks that they had made him anaemic, so he was very weak.
Hedgehogs are such brave, gentle little creatures with indomitable spirits. Within three weeks Logan went from the brink of death to being healthy enough to be released. However, he chose to stay and is, at present, hibernating in the same pen he chose as his sanctuary.
Ticks are attracted to the sick. It's not just because ill animals are slow moving, allowing ticks ingress. They cluster around infections, seeming to prefer the smell or taste of the blood there. A large cluster of ticks confined to one area on a hog is always cause for concern.
In the height of summer when all natural water sources have dried up, wild animals will risk anything for a drop of life-saving water. Little Lily was dying of thirst and could smell water down an uncovered drain. Driven by desperation she tried reaching the water and fell in. The house owner could hear her struggles but thought it was a rat, so left her all night long. In the morning, the house owner's wife couldn't bear the thought of any creature dying in such an agonising way, so rescued 'the rat'.
Lily had ingested a lot of foul water and was vomiting when brought here. Hedgehogs very rarely vomit and live. Her claws were bloody stumps and her paw pads were scraped and raw, from the hours she'd spent desperately trying to climb the walls of the drain.
Lily needed a lot of support and treatment for her pneumonia and infections, but she survived, and grew into a healthy young hog.
This tiny baby was found staggering around the finder's lawn at midday in 30C heat. Fortunately, as soon as the hoglet was secured the finder phoned for advice, then brought him straight here. Button was severely dehydrated and was going into shock. Had the finder made the mistake of feeding him, it's very likely that Button would have died.
This baby wasn't so lucky. Found out on the lawn at 10am, alert but cold and wobbly, the finder brought him in and gave him food and water. By 3pm little Pod had collapsed and was unresponsive, and was brought here. He died within the hour.
This baby's finder had read that staggering is a sign of dehydration, so when she found this tiny hoglet out in the day, looking tipsy, she gave him water with a syringe. Some of the water went down into his lungs. Fortunately she realised her mistake quickly and he was rushed here. Otis had a very long hard and, at times, painful struggle, but he survived.
If you saw a child hit by a car your first thought wouldn’t be to rush and make her a sandwich. And it wouldn’t enter your head to think a heart attack victim would feel so much better if only you could get a bit of toast down him. But somehow this common sense goes out the window when we find a wildlife casualty.
A hedgehog lying out in the daytime and feeling cold to the touch, or moving lethargically or wobbling, is either dangerously dehydrated or going into shock.
Every system in a mammal’s body requires energy to function – even thinking burns up energy – and digesting food burns up a lot. So when a hedgehog is very ill, either through injury, dehydration or sickness, their body goes into emergency survival mode, so not a scrap of energy is wasted. The animal’s autonomic system shuts down all non-essential functions such as digestion, reproduction, etc, so that the energy these functions would normally use can be redirected into the vital organs which maintain life. Even the energy it takes to keep warm is redirected, which is why you will often find a sick hog out in the daytime, trying to get warmth from the sun.
By offering food to a severely compromised animal you force that precious energy to be redirected back into the digestive system, and away from these vital organs, meaning they do not receive oxygenated blood, waste is not removed or purified, and cells start to die.
What you will see is the hedgehog seeming to ‘perk up’ after feeding. This is because her system has been forced to exit the survival mode and return to normal, in order to digest the food. But a few hours or a day or so later (depending on age) the hog will stop eating and deteriorate, seemingly for no reason. This is because while her energy was being spent digesting the food, her vital organs were left to fail. Even if the hog survives this stage she will have suffered organ damage that will always leave her weak and susceptible.
With the best of intentions so many people kill so many hedgehogs this way and, worryingly, I’ve even known a few rescues to make this mistake, too.
So please, never give food to a hedgehog casualty found out in the daytime. And never try to offer water directly into the casualty’s mouth. There is a real danger it will end up in the animal’s lungs, not their stomach, and she will die. Bring her indoors away from flies, put her in a high sided box or container (even sick hogs can climb), put a tee-shirt or tea-towel or some kitchen roll in with her so she can hide, provide a dish of some lukewarm water (body temperature water will be absorbed faster than cold), then leave her in peace in a quiet room, so she can feel safe enough to drink for herself while you phone a rescue.
These first few hours of rescue are critical, and food really is the last thing she needs.
Flies will lay their eggs on anything that is still and will provide food for their offspring, including a sick hedgehog. Bobbin had been bitten by a dog and the blood had attracted flies. Fly eggs look like tiny rice grains and are clumped together. A fly blown hog is an emergency as within just a few hours the eggs will hatch into maggots, and begin to eat the hedgehog alive. Luckily Bobbin was brought in before the eggs had hatched.
This poor boy was spotted running round a garden frantically, occasionally stopping and trying to bite his own neck. He had a wound that looked like a strimmer injury, running behind his ear and down his neck. The wound was teeming with maggots and some had migrated down into his ear canal. He was being eaten alive and was in agony.
After removing hundreds of maggots with tweezers and suction, Dougal had a little anaesthetic so the maggots deep inside his ear could be removed. His infected wound responded well to antibiotics and within 4 weeks Dougal was fully recovered.
When a garden shed was demolished a nest containing five tiny babies, around 18 days old, was discovered beneath. With no mum around, and now exposed to soaring temperatures, these hoglets would have quickly died of dehydration. When I collected them from the finder I advised that the mum, if able, will return to the nest site. The finder watched and waited, and five hours later was rewarded for her vigil by the sight of an anxious mum searching through the destroyed nest.
On admittance each hoglet weighed less than 100g. Their skin felt dry and looked baggy. The following morning they were all around 140g, which shows just how extreme the level of their dehydration was.
The time between conception and birth is around five weeks and, once born, the hoglets continue to develop at an amazing speed. When they were admitted these hoglets' eyes and ears had only just opened and their tummies had yet to grow fur.
This is the same hoglet, just four days later. Already you can see that the once puppy-like rounded snout has grown into a longer, more pointed and recognisable hedgehog shape. His eyes and ears are now fully open and fur is beginning to cover his tummy.
Being reunited with their mum, named Mercy, and her nourishing milk, these little hoglets stand an excellent chance of survival. And with mum now safe and receiving the best food, and no longer stressed by thirst and hunger, she will also quickly recover from the strains of giving birth.
It’s not only hedgehogs that find their way here. This little Starling had been predated from his nest by a Magpie, who then accidentally dropped him at the feet of a gardener, who brought him here. After ten days of hand-feeding the little bird learned to feed himself and practiced flying every minute of the day.
For a couple of hours early each morning I put him out in a cage I’d hung from the tree where my garden Starlings gather, so he could learn their song. Fortunately they accepted him and, after just a few days, he joined their flock and flew to freedom.
Although thriving and finding his own natural food, he still visits every day for a snack of the hedgehog food he was raised on.
During the height of summer, with its short nights, nursing mums are sometime seen out during the early morning or evening, before full dark, to maximise the time available to hunt for food. These mums will appear alert and purposeful, and are the exception to the rule, ‘Out in the day, not okay.’ A hedgehog out in sunlight moving slowly or erratically, or laying down in the open, is sick and needs urgent medical help.
This is Harolda, seen out in daylight and, thankfully, immediately brought to me for treatment. She was overwhelmed by a large burden of four different internal parasites, but thanks to her speedy rescue will make a full recovery.
A healthy curled hedgehog should be round; as wide as he is long. Little Wilson was spotted out, walking around, on a hot day. The finder went indoors to Google what to do. When he came out the little hoglet had gone. He wasn’t found again until the next day, and by then he was very near death.
He was emaciated, dehydrated, and covered in so many ticks that he was severely anaemic. His gums were white and he was gasping for breath. It took two weeks of intensive care before Wilson could stand, and only then by leaning against a support.
It’s been a long hard journey for this little boy, and a miracle that he has survived. But today he is well on the way to full recovery.
If you see a hedgehog out in the daytime it is sick and needs urgent medical help. Please grab first, ask questions later.
Little Louis was seen running down a main road by a driver, who kindly stopped the traffic. He was in such a poor state and so covered in ticks the finder didn’t really want to pick him up, until a kind passer-by gave him a bag. The finder took him to the vets who, fortunately, were wildlife-friendly. He was anaesthetised and de-ticked (and named, after the little prince born that day), then referred to me.
He was so frail that I couldn't give him anti-parasite medication for the first few days, just hand feeds, warmth and antibiotics for his pneumonia. Given the right support, these gentle little creatures are capable of near miraculous recovery and a week later he was feeding himself and his treatment started.
By the third week in care he was bright and inquisitive, had gained weight and was on the road to recovery. As he gained strength I was able to treat him for the remaining parasite burden he had picked up from being forced to eat infected invertibrates to survive.
If you know you have hedgehogs in your area, please don’t let your dog out in the garden after dark without supervising him, or putting him on an extendable lead. No matter how sweet and friendly your dog is, he is still a predator, and his basic instincts can cause catastrophic damage in just a few seconds. Gabriel is a large adult male, yet suffered four deep puncture wounds from a small terrier. Because he was immediately brought to me before infection could take hold he was successfully treated. However, the stress of being in captivity lowered his natural immunity, allowing the parasite burden he was carrying to multiply out of his control. That meant poor Gabriel had to spend another 3 weeks in the hospital – a long time out of a short little life. But he survived.
Little May, unfortunately didn’t. Her jaw had been crushed and she had such neurological damage from bites that she couldn’t be saved. Within an hour of being brought to me she, and the babies she was carrying, was put to sleep. She was probably out collecting nesting material for her birthing nest when she was attacked. The finder, and owner of the ‘gentle, soppy dog’, was devastated. Please supervise dogs after dark.
Hedgehogs face so many adversities: thirst, starvation, lack of habitat, night traffic, strimmers.... the list is almost endless. Please don't add to their troubles by letting your dog roam unsupervised after dark.
If your dog has bitten a hedgehog please take it to a rescue immediately, as open wounds on a wild animal, no matter how small, can quickly get infected and fly-blown, and without antibiotics the hedgehog will die.