My hedgehog rescue story

European hedgehog hoglet
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I’m frequently asked how I started rescuing hedgehogs and became a crazy hedgehog lady…. so here goes!

The inspiration started way way way back. Here is my mum as a girl with a hedgehog in her garden. So it must always have been in my genes!

Mum with hedgehog as young girl

My mum as a young girl with a hedgehog

I remember camping trips with my parents where we would hear hedgehogs snuffling around outside the tent. We even fed them hedgehog flavour crisps – well it was the 1980s! I now know better and would never feed crisps or bread.

One of my first dates with my now husband was to a hedgehog sanctuary in Devon. I got to hold a baby hedgehog and was smitten.

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Me in 2002 with a young hoglet at a Devon hedgehog sanctuary

When we relocated to York, I never expected to find hedgehogs in a city but I hoped and hoped. Then, one night, we came home to a hedgehog on the doorstep. I started feeding and watering them and more came. We soon had 7+ visiting every night.

It turns out that suburbia is one of the last and best refuges for hedgehogs.

After a few months, I spotted a hedgehog with a leaf on its back. I thought it was so cute that it had got a leaf stuck on its prickles. But I was wrong. Closer inspection revealed that the ‘leaf’ was green plastic netting from one of those fat balls that you feed to birds. The plastic was entangled all round the hedgehog.

I googled ‘hedgehog rescue york’ and found an amazing lady who has been rescuing hedgehogs for many years and it all started from there. I never knew until then about the plight of the hedgehog, how numbers were rapidly dwindling and how lucky I was to have them visiting my garden.

I have taken in more and more hedgehogs over the years as my skills and knowledge have grown. I started off looking after hedgehogs that had been treated for ailments but just needed fattening up for release. Then I started taking on poorly ones. I bought a microscope and joined lots of forums where hedgehog rescuers share knowledge and advice.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

This is now my 6th year of hedgehog rescue and my success rate is around 80%. There are always hedgehogs that are found too late and are beyond help but I try my best with every hedgehog that arrives.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story of how it all started. Like all other wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self-funded. Many people are surprised to hear that rescues receive no money from the Government or larger charities. We all fund our work ourselves and could not do it without your help. You can find out more about supporting my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.com

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Day in the life of a hedgehog rescue

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby
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I’ve started to write this blog about 100 times and failed. That tells you quite a bit about a day in the life of a hedgehog rescue! Well, no two days are the same but let me give you a secret glimpse into a day here.

6.00am – Get up and go and check all the patients to see who has survived the night. Collect up food bowls, empty uneaten food and soak them in sterilising liquid. Check on the wild hedgehogs in the garden and top up their food bowls.

Washing up in my hedgehog rescue

There is always piles of washing to be done

6.15am – Grab a quick breakfast on the go

6.30am Weight checks for all hedgehogs. Check list of who needs which medicines. Give all treatments. Some hedgehogs may require 3 or more different medications. Hand feed hoglets. Update all medical records. Clean all cages and replace newspaper and blankets. Put fleece blankets on to wash. Sanitise all hospital surfaces. Clean and sweep the floor.

Towels drying in my hedgehog hospital

Fleece blankets are quick drying. I do at least one wash a day.

7.30am Respond to messages received asking for advice about hedgehogs.

8.00am Try and fit in a couple of hours of freelance work. I used to have a full time job but it was impossible to fit it around the hedgehogs.

10am. Check up on sick patients and administer fluids under the skin/syringe feeds for the sickest. Hand feed any baby hoglets.

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby

Hand feeding a hedgehog baby

10.30am Receive two calls about poorly hedgehogs. Make arrangements for admission.

11am Check on stocks of food and medicine. Order any items that are running low.

12 noon Admit two hedgehogs. Checks done to identify injuries and illnesses. Fluids given and hedgehogs placed into intensive care.

1pm. Try to fit in some more freelance work in between following up leads about potential release sites for hedgehogs. Check out the locations on google earth and schedule in visits to go and check them.

2.30pm Undertake final health check for a hedgehog that is ready for release. Poo sample tested under the microscope. Test a line up of poo samples for my hedgehogs and those out with foster carers. Mark the hedgehog ready for release. Pack up a bag of food for the finders to use over the first few days. Hand feed hoglets.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

3.30pm. Another call asking for advice about a nest of hedgehogs that has been disturbed. Offer advice for the nest to be monitored.

4pm. Check messages asking for advice about poorly hedgehogs. Make some jewellery (which I make to raise funds for the rescue). Update hedgehog admission records and tidy up the shelves in the hospital to put away items of food that have kindly been donated.

5pm. Clean out any hoglets. They make such a mess that they need cleaning at least twice a day. Check on any patients in intensive care. Undertake food rounds to top up food in all cages. Hand feed hoglets.

6.30pm Finder arrives to pick up a hedgehog for release.

7pm Manage to grab some dinner but it is interrupted by a call about a sick hedgehog.

8.30pm. Admit a hedgehog covered in fly strike and ticks. Spend the rest of the evening removing fly strike, giving fluids and intensive care. Hand feed hoglets.

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Ticks removed from a new admission

9.00pm. The hedgehogs have pulled up the lining of one of the cages. Ask my lovely husband to undertake some maintenance whilst I look after the new admission.

10.30pm. Final hedgehog checks.

Try and get some sleep and do it all again the next day!

I run a small hedgehog rescue in York, England. My work is entirely self funded. You can find out more about my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.com

 

Hedgehog with foot injuries

Hedgehog with foot injuries
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Meet Legolas. He looks gorgeous and bright eyed but this was not the case when he arrived into my hedgehog rescue.

Sadly, I am seeing an increasing number of hedgehogs coming into rescue with foot and leg injuries. If only hedgehogs could talk and then I would know for sure what had caused them. I do know that they face many dangers out there in the wild. They can get attacked by foxes or dogs. They can get their feet trapped in things including the log edging that is popular for use around borders. Road traffic accidents can cause broken legs.

 

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Legolas arrived with both feet badly swollen and infected. He also had a large wound on his left hand side. He smelt strongly of infection.

Legolas injured feet on arrival

On arrival, I washed his wounds with antibacterial agent mixed with saline solution. Legolas was then treated over many weeks with antibiotics, pain relief (with added anti-infammatory ingredient) and daily topical would treatments.

Legolas with feet almost healed

It took months but you will see above that his feet eventually started to fully heal. He lost a few nails during the treatment but most eventually regrew. On release, he was only missing one nail – where the nail bed had been destroyed.

Legolas was lucky and he managed to keep his legs. Others are not so lucky. This is Rupert. He arrived with half a leg missing and just a stump left behind. He could not be left like this. The stump would drag on the ground and keep opening up the wound. He would be at risk of constant pain and infection. The only option for Rupert was amputation of the remainder of the stump.

Stump leg

It is hard to prevent these injuries but you can do your bit by keeping your dog under control in areas where there are hedgehogs and not letting them out at night. Take a close look at your garden and check for potential hazards, such as gaps between log roll edging or holes that a hedgehog could fall into and get injured.

If you do spot a limping hedgehog, seek urgent help. Fresh injuries are easier to treat before they become infected.

Leg injuries are also amongst the most expensive things for a hedgehog rescue to treat. They require many weeks of drugs and wound treatment. Amputations also have to be paid for, along with antibiotics to prevent infection. You can support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

Please join me in wishing Legolas a safe return to the wild.

Thank you for reading!

Hedgehog with metabolic bone disease

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Meet Benjamin. He is very poorly.

Benjamin was admitted to my rescue at only 330g. He has been surviving by eating bird seed over the Winter.

Benjamin has metabolic bone disease. Basically, his bones are very thin due to calcium deficiency. This is why he has problems walking. He will be in a lot of pain – it is like a human who has rickets or osteoporosis.

He was fed on a mix of sunflower hearts, mealworms and hedgehog biscuits but he has been seen picking out his favourite bits and leaving the hedgehog biscuits. This means that he will not have got enough calcium in his diet. Mealworms actively strip bones of calcium and sunflower hearts also have a calcium/phosphorus ratio that is too high.

There is little natural food around at this time of year and so his diet will not have been enriched by natural foods, such as the exoskeletons of beetles, that hedgehogs eat in the summer.

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The wild hedgehog diet. They will get calcium from the exoskeletons of beetles

Benjamin is receiving calcium injections and a high calcium diet. He has to be handled very carefully because his bones are so brittle, they can break easily. The thinnest bone is on his front right leg and this is the one that he struggles most to walk on.

It will be a long road to recovery for Benjamin – for the nutrients to build up in his bones. He will also require extensive hydrotherapy to build the strength in his bones and muscles.

As well as metabolic bone disease, he also has a high burden of internal parasites – fluke and roundworm which he also needs to fight but his immunity will be low due to his poor nutrition.

To avoid problems like this, please feed wild hedgehogs only cat/kitten biscuits, meaty cat or dog food (not gravy or fish flavours) or specialist hedgehog food. This diet will contain all the nutrients they need to supplement wild food.

Benjamin’s problems were diagnosed by a vet following an x-ray. It is vital not to self-diagnose or give hedgehogs supplements without a professional diagnosis. Giving too much vitamin D or calcium can cause many problems in wild hedgehogs that do not have metabolic bone disease.

I will keep you posted on his progress.

You can support my hedgehog rescue work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

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Amputee hedgehog

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Meet Rupert. He arrived with me a couple of months ago as a small hoglet. He was only 300g. When I inspected him I could smell that something wasn’t right. Wildlife rescuers go a lot by smell – you get to know the smell of infection and poo that is not normal. I often know something is wrong before I see it. On closer inspection I could see that Rupert was missing half of his rear back leg and it was infected.

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Gorgeous Rupert has such a lovely nature despite the challenges posed by his stump leg

I’ll never know what caused Rupert to lose his leg but it is possible that it was a fox or dog attack. I have been caring for him for several months to get him fit and healthy. As well as a stump leg, he was also full of internal parasites, like many Autumn juvenile hedgehogs.

Despite intensive treatment, Rupert’s stump did not heal fully (although the infection cleared) and it opened up whenever he tried to walk any distance. It was impossible for him to return to the wild in this state. The stump would get infected and cause pain and suffering.

Once he got to a good weight and parasite free, I took him for an amputation to remove the remaining stump.

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The stump has never fully healed and opens up when he walks any distance

Rupert is now on bed rest whilst he recovers from the operation and will return in two weeks to have the stitches removed.

What next for Rupert? Well, assuming there are no complications, the next stage will be the difficult bit. There are mixed views about returning 3 legged hedgehogs to the wild. Some say they can survive okay. They can certainly still move fast with 3 legs. Others say that they cannot groom properly and will be more susceptible to things like ticks. So…. next for me will be to find my personal resolution for the dilemma of whether to release him fully back to the wild or to an enclosed garden where he will be safe but will not be able to contribute towards maintaining the hedgehog population.

What would you do?

My work is entirely self-funded and I have to pay for operations like amputations as well as antibiotics and pain relief post operation. I will also have to pay again for him to have the stitches removed. I believe it is worth it to give him a second chance of life. You can support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

I’ll share more news about Rupert as he hopefully recovers….

Update May 2017

Rupert’s wound got infected not long after his operation. After a course of antibiotics, he was eventually well enough to return to nature. Due to the amount of intensive care during his rehabilitation, I decided to release him to an enclosed garden. He is now safe in a half acre garden where he can be monitored.

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Rupert on his release day

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Strimmed hedgehog

Hedgehog with strimmer injury
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The sound of people people using a strimmer sets my teeth on edge. I hate them! They do so much damage to wildlife including hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

This is the story of Holly and her journey to recovery from a terrible strimmer wound. She was found at the end of July with her head sliced open, underneath a Holly bush. You can see from the pictures where the strimmer blade has cut deep into her head.

Holly is lucky – a few mm closer and the blade would have entered her skull.

When Holly was found, it was Summer and flies had laid eggs in the wound and hatched into maggots. These had to be painstakingly removed one by one and then the wound washed out with antimicrobial wound treatment and saline.

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You can see where the blade has cut across Holly’s head

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Flies had laid eggs in the open wound, which had hatched into maggots

Holly was put on a course of antibiotics and pain relief. The wound was cleaned daily to stop infection and a special wound gel was added to aid healing.

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Holly’s wound after around 10 days of treatment. It has scabbed over but needs cleaning daily to prevent infection.

Eventually, the wound healed and new spines started to grow through where the wound was.

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New spines starting to grow though – around a month after treatment started

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Holly fit and well and ready to go back to the wild.

Holly is incredibly lucky. Sadly, injuries like Holly’s are far from uncommon. Many hedgehogs are not so fortunate and strimmer and mowing injuries are a major cause of suffering and death. It also took me 6 weeks of intensive care to nurse her back to health. To help prevent injuries and suffering please:

  • Check all areas of long grass carefully before mowing or strimming. Hedgehogs nest in long grass.
  • Ideally keep areas of grass long for wildlife and don’t strim at all.
  • Encourage everyone you know to check before they mow – a simple check can save hedgehogs as well as frogs, toads and other wildlife that loves to nest or forage in long grass.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England and have nursed hundreds of hedgehogs back to health. You can support my work at www.littlesilverhedgehog.etsy.com

My blog is full of tips and advice on helping wild hedgehogs – please take a look around my other blog posts and see what you can do to help our spiky friends.

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Hedgehogs ‘born free’!

Wild hedgehog
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It has been a very busy few weeks as the over-wintered hedgehogs are returned to the wild. I’ve released 38 so far since the start of Spring!

It has been late releasing them this year due to the cold night time temperatures until May. It has to be 5 degrees or above at night for at least 5 days in a row after release for them to be able to go. If it is too cold and frosty, there wont be enough insects around for them to eat.

Where possible, the hedgehogs are returned to where they came from. They will remember the area and the food sources and nest sites. Sometimes this isn’t possible though if the area has dangers – for example, if a hedgehog has been attacked by a dog in the garden or if it was found in a pond. I have strict criteria for new sites.

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Derek was found in early Spring struggling after hibernation. He had a high worm burden and ringworm.

To give them the best start back in the wild, the hedgehogs are all supported for at least the first few weeks. They are provided with food and water daily and they are given nest boxes filled with hay to give them shelter whilst they seek their own homes.

It is a bittersweet time because they have been cared for over winter for many months and I will miss them deeply but it is what hedgehog rescue is all about – getting them back to the wild to play their part in maintaining the wild population. Keeping them too long can cause them to get stressed, particularly males so, as soon as they are fit and well and the temperatures are okay, they are off!

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Autumn was found out in daylight – which 99% of the time means there is a problem. She had a wound, was missing an eye and had a high roundworm burden.

People often ask me if rehabilitation is successful. Well, I mark them all with a tiny bit of nail varnish which should last at least 12 months. So far, not a single hedgehog has come back to me poorly. Beyond the 12 months though is unknown….

Good luck out there hedgehogs!

I run a hedgehog hospital in York – to support my work please visit Little Silver Hedgehog jewellery

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