Hoglet season is in full swing and I am inundated with little spiky orphans.
The reasons for them coming into care and many and varied. In some cases nests have been disturbed whilst gardening and mum has abandoned the babies. In other cases, it is likely that something has happened to mum – she has been killed or injured.
Each of the babies will be cared for until it is big enough to go back to the wild. That is likely to be at around 8 weeks old and 500g+.
Their treatment depends upon their age and what is wrong with them. Hoglets whose eyes have not yet opened will need hand feeding by syringe until they learn to lap by themselves.
Even tiny hoglets can pick up internal parasites if they have spent any period of time in the wild having to fend for themselves. If mum had internal parasites, she can also pass them on to her babies and these start to show up from a few weeks old.
It is hard but rewarding work caring for hoglets. Hygiene has to be scrupulous because they can be very vulnerable at a young age. All feeding equipment must be sterilised after every feed. Bedding needs changing frequently.
Once weaned, they make a huge mess stomping through their food bowls and so their cages can need cleaning several times a day. Like with adult hedgehogs, their poo needs testing regularly if they are not gaining weight or show symptoms of illness. This is to check for internal parasites that may need treating. Whilst some baby hedgehogs come into rescue and do not need any treatment, others can struggle with parasite burdens from a young age.
Once they are ready to return to the wild, they are released to where they came from or to other suitable locations if that is not possible. They will be given food, water and nest boxes to ease their transition back to the wild.
Hedgehog behaviour comes naturally to them and being raised by humans does not disadvantage them as long as handling has been minimised during care. They soon learn to forage for themselves back in the wild.
The video below shows hedgehog behaviour at a very young age. The huffing is his natural warning to stay away and is used as a defense in the wild.
This year seems to be particularly bad for hoglets. Many are coming in at a much lower weight than is normal for their age, which suggests that mum may be struggling to give them a good start. I’ve also seen a 400% increase in admissions of orphans compared with last year.
There are many other factors that can influence the numbers coming into rescue, including increased awareness of the plight of hedgehogs, other hedgehog rescues in the vicinity closing and hot dry weather….
I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can support my work here.