Blind hedgehogs

Blind wild hedgehog
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How can you tell if a hedgehog is blind?

I’ve only personally encountered three blind hedgehogs in over six years of hedgehog rescue but I’m often asked this question by other hedgehog rescues.

Sometimes it is obvious that the hedgehog is blind because it will have no eyes at all due to injury or disease. One blind hedgehog had opaque eyes that were tinged blue. It was likely born that way.

With others, it can be less obvious and takes a number of steps and tests to diagnose. Hedgehogs mainly rely on their sense of smell and so they can cope well without one eye and can be released to the wild. This is not the case for a completely blind hedgehog.

Heathcliffe blind hedgehog

Blind hedgehog Heathcliffe walking with his nose high in the air

These are some of the tests that can be used to help diagnose blindness. These should always be undertaken alongside a diagnosis from a vet and working closely with an experienced wildlife rescue.

1.Vet test of the eyes to check pupil reaction to see if they react normally. This check will also look at any abnormalities in the eyes eg cataracts or injury.

2. Setting up an obstacle course to see if the hedgehog is able to easily navigate around obstacles. Heathcliffe (pictured) ran up to walls and bumped into them and was not able to identify shallow steps. Over time, a hedgehog may learn to navigate obstacles as the location becomes familiar so it is important to observe this behaviour early on.

3. Behavioural observations. A blind hedgehog will often come out in the day when it is first released into an outdoor enclosure. Over time they can become accustomed to the difference in temperatures between night and day (enabling them to exhibit more normal nocturnal behaviour) and so it is also important to monitor this from the start of them being placed outdoors.

When I was inexperienced, I released a hedgehog in my garden thinking it was normal. I couldn’t understand why I kept seeing it coming out in daytime, even though it was free of parasites and injuries that might otherwise cause this behaviour. In fact, he was completely blind.

4. Use of the nose and vocalisation. In my experience, blind hedgehogs use their sense of smell more. They may walk with their nose higher in the air – like Heathcliffe (pictured) and may sniff the air more than other hedgehogs. They may also be noisier in their snuffling compared with other hedgehogs – almost like they are using this for echo-location. Of course, this requires a good knowledge of ‘normal’ hedgehog behaviour!

Heathcliffe trying to escape

Heathcliffe trying to find an escape route from his enclosed garden. He is blind but he knows someone is there due to a combination of smell and sound.

So what happens to blind hedgehogs? This is where it gets contentious. The welfare of the animal and laws around captivity of wild animals are, of course, paramount. For this reason, some wildlife rescues will put a blind hedgehog to sleep.

I have released all 3 blind hedgehogs to enclosed gardens. These are sites where I am confident that they will receive a good quality of life and be able to exhibit natural behaviours. They learn their way around the enclosed areas and are able to forage naturally for food, as well as being given supplementary food. Enclosed gardens should not have heavy foliage, such as ivy, growing up the walls. Hedgehogs (even blind ones!) are very good climbers and can climb the foliage and escape.

Hedgehogs can live for many years in captivity and so this care needs to be provided indefinitely.

What would you do?

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about my work and how to support it here.

Hedgehog internal parasites

Studying poo under the microscope
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A majority of hedgehogs admitted into my hospital will have a high burden of internal parasites.

Although it is normal for hedgehogs to have a few worms, a healthy hedgehog will develop a natural immunity to them. If a hedgehog is sick, however, it tips this careful balance tips in favour of the parasites, sending the hedgehog on a downward spiral. A high parasite burden will stop the hedgehog getting enough nutrients from their food and they will slowly starve. A poorly hedgehog is less able to cope with internal parasites and so the downward decline is exascerbated.

Once they are critically sick, a hedgehog will display the unnatural behaviour (for a nocturnal creature) of coming out in the day – often due to starvation.

So how do hedgehogs get internal parasites and why are sick hedgehogs coming in with so many more types of parasite?

We think of hedgehogs as voracious slug munchers. It is true, of course, that hedgehogs do eat slugs, but they are not high up on the menu. I mean, would you choose to eat slugs if crunchy beetles were also available? Looking at the chart below, you can see that slugs, snails and even earthworms are lower down the hedgehog menu.

Slugs, snails and earthworms are also the intermediate host to three of the key internal parasites that affect hedgehogs.

wild hedgehog diet

wild hedgehog diet

The internal parasites seen by hedgehog rescues vary across the country. I don’t find the dreaded Thorny Headed Worm here in York. I do find lots of roundworm and fluke though and a few cases of lungworm. Here’s which parasite is carried by which host.

Roundworm = earthworms

Fluke = slugs and snails

Lungworm – slugs and snails

These internal parasites can only be correctly identified by looking at the hedgehog’s poo under a microscope. There are some other signs that can indicate a particular parasite but checking poo is still essential. Fluke can cause excessive hyperactivity and the poo to smell particularly horrid. I can smell fluke before I see it under the microscope. Hedgehogs with lungworm can have a terrible deep cough like a smoker’s cough.

So why are hedgehogs coming in with a greater range of internal parasites than I have seen previously? Well, I’m not a scientist so I will leave that to the experts but I note several things. As a gardener, I’ve seen fewer beetles in recent years, even though I am an organic gardener and I create habitats for beetles. Habitat loss will affect hedgehog’s access to beetles. Concrete gardens with a square of grass and nothing else are not attractive to beetles. Pesticides sprayed on crops target beetles and may explain why there are fewer hedgehogs around farmland. If a hedgehog cannot find enough food, they start to starve, reducing their immunity to internal parasites.

Milder winters are not killing off slugs and snails. There are more of them around. In the absence of other foods, hedgehogs will munch on them. They don’t know they carry parasites!

The time of year also affects what parasites hedgehogs come into rescue with. In Winter there are few beetles around. Late born babies often have a high burden of roundworm, picked up from eating earthworms – one of the few food sources still around.

You can read more here about the causes of the decline in hedgehog numbers.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

Hedgehog roundworm

Roundworm egg. Credit: Whitby Wildlife

Hedgehog lungworm

Adult lungworm. Credit: Whitby Wildlife

But before you go reaching for the slug pellets to eradicate the hosts, don’t forget that slug pellets kill hedgehogs. Try organic methods of controlling slugs. I use nematodes, such as Nemaslug.

The best thing you can do to help is to create a healthy habitat for hedgehogs through wildlife friendly gardening and helping to prevent hazards that can cause injury. A healthy environment should mean healthy uninjured hedgehogs that are able to tolerate and self-manage their worm burdens.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. Like all wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self funded and you can find out how to support my work here.

Rare blonde wild hedgehog

blonde wild hedgehog, leucistic wild hedgehog
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Such a pleasure to be able to care for this very rare and beautiful dark blonde wild hedgehog.

Blonde wild hedgehogHe is 100% a European hedgehog but his skin pigmentation is different. He is not a true albino because he does not have red eyes and his spines are not white. He is also not fully blonde due to the darkness of his spines. Blonde hedgehogs are also known as leucistic hedgehogs, due to the absence of normal skin pigmentation. This can also be seen in other species e.g. leucistic starlings.

This is the first time that I have seen a blonde hedgehog and they are very rare in the wild. I would love to see an albino hedgehog too. I know that there are some in York and also nearby areas.

Although rare on the mainland, around 25% of the hedgehogs on the island of North Ronaldsay and the Channel Island of Alderney are blonde. You can find out more about them and the distribution of European hedgehogs here

He is such a handsome and unusual chap. It is quite likely that his parents and siblings were normal coloured.

Dark blonde wild hedgehogHe is being treated for roundworm after being spotted out in the day. He has been visiting the finder’s garden since at least April this year. He is underweight for his size and should be much heavier. Pinkie also had a few fleas – also rare in hedgehogs unless they are unwell.

Fingers crossed I can fix him….

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded and you can find out more about my work and how to support it here.

 

 

Dogs attacking hedgehogs

Wild hedgehog abscess
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I love dogs and I love hedgehogs but sadly I am seeing an increasing number of hedgehogs coming into rescue after being attacked by dogs.

Many hedgehogs are injured by dogs in private gardens and in parks and countryside when out on walks. A number of hedgehogs I have admitted with bite wounds have been from gardens on the edge of city parks. Hedgehogs love to live in the piles of leaves that dogs love sniffing through.

The problem is that dog canines bite deep into the hedgehog. The wound then quickly seals over and can then be hard to spot. Many people let the hedgehog go again thinking that it is okay. Then, up to several weeks later, abscesses appear when the deep wounds get infected.

A hedgehog with an abscess will struggle due to the infection and then often succumb to other problems, such as an increased parasite burden and it is a downward spiral, ending up with the hedgehog struggling and then being seen in daylight (when they are nocturnal).

There is also usually more than one infected wound – all four canines will normally puncture the hedgehog.

Abscess

Hedgehog with an infected abscess on its face caused by a bite wound

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Hedgehog with a burst abscess. This hedgehog had 8 abscesses caused by individual puncture wounds from teeth.

Treating abscesses requires a lot of TLC. The abscesses will have to be cleaned daily. Deep abscesses may also have to be drained by a vet. The hedgehog will have to be put on a strong antibiotic.

Although dogs are a major cause of bite wounds, there are also other animals that can attack them, including foxes and rats, although rat attacks are rare. Cats don’t tend to cause problems for hedgehogs.

The best way to prevent dog attacks and dog bite wounds in your garden is to ideally keep the dog out of the garden at night. If you do need to let it out, then keep it on a lead. Always check for hedgehogs first. Turn an outside light on before you go out, which will also help to encourage any hedgehogs to move away.

You need to be particularly vigilant if your dog has attacked a hedgehog before. It will likely do so again.

If your dog does pick up a hedgehog when you are out on a walk, it is always best to get the hedgehog checked over by a rescue, particularly if you see any blood on the dog or hedgehog.

As well as attacking adult hedgehogs, dogs can also disturb hedgehog nests so it is particularly important to be vigilant around the breeding season from May to September. You may have a hedgehog nest in the garden that may be disturbed by a dog even during the daytime….

If you have an injured hedgehog, there is information about what to do here

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can support my work by making a donation or purchasing my handmade silver jewellery that raises funds for my hedgehog work.

I am pleased to say that both the hedgehogs featured in these images have made a good recovery.

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.

hogpiechart

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

You can also make a donation here.

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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.

You can also make a donation here.

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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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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