Blind hedgehogs – how to tell if a hedgehog is blind

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.

Octavia’s story – a hedgehog miracle!

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I wanted to share this video with you all – Octavia’s story. She came into my hedgehog hospital as a tiny hoglet only 153g. She had a terrible infected bite wound. It has been a long journey to recovery but she is now over 650g and ready for hibernation.

 

You can read more about Octavia’s injury was treated here.

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

Hedgehog wound treatment

Hoglet with facial injury
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Octavia is being treated for a nasty facial wound that has sadly become infected. I’m sorry for the graphic nature of these pictures but this is the kind of reality that wildlife rescues face on a daily basis.

I wish hedgehogs could talk and that I knew the cause of the wound. This one is possibly a strimmer or bite wound. Sadly, the wound has got infected and the skin underneath is dying (necrotic). She has an abscess in the neck area on the same side that you can’t see in this picture.

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Octavia when she arrived and prior to any treatment

Upon arrival, hedgehogs are checked to assess the nature of their wounds. They will also go through a range of other checks to assess their size, weight, general health and whether they have internal or external parasites.

Some hedgehogs will immediately be taken to a vet for treatment if the wound is very severe. Many will require x-ray to ascertain the extent of any damage and infection. With any wound, it is possible that an impact may have caused bones to break. Abscesses can also track deep into the bone. Many of these things are beyond the skills of a hedgehog rescue, who must always work closely with a vet.

Depending on the nature of the wound, it may also require draining. This is done by a vet using a syringe/scalpel to draw out the infected pus. The hedgehog is usually ‘gassed down’ for this procedure.

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Octavia after 5 days of treatment

I clean wounds using a mix of hibiscrub (an antibacterial fluid used in surgery) in a warm saline solution. This softens the scabs and aids their removal. It also cleans and sterilises the wound. Hedgehogs are obviously wild creatures and wounds may have picked up all kinds of dirt and debris.

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Some of the wound treatments I use

The treatment for wounds like this takes a long time. This wound is being cleaned regularly to soften the scabs and to keep it sterile. I alternate the application of various different topical treatments to the area beneath the scabs. In this case, I am alternating between a wound gel and veterinary grade manuka honey. These help to clear the infection and to promote healing.

Depending on the nature of the injury, pain relief may also be required as well as antibiotics. Octavia is receiving a special antibiotic that is very good at treating open wounds and abscesses. She will receive this for at least 7 days.

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

 

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 here.

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 here or by purchasing my handmade silver jewellery.

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

You can also make a donation here.

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Hedgehog with strimmer injury

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

You can also make a donation here.

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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