How can I tell if a hedgehog is sick?
A hedgehog seen out in the day is uncommon. Seeing one out in daylight could be a key indicator that the hedgehog is sick and in need of your help, especially if it is during winter time when most hedgehogs should be hibernating. Sick hedgehogs could be thin, dehydrated, possibly poisoned or have breathing problems. Injured hedgehogs may be seen with open wounds, fractures, bites or burns.
Image credit: Bill Fairs
If you suspect a hedgehog is sick, in the first instance, you should visually examine it in order to gage an understanding as to whether or not it may need medical attention. Things you can look out for are:
- Does its skin spring back when you pull up a couple of spines? If the skin appears to stay in place, the hedgehog could be dehydrated. Ensure the hedgehog has access to plenty of water if you suspect dehydration.
- Does the hedgehog look thin? It could be malnourished and will need a nutritious food source in order to build up its weight.
- Does the hedgehog have a funny smell? It could have an infection somewhere on its body, meaning it will more than likely need professional medical attention.
- Is the hedgehog having trouble breathing/coughing? This could be a sign of lungworm and the hog will need urgent medical attention.
What should I do if I find a sick or injured hedgehog?
If you are concerned about a hedgehog which you have come across, you should think carefully about deciding what to do next. You should not take a hedgehog too far away from where you originally found it unless it is severely injured, in which case you should take it to the vet or a local hedgehog rescue centre in a sturdy, high-sided cardboard box lined with a sheet, towel without holes or ripped up newspaper. If you find a hedgehog alive and in a dangerous place, for example on a main road, you should move it to a safe location nearby to where you found it. Ensure that you wear thick gloves at all times when handling a hedgehog to avoid being pricked.
If you are caring for a sick hedgehog, it is important that they have a good heat source from, for example, a heat lamp or well-wrapped hot water bottle (to avoid burning the hedgehog). The hedgehog will also need to be kept clean, meaning its ‘bedding’ (i.e. the towel, sheet or ripped up newspaper) will need to be changed daily.
Sick or injured hedgehogs are susceptible to hypothermia. You can look out for symptoms such as the hedgehog staggering around or ‘sunbathing’ (spreading themselves out on the floor in an attempt to quickly get some heat into their bodies). If you suspect that a hedgehog has hypothermia, again, take it inside placed in a high-sided cardboard box lined with a sheet, towel without holes or ripped up newspaper and ensure that the hog has heat by placing a well-wrapped hot water bottle inside the box. If you are placing a hot water bottle in the box, make sure that the hedgehog has enough room to move away from the hot water bottle to avoid overheating. It is vital to keep this hot water bottle warm, as letting it go cold will do more harm than good. Ensure that you check the temperature of the hot water bottle frequently and change the water if necessary.
Once you have taken all of the advised steps stated above, you can contact The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) on 01584 890 801 who will further assist you on next steps. If you think that the hedgehog needs urgent or professional medical attention, you can take it to your local veterinary practice.
With reference to:
‘Care and Treatment of Sick and Injured Hedgehogs by The British Hedgehog Preservation Society’: https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/leaflets/L8-Care-and-Treatment.pdf
‘Sick or injured hedgehog? What to do if you find a hedgehog that looks unwell’: https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/sick-or-injured-hedgehog/