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Home Forums Carers / rescuing a hedgehog AUTUMN JUVENILE WEIGHTS

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    There is a lot of confusion surrounding hibernation weights and whether or not to ‘rescue’. Hedgehog rehabilitators are very often stretched to capacity and struggle to cope with the influx of autumn juveniles from well meaning individuals around this time of year. Keeping a healthy hedgehog in captivity for such a long period of time, very often in small cages, is very stressful and can result in an over burden of parasites and other health problems.

    We had a lot of autumn juveniles around last year and it can be quite a dilemma, especially with our unpredictable weather. All of them made the minimum 450 grams recommended by the BHPS, fed on high protein kitten biscuits. Two of the smallest were the hardest to catch and weigh. When I finally caught them in December they had just made the 450 grams. They continued visiting for their dinner until late December. Both made it through the winter and until a few weeks ago were regular visitors, with the female going on to produce youngsters! Given a plentiful supply of quality food (NOT MEALWORMS!) youngsters can quickly gain weight ready for hibernation, between 10 to 20 grams per night.

    Here is the BHPS advice…


    I posted this earlier in the “Hedgehog Signs & Sightings” section, but thought it was worth repeating here.

    This article by Dr Toni Bunnell in response to the MailOnLine’s recent story about whether or not we should feed hedgehogs in the run-up to hibernation makes very interesting reading. Dr. Bunnell is a hedgehog rescuer/rehabilitator and has been collecting data for over 27 years. Note that Dr Bunnell states that hedgehogs need to be a minimum weight of 650g to survive hibernation. Most rescuers/rehabilitators agree with this.

    The West European Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), that exists in the UK, is in a state of critical endangerment. It is not merely the catastrophic decline in numbers over the past few decades, but the rate of decline, that is giving cause for concern. The reasons cited include the decrease in available food, the invertebrate population having fallen by 45% in the past 35 years. It is well established that, in order to survive a spell in hibernation, a hedgehog needs to achieve a minimum prehibernation weight and percentage of body fat, in particular brown fat that is slow to metabolise. Analysis of some of the data I have collected, during the 27 years I have spent running York Hedgehog Rescue, revealed that, in order to have a realistic prospect of surviving hibernation in the UK, a hedgehog needs to be a minimum of 650g, with a rounded end (sphere-shaped).That is, a satisfactory weight for its size. As invertebrate food becomes ever scarcer, it is more and more important for people to support their local hedgehog population by supplying food such as cat biscuits (e.g. IAMS), but not peanuts or dried mealworms. In the UK hedgehogs typically hibernate between September and April. However, sudden falls in temperature have been known to trigger short spells of hibernation during the summer months (Bunnell, personal observation, plus countless reported incidents from other rescues in the UK). It is important to remember that it is not necessary for hedgehogs in the UK to hibernate in order to ensure their survival. Indeed, on the North Island of New Zealand, where winter temperatures are significantly higher than in the UK, the same species of hedgehog does not hibernate at all. Hibernation is purely a product of environmental circumstances. The single biggest trigger for hibernation is a sudden fall in temperature and not, as often erroneously proposed, the lack of availability of food. I have repeatedly come across statements from people saying that they are reducing the amount of food given to hedgehogs in their care, in an attempt to force them to hibernate. This is foolhardy and entirely wrong. It will not trigger hibernation but merely starve the hedgehog concerned, thus preventing it from reaching a weight that would allow it to survive subsequent periods of hibernation necessitated by a drop in temperature. In addition, once the onset of hibernation has been triggered, hedgehogs do not hibernate continuously; rather they exhibit a behaviour known as periodic arousal. They emerge from hibernation intermittently, for varying amounts of time, during which they forage and eat. This allows them to replenish their reserves. They will then lapse into hibernation once more, until triggered to emerge again. This process can be repeated several times during the course of the winter months. A sample of hibernation data that I have collected over the past 27 years is given in the chapter on hibernation in my book: Rescuing the Disappearing Hedgehog:…/rescuing-the-disappearing-hedgeh…/ Various factors come into play when determining the time of onset of hibernation for individual hedgehogs. These include the weight/size relationship, age of the animal, and temperature change. Nowhere in this equation does food availability feature regarding the onset of hibernation of hedgehogs. In conclusion: THERE IS NO BENEFIT WHATSOEVER OF WITHDRAWING FOOD. IF YOU WANT TO HELP HEDGEHOGS IN THE UK, SUPPLEMENTARY FEED THEM ALL THE YEAR ROUND. Thank you for reading this. Please share far and wide.


    Hi Prickles,

    The above article contains some sound information, particularly after the Daily Mail’s recent misleading and potentially harmful piece on not feeding hedgehogs during the run up to hibernation. However, the latest advice from the BHPS in the above link was put together in collaboration with the RSPCA, Vale Wildlife Hospital and the British Wildlife Rehabilitation council, after concerns were raised that people were actively going out looking for healthy hedgehogs under 600 grams to take into care!

    The 450 gram female that I refer to above survived hibernation despite having lung worm which she was later treated for. Her offspring are still regular visitors. 🙂


    Dear Penny,
    Many thanks for the advice on here. I have a feeding station with 3 bowls of Ark Wildlife Hedgehog Original and Spikes Semi Moist, plus 4 bowls of water. I put the camera up last night and watched 60 clips of hedgehog activity. There are some smaller ones who seem to be eating/drinking well. I will put out a tennis ball to get an idea of their size next time I put the camera out. At this stage I do not want to interfere and I will encourage them to eat/drink as much as they want in natural surroundings.


    Hi TawnyKin,

    It’s good to hear that you still have plenty of hogs around, many people have reported that theirs have already disappeared. Ours are still very busy munching their way through 5 dishes of kitten biscuits most nights, the majority of them here don’t tend to hibernate until there are a few more leaves on the ground to make nice cosy nests with. There are no small juveniles around at the moment, but then they didn’t start showing up until October, November time last year. It’s always a dilemma knowing what to do for the best when we never know what the weather is going to throw at us, but they were still visiting with hard frosts and temperatures down as low as minus 6 degrees last winter. I’m not sure how well they would cope if we had a sudden downfall of snow though.

    I like the idea of the tennis ball, if we spot any new arrivals I shall give that one a go. 🙂


    Hi, we are in south UK and still quite mild at present. They didn’t emerge from hibernation until 31st March this year and I didn’t see any young ones until late in August.

    I was so pleased to get all clips of hedgehogs and no rats. Quite windy here, so lots of leaves to nest with. We have had a rescued hedgehog from another city released here and I reckon he is using the hedgehog house but our local visitors use the semi rural setting we are in to nest.

    I think they hibernated at the end of November last year and they all disappeared together, like someone had flipped a switch. I’ll put up the camera in a month’s time and see how they are getting on.

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