Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Prickly friends: Overwintering hedgehogs

This winter a few little creatures are responsible for taking most of my time. Well, not taking, just making most of my days. So here is my story of...


Early December when the winter had blown first of its cold breaths into my garden, I was to join Kristy cat on the window, during her everyday task of scanning the front garden for some action. And there was plenty. Little birds everywhere, fighting for pieces of bread crumbs and seeds that have fallen out of the feeder. And then, a wee, prickly figure staggering about with his very own slice of stale bread. It was early afternoon, and the weather was quite chilly, about -5C.

I was surprised to see a tiny hedgehog out in midday, during such a cold period, when it should have been in a 'deep sleep' mode by then. So tiny, it weighed only 200g, while a single hedgehog should weigh at least 600g to survive the winter and wake up after hibernating through the cold months. In a blink of a moment I decided to overwinter the poor little lad, even though the only experience I have had with hedgies was feeding them cat food and leftovers in the backyard. He (I later found out it was a 'he') must have been so starved out he would not let go of his stale bread. So I brought him in, and the next mission was to make him a new home. I connected two big rectangular PVC boxes with a PVC water pipe (thanks Dad).

I hardly knew anything about hedgehog care so I was learning along the way and googling up anything and everything on them. I named the little fella Billy Bob ( but any similarity with Thornton was accidental ;-). He had a severe respiratory inflammation and was so oblong and underweight he hardly resembled a hedgie (you can see how tiny he still was a few weeks after I've brought him in on the above photo). Since the vets here will rarely treat hedgies and even if they do, they will just do whatever needed to get rid of the annoying and demanding owner, it was just Google and me. Nevertheless, his health improved visibly within weeks, and so did his weight. He also had a slight mange infection which was succesfully treated with a mixture of tea tree oil and baby oil. And now, 3 months later, he is a chubby pile of prickles that can hardly fit into his tunnel, and has early morning activity moments with Kristy the cat, his personal aerobics trainer, to help him stay fit.

A month later, during the worst colds of January (-15C), thanks to dogs, we have found another lost cause in the garden, another hoglet, an autumn juvenile just like Billy Bob, that did not accumulate enough fat to hibernate, so he was roaming the frozen backyard looking for some food (or help). This lad was in a severe condition: seriously anemic, stuffed with ticks, a bad case of mange and fungal dermatitis and flu. His weight was nearly 350g but he was in such a bad condition he wouldn't even curl up in a ball. By now, I have bought another wide rabbit cage, so my hedgie could have more space to roam around in the night. It has a built-in hideout as they like to bury into an isolated place, where they can sleep during the day, undisturbed by daily light. The new hedgehog, named Marco.Polo, desperately needed some vet help.

Marco during one of his TeaTree oil antifungal baths

But like I said, I was on me own, and I had to go to the vet's and beg for a drop of Ivermectin (parasiticide) to sprinkle on his food, becasue he was too weak to be treated in any other way. He wouldn't eat for days, and had to be syringe-fed, but then he fell for something that Billy Bob had lost his head over: bananas. No tinned cat food, as delicious as it may be, no sultanas, no fruit, no treats could ever delight my hedgies as much as bananas do. Along the way, he was treated for lungworms (25mg Mebendazole two times a day, I used the meds my cats get for worming), severe respiratory inflammation (antibiotics through syringe or hidden in yummy banana slices), mange and ringworms (Canesten cream on the nose, ears and around the eyes; for prickles and belly the following mixture: a pint of tepid water, 10 drops of quality Tea Tree oil, 2 drops Lavender oil, 1 spoon of Almond oil and a squirt of baby oil, applied every 3 days) and this is the first week I can finally say he now resembles a healthy, young hedgehog, following the example of his examplary inmate, Billy Bob.

''You are what you eat'' (unknown hedgehog)

They do live in separate cages (boxes), as they are both males, and during their free walks in the front room, Billy Bob was spotted bandying Marco around like a little toy. It was only recently that they've had the opportunity to test their prickly strength with one another, since Marco was in isolation for over a month during his mites and ringworm issues. When I say cages, that's exactly what their homes are to them. No matter how much we humans will try to make their life and homes comfortable, they still are wild animals, born to be free, and they are bound to feel imprisoned. I have grown so very fond of them both, but I still think of myself as their gaoler, and sometimes think they really must hate me for depriving them of their natural life and confining them to a piece of plastic art. But I guess that's slightly a better option than being frozen to death under a pile of leaves in the backyard. In a month or so, they will be set free in the backyard where they will hopefully continue to enjoy that little bit of wilderness in this crazy town, and share our garden joys and sights with us.

Billy Bob and the art of seducing stuffed toys

1. Here are some of the most interesting, important and intriguing facts I have learned, so far, from my dear bathroom inmates, Billy Bob and Marco.Polo.
They both belong to the variety of Erinaceus concolor or the East European Hedgehog (White-breasted hedgehog) which is a protected species in Croatia, but also in the whole of EU.

2. I had to place their homes in a temperature controlled location, my bathroom and use an oil radiator to keep the place warm above 20C. The ideal temperature range for hedgehogs
is 72˚ – 80˚F ( 22-26˚C)

3. According to some guidelines, hedgies should have at least 2 square feet of floor space with a solid bottom. As they love to explore at night, the more room the better. Oh and yes, hedgies can and will climb all sorts of things and escape the cage if it has no top or the walls are not high enough (Billy Bob used to climb on his tiny hideout, a shoebox full of straw, and jump out over the walls of the box, making a great goodmorning surprise for when you step into your bathroom and suddenly feel you've just entered a poop factory ;-)

4. Generally, a hedgehog found outside during the day must be very hungry (underweight) or sick or both. They are primarily nocturnal animals, even though juveniles can be seen out during the day, foraging for food and trying to build weight before hibernation. And this particularly goes for the late litters of hedgehogs, autumn juveniles, like BB and Marco, due to the unusually warm autumn weather, like the last year's. If you ask me, the only way you will know a hedgie needs help is if you catch it and weigh it.

5. Hedgehogs need to be AT LEAST 600g in weight to be able to hibernate succesfully.

6. Be sure to visit these two great sites 1) Epping Forest Hedgehog Rescue for all sorts of medical conditions and first aid, and the plentiful 2) British Hedgehog Preservation Society for anything and everything you ever needed to know about helping the little prickly buggers. Mange, for instance, can be potentially life-threatening for a hedgehog. Loss of prickles, scaly, flaky skin, bald patches, complete loss of fur, epilepsy-like attacks, aggressive behaviour and biting your carers (hello Marco) are just some of the symptoms.

7. Some gardeners wrongly think that having hedgehogs in the garden is all they need to keep the slug and snail population down. They will only eat slugs if they are starving and no other food is available (they mainly eat beetles and caterpillars). And now the scary part: slugs and snail
are the primary carriers of lungworms which are responsible for almost as much hedgehog deaths as are humans and their careless behaviour.

When the lungworms breed inside the hedgehog they rapidly multiply, fill the hedgehog's lungs and the hedgehog either dies from drowning (Pneumonia) or bleeding from the lungs. Hedgehogs with lungworms have terrible breathing problems, are very thin and underweight, often have bad diarrhea and will have secondary bacterial infections. Once the worms are well established the hedgehog coughs like an old smoker and gasp for air before dying in agony. Post-mortem examinations often show the lungs as a solid mass with very little lung tissue left.

8. When it comes to food, I provide the following: tinned cat, puppy or kitten food (chicken flavor their favorite / never feed fish flavors), poultry flavored cat biscuits, meat leftovers like chicken and mince, bananas and sultanas as treats, 100% natural muesli (Tropical flavor), probiotic yogurt, worms, crickets... Hedgehogs should never be given cow's milk, bread or salty foods. Also, hedgehogs drink a lot of water. And like I said, when it comes to bananas, I could swear I have heard both of them purr out of joy.

9. Whilst the hedgehog is in hibernation, a number of odd things happen to it: The hedgehog stops being a warm blooded animal since this uses up too much energy. Its body temperature falls to match that of the surrounding environment. However, the surrounding temperature must not be below freezing (the ideal temperature in the nest for successful hibernation is about 5º c) and if it rises too much, the animal's blood flow will increase and start to use up too much stored fat. The hedgehog becomes cold to the touch; stops moving; heart rate drops
to about 20 beats per minute. To wake up, the hedgehog needs to metabolise fat which warms the body and begins to get the blood flowing again. The hedgehog may help itself along by shivering. This can all take from 1/2 to 1 hour to complete. Only then does the hedgehog have a normal body temperature and can again venture out into the world
10. Hedgehogs taken into care do not have to and should not hibernate ! They do well and are all the more fit for missing it.

11. SELF-ANOINTING: If you smell *really* interesting, your hedgehog will lick or nibble on you, back off, and suddenly contort itself, start foaming at the mouth, and lick the foam onto its spines. This ``self-anointing'' has to be seen to be believed, but it's perfectly normal. It's not known for sure why they do it, but it probably has something to do with self-defence; hedgehogs are *highly* resistant to most toxins, and when they encounter something that might be toxic, they get it in their mouths, foam, and cover themselves with the toxic mixture. The result is a toxic hedgehog, which is really something to reckon with. (Incidentally, the toxin resistance of hedgehogs is truly prodigious and has been the subject of some research; they are one of the few animals that can safely eat giant toads (Bufo marinus), for instance. They will also seek out and kill adders (they are immune to their venom).

I noticed my hedgies like to chew on the carpet, looking for
strange odours (like stain removers)or stick their little noses
into the vacuum cleaner extensions and sniff away!

12. Hedgehogs are extremely car-sick.

13. Long before the advent of Groundhog Day on
February 2nd, the Romans observed a similar event thousands of years ago
on the exact same day. Rather than use the North American groundhog,
the Romans used the hedgehog.

14. “If during hibernation, he (the hedgehog) looks
out of his den on 2nd February and sees his shadow it means there is a clear
moon and six more weeks of winter so he returns to his burrow.”

15. Until 1990's, there was no name for a baby hedgehog, so the hedgie
enthusiasts gave it a name: hoglet.
16. Hedgehogs have an amazing immunity to most things that are toxic.
Quantities of many toxins that would kill a human hundreds or even thousands of times over will often have no noticeable effect on a hedgehog at all. This trait has inspired both legends and scientific research, with no conclusive results other than acknowledgment that it is true.

17. Another great site about providing care for autumn orphans/juveniles.

18. Gardeners also need to be aware that injuries caused by lawn mowers and
trimmers are one of the most common type of injuries in hedgehogs.

I never knew that if my hands smelled of soap,
it would trigger the unpleasant hedgehog bites.

I'd swear not even dogs could bite that hard.
Marco would too. ;-)

19. I've mentioned the Tea Tree oil before. It is supposed to be toxic for hedgehogs, as well as for other animals. I would add that this is true to some extent, for if it gets digested in any way, it surely is TOXIC, even for humans (but you can still make an excellent TeaTree oil mouthwash;-). Or if it's a poor quality, or a quality that is good for nothing more than your finest aroma burner. But when it comes to 100% pure essential oils like that of Primavera Life and Oshadhi, I can say it is one of a few natural antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral products that really do make a difference. Same goes for a Tea Tree cream from a good health shop or chemist, and in many cases it has shown to be an excellent cure, if not better than traditional veterinary remedies.

20. Do visit the Epping Forest Hedgehog Rescue (UK) for anything and everything you ever wanted and needed to know about hedgehogs. Find out how to help ''The Hedgehog in YOUR garden!''

So much about my prickly little friends for now. As far as my gardening spirit is concerned, with the first rays of sunlight, I galloped to the local nursery only to discover a new target of my lust: Vossii Laburnum and a fresh supply of spring bulbs. Sweet heavens !!!

Kristy cat ponders whether cat tunnels were originally
for those ill-mannered, prickly rascals

42 komentari:

Sylvia (England) said...

Viooltje, no wonder you haven't been blogging, you have been too busy with your hedgehogs. Well done, I am impressed with all the research you needed to do. I hope they are happy when reintroduced into the wild. You will get known for hedgehog rescue and people will start bringing you sick ones!

Best of luck, I hope you are feeling better. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

Yolanda Elizabet said...

I wondered where you'd gone. How sad to lose someone so dear to you and on Christmas Eve too.

Love the story of Billy Bob and Marco Polo, you did good girl! Thanks to you both hedgies are alive and biting. ;-) Soon, you can release them back into the wild.

It seems Google is not only our friend but also a good friend of hedgehogs.

Thanks for the tutorial on hedgies, I've learned a lot.

Yolanda Elizabet said...

I forgot, those pics of your cat with the hedgies are priceless!

And don't beat yourself up about having to put those 2 boys in a cage, it beats being dead, don't you think, especially as it's only for a limited time period.

You've done a great job saving them!

Brenda@View From The Pines said...

How truly precious, Violet! You are a saint. Should have been a veterinarian. I thought you had gone off and left us. Glad to see you're back. Those hedgehogs are just priceless. And the kitties seem to put up with them so well.

Rowena said...

So to nice to see you back again, even if the reason for your absence wasn't entirely a cheerful one. I imagine that this was quite an entry to put together with the amount of information and hoglet episodes that you wanted to share....and of course the photos! I loved reading every word - you have demonstrated an absolutely kind spirit towards creatures in nature's world! Grazie!

Hunde Haus said...

I think I love you.

You astound me my friend.

Little baby Hedgehogs...oh lord,you are over the edge. It's nice here though!

Sweet sweet lovin' story.

Welcome back chickie. I've missed you.

JGH said...

I've been wondering where you were! Now I see you've been busy. I've always thought hedgehogs were the cutest animals on earth. How fun to take care of them, even if it's just for the winter. We don't seem to have them in the wild here. I enjoyed this post and learned a lot from it.

mamawhatthe said...

Viooltje, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss- and that damned fairy. But, as always, the story of your latest escapades is enchanting. Thank you so much for sharing it. You are a gem.

Hunde Haus said...

I missed you! Sooo happy you are back, and feeling rejuvenated. :))

My gosh, what an interesting article about Hedgehogs!! I had to read over the Toxic stuff twice, I found it fascinating.

And Vossii Laburnum?? What beautiful foilage on that lovely!!

Again, you were seriously missed.

Njut i din trädgård said...

I am very sorry for your loss.

I lost time reading about the cute hedgehogs and your fantastic commitment in rescuing them!

Viooltje said...

@ Sylvia: No wonder indeed. But having in mind how endangered they are and seeing all the unfortunate ones ending their lives on the road, I hope at least these two will have a proper hedgie life (which is only around 5 years or slightly more if lucky) and hopefully stay away from the roads and lawnmowers. Thanks for visiting. Whenever in UK, I always admired the amount of people and societies organized to help hedgehogs in need. Unfortunately, here, it's very, very rare.

@ Yolanda: LOL, I wondered where I'd gone for a while too. Kristy cat has indeed fallen for hedgies. She could spend all day as their guard, but then you're a cat expert, you should know just how patient and cheeky they can be with intruders into their kingdom. I can't wait to set them free, but then again I will surely miss that lethal scent of my bathroom in the morning ;-)

@ Brenda: I'm not that easy to get rid of ;-) They really are priceless little rascals, with personalities so cheeky and extraordinary, you could just watch them for eternity.

@Rowena: you're absolutely right, I have no idea how I have managed to put up such a post together, although I have over-promptly missed out on many more things I wanted to share. I admire everyone for putting up with such a long, tedious post LOL

@ Colleen:
The feeling is mutual, my dear. I can say one thing only, whatever I have thought I'd do in my life, wiping away hedgehog poo was sure not on my list. But the little buggers are so amazing, even with all the lethal smell and mess they make, you're bound to feel rejuvenated by their company. Even when one of them bites you so hard it makes you scream ;-) Prickly little devils they are.

@ JGH: I always thought they were too cute as well. I never knew though just how smart and treacherous they can be. The peak of multiple personality art. They can sniff away at you with fury even at the slightest smell of you, but when they are hungry, even their prickles soften up ;-)I've had hedgehogs in this garden when I was a kid (used to feed them leftovers in the hedge) but ever since the brutal urbanization around me, they have almost disappeared until recently. This was the first year I have spotted more than 4 different ones in my backyard and it's the most precious thing, having such an enchanting garden friend.

It is sad watching your favorite uncle in so much pain, nobody deserves that. But that's life, it happens to millions of people every day, and lucky are those who do not have to deal with the plague that cancer is. Thanks for stopping by again and meeting my prickly lads.

@Njut i din trädgård:
thanks for visiting and enjoying the story of Billy Bob and Marco. I've told them they are famous in Scandinavia too now ;-)

Linda Lunda said...

Im sorry to hear about your famalymember...

The hedgehogs are so lovely!

spookydragonfly said...

First of all, I'm so sorry for your loss. I really enjoyed reading this post. You have the patience, determination and compassion of a Saint. You took quite a task upon yourself all out of love for another creature...I'll bet there's a special place in heaven for you! Adorable photos, keep up the good work! I know, easy for me to say, huh?!

Roses and stuff said...

Viooltje, this post is so interesting! I know a lot more about hedgehogs than I did before.
I can well understand why you haven't been bloggingm uch lately - sorry to hear about your loss and also about yor migraine. I'm one of those, too. Had a severe attack yesterday and a slight one today. Right now I'm in a bad circle with plenty of attacks, so I'm a bit worried about my work... But what can I do?
Take good care of yourself (and of your hedgehogs) - before you know it, spring wil be here and you'll be hopping around, happy as ever!
Hugs Katarina

garden girl said...

How lucky for Marco Polo that your tender-hearted self found him! I'm so impressed with your hard work and research nursing him back to health Violet.

garden girl said...

p.s. I'm so sorry for your loss, and hope you're feeling better. I can sure empathize about the migraines. I get them too, and they are not fun.

Maria said...

What a lovely post! It reminds me of my childhood when we had a hedgehog for some weeks in our home. I have some desert mice now in a terrarium and I KNOW how hard /sharp/ they bite!
I agree that the pictures with the hedgehogs and your cat are priceless! That's really great!
I must read your post in more detail, after having seen the comments :)))

Maria said...

Oh my God, what a story, and what wonderful pictures!
I showed the first picture to my husband and we said both, what a personality is looking at us! That blue eyes, what an enigmatic look!
I have also experienced that pets, animals can soothe and console me and make my life brigther, sometimes.

Maria said...

My husband just tells me that I shall tell you that he has never before seen a more beautiful and intelligent hedgehog before. I agree :)

O.I.M said...

so sorry for your loss.

you did a good thing caring for those hedgehogs. i'm sure they will do very well for themselves once they are back in the wild. you may have to prepare yourself for return visits, though. now that they've acquired a taste for bananas they're sure to be back sniffing about your door.

Susie said...

First of all I am sorry to hear about your loved one's loss. That's never easy. I'm really glad to see you blogging again. It sounds like those hedgehogs were a gift from God. They probably help improve your spirits much. Until reading your post I knew nothing about these little creatures. How sweet you were to take them in and nurse them back to health. They probably love their new human mommy!

catzgarden said...

Viooltje - What a fabulous story! I have never seen a hedgehog, but now I love them, thanks to all I have learned from you! God bless your heart for taking them in, giving them love and medicine - this springtime, they will be strong and happy to get back to being outside boys.

Great post- great pics - great blog.


Cosmo said...

Viooltje--What a great story, and how wonderful of you to take in the hedgies. I don't think we have them in the states--at least in Virginia--I've only seen them in England. But I'm amazed that your cat is so good with them! Wouldn't they typically be prey for a cat? Anyway, a great post--and so sorry to hear about your loss.

fulvus said...


Ewa said...

What a sweet friend to overwinter you have!!

I have a question concerning vacation in your beautiful country.
My friend with huzz and 12years old son are looking for vacation in Croatia. Could you recommend something? Region? or even a place. Not too crowded.

keewee said...

Viooltje, Thank you for the wonderful post on your hedgehogs. We used to see them once in a while when I lived in New Zealand.I always thought they were cute little guys, and thanks to you, I now know a whole lot more about them. Thank you for taking the time to care for Billy Bob and Marco Polo and making them well again. we need more caring people like you in this world.

West Coast Island Gardener said...

Sweet heavens - indeed!
The many mysteries of hedgehogs and the mad, amazing, campassion of the wonderful world of Violet.

PS Hedgehogs are very tasty, too!

We eat them at Easter - the chocolate variety o'course.

Easter Greetings Violet!

Corinna said...

Viooltje, it took me some time to get around to your blog, but I'm really impressed. Learned a lot about hedgehogs today. Here's something you may not have come across yet: mother and child hedgehog communicate with whistles when there is any danger. But you have to stumble over one in the early morning to find out. :)

As you haven't published anything since February, it seems you are still out of spirits. Losing somebody close takes a lot of time to come to terms with, and it is something one never really comprehends. I wish you that the more cheerful weather of spring, the sounds and smells of new life will help you to live through this difficult period.

Lucy Corrander said...

What a very interesting post - a good read as well as informative.

And what a lot of work you have been putting into the care of these hedgehogs. I'm REALLY impressed!

I very much hope you are feeling better in yourself too, Viooltje.

Lucy Corrander

CityGarden said...

so sweet!
some years before I grow 2 babies because someone kill their mother. I feed them milk and when they grow enouph we left them in forest.
They are beautiful animals and if they don't afraid you can touch them them easily

acornmoon said...

It is so nice to hear about hedgehogs surviving. In Britain they seem to be declining in numbers. Well done!

Anonymous said...

You are our hero!
We can't believe how much you did to help your little visitors and how much you know about them now! Congratulations on your success, and heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your loved one.

Ares Vista said...

That's awesome! You've made me want a hedgehog. I'm not sure if I'll be allowed by my wife to get one, but I'm gonna ask!

catmint said...

Vooltje, thank you for an amazing and deeply moving post.

Sunita said...

What an amazing post! I've never seen a live hedgehog but have read plenty of books and seen thousands of cute pictures featuring them.
That really is a lot of information that you've given here. I had no idea that they'll bite. Or that they can be toxic / will eat toxic things.
Do you think he'd like a trip to Mumbai? There're plenty of cobras and other poisonous stuff for him in my garden.

Linda Starr said...

Wow, amazing story and so glad you are caring for these little guys.

domain names said...

Some great pics! You have a calm cat, I think mine would attack rather than let them play in their house. hehe. Thanks for sharing!

Steve said...

What a tremendous story. I could not take my eyes from the page. God bless you for taking care of those little munchkin hedgehogs. They are unbelieveably cute.

viagra online said...

Wonderful pos.. What a tremendous story.
They probably love their new human mommy!

Anonymous said...

I'm so impressed with your hard work and research nursing him back to health Violet.

Viagra said...

Hedgehogs are so adorable!

Elliott Broidy said...

Adorable!!! I want one!

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