Why does Hamworthy Hedgehog Rescue (HHR) need hedgehog foster carers?
Every winter, the rescue is inundated with autumn juvenile hedgehogs that are not big enough to safely hibernate and survive the winter. These hogs need to be kept in the rescue over winter and fed-up so that they are big and healthy enough to be released the following Spring. Mostly, the hedgehogs that over-winter at HHR are not ill, but just need feeding, cleaning and frequent health checks.
This is where you come in! By fostering a hedgehog and taking it home with you for the winter, you allow HHR to take in more hedgehogs. The sick ones that need medical care stay at the rescue, and the healthy hogs go out to foster homes. This foster care arrangement can potentially double the number of hedgehogs that we are able to take in.
What you will need
Somewhere quiet for the hedgehog to live.
No loud noises, no TV, Radio, Washing machine. No children rushing in and out, doors banging etc. Hedgehogs will need to see natural light or their body clocks will be messed up. Also, if they are in dark or near dark, their natural instinct to hibernate will kick in. This will not be very good for the smaller hogs, who could possibly die while in hibernation.
Dogs and cats.
You must be able to keep the hedgehog away from your domestic pets, especially dogs. A hedgehog going back to the wild thinking dogs are friends is likely to be torn to ribbons. Cats are not so much of an issue for an adult hedgehog, but a female that doesn’t defend her nest and babies against a cat will lose them therefore we need her afraid of them.
Not all hogs can be allowed to hibernate, the small ones need to be kept awake and that means warmth. If you can’t provide heat then we need to know in advance.
A cage, hutch, deep crate or plastic box for them to have as a run. Cages with bars are not suitable, neither are cat /dog baskets/crates as hogs get stuck in the bars. Deep means deep, at least 18 inches deep, and you also need to take into account the height of anything in the box. If a hog can reach the top with its front paws it will be out and gone. They are amazingly good climbers, and great at escaping from boxes.
What You Will Have to Do.
Set-up a hedgehog enclosure.
◦ Place several layers of newspaper on the bottom of the enclosure. Be sure to remove any staples.
◦ Put the food and water dishes next to each other at one end of the enclosure.
◦ Put a generous amount of hay at the opposite end of the food and water dishes. You can also use ripped up newspaper. (Never use shredded paper, this has sharp edges and can cut the hedgehogs delicate feet – think paper cuts.)
If using a heat mat, place it under the bedding end of the enclosure. Make sure the other half of the enclosure is not heated, as it is important that the hedgehog can get away from the heat if it chooses to. It is also important that the food and water is not heated.
Feed your foster hedgehog once per day. To keep disturbance to a minimum, it is best to feed the hedgehog in the evening as this is when they will naturally be waking up.
What to feed.
Throw away any uneaten food from the day before, and clean the bowl/dish with warm water. Then feed the following once per day;
• 100grams of wet cat food
• Handful of dry cat food/hedgehog biscuits
• Feed amounts discussed if different from above
• Please do not feed anything else – no ‘extras’ or ‘treats’!
Remember to provide fresh, clean water in a shallow dish every day. Hedgehogs are messy animals and are likely to tip their water dish up, or use it as a toilet! Keep an eye on this and replace the water as often as needed.
Rubber gloves. Hogs make a mess and daily cleaning is a necessity unless you have access to a good supply of gas masks. All cleaning materials must be safe for the hedgehogs and the rubber gloves are for your protection on the off chance that one has a skin condition that isn’t obvious at the time of hand over. We recommend Safe4 Disinfectant Cleaner.
Clean the enclosure (daily).
• First, carefully place the hedgehog in a high-sided box with some bedding to hide in. Make sure the hedgehog cannot climb out!
• Remove the food and water dishes.
• Remove all the newspaper and bedding material.
• Using a hedgehog/pet safe disinfectant, spray the bottom of the enclosure before wiping with blue roll or kitchen towel.
• Wash the food dishes with warm water. Only use a small amount of disinfectant and be sure to wash it off properly.
• Put down fresh sheets of newspaper in the enclosure.
• Refill the food and water dishes and place them back into the enclosure.
• Put the bedding at the opposite end to the food and water.
• Now is a good time to health check and weigh the hedgehog.
• Once finished, gently place the hedgehog back into the enclosure.
Daily health checks.
• Eyes are bright and clean.
• Nose, mouth and ears are all clean and free from discharge.
• Skin is clean and is free of wounds or parasites (ticks, mites, ringworm etc.). Hedgehogs may develop dry skin in captivity which is normal, especially if they are on a heat mat, but please contact HHR so the hedgehog’s skin can be checked.
• Spines are not broken or falling out in large numbers (it is normal for hedgehogs to lose a few spines now and then as old ones fall out so new ones can grow, this is called ‘quilling’).
• Feet are clean and free of sores.
• Listen to the hedgehogs breathing, it should not sound ‘chesty’ or ‘rattle’. If the breathing is wheezy or laboured, contact HHR ASAP.
• Hedgehog can walk ‘normally’ – no limping or dragging of legs.
• Hedgehog can curl into a tight ball, with no part of its face showing (a hedgehog that cannot curl into a tight ball is overweight and cannot be released. They will be put on a diet, as they will not be able to defend themselves properly otherwise).
• Hedgehog faeces is usually dark brown or black and fairly firm. If it is loose, green in colour or contains blood, contact HHR ASAP.
• Hedgehog appears to be eating and drinking well, with no difficulty.
• Hedgehog should be alert and respond to noise/touch (e.g. should curl into a ball/huff and puff if touched). If the hedgehog is lethargic/laying on its side and/or not reacting to you, please contact HHR immediately.
Weighing the hedgehog (weekly).
• Carefully pick up the hedgehog (using thick gloves if required).
• Gently place the hedgehog onto the scales.
• Record the number shown on the scales (grams).
• It is normal for a hedgehog’s weight to fluctuate slightly, however if the hog loses more than 10g in a week, or they continue to lose weight, please contact HHR.
• A growing hedgehog may put on as much as 10g a day!
• Please remember to keep noise to an absolute minimum when handling/weighing hedgehogs. They are wild animals and can become stressed easily.
We can advise on any other concerns you may have as well as how to release in Spring if the hog doesn’t have a home to go back to.
You must not put the hedgehog out into a hutch and assume it will hibernate while you go away for Christmas or on holiday. These animals need to be checked daily and cleaned and fed as necessary. They can and do wake from hibernation and come out to eat and drink. If you have left them they may well starve to death.
All of our hogs come from the wild and go back to the wild where possible. We do not foster out hogs to people who wish to keep them as pets, nor to those who would use them as a ‘visitor attraction’ for all their friends to come around and handle. Hodgehogs need the absolute minimum of human contact and interaction
We will not send hogs further than 10 miles from the rescue. If anything does happen to them we need them back here immediately. They cannot wait until you have a day free to bring them in.
We ask for foster carers on our Facebook page as they are needed but please check our catchment area in the map below before applying.
What can you expect
As you will be taking healthy animals you are highly unlikely to have to deal with the trauma of losing one. If a hog becomes sick we would expect you to have contacted us and returned it the rescue long before it becomes critical.
Hedgehogs all have their own personality. Some are grumpy and to be honest they are the easiest ones to release as you know they’ll avoid people and you don’t get too attached. Others will have you in fits of laughter as their antics can provide many hours of amusement and confusion. Fostering one of them gets you closer to a wild animal than you would ever have thought possible and these little guys are pretty much the only British Wildlife you can do that with.
Although we do our utmost not to over-handle them, even those that have needed intensive daily treatment will revert to wild as soon as they go back outside, with very few exceptions, so you don’t need to worry about them becoming tame.
We do ask that if you have children, that they are not allowed to take the hog out to handle it unless absolutely necessary, but this is an ideal way for them to get to know our wild animals and to learn respect and concern for their welfare without the long term commitment of having a pet.
There will be a formal agreement for the period of fostering, and we would need to check that your facilities are suitable.
If you feel you are able to offer help by being a foster carer, and have the required facilities, please contact us via our contact page outlining what facilities you have, and how many hogs you could take, we will then get back to you as time permits – obviously the hogs we are caring for come first. You can also download the Foster Application form from our downloads page