WHAT IS AN AUTUMN JUVENILE?
Autumn juvenile hedgehogs are young hedgehogs that have left their mothers but are too small to hibernate or survive on their own. The autumn juvenile season starts as early as September and is busiest through until the end of November. However some will struggle on and the lots will still be found in December and even January. You often see small hedgehogs all through the winter and early spring (these will need URGENT help and attention).
The season will vary slightly depending whether you live in the south or north and depends on the weather, The ones found in March and April may have struggled through the winter or they may have hibernated for a very short period of time and woken up in a very poor condition. Young hedgehogs can and will hibernate at 450gms (1lb) or even less but will not survive. They need to weigh at least 600gms (22oz) in order to hibernate successfully and be in a good enough condition to survive post hibernation.
Giving advice on whether to leave a young or small hedgehog out in the garden and keep feeding them or whether to bring them indoors and over-winter them can be difficult. Left outside it is more difficult to monitor them and if they start to have problems and hide away they can and will just die. If they are brought indoors the stress of captivity can harm them.
HEDGEHOGS THAT CAN PROBABLY BE LEFT IN THE WILD
During the early Autumn, that is September to middle/end of October, the guidelines are:
- Weighs at least 400grams
- If the hedgehog is a regular visitor to your garden
- The weather is reasonable ( not deep frosts or floods)
- Is only seen at night, appears active and you are prepared to feed it every night then it can be left outside.
See feeding and feeding stations. However if the hedgehog goes off its food, wobbles and staggers or starts coming out in the day or you notice it has green slimy poo especially if there is blood in it, then it needs immediate urgent help and taken urgently to a Vet or rescue centre (see basic first aid until you can get to the vet).
Once you have brought in a hedgehog, keep putting food outside, as there may be siblings or other autumn juveniles or even adults still awake, they need your help and food as well. If the food does not go still continue to provide dry cat biscuits, peanuts or dried mealworms – these will not go off as quickly as tinned food so are less wasteful. It is helpful if you can weigh your visitor once a week to ensure it is putting on weight and doing well.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal so those out in the day are displaying odd behaviour. Even though they appear lively and are rushing around these hedgehogs probably need rescuing. Once out in the day they can be days away from death. Even when rescued they can seem OK for a day or so and then suddenly collapse and die. So if out in the day whether rushing about or curled up asleep they need rescuing. Hedgehogs do NOT hibernate in the open. They make a nest of leaves etc and disappear into the depths of the nest and are completely hidden. Hedgehogs under 450gms (1lb) that appear to be hibernating (cold and in a tight ball) are suffering from hypothermia and are in fact dying. These must be rescued if they are to stand any chance of survival.
Towards the end of October or if bad weather is expected those under 500gms should be rescued whether they are out in the day or night. This can be difficult to determine as the further north you are the earlier winter will appear – if in doubt find a carer near you and seek their advice. In October small ones seen away from your garden eg crossing the road at night may also be best rescued as they may not have a ready supply of food as ones regularly visiting your garden.
Between middle of November and March/April ANY small hedgehog less than about 550 to 600 grams should be taken into care.
They can have mashed up, meat based dog or cat food mixed with a little cereal (weetabix) to give it some bulk. They can also have meat based cat biscuits, as these are good for the teeth. Other titbits can include sultanas and small pieces of fruit, plain biscuits, cooked chicken, raw mince etc. Dried mealworms are also very good. They need a dish of water at all times. Read more about feeding
Make or buy a feeding station for the outside hedgehogs. Use either a plastic box or child’s toy box or similar and cut a 13cm x 13cm (5″x5″) hole in one of the short sides. Place this over the food, like a tunnel, and the hedgehog can get through the hole to the food but not the cats or foxes. A brick on top should stop the box being pushed aside. A brick approx 13cm ( 5″) in front of the entrance will stop a cat or fox lying down and scooping the food out with a paw! Always make sure there is a little food left over in the mornings – if not, you are not feeding them enough.
BASIC FIRST AID
Line a high-sided box (hedgehogs are good climbers) with newspaper and put it in a warm room. Pick the hedgehog up using a towel and place it in the box; use that towel as some bedding for it. If the hedgehog is lethargic, cold, wobbles and staggers then it needs a hot water bottle or similar. These hedgehogs need more intensive care and are best passed on to a hedgehog rehabilitator. Cover the bottle with some towel and place the hedgehog on this but still with its towel covering it. The water in the bottle will need to be changed every few hours to keep it warm. Alternatives to hot water bottles are pop bottles full of hot water, ice cream or margarine tubs full of water with the lid on, wheat bags (cover with a small plastic bag to prevent it becoming soiled) a pet snuggle safe or heat pad or a reptile heat mat. Do not use back warming pads for human use, as they are not designed to be urinated on! Provide food and water and then SEEK ADVICE – telephone BHPS on 01584 890 801, Tiggywinkles 24 hour help line on 01844 292292 for a rescue centre or hedgehog carer near you.
Many autumn juveniles will have lungworms that in turn can cause breathing difficulties. Those already showing signs of problems ie out in the day will be most at risk and are likely to have the highest worm burdens. Symptoms may include lack of appetite, no weight gain even when eating, coughing and rapid breathing. These will need worming and antibiotics so should be taken to a rehabilitator who can arrange veterinary treatment urgently.
If you are going to over-winter the hedgehog yourself it should be weighed daily initially as it can be difficult to tell whether it is eating or just walking through the food. If it stays the same weight over a few days or loses weight then it is best passed on to someone with more experience. Provide the food mentioned above and once it is about 600gms (22oz) it can gradually be introduced to a cooler temperature (a bit like hardening off plants). It can eventually go into a shed or garage but do keep feeding it. Let it decide when it wants to hibernate. If it gets up to around 800gms (28oz) and the weather is mild and forecast to stay mild for a week or so then it can be released. If it was found in your garden or nearby then you can release it, early one evening into your garden – into a ready-made Hedgehog House. You will also need to provide food and a feeding station. Otherwise keep the hedgehog until the spring. Let the wild hedgehogs be your guide, if they are awake and around it is time for yours to go. However some males may start to become very restless and try to escape from their box. If this happens once they are up to weight release them at the earliest safe opportunity otherwise they may become very stressed and could die.
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