Cold snap fuels RSPCA fears for underweight hedgehogs’ survival this winter

This winter could be particularly hard for hedgehogs, as new RSPCA data from England and Wales reveals that the numbers of the iconic creatures admitted to its wildlife centres have already topped 2020 figures.

By mid-November this year, the number of hedgehogs taken into care by the animal charity’s four wildlife centres (1896) was already more than the total for the whole of last year (1883 in 2020).

Every year, the RSPCA receives thousands of calls from the general public reporting their concerns about a hedgehog.  In 2020, the animal charity received more than 6,000 (6202) calls from people worried about sick, underweight, injured or orphaned hedgehogs.

Hedgehogs born late in the year often do not have enough fat reserves to survive the long winter hibernation without some help. They’ll have to forage for longer to find enough food – often during the day – and that’s often when they are spotted by concerned animal lovers determined to help them.

The decision whether or not to intervene with a hedgehog depends on how much they weigh during early winter and whether they are healthy or not. RSPCA Scientific Officer Evie Button said: “A cold snap can be lethal for underweight hedgehogs if it means they go into hibernation before they’ve put enough weight on.

“If you see a young hoglet that’s only about the size of an apple – around 300g – they really need to be rescued and taken to a rehabilitation facility, as they won’t have enough fat reserves to last the winter.

“We fear this may turn out to be a bad year for hedgehogs as admission numbers into our centres have already overtaken 2020’s.  We urge people to visit our website for advice on what to do if they see a sick or injured hog, particularly if it’s out and about during the day.”

The best way to help juvenile hedgehogs depends on how much they weigh. As part of its online hedgehog advice for the public the RSPCA recommends that:

  • If the hoglet weighs less than 300g (about the size of an apple), then it will need specialist care to survive the winter. Learn online how to capture and transport the animal to a rehabilitator.

    The advice to take them to a rehabilitator also applies to hedgehogs of any size which are sick or injured, or seen out during the day during cold snaps 

  • If a juvenile hedgehog weighs between 300 and 500g after mid-October, they probably won’t have enough weight to see them through the winter so may also need help. The RSPCA recommends following the BHPS advice for autumn juvenile hedgehogs which describes how to help them over winter.

  • If the hedgehog weighs over 500g and is only seen out at night, it should be healthy enough to hibernate as normal in the wild. They’ll be foraging for food overnight so if you can, keep providing food in the garden as this will help them to put on even more weight before hibernation. Hedgehogs will often wake up from hibernation and forage for food at least once during winter, so providing food in the garden throughout winter will also help.

The majority of hedgehogs are cared for at the RSPCA’s four wildlife centres at West Hatch near Taunton, Somerset; Stapeley Grange in Nantwich, Cheshire; East Winch near King’s Lynn in Norfolk and Mallydams Wood near Hastings, East Sussex.

Manager of the RSPCA’s East Winch Wildlife Centre in Norfolk, Evangelos Achilleos said:  “We’ve recently seen a real influx of hedgehogs and hoglets in our care. Over Christmas, we could be caring for as many as 200 hedgehogs at East Winch alone.

“Although hedgehogs are small they can need as much care and attention as the larger wild animals at our centres. The RSPCA received 51,000 calls last December, that’s one call every minute. We received one report of an abandoned animal every hour and took 70 rescue animals into RSPCA care every day. As we were in lockdown last year, we expect these figures to rise this Christmas. We’re asking people to Join the Rescue this Christmas to help bring animals to safety this festive season.”