ABSTRACT: This article gives a general overview on the basic care and first aid of hedgehog casualties for Veterinary Nurses in practice. It contains information on examination techniques, anaesthesia, common problems and their treatment, care of orphaned hoglets, feeding, husbandry and release.

The Western European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is the only species of hedgehog that occurs naturally in the UK. In 2007, it was placed on the endangered species list by the Governments environmental protection plan, because it was believed that these hedgehogs need specialist protection. The information in this article is aimed at giving veterinary nurses in practice information on the basic care and first aid of hedgehog casualties (Table 1). It is important to note that none of the medications mentioned are licensed for use in hedgehogs and that all veterinary treatment should be given under the direction of a veterinary surgeon.


Stressed hedgehogs or those in pain may bite, jump, or hiss when being handled. There are many zoonoses that can be passed to humans, the most common being Pseudomonas and staphylococci – which can result from bites or via skin punctures by spines – ringworm, and salmonellosis. Thus appropriate PPE should be worn when handling them. Suggested methods of persuading a hedgehog to unroll include:

   placing it onto a heat pad and waiting;

   gently bouncing it in your hands;

   backwards stroking of hands over the rump of the hedgehog; and

   holding the hedgehog downwards over a flat surface – as it unrolls to try and reach the surface, its back legs can be held gently and examined (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A hedgehog rolled up in a ball. This is how they typically present for clinical examination Image courtesy of Brent Lodge Bird and Wildlife Trust

Sometimes hedgehogs will simply refuse to unroll and general anaesthetic may be necessary to allow a proper examination.

Administering general anaesthesia

Hedgehogs can be anaesthetised in a small animal anaesthetic chamber using isoflurane. Carpenter (2005) recommends a 3 to 5 per cent induction and maintenance at 0.5 per cent to 3 per cent using a mask or endotracheal tube.1 Endotracheal intubation is possible using an uncuffed tube (2 – 3.5mm).


Treatment of common problems 


Hedgehogs may carry large numbers of host-specific fleas (Archaeopsylla erinacei) that do not harm healthy hedgehogs and will not live on other animals or humans. They can be treated with fipronil (Frontline Spray, Merial) used sparingly. Forshaw (nd) recommends no more than 3ml per kg bodyweight.2 It is important to ensure that the hedgehog is kept in a well-ventilated area during, and after, treatment.


Severe tick infestation can cause anaemia. Ticks should be removed, but large numbers can be sprayed with fipronil (Frontline Spray, Merial) at the same dose rate as for fleas.


The eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, anus, prepuce, vulva and any other skin folds should be checked thoroughly for maggots and blowfly eggs. These should be removed and the wounds treated accordingly.


Ringworm is displayed as dry, white, flaky skin, especially around the face, although the hedgehog may only show very minor clinical signs. Forshaw suggests treatment with enilconazole (Imaverol, Janssen) baths – two baths using 1ml in 50ml water, 10 days apart.2


There are many endoparasites to which a hedgehog is susceptible, but only Crenosoma striatum (lung worm) causes serious disease. Symptoms of infection include wheezing, coughing, gurgling, loss of appetite and weight.

A recommended worming regimen, as suggested by Carpenter (2005), is fenbendazole (Panacur, Intervet) per os every 24 hours for five days.2


Hedgehogs are potentially at risk from the same poisons that cats and dogs may encounter and should be treated in the same way.


The spines around the wound should be clipped short with scissors to allow cleaning, debridement and suturing of wounds. Hedgehogs’ spines do not re-grow until after the bases of the old spines have fallen out, which may leave hedgehogs vulnerable to attack from predators. This should be kept in mind when clipping (Figure 2).

Figure 2: A young hoglet with a wound caused by getting caught in plastic. A good example of the risks posed by litter. Image courtesy of Brent Lodge Bird and Wildlife Trust

Balloon’ syndrome

Hedgehogs can suffer from subcutaneous emphysema which causes them to inflate. The air can be removed by aspirating with a needle into the skin over the back.

Orphaned hoglets

First litters are born in May, June and July and second litters are born in August and September. They should be kept warm at an ambient temperature of 32°C to 37°C for the first few weeks and toileted after each feed by massaging the perineal area with a swab moistened with warm water. The British Hedgehog Society suggests a feeding regimen using a powdered puppy or kitten milk substitute (Table 2)

Giving injections

To administer subcutaneous injections, lift a small fold of skin over the back or flank by pulling gently on the spines and inject under the skin. For intramuscular injections, inject into the quadriceps at the front of the thigh.

Fluid therapy

Forshaw suggests that subcutaneous fluids can be given at body temperature with no more than 2-3mls at any one site. Intraperitoneal fluids can be given by administering up to 10 per cent of body weight over 24 hours via the posterior left or right quadrants of the abdomen. Nasogastric tubes seem to be fairly well tolerated in hedgehogs and would be placed using the same technique as for a cat.

Pain relief

If the casualty requires pain relief, Gregory and Stocker (1999) recommend the administration of buprenorphine intram
uscularly at 0.04ml/kg every 6 to 8 hours.4


The natural diet of the hedgehog includes slugs, snails, insects, worms, small invertebrates and fruit. The British Hedgehog Society recommends that in captivity adults should be fed a meat- based tinned dog or cat food mixed with unsweetened cereal (Weetabix, oats or bran). Complete dry cat biscuits are good for the teeth.

Care should be taken not to overfeed hedgehogs owing to their predisposition to obesity which can render them unable to roll into a ball, and leaves them open to attack from predators. Regular weighing will give a good indication on how the hedgehog is doing and allow for accurate drug dosing.

If hedgehogs will not eat, they can be syringe fed with a recovery diet such as Hill’s AD or Liquivite. Hedgehogs should never be given milk as they cannot digest the lactose.


The hedgehog should be kept in a quiet, calm environment. All wildlife suffers from stress in an unnatural environment and individuals should be handled as little as possible. Provide a nest box and shredded newspaper or towels, taking care that there are no loose threads that could get wrapped around their limbs.


Gregory and Stocker (1991) state that hedgehogs should always be released into an area of deciduous woodland or in an area with access to at least 10 gardens. They are unlikely to become tame and should revert back into completely natural behaviour.

You should ensure that the release site is already inhabited by hedgehogs, away from the main road and badger sets. If possible, food and water should be left for the first few nights whilst they acclimatise to their new surroundings.

For more information on hedgehog care and for details of hedgehog rehabilitators in your area, contact the British Hedgehog Society, www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk


Bizzy McClure BSc(Hons) RVN MBVNA

Bizzy has been working in small animal practice since 2005 and qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in August 2010. Her areas of interest include the care of exotic animals and she is currently studying for a Certificate in Veterinary Nursing of Exotic Species with Telford College. She is also the BVNA regional co-ordinator for the Hampshire/Berkshire region.

To cite this article use either

D0I 10.1111/j 2045-0648.2011 00064.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 26 pp 238-240


1.   CARPENTER. J. W. I2005I Exotic Animal Formulary. 3rd Edition. Elsevier, Missouri

2.   FORSHAW. H (nd) Care and treatment of sick and injured hedgehogs. British Hedgehog Society, Ludlow.

3.   The British Hedgehog Society (ndl Caring For Hoglets. (leaflet) British Hedgehog Society, Ludlow. 

4.   GREGORY, M. W. and STOCKER. L. (1991) Hedgehogs. In Beryon and Cooper, eds. BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. Gloucestershire.


• VOL 26 • July 2011 • Veterinary Nursing Journal