Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hedgehogs and cold weather

Any hedgehog that you see moving about during this period of cold is in trouble. When they hibernate, it is normal for a hedgehog's body temperature to drop in order to reduce energy use. If exceptional or prolonged cold causes it to fall below safe levels, then the hedgehog will wake up and search for food and/or another better-insulated place to hibernate. When the ground is hard frozen and snow covered, food will not be available and the hedgehog is at risk of perishing, because it is burning up fat all the time to keep up its body temperature.

It is possible to give such hedgehogs a better chance of survival by bringing them under cover and offering them suitable food: any meat-based pet food will do. Ideally they should be somewhere reasonably warm, but a well-insulated garden shed with dry leaves, straw or shredded paper to nest in will do for adult hedgehogs. Because they are mammals (like us) hedgehogs do not normally need a source of external heat to make it possible for them to eat (unlike reptiles who must be kept at an appropriate temperature). However, if they have got really chilled they need gentle warmth until they are eating and moving vigorously.

Pygmy hedgehogs, the species normally kept as pets, originally come from Africa and are unable to hibernate or cope with the cold and they must be kept at room temperature.

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