Friday, 10 October 2008

A short lived blog for a short lived life

This morning we found Hetty dead. She hadn't got up for a couple of days. In my naivety I thought she might have finally had a happy chicken-filled tummy and been able to sleep.

However a phone call to the Hedgehog preservation society revealed that a hedgehog of her size would not be able to sleep, even for one day without a meal.

I must admit, I realised I knew absolutely nothing about what we had taken on. It took us about ten minutes to try and figure out whether she was asleep or deceased. It feels terrible to admit that.

Anyway, I now know that if a hedgehog is healthy and asleep it will be in a tight ball. Hetty was uncurled. I also have a very sensitive sense of smell and her smell had changed. In the end it was this that gave it away for me.

It's amazing how quickly these creatures carve a space in your heart. Hetty was an endearing little thing, mischievous to the last and she used to make us laugh with her antics. Strangely, she used to like a fuss too, she would lie still and let you cuddle her without rolling up. She had a routine for her exercise - running around, curiously exploring everything, running in and out of our daughter's fairyland in exactly the same way every day, until she would lie under the fire for a rest.

I was really upset. Not least because I think I could have done better. In hindsight it might have been better to take her to someone who knew more about them. I now feel that I did the equivalent of take a two month baby from its mother and feed it fish and chips. One would never do that and I think this is what we did with Hetty.

Perhaps her digestion simply could not cope. I'll never know.

I called a hedgehog rescue place today and all the hoglets in there are wired up to monitors, their daily food is charted, they are weighed weekly (I was planning on weighing her today which is why I had to disturb her) and if they are not eating they are put on drips and all sorts of other things.

Plus of course, they know the signs to look out for and can treat is accordingly. I didn't. So she died.

Unfortunately the woman I spoke to was very abrupt and by the time I came off the phone I felt like crying. I felt she was accusing me of being irresponsible and of course that planted doubt in my own mind about my motive. I was asking her simple questions because I don't know the answer and I felt like I was back in school again being scolded for not revising.

Truth is, I did it with the best intentions, but I have learned alot.

I wanted to give Hetty a sky burial, so we took her into the field and put her in her bed underneath the hedge next to the stream. It was here that I used to come when pregnant to find peace and solitude. It was perfect autumn day - warm and sunny with blue skies.

It's been a double whammy of animals returning to the earth today. We found our neighbour's cat dead on our driveway. She used to favour our front garden and always made a dash across the road to greet us whenever we were around. She was a greedy little thing and would come over to eat the food we put out for the birds, even after being fed her own food at home!
She had obviously been run over and just stumbled up our driveway. So sad, she was only a few months old. I hope she died quickly.

So it's goodbye to Hetty after just a week. She touched her hearts in a very special way and there is a lesson in attachment for me in there somewhere that one day I will understand.

The Dalai Lama says that Beings are only in this world to work out their Karma. Does a hedgehog have karma or am I romanticising things? I'm not going to think too hard on that, but I guess I have my karma to live out, and if it means looking after a hedgehog for a week, then I can honestly say it has been a complete honour to be entrusted with one of Mother Nature's creatures for seven short days.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Everything you need to know about looking after an orphaned hedgehog

Yesterday I made a call to the British Hedgehog preservation society to ask some questions. Here are some basic FAQs about looking after orphaned hoglets!

What should I be feeing my hoglet?

High protein foods such as

Pedigree puppy food
Kitten food - the pate type in all instances, not the food in jelly or gravy. And NOT fish.
scrambled eggs, but with no dairy such as milk or butter
fresh, cooked scraps of meat
meal worms - live ones not the dried ones sold for feeding the birds - ewwwww

Should a baby hedgehog be having milk? (I'd been worried that Hetty was away from her Mum too soon and would still be taking milk from her)

Until hoglets are about 12-13oz they should be given goats milk. So I'm going to get some raw, unpasteurised goats milk from our local organic farm shop this week.

She keeps going under the fire, is she too cold?

She is certainly showing signs of being too cold. Apparently I need to give her a hot water bottle or an old tetrapak filled with hot water in her bed.

What if a hoglet gets too cold?

If a baby hedgehog gets too cold their internal organs shut down. So even if she is eating plenty but STILL too cold she won't be able to properly digest her food, which could kill her.

Now fortunately I have an old heat pad, so dh wired a plug on it and now Hetty has underfloor heating in her new abode.

Will a hoglet wee or poo in their own nests?

A female is cleaner and tidier than a male and is less likely to do this! A male is more messy and might plop on his own pillow.

No comment LOL!

Can a hedgehog pass on any diseases to humans? I asked this because we have a seven year old daughter who adores Hetty already.

Yes! A hedgehog can pass on diseases just like a rat could.
They can carry ringworm, although this is usually noticeable in the hoglet with lots of dropped spines and dry flaky skin.
Hedgehogs can carry mites, salmonella and foot and mouth.

Do hedgehogs lose their prickles (spines)?

Yes, they lose their spines just like we lose our hair every day. six to seven spines per day is average. If you notice more dropped prickles than that then the hedgehog may be ill.

Do hedgehogs bite?

It's very rare for a hedgehog to bite. And if they do it's never been reported that they break the skin as their jaws are not strong enough. All you will get is a bit of a shock and the indents of the teeth on your skin.

So there we are - a basic guide to looking after an orphaned hedgehog. I was asked to look out for more hoglets as the woman senses the most likely scenario is that something has happened to Mum and there may be more baby hedgehogs around - each litter usually consists of four or five babies.

A phonecall to the Hedgehog preservation society

I phoned the Hedgehog preservation society for some advice yesterday and learnt a lot about Autumn juveniles, as Hetty is official known.

I was getting a bit jittery about what to do, how to do it and whether we were doing all we could to help Hetty survive.

After ascertaining whether of not we were willing to look after Hetty or whether we wanted to get someone else to take care of her, the first thing this wonderful and knowledgeable lady told me was not to be surprised if everything seemed to be going well and then one day Hetty just died unexpectedly.


Apparently the odds of an autumn juvenile surviving are much slimmer than their summer cousins. She said that numerous people ring her up asking her what they did wrong because they have a dead hedgehog on their hands, but she assured me this is common and it just happens for no apparent reason.

So with that reality check out of the way I went on to ask my questions:

What should I be feeding our orphaned hoglet?
Should a baby hedgehog be having milk?
She keeps going under the fire, is she too cold?
What if a hoglet gets too cold?
Will a hoglet wee or poo in their own nests?
Can a hedgehog pass on any diseases to humans?
Do hedgehogs lose their prickles (spines)?
Do hedgehogs bite?

I'll type the answers up tomorrow. Hetty gets quite loud at 1:30am with rearranging her bedroom furniture and I'm too tired to type much today!

Hetty has moved house

Hetty's moved house.

No don't worry, we still have her here; loved, fed and watered. But you remember the wooden apple box she was living in? Well they have carrying handles and we've discovered that 5oz hoglets can squeeze themselves through carrying handles and escape around the house!

We popped out again yesterday, but this time we learned from past mistakes and put a lid on top of her house.

But oh no. Hetty is evidently a long distance cousin of Houdini and we found her missing again when we got back.

This time she was lying under the woodburner looking a bit sorry for herself. (That's the pic at the top).

Half an hour later she was lying on a piece of wood underneath the fire with her body pushed right up against the bottom of the fireplace.

The poor mite must have been freezing.

So she now has new housing. It's a plastic box with high sides and no carrying handles! We've made some holes in the lid for her to breathe. And we're yet to see if she can escape through the breathing holes.

Apparently a fully grown adult hedgehog can get through a 4 inch square gap, so it's no surprise Hetty got out of her apple box in search of warmer pastures.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Hetty has an adoring Auntie in the village

Yesterday we caught up with a lovely lady in the village, Mandy, who is a bit of a secret animal Saint. We had turned up at the shop she works in to buy some cheese. We always take our own plastic box with us to save on unnecessary plastic packaging.

When we walked in we were greeted like Royalty, only she was disappointed to see an empty box. Mandy thought we had taken Hetty in for a visit in the box!

We spent ages chatting and she was quite sure that if Hetty hadn't have found us that day she would be dead. The temperature dropped so low during her first night in our house that Mandy was convinced Hetty would not have been big enough to survive.

I have to admit, it bought a bit of a lump to my throat to think about that.

I had been questioning (and still am) the wisdom of what we are doing. Is it right to make a wild animal dependent on you? But if we don't then Hetty would be dead. It appears that apart from lack of food and warmth she is healthy, so is it right to just let die because something has happened to her Mother?

The fact that Hetty had survived a couple of days with us and was eating was a good sign, we were assured.

Mandy has up to 13 hedgehogs visiting her back garden, and she feeds them all. Last year she noted that none of them hibernated due to the seasons getting so messed up. I remember last year we only had three frosts and the rest of the time it was damp and mild.

Mandy also told me that hedgehogs are now breeding all year round whereas they usually have two litters - one in the spring or one in the late summer. If these babies are born too late in the season then they do not have enough reserves to survive the winter hibernation.

It's a world gone mad isn't it? Many people claim climate change is not happening, but you only have to look at the animals to realise it is very real threat to our wildlife.

Hetty the mischievous orphan hedgehog escapes!

By yesterday afternoon we hadn't seen Hetty since the previous night. We felt that this was perfect; she was getting into a hedgehog rhythm of sleeping during the day. We expected to see her around 6pm ready for some food and attention.

So we went about our day which involved popping out for an hour.

When we got back the first thing I checked was her box. She had been up, eaten some food, paddled in the water and rearranged her sleeping quarters.

Dh checked her bed and instead of this (good little Hetty in her box):

We found this (wayward Hetty running around the dining room):

Yes, it was a rather mischievous looking Hetty, peering at me from the corner of her eye in front of the door. Come on - just look at that dear little face. She had clearly been on quite an adventure as she was carrying cobwebs on her back.

She loved running across the floor as fast as her little undercarriage would let her. The cat came in and ignored her - looking at Hetty as if it were far too much effort to run when you could simply stretch out in front of the fire.

We took the opportunity to clean out Hetty's box while she exercised her legs and then put her back in with some cat food to try. She wasn't impressed with the cat food and sulked off back to bed for the afternoon.

The life of an orphaned hoglet is pretty neat so far I should say........

Friday, 3 October 2008

Hetty survived the night

Well that's good news. I didn't know what I was going to come down to this morning. A dead hedgehog? An escaped hedgehog? A hedgehog that had clawed my sofa and broken into the fridge to help herself to chicken?

All these thoughts and many others had crossed my mind.

What I came down to was a fast asleep hedgehog in a bed of leaves lying next to the fire. So far, so good. Except she doesn't roll into a ball, which, perhaps isn't so good. That's why the photo today is of the old wooden apple box that Hetty now lives in - Hetty has not got out of bed for a photoshoot!

You wouldn't believe how much there is to learn about taking care of a hoglet. I feel like a new Mum all over again. What with regular feeding, checking they're ok and cleaning out poo.

Of course my daughter is delighted, being a bit of a Doctor Doolitle / animal whisperer herself. When she came home yesterday evening she sat by Hetty's box for an hour until her little black snout appeared for food.

Then I had an excited, animated talk through of Hetty's every movement and a list of likes and dislikes surrounding food.

The cat seems totally disinterested in Hetty I'm pleased to say, but animals have come and gone throughout her 15 years, so she's used to another guest turning up unannounced at the dinner table.

Since I went to bed last night, Hetty ate 10 gms of chicken, so her appetite has slowed down already. This morning I haven't seen her, but we have heard her snuffling around, so all is well I think.