how to uncurl a hedgehog

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The Independent Culture
It's been a bad summer for hedgehogs. The prickly-backed snufflers wilted in the intense temperatures, becoming extremely irritable (snorting and bristling) when touched by any helping human hand. But autumn brings no respite. Now is the time for the nation's hedgehogs to hibernate, and where better to curl up for the winter than in that giant pile of leaves and twigs at the bottom of the garden. You know, the one with the Guy on top. The one the kids have been building in preparation for... Bonfire night. To avoid a hedgehog conflagration this 5 November, check your bonfire before lighting it. Should you wish to tend an injured hedgehog, here's what to do...

"If you decide to take a hedgehog into care, you must examine it thoroughly to discover what it needs. This is no problem if the hedgehog co-operates with gentle handling, but if it is curled up, you will have to uncurl it. The fact that it is curled up is encouraging because it means the animal is strong enough to do so. A hedgehog that is in a state of collapse, or very dehydrated, cannot curl up. Usually, hedgehogs are reluctant to uncurl only if they have been abused or if they have wounds on their undersides.

The following method of uncurling a hedgehog is the one Jane Durrant, who runs the Welsh Hedgehog Hospital, finds most effective and least stressful to both hedgehog and handler. It is important to take your time with this procedure in order for it to be effective. Approach the hedgehog calmly and confidently, and make sure all your movements are slow and gentle. Have some food ready to offer the hedgehog when it has uncurled. Hold the prickly ball up and look underneath for a V shape. This is where the head is; the point of the V is above the snout and the base of the V is above the back of the head.

Having worked out which end is which, hold the hedgehog the right way up over a table with the head downwards. Now very gently rock it to and fro. Eventually, the hedgehog should start to stick its nose out - let it smell the food you have ready. Keep rocking it and talk softly to it. The two front feet should start to appear.

When the front legs are well extended, slowly move the animal towards the table and allow it to put its front feet down. Carefully move your hands away and the hedgehog should start to put its back legs down as well.

Once the animal is fully uncurled and on the table, try getting it to take an interest in the food. This will give you an opportunity to move your hands underneath to pick it up and examine it. Hold it up and look underneath it - don't turn it upside down or handle it roughly otherwise it will curl up and be very reluctant to uncurl again. And never hold a hedgehog by its legs because you could injure it.

On occasion, Jane will use an anaesthetic gas under veterinary supervision to help her uncurl a reluctant hedgehog. Usually, she finds that, with gentleness, patience and a dose of homeopathic arnica or aconite, hedgehogs co-operate and allow dressings or even splints to be changed without becoming stressed."

The above is an extract from 'The Natural Hedgehog', by Lenni Sykes with Jane Durrant and foreword by Virginia McKenna. Available from all bookshops, priced pounds 8.99, published by Gaia Books.

The Welsh Hedgehog Hospital, Gwarffynnon, Llanddeiniol, Nr Aberystwyth, Dyfed, SY23 5AR (01974 241381)