Do Hedgehogs Hibernate? (17 Questions Answered)

Hedhehogs exist in many different climates around the world, and show a particular response to changes in environmental conditions such as the temperature. Unlike most animals who migrate to warmer regions in winters to assure survival, hedgehogs would respond by hibernating.   

Why Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?

Extremely cold temperatures may pose severe survival issues for these little animals and the simple tasks of moving around or searching for food may waste more energy than that available for consumption.

Even without movement, the large surface area of their small bodies contributes to a constant heat removal.

In the cold winter months, food sources also become scarce, and for hedgehogs this means that they need to conserve energy, or they’ll starve!

While some species react to changing temperatures by migrating and going somewhere warmer, hedgehogs aren’t able to move neither very fast nor very far because of their physique.

Because of this, hedgehogs have adapted to hibernate when it gets colder. They simple lower their heart-rate and metabolism while they slumber through the cold months. I wish I could do that!

How Do Hedgehogs Actually Hibernate?

We usually think of hibernation as a completely motionless state of an animal where it is curled up for a peaceful sleep, lasting for months.

For hedgehogs, hibernation is different. They enter a state of inactivity with a slow breathing rate, less heart activity, slower metabolism, and low body temperature yet are able to move around after a while to look for food or if their body temperature reaches freezing point.

This means that they’re more or less active, even while hibernating, and will be able to react to dangers, seek out better shelter or get a bite to eat (if anything is available).

When Do They Hibernate?

Hedgehogs hibernate anywhere between October to April. However, you may sometimes find the hedgehogs active during warm Decembers. There are no strict rules.

Some of you may wish to know if it is the cold weather that makes them hibernate or a particular time of the year is biologically specified for hibernation.

It is actually the cold temperature that makes these little hedgehogs snooze off. As soon as the winter cold seeps in and mildness in the weather disappears, you will find the hedgehogs retreating to their hibernation spot.

This also means that hedgehogs that live in warmer climates (or inside your living-room) generally don’t hibernate. (And for the case of pet hedgehogs, you should actually try to avoid that your hedgie goes into hibernation).

How Do They Prepare to Hibernate?

During autumn, hedgehogs eat as much as possible to build up large fat reserves in their bodies. For surviving one complete winter season, a hedgehog should have a body mass of 500 to 700 grams at least.

They may consume large numbers of worms and small insects to achieve this.

Other than preparing their bodies for the long rest, finding the right hibernation spot is equally essential.

This spot should not only offer a soft and perfect shelter but also an ideal hiding location. A hedgehog living in your garden may seek sheltered places like old logs and marshy ground.

In forests, however, a hedgehog would prefer to make its own hibernation spot – called a hibernaculum – using feathers, and dead stems and leaves. A kind of little nest!

Signs That a Hedgehog Is Going into Hibernation

The initial signs of hibernation include reduced activity altogether.

This includes the hedgehog becoming lazy, sluggish, and sleepy. It may appear to have difficulty walking around or even moving its limbs.

Instead, it will be seen sitting in one place and curling into a ball. Hedgehogs usually have warm bodies, but when going into hibernation, you may experience a reduction of temperature on their skins.  

How to Tell if Hedgehogs are Hibernating?

When hibernating, the heart rate of a hedgehog may drop from 190 beats per minute to around 20 beats per minute, which is an obvious difference.

You may find hedgehogs curled up for long periods with little or no movement at all. In this state, the hedgehog will have a cold belly and a very slow breathing rate.

These symptoms may also indicate the Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome which can be very dangerous. so when under this condition, pet hedgehogs must be closely and frequently checked. 

Should I Let My Pet Hedgehog Hibernate?

For domestic hedgehogs, hibernation may be a problem.

These hedgehogs do not have enough fats on their bodies to sustain them for long. Moreover, the reduction in metabolic rate greatly affects their immune system.

Since these pets are not accustomed to such long spans of inactivity and no food, hibernation may subsequently lead to the little critters losing their lives.

So, as an owner of a hedgehog, you should try to prevent it from hibernating. If it enters this phase, you must carefully observe whether your pet is just hibernating or has passed away.  

How To Know If a Hedgehog is Hibernating or It Has Passed Away?

Hibernation can easily be mistaken for the hedgehogs having passed away, with long intervals of no breathing and very slow heartbeats.

As an owner of a small hedgehog, you may get worried if such inactivity is observed for a long time. But this does not always mean your pet is no longer with us. Some possible symptoms of death include:

  • The inactive hedgehog lying straight instead of curling into a tight ball – the famous feature of hibernation. However, a hedgehog lying straight in summers may indicate an attempt to remove overheating.
  • The heart rate is less than 5 to 20 beats per minute. A stethoscope may be used to check this. If no heart rate is recorded for over a minute, this indicates that the hedgehog isn’t alive anymore.
  • The body temperature less than 6-10 °C or 40-50 °F. A temperature lower than this cannot sustain the metabolic reactions of a living hedgehog.
  • A breathing rate lower than 15 breaths per minute.
  • No activity even on increasing heat. On increasing the surrounding temperature, the hedgehog may take a little time to resume its activity, but no activity even after 30 minutes of heating means your pet is not alive anymore.    

Below are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions related to hedgehog hibernation.

Do Hedgehogs Stay Asleep During Hibernation, Or Do They Sometimes Wake Up and Move Around?

Hedgehogs may move around when hibernating. Particularly when the temperature increases a bit, they wake up but do not completely leave their spot.  This span of activity can last for around a couple of days.

They may also wake up when the temperature goes extremely down, and the hibernation spot does not offer enough insulation. A hedgehog would then simply wake up and start building a new warmer nest – its hibernaculum.

Do Hedgehogs Eat During Hibernation?

Hedgehogs may not wake up and eat during hibernation if fed properly in Autumn.

They may eat a little if available on waking up. However, they may require a constant supply of water throughout this period too. If your pet is hibernating, instead of keeping food around, make sure to keep enough water around it.

Do Hedgehogs Lose a Lot of Weight When Hibernating?

Hedgehogs may lose as much as 0.2 to 0.3% of their body weight in each day of hibernation. Hence it must have enough body weight and store fat to survive.

By the end of the hibernation period, a hedgehog may have lost up to 40% of its initial body weight.

Do Hedgehogs Hibernate Together or Alone?

Hedgehogs usually prefer to hibernate alone in peace when they are in the wild. However, if kept as a pet, your hedgehogs may be seen hibernating together in a single nest.

Do Hedgehogs Curl Up into a Ball When Hibernating?

Yes, hedgehogs tend to curl up into tight balls when hibernating to reduce their body’s surface area and keep the heat inside, assuring the possibility of survival.

Moreover, shuffling across the nest in tight balls allows the nest material to press against each other, forming a tight waterproofing wall.

What Does a Hedgehog’s Hibernation Nest Look Like?

Hedgehog’s nests are usually categorized into the summer nests and the winter hibernation nests.

The hibernation nests are known as hibernaculum. These are made using insulating materials such as leaves and grasses placed in thick layers, lasting for the entire winter season while providing waterproofing to the nest as well.

Moreover, these nests are able to bear below freezing temperatures and do not become brittle or break.   

Their summer nests, on the other hand, are extremely feeble and do not last long.

When Do Hedgehogs Wake Up from Hibernation?

Hedgehogs wake up when the temperatures of their bodies rise up to around 25 – 30 °C.

This is the temperature when the hedgehog would become fully active and functioning. Below this, the chances of going back to the state of inactivity still exist.

How Do I Prevent My Hedgehog from Hibernating?

You may try one of the methods mentioned below to prevent your hedgehog from hibernating:

  • Darkness for long periods of the day may act as a stimulus for hibernation. Lack of light conveys the message that cold weather is prevalent. To reduce this, the pet’s environment may artificially be controlled using additional lighting.
  • Hedgehogs prefer temperatures even warmer than what we consider the acceptable room temperature for humans, that is 25°C. Since the temperature is likely to fall to this point often throughout the year, hedgehogs may attempt to hibernate often. To prevent this, a warm environment may be created around the pet using a heat source such as a heating pad below their resting area, covered in a thick cloth to prevent burns.
  • A hedgehog may even be covered in blankets to keep their body heat entrapped and their surroundings warmer.
  • If in an environment with frequent cold winds, a hedgehog’s place may be covered using polymer sheets such as a shower curtain. This must, however, be done carefully, because such sheets can block off their air completely and may cause suffocation if enough ventilation is not provided.  
  • If a sudden decrease in temperature is anticipated, simply covering your pet under your own clothing may prevent any hibernation attempts.

Hibernation is the survival tactic of these little hedgehogs against the extremely cold environment. Once the hibernation spot is ready, their bodies stuffed with fatty reserves, and the climate cold enough, hedgehogs are ready to hibernate.