Hedgehogs and Hibernation (Everything About The Snooze!)

What do hedgehogs, bears, wood frogs, skunks, and bumblebees have in common? They all hibernate!

Hedgehogs can be found worldwide, but those that live in colder regions respond to the change in temperature by hibernating. How do you know if a hedgehog is hibernating, how long they hibernate for, and if they wake up to eat in the middle of hibernating?

Floofmania tells you everything you want to know about their long, regular snooze!

Why Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?

Freezing temperatures may pose issues of survival for many species. 

The primary issue is the scarcity of food sources: it’s tough to find food in the winter. The once simple tasks of moving around or searching for food may now waste more energy than what is available for consumption.

Some species react to changing temperatures by migrating and going somewhere warmer. Unfortunately, that is not an option for tiny hedgehogs that can’t move fast or far enough.

Therefore, hedgehogs hibernate instead when it gets colder. They lower their heart rate and metabolism to conserve vital energy needed to survive while they slumber through the cold months.

When Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?

The cold weather triggers hedgehogs’ hibernation. You typically spot hedgehogs settling in for hibernation once temperatures drop between October and November

Sometimes, you can still find the hedgehogs active until December. This could be because the winter is milder than usual, they have access to a steady food supply, or they still need to build up enough fat reserves to enter hibernation.

Cold weather triggering hibernation also means that hedgehogs that live in warmer climates generally don’t hibernate. 

Do Male And Female Hedgehogs Hibernate At The Same Time?

Males typically enter hibernation before females. 

This is believed to be the case because while females are usually still caring and weaning their litter until early autumn, males have all summer and autumn to fatten themselves up for winter.

How Do They Prepare to Hibernate?

A hedgehog should weigh at least 1.3 lbs to survive an entire winter season. To achieve that weight goal, hedgehogs consume large amounts of worms and small insects to build up large fat reserves in their bodies during the fall. 

Aside from preparing their bodies for hibernation, finding the right spot is equally essential. They need an area that is hidden and comfortable enough that can still offer protection. 

What Does a Hedgehog’s Hibernation Nest Look Like?

Hedgehogs in the wild make their own hibernation spot called a “hibernaculum” using feathers, dead stems, and leaves – kind of like a little nest! 

Hedgehogs must choose insulating, waterproof materials to build their nests and construct them with multiple, thick layers. They must be durable enough to last for the entire winter and keep the hedgehog warm and dry inside the whole time.

However, hedgehogs are not overly picky about this. They may also simply seek out sheltered places like old, hollow logs or areas beneath hedges to fall asleep in.

Hedgehogs also build nests during the summer, but these are feeble and do not last long.

Once the hibernation spot is ready, their bodies are sufficiently fattened, and the climate cold is enough, hedgehogs are ready to hibernate.

Signs That a Hedgehog Is Going into Hibernation

The hedgehog will appear lazy, sluggish, and sleepy as it eases into hibernation. It may have difficulty walking around or moving limbs. You may notice the hedgehog sitting in one place and curling into a ball. 

Also, hedgehogs usually have warm bodies, but when going into hibernation, you may notice their skin feeling cooler to the touch.  

How Do Hedgehogs Hibernate?

Hedgehogs don’t actually sleep for months when they hibernate. Instead, they enter a state of torpor where they lower their body temperature and slow down their heart and metabolic rate to conserve energy.

If they really have to, they can get up for a little snack, react to danger, or move to another hibernation location – they’ll just be a little sluggish about it.

Do Hedgehogs Hibernate Together or Alone?

Hedgehogs are solitary animals that prefer to hibernate alone

Interestingly, however, hedgehogs in captivity often share one nest.

Do Hedgehogs Lose a Lot of Weight When Hibernating?

Hedgehogs may lose as much as 0.2 to 0.3% of their body weight each day of hibernation, or about 0.002 lbs a day (1-2 grams). 

By the end of the hibernation period, a hedgehog may have lost up to 40% of its initial body weight. In other words, the early winter 1.3 lb hedgehog is now down to 0.8 lbs!

This is why it’s essential for hedgehogs to amass enough fat resources – if they don’t, there is simply no way they would survive that amount of weight loss.

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

Hedgehogs may move around when hibernating. Research has actually shown that hedgehogs move their hibernating nest (hibernaculum) at least once every hibernation period. 

They tend to move and show more activity for a few days when temperatures increase, and the climate is temporarily warmer.  

However, they also reportedly do so when the temperatures plunge, and their existing hibernation spot does not offer enough insulation. This forces them to move and build a new, warmer nest for themselves.

Do Hedgehogs Eat During Hibernation?

Hedgehogs may not wake up and eat during hibernation if fed properly in the fall but won’t refuse a nibble if they find a snack upon waking. 

Stronger than their tendency to wake up to eat, however, is their tendency to wake up to drink

Water is always essential, and those who observe hedgehogs in their garden are encouraged to leave water bowls out for the little mammals all year round.

How to Tell if Hedgehogs are Hibernating?

When hibernating, the heart rate of a hedgehog may plummet from 190 beats per minute to a measly 20 beats per minute.

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

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, the hedgehog movement of shuffling across the nest in tight balls allows the nest material to press against each other, forming a more compressed, waterproofed wall.

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

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

However, it’s pretty simple to tell if a hedgehog is in a state of torpor or if it is no longer with us. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Heart rate. If no heart rate is recorded for over a minute, the hedgehog likely isn’t alive anymore.
  • Position. If you see a hedgehog lying straight, it’s likely passed away. Note that if you see a hedgehog lying straight in summer, it may be trying to cool itself down.
  • Body temperature. Anything less than 6-10 °C or 40-50 °F is not a good sign. Those internal temperatures can no longer sustain the metabolic functions of a living hedgehog.
  • Breathing rate. If the hedgehog has less than 15 breaths per minute, it is not doing well. 
  • No activity, even with increased heat. When surrounding temperatures rise, hedgehogs slowly wake up and become more active. If they show no activity even after 30 minutes of warmth, the hedgehog may have passed.

When Do Hedgehogs Wake Up from Hibernation?

Hedgehogs usually wake up from their hibernation around March or April, but it’s possible to see latecomers emerging up until May. 

They fully wake up when their bodies’ temperatures rise to around 77-86 °F (25-30 °C). Below this, the chances of returning to the state of inactivity still exist.

Should I Let My Pet Hedgehog Hibernate?

For domestic hedgehogs, hibernation may be a problem.

These hedgehogs typically do not have enough fat in their bodies to sustain them for long. Moreover, the reduction in metabolic rate significantly 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.

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, has passed away, or has Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS).

(In a nutshell, WHS is a syndrome with signs remarkably similar to hibernation but is a well-known degenerative neurological disease of hedgehogs believed to be genetic.)

How Do I Prevent My Hedgehog from Hibernating?

How can you stop your pet hedgie from entering a state of torpor? Here are some suggestions:

  • Lots of light. Darkness for long periods of the day may act as a stimulus for hibernation since lack of light conveys the message that cold weather is prevalent. Keep your pet’s environment bright with additional lighting during the day.
  • Heating lamps or pads. Since cold temperatures trigger hibernation, you should aim to keep your hedgehog warm and toasty with carefully placed heating lamps or pads. It is ideal to keep their environment at temperatures above 77 °F (25°C).
  • Insulate them with blankets. This follows the same idea. Cover their area with a blanket if you don’t have a heating lamp or pad to keep in the warmth. Remember to leave the top open for air!
  • Protect them from cold winds. 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 be done carefully, though, because such sheets can block off their air entirely and may cause suffocation.

How Does Climate Change Affect Hedgehogs’ Hibernation?

Climate change affects everything for our hedgehogs, from their food supply to their biological clocks and hibernation cycles. 

Warm, wet winters may bring more earthworms to the surface, which are great for hedgehogs taking a break from torpor. However, the preceding cold, dry spring means fewer earthworms will be available when hedgehogs need them to build strength for breeding.

Hedgehogs’ hibernation cycles are getting confused as well. The cold air typically signals their start of hibernation, and they usually wake now and then when warm air blows for snacks and hibernaculum repairs.

However, global warming leads to more pockets of warmth during the winter, causing our hedgehogs to wake more frequently and burn more precious energy than they used to throughout the winter.

Studies also show hedgehogs are beginning to wake earlier in the spring, sometimes before their food sources, which poses a problem.

While there is still time, let’s all do our part in saving our environment and making it stable again for you, me, and hedgehogs worldwide.

Author: Bernice Go

Bernice Go is a violinist and orchestra manager by profession but a writer by hobby. She enjoys writing about various topics, from music to animals to self-development. When she isn’t playing the violin or writing, she loves reading, traveling, playing video games, and savoring a good cup of coffee.