Hibernation attempt

It is of course well known that hedgehogs naturally hibernate. This is no different with White-bellied cones, although they hibernate and not really hibernate. White-bellied gels in the wild hide in their burrows during the coldest days in their habitat and spend several nights sleeping there. But unlike hibernation, White-bellied cones just wake up in between, they need to eat, drink, urinate and defecate. They are just a lot less active than usual. So they rest, so they waste less energy and therefore have more energy left to keep themselves warm during those cold days. Because some countries within their habitat can reach -5 degrees Celsius in those cold winter months! The difference with Europe is that those temperatures really only last a few days and it is soon well above 15 degrees Celsius.

In captivity White-bellied cones do not need that hibernation and it is also not recommended to insert a hibernation. That’s because it requires a lot of preparation and you really need to have a lot of knowledge of the natural course of events to be able to do that successfully. In theory it could be done, but there are no advantages to doing it in captivity. And without the right knowledge it is also very dangerous!

Not hibernation, but shock

Actually in a hibernation attempt a misnomer for the phenomenon. Because what actually happens is this: the temperature changes too quickly for the hedgehog to physically keep up with and the hedgehog goes into shock. But to make it clear that it is about a too rapid drop in temperature and the link with European hedgehogs that do hibernate, it is called that.

African pygmy hedgehogs are warm-blooded animals and therefore cannot assume the temperature of the environment, so they get very cold! Their body has come up with something for this: in order to survive the cold temperature, the hedgehog becomes slower, the rate of the heartbeat decreases, unimportant organs are kept active at a very low level and all this makes the hedgehog itself colder. Everything to waste as little energy as possible. But if all this has to happen too quickly, the hedgehog's body has to adapt so quickly that it goes into shock. If no action is taken in time, the body can completely shut down important organs, eventually causing the animal to die. Because of this risk, it is therefore not recommended to simulate a hibernation in captivity.

Permanent organ damage

On top of the risk of death, there is another risk. A relatively unknown risk: the permanent damage to organs. If the hedgehog has gone into shock to the point where organs are shut down and temporarily deprived of blood flow, the organ may remain permanently damaged, develop scar tissue, or even die completely. Often the liver and kidneys are the first to act, because these organs are seen as relatively unimportant by the body during winter rest and hibernation and are therefore the first to be switched off. If a part of the liver still remains healthy, the healthy part can take over the function of the unhealthy part of the liver, making liver damage reversible in many cases. However, that is not the case for the kidneys. Permanent organ damage can cause further health problems not initially linked to the hibernation attempt, such as permanent lethargy, jaundice, bladder infections and recurrent infections due to a weakened immune system.

What to do when a hedgehog goes into shock

When you notice that the hedgehog in captivity has gone into shock due to too great a drop in temperature, take the hedgehog out of the enclosure immediately. Place the hedgehog on your stomach, on bare skin. Place a blanket or shirt over the hedgehog to create warmth on that side of the body as well. Do not place the hedgehog on top of a heat mat or hot water bottle, as the sudden heat can also cause shock and compound the problem. Keep the hedgehog on your skin until the hedgehog is lively again and can stand and walk independently. Do not give the hedgehog any food or water! Putting the organs to work too quickly can overwork the organs, increasing the risk of permanent organ damage. Wait at least two hours with this and continue to ensure that the hedgehog stays warm by checking the temperature of the enclosure properly.