ConservationHOW TO FEED HEDGEHOGS

5 min read
HOW TO FEED HEDGEHOGS

A hedgehog drinking water, by Nick Martin

Hedgehogs are expected to go extinct in the UK by 2025. They’re facing a decline in natural food sources as a result of changes to agricultural practices – like increasing field size and decreasing areas of hedgerow and field margins – and to how we manage our gardens – like increasing use of artificial grass and patio. 

Just like feeding the birds provides a useful supplemental food source, so too does feeding hedgehogs. 

WHAT SHOULD I FEED THEM?

The best thing to feed hedgehogs is hedgehog biscuits from a reputable source. I buy Brambles hedgehog food from the RSPB – an £8.49 bag lasted me a whole year of putting food out for hedgies every night. 

Wet hedgehog food in tins is also available if you prefer, although the dry biscuits are less likely to go off or freeze. 

You can also feed hedgehogs any meat-based dry or wet cat or dog food – it doesn’t matter what type or brand you go for. 

Be careful when ordering hedgehog food online - lots of products sold as hedgehog food on Amazon contain ingredients that are harmful to hedgehogs. Word on the grapevine is Tesco dry kitten biscuits are a favourite of hogs, and the price is far lower than the questionable ones on Amazon (75p for 500 g).

Hedgehog, by Nick Martin.

WHAT SHOULDN’T I FEED THEM?

Anything other than hedgehog food or cat or dog food! 

Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant so don’t give them milk – it upsets their tummy, which can make them dehydrated and weak. 

Don’t leave mealworms out for hedgehogs. Excessive consumption of mealworms causes metabolic bone disease, a disease associated with abnormalities of phosphorous and calcium. Like a kid in a sweetshop, hedgehogs will keep eating mealworms until they’re all gone – it doesn’t mean they’re good for them. 

You know the drill with feeding wildlife bread by now – just as with ducks, feeding hedgehogs bread is useless. All it does it fill them up without providing them much energy or any nutrients. 

Some people say they like to leave milk or mealworms as a ‘treat’ for hedgehogs because hedgehogs seem to like them. Wild animals don’t need treats – please just give them what’s good for them. 

DON’T FORGET WATER

It’s really important that you provide water for your hedgies to drink. If you have a pond, make sure it has an exit ramp for hedgehogs – they like to go for a swim, but they’ll drown if they can’t get out. If you don't have a pond, they're great fun to create and are the best thing you can do for wildlife in your garden - I've written about how I made mine.

I leave dishes of water in various places around the garden for hedgehogs.

MAINTENANCE

The best bowls to use to feed hedgehogs are heavy, sturdy, and shallow. The former because they’re prone to leaning on the edge and tipping them up, and the latter because hedgehogs aren’t very big!

You can buy hedgehog feeding bowls but I use those shallow ramekins that dipping cheese comes in at Christmas.

Just like with bird feeders, make sure you clean your hedgehog bowls regularly to prevent the spread of disease. Don't use harsh chemicals - hot soapy water does the job.

Experiment with how much food you leave out for hedgies – it’s best not to put lots of excess out every night as you’ll end up throwing it away uneaten after a few nights when it goes mouldy. Hedgehogs are small so they don’t need much – start out with a small handful of biscuits and see how much they eat. 

WILL CATS EAT THE FOOD?

Cats, foxes, magpies, and crows will all eat the hedgehog food if you leave it out in the open. 

This problem (if you see it as a problem) is easily solved by creating a hedgehog feeding station. That way, only animals hedgehog size or smaller will be able to eat the food.

WILL MY PETS BOTHER THE HEDGEHOGS?

In my experience, cats tend to leave hedgehogs alone. I’ve been watching the hedgehogs in my garden interact with my neighbours’ cats for over a year and the cats have always left the hedgehogs alone – aborting their stalking mission when they realise that the animal snuffling around is spiney. The hedgehogs don’t seem bothered by the cats and continue their business as usual.

This doesn’t mean that your cat, or a cat that visits your garden, won’t bother hedgehogs – all cats and hedgies are different, so if you’re able to set up a camera it’s good to watch to see if they’re getting along.

Dogs sometimes attack hedgehogs. Hedgies are easily stressed, so a dog playing with them can cause them harm even if they’re not physically injured. Vulnerable or young hedgehogs could be killed. It’s important to keep dogs inside or in a kennel at nighttime. 

A hedgehog on the lawn, by Nick Martin.

HOW QUICKLY WILL HEDGEHOGS VISIT?

You might get hedgies at your feeding station straight away! As soon as I started feeding hedgehogs, they were appearing on my trail cam almost every night.

There are other steps you can take to encourage hedgehogs to your garden - you might need to be patient, but if you keep putting small amounts of food out you should get some takers!

Do you feed hedgehogs? Thinking of starting? Talk to me about it on socials! Links below.

RESOURCES

The images used in this post were taken by Nick Martin of All Things Wildlife, a fantastic site dedicated to furthering Nick's mission of enthusing as many people as he can about wildlife and the great outdoors. Check out their Instagram and Twitter, too!

Hedgehog Street has loads of great information about feeding hedgehogs.

You can buy homes, bowls and food for hedgehogs from the RSPB here.

Pat Morris has written a fantastic book on hedgehogs for the British Natural History Collection, available here.

The RHS has a delightful book by Helen Bostock called How Can I Help Hedgehogs?

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