european-hedgehog-eating-a-common-earthworm

What do hedgehogs eat?

Are you lucky enough to have a hedgehog visiting your garden? These much-loved mammals are in trouble, with the UK population possibly falling by two-thirds in the last 25 years alone.

Evidence suggests this decline is most severe in rural areas and hedgehogs are actually faring better in our towns and villages than the countryside. This means gardens can be an important refuge for the species. One way you can help any visiting hogs is to provide some food. But what do hedgehogs eat and what should you feed them?

Hogs hunt by snuffling through the undergrowth, using their keen sense of smell and hearing to catch any prey they disturb. Invertebrates are top of the menu.

It’s thought a lack of food may be a factor in the hedgehog’s decline. This is because invertebrate numbers have been reduced by agricultural intensification and pesticide use.

Diet of Wild Hedgehogs
In the wild, hedgehogs are opportunistic omnivores, who may eat virtually any small animal they encounter, although they exhibit a distinct preference for insects and other invertebrates. Beetles, butterflies, moths and earwigs are common targets, although they will even eat some stinging and biting insects, such as ants and wasps. Occasionally, hedgehogs even eat vertebrates, such as snakes, lizards and frogs. 

Commercial Foods
You can feed hedgehogs commercial foods, specifically designed for hedgehogs. Try to select a product that contains ample protein, but little fat. You can offer hedgehogs cat food. Never feed hedgehogs fatty, fried, spicy or salty table foods or scraps.

Commercial foods such as Ark Wildlife original hedgehog food, Brambles Crunchy Hedgehog Food and Spike’s Crunchy Dry Hedgehog Food are all recommended.

Cat meat, cat biscuits and kitten biscuits are also good and help provide a balanced diet. Some kitten biscuits contain milk, so beware of that – hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and cannot have milk.

A juvenile hedgehog eating cat food

Drinking Water
Ensure that hedgehogs have access to clean, fresh water at all times. A shollow bowl of fresh water can be a life saver when other sources of water are hard to get. A deep bowl may lead to hoglets drowning, so beware!

Juvenile hedgehog drinking from a bowl of water

When to feed hedgehogs
We recommend all year round. Hedgehogs emerging from hibernation in spring will have lost 25 – 30% of their body fat and will be looking for food to rebuild their reserves. Food is essential in late summer and autumn when they are building up the fat reserves needed to survive the winter. Some hedgehogs do not hibernate, or only hibernate for a short spell, and their natural food will not be available to them so a bowl of cat food/biscuits will be an essential source of food.

It’s also worth providing food and water during periods of dry, hot weather, as natural resources can become scare in these conditions. It’s not exactly clear how much urban hedgehogs rely on food provided by people, but it’s thought to supplement rather than replace their natural diet.

What not to feed hedgehogs The following foods should be avoided when feeding hedgehogs:-
  • Bread, cakes, biscuits – All stodge. Some high sugar. No nutrients. Fills them up and stops them looking for nutritious food.
  • Milk and milk based products – Positively dangerous. Hedgehogs, and most other animals after weaning, are lactose intolerant. The resulting diarrhoea can kill.
  • Peanuts and sunflower hearts – As with Mealworms, too high in phosphorus and too low in calcium. Peanuts can also get stuck across the roof of a hedgehog’s mouth preventing it eating.