Feeding your garden hedgehogs

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A helping hand

  

As awareness of the threat of extinction to our nation’s hedgehogs grows, more and more lovely, kind people are now providing supplementary food for them. But it’s important that it is the right food. 


Feeding hedgehogs prevents much more than starvation: a hog who has access to nutritious food will be able to maintain a healthy immune system, thus able to fight infection and keep the parasite/host balance  in check.



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What to feed


Dry complete cat or kitten food, the best quality you can afford. 


And that’s it. It’s all they need; no treats, no toppings, no additives. 


The reason I recommend cat food is because it is regulated, so you can be pretty sure it's safe.  Commercial hedgehog food is completely unregulated, so it can contain anything - even things that are really dangerous to hedgehogs. Secondly, hedgehogs have very small mouths, and the biscuit size of cat food  is generally smaller than dog food. Thirdly, kitten and cat food is easily available in many supermarkets, so there's no danger of running out and having to wait for online orders.


And for feeding baby hedgehogs, the biscuit size of Royal Canin Mother and Babycat or Tesco Complete Kitten Dry are perfect.


There are very few specialist hedgehog foods that are actually safe to feed, and only the dry kibble type (like Brambles, Spike’s dry and Semi-Moist, or Gardmans bites).  But the quality of cat food you could buy for the same price as these would be far superior.  Avoid ‘Hedgehog Food’ that contains a mixture of nuts, mealworms and seeds, as all these ingredients are very harmful to hedgehogs.


Use dishes that are shallow, heavy, and have straight sides, and always provide clean water.

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Won't they get bored?

  

No. In fact, hedgehogs dislike change and once they start taking the supplementary food you offer you’ll have a job persuading them to change. 

Wild animals use food for fuel, not entertainment - you’ll never hear a lion saying, “Oh no, not gazelle again!”

But...

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But I like to give them a treat

  

You already are, by providing nutritious food that they don’t have to forage for. Humans have developed a complex emotional and psychological attachment to food. We use it to treat and reward ourselves (and our pets) and to exhibit status; it isn’t so long ago that a man’s wealth and power was judged by how fat he was (now it’s how quickly he can get a table in a posh restaurant).


Wild animals don’t have our complex food hang-ups, so please don’t force yours on them.

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But I've tried changing their food, and they just won't touch it

  

Hedgehogs are creatures of habit, they don’t like change. But they are also highly adaptable creatures. You may have to clean up untouched food for a few days, but hunger will bring the hedgehog back. 


Persevere and don’t give in - remember you are doing what’s best for them.

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But they love mealworms

  

Yes, they do, the same way children love sweets and crisps. Hedgehogs have a highly developed sense of taste, and they use this to explore their world. When they smell something intriguing they will lick it. Apart from looking like their natural prey, mealworms have a distinct smell and taste that hedgehogs seem to find delicious. But they also find creosote and turpentine delicious. 


The body of any mammal needs to maintain the correct blood levels of calcium and phosphorous, to prevent disorders such as metabolic bone disease. Certain foods, such as mealworms, peanuts and sunflower seeds, are high in phosphorous and very low in calcium. If too much phosphorous is eaten, calcium is taken from the body’s calcium stores (the bones) to correct the ratio. This reduces the bone density, making them weak, thin, bendy and deformed. The hedgehog will be in constant pain, at a high risk of fractures, and eventually will be unable to walk to find food and will starve to death. 


Please, never give hedgehogs mealworms. 


Hedgehog feeding stations

hedgehog feeding station

Shop bought

There are specially designed hedgehog feeders you can buy, with baffles in place that prevent all the neighbourhood cats (as well as your own pets) from eating the hedgehog food. There are some very attractive designs, but they can be expensive and it’s easy and cheap to make your own, from all manner of things.

hedgehog feeder

Box

This is just an upside down cheap wooden crate with a door cut out both ends. The crate is placed on a piece of smooth rubber mat, making it easier to clean, but a sheet of clean newspaper would do the same job. The same design could be made from a transparent storage box.


Cats need room to lie down and stretch out long to get into small low spaces, so having something either side to prevent this will keep the food safe.  

hedgehog feeder

Bricks

  

A simple paving stone resting on bricks will work just as well. 


Hedgehogs like to have more than one doorway because, although related hedgehogs will feed together, they really are solitary animals. So if another hedgehog comes in the first doorway while they are eating, they can leave through the second doorway.