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.
Dry complete kitten or cat food.
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 sure it's safe and hygienically produced, and it's the perfect nutrition for hedgehogs. Commercial hedgehog food is completely unregulated, so it can contain anything - even things that are really harmful to hedgehogs - and the packaging can state even the most outrageous lies, all without fear of punishment. Secondly, hedgehogs have very small mouths, and the biscuit size of cat/kitten food is generally smaller than dog food. Thirdly, cat food is easily available in many supermarkets, so there's no danger of running out and having to wait for online orders.
The biscuit size of Smilla Complete Kitten dry food, Sainsbury's own Kitten Complete, and Purina One Kitten are perfect for all ages, even tiny hoglets.
Use dishes that are shallow, heavy, and have straight sides, and always provide clean water.
Any flavour is fine, just look at the ingredients list - some kind of meat should be the first thing listed (avoid those with cereal as the first, therefore largest, ingredient. Cereal is just worthless bulk - to cats as well as hedgehogs).
There are very few 'hedgehog foods' that are actually safe to feed, and only the dry kibble type. But the quality of cat food you could buy for the same price as these would be far superior quality, and much better value.
Avoid any so-called ‘Hedgehog Food’ that resembles muesli and contains a mixture of nuts, sunflower hearts, seeds or mealworms/calciworms as, no matter what the seller claims, all these ingredients are VERY harmful to hedgehogs.
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!”
We love a label; we see Cat Food, Dog Food and want to see Hedgehog Food. And the higher the price the more ‘specialist’ we think it must be. We’ve learnt to trust labels because everything else we use or consume is regulated.
But there are NO regulations regarding wild animal food - either governing how hygienically it was produced or its contents. Anyone can package ANYTHING and call it ‘Hedgehog Food’ and claim anything about it - that it’s been ‘scientifically researched’ or that it’s approved by rescues. There are no rules they need to abide by.
Sadly there are many unscrupulous companies keen to cash in on the growing army of kind people trying to halt the hedgehog's decline by providing supplementary food, and will happily sell a mixture of the cheapest, most unsuitable ingredients, at the highest possible price.
Some will deliberately put in harmful ingredients, like mealworms, sunflower hearts or peanuts, because although these bird foods will cripple and eventually kill the hedgehogs, they find them tasty (they also find creosote tasty). And food being eaten ‘proves’ to you they like it, so it must be good, so you will buy more. Some even bulk the product out with breadcrumbs, sweetened with tooth-rotting honey.
Some will add dried fruit or vegetables so that to you, it appears ‘healthy’. Hedgehogs do not possess a cecum (part of the intestine necessary to process fruit and veg) so this bulker just fills then passes through, providing zero nutrition. Hedgehogs have sharp, specialist beetle-crunching teeth, so the dried fruit gets stuck on them and causes dental decay.
Pet food is regulated because, unlike wild animals, pets have owners that can sue. Cat and dog food has been scientifically balanced to be safe and nutritious, and contains no ingredients that are harmful to hedgehogs. Although both dog and cat food are perfect supplementary foods for hedgehogs, because they have small mouths the tiny size of kitten biscuits is ideal. The crunch also helps keep teeth strong and healthy. Pet food is also readily available in all supermarkets.
Please continue feeding all year round. Once the food stops being taken for a week or so, reduce the amount so the biscuits just cover the bottom of the dish. If it's eaten again one night, fill it back up.
Hedgehogs rouse from hibernation occasionally for a top up. This uses up precious energy and they will head straight for where they've always trusted safe food to be - you.
Not all hedgehogs are able to hibernate. Some are sick, some are underweight, and some are just babies - born too late to ever make a safe hibernation weight. You'll never know these poor, needy, desperately hungry creatures have visted you, unless you have food out.
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.
Hedgehogs are creatures of habit, they don’t like change. And it's the change they don't like, not the new food. 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.
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, causing constant pain. Eventually the bones will break and the hedgehog will be unable to walk to find food and will starve to death.
Please, never give hedgehogs mealworms.