In the UK, we have been feeding hedgehogs in our gardens for decades. People started out offering them bread and milk, which the hogs gobbled down happily even though it was bad for them. Now there is a whole range of proprietary hedgehog foods on the market, some rescuers swear by cat food, and you can even find recipes for homemade hedgehog food on the internet. So what is the best thing to feed hedgehogs in your garden? Let’s take a look.
What to Feed Wild Hedgehogs In Your Garden
Hedgehogs are insectivores; their main food in the wild is insects and other invertebrates such as snails, worms and slugs. But they are also opportunistic eaters. This means they will eat pretty much anything they can get their snouts into, whether it’s good for them or not.
If you put food out for hedgehogs, chances are they will take it, so it’s important to offer food that is good for them.
But before we dive into which foods to offer to your hogs and which to avoid, let’s quickly remind ourselves of just why we are feeding hedgehogs in the first place.
Why Feed Hedgehogs?
Many of us feed birds in our gardens because we enjoy watching them at the table and on the feeders.
This isn’t the case with hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and generally feed when we are sleeping. So unless you have a night camera, you are not likely to see them feeding.
But feeding hedgehogs is important. Hedgehogs in the UK are in big trouble mainly due to the loss of their natural habitat and the food that goes with it. In our countryside numbers and in disastrous decline.
But in towns and cities, hedgehog populations are starting to stabilize, and there is even early evidence of recovery in some areas.
And one of the main reasons for this is that more and more people are feeding hedgehogs and making their gardens hedgehog-friendly.
Loss of habitat and increasing use of pesticides means that, even though they forage all night, it’s difficult for hedgehogs to find the food they need from natural sources.
The supplementary food we offer in our gardens doesn’t mean hedgehogs don’t still forage naturally; it just tops them up. Think of it as replacing the food humans have stolen from hedgehogs by destroying their natural food sources.
The food we offer in our gardens makes the difference between a hungry hog and a healthy hog: between a hog who is fit to breed and survive hibernation and one who is just too skinny to survive.
So let’s get the feeding right.
Proprietary Hedgehog Food
Quality, professionally made hedgehog food is the best thing you can feed to wild hedgehogs in your garden. A good quality hog food will be nutritionally balanced to offer just the kind of healthy supplement to their foraged food that hedgehogs need.
Some manufacturers have spent years perfecting their recipes.
At Home and Roost, we stock Spikes and Brambles hedgehog food, and we are confident that both brands offer a good nutritional balance for hedgehogs.
Not all hog foods, however, are quite so good for our spikey friends. When you choose a hedgehog food, it’s best to check the ingredients list.
Look for meat, usually poultry, to be the primary (first listed) ingredient in your hedgehog food. Meat should be the primary ingredient in both wet and dry foods.
There is quite a list of things you don’t want to see on the ingredients list of your food:
- Honey – bad for their teeth.
- Dried Fruit – also bad for teeth
- Sunflower hearts/seeds are high in phosphorus which can cause problems with metabolic bone disease.
- Peanuts and other nuts can also be high in phosphorus.
- So can mealworms.
- Lots of fillers – you will see wheat and linseed listed as ingredients in many hog foods. They do not pose a health risk, but they have little nutritional value. They are cheap fillers. So your hogs will fill upon them and think they don’t need to do any more foraging that night when in fact, they haven’t eaten all the nutrients they need to survive and thrive.
Just remember that hedgehogs will happily eat a whole host of things that are pretty bad for them. So when we are providing food, it’s our job to be the nutrition police.
Like humans, hedgehogs will often prefer the tasty bits that are bad for them to the nutritious but boring bits. So it’s best to completely avoid feeding hedgehogs things that are bad for them – even as a “little treat” or a small part of a hedgehog food.
Wet or Dry Hedgehog Food?
Either wet or dry hedgehog food is fine. Lots of people say hedgehogs prefer the wet food. It certainly has a stronger smell and could do a better job of attracting hedgehogs to your feeding station in the first place. Of course, this also makes it more of a magnet for other animals.
Wet food (like wet pet food) is typically about 80% water. A high water content is no bad thing as hedgehogs need their fluids. But it does mean that you will need to feed more of it to provide the same nutrition.
Wet food does go off quicker than dry, so any leftovers will have to be thrown away each morning. If you have regular hoggy visitors, leftovers aren’t likely to be an issue through the summer months. But when you leave food out during hibernation season, just in case any hungry hogs happen to be out and about, dry is best as it can be left for several days.
Mealworms and Black Soldier Fly Larvae or Calci-Worms
Hedgehogs love mealworms and, given the chance, will generally gobble down as many as they can get their snouts on. But mealworms have a poor calcium to phosphorus balance and can be very bad for hedgehogs, especially young hogs, causing metabolic bone disease, which is a painful and dangerous condition.
But mealworms are a high protein food and very nutritious in some ways; they’re also an invertebrate, so close to a hedgehog’s natural diet. So hedgehog food manufacturers have looked for a safe substitute.
They have come up with Black Soldier Fly Larvae, which are sometimes also referred to as calci-worms. Black Soldier Fly Larvae reared on their natural diet have a much better calcium to phosphorus ratio than mealworms, so they are a healthier alternative for hedgehogs.
BUT as the demand for calci-worms grows, they are increasingly being bred on a diet of restaurant waste. As a result, there is some evidence that their calcium to phosphorus ratio may change and become less favourable for hedgehogs.
So the jury is still out on these bugs as hedgehog food. We wouldn’t have concerns about finding them on the ingredients list of hedgehog food, but equally, we wouldn’t go out and buy a bag as hedgehog treats.
Note: Mealworms fed as part of a balanced diet are not harmful to garden birds.
Dog and Cat Food
Most dog and cat food is also a good choice for your hedgehogs. These pet foods tend to be meat-based, and therefore, although it isn’t specially formulated with the needs of hedgehogs in mind, it does a pretty good job of netting their dietary requirements.
You can choose wet, meaty food or crushed, dry food. Kitten and puppy food can be especially good as there is generally added calcium which helps with the calcium-phosphorus ratio.
What About Fish Flavour Cat Food?
There is lots of talk of fish-based pet foods being poisonous for hedgehogs, so should you avoid it?
There are a couple of points here. First, lots of fish flavoured cat food doesn’t actually contain all that much fish; the clue is in the “fish flavour” label.
Secondly, there doesn’t seem to be much hard scientific evidence that fish is bad for hedgehogs.
However, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from rescuers that feeding fish flavour cat food to hedgehogs does cause truly horrendous smelling poop and farts. If it’s making them smell that bad, it’s probably better for all concerned to avoid fish flavours!
DIY Hedgehog Food?
There are quite a few recipes for homemade hog food around on the internet. Whilst you can prepare a feast for your garden birds from things you might have in the kitchen, we wouldn’t advise you to try this for hedgehogs.
Many of the recipes you’ll find are muesli-type mixtures of nuts, grains and dried fruit. As we’ve seen, these ingredients aren’t good for hedgehogs. So we would suggest you stick to a hedgehog, dog or cat food.
What Not To Feed Hedgehogs
We touched on some of the things that you shouldn’t be feeding hedgehogs earlier in this article. But here’s a more complete list and some background on why these foods are bad for hogs.
Milk and Dairy.
Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, and whilst a little cheese won’t do them any harm (most of the lactose disappears in the cheese-making process), milk can make them quite ill.
Bread, cakes, pasta, rice.
These are high carbohydrate food, and the hedgehog’s natural diet is high protein, low carb. Hogs will happily snaffle up many of these foods. They will get full and feel like they don’t need to forage and eat anymore when they haven’t had the nutrition they need for the night.
Mealworms, Peanuts and Sunflower Seeds/Hearts.
As we’ve seen, these all have an unhealthy calcium to phosphorus ratio and can lead to metabolic bone disease. Don’t panic if you see a hedgehog having a go at some of your bird food, but these certainly aren’t ingredients you should be choosing to offer your hedgehogs.
Honey and dried fruit.
Hedgehogs often have a sweet tooth, but eating too much of these foods can lead to them having no teeth at all. Avoid.
How Much To Feed?
If you offer dry hedgehog food or crushed dry dog or cat biscuits to hedgehogs visiting your garden, aim for around an ounce or 25 grams per hog per night.
Twenty-five grams is about one-third of the 75 grams of food that hedgehogs eat most nights.
You may want to increase the quantity in the autumn on the build-up to hibernation when hogs are working hard to put on weight.
If you have a hog in your care, who is not foraging independently, you will also need to increase the quantity and provide 3 to 4 ounces of food per day.
Also, if you are offering wet food, remember this has a high water content, so you may want to provide a little more.
Always offer water alongside the food you provide for hedgehogs in your garden.
Consider a Feeding Station
The food you put out for hedgehogs will be attractive to other animals, including cats, dogs, foxes and badgers.
Some people won’t mind offering a meal of other wildlife (or even the local cats!), but if you want to give the hedgehogs a good chance of having the food to themselves, consider setting up a hedgehog feeding station.
A hedgehog house or feeding station is designed to allow the hedgehog, who is small and quite bendy, to access the food whilst keeping larger animals out. It also offers your hedgies some protection from predators and bad weather whilst they eat.
Choosing the Right Food For Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs in the UK are in trouble. When we feed hedgehogs in our gardens, we are making an important contribution to the survival and recovery of the species.
So it’s vital that we offer hogs the right food. Food that is actively good for them provides the nutritional balance they need and won’t make them ill.
Luckily choosing the right food for hedgehogs in our gardens is pretty straightforward.
We won’t go far wrong if we stick to hedgehog food with a high meat content or cat/dog food.
Don’t worry that your hedgehogs will be bored by the same old bowl of biscuits every night. They won’t; they can find plenty of exciting little morsels when they are out foraging. The food we provide is just topping them up: making sure they are healthy, not hungry, and fit to face all the challenges the natural world has for them.
Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. If you have questions or suggestions, we would love to hear them. Leave us a comment below.