What food should I feed to wild hedgehogs?
Although it is debated by some, Hedgehogs are, by-and-large, natural insectivores but in addition to insects, they can enjoy and digest quite a variety of foods. Insect and animal proteins are best but bear in mind hedgehogs need a lot of fibre (think of all those insect and snail shells they eat!), so overly processed foods are out. Being nocturnal insectivores, they are necessarily very efficient at processing vitamins (we need sunlight to produce vitamin D, hedgehogs do not), so watch the additives in pet foods as some cat food can have very high levels of vitamin A and D. Hedgehogs have evolved to metabolise fat easily and gain weight quickly, ideal for an animal that hibernates. While I’ve never seen an obese hedgehog in the wild, I’ve seen plenty in captivity! Just bear this in mind and avoid overfeeding, or excessively fatty foods.
I’ve heard mealworms are harmful to hedgehogs, is this true?
No (but please read the full answer). Mealworms contain excellent proteins and amino acids that are beneficial in an insectivore’s diet. However, they have a poor calcium/phosphorus ratio meaning they should only be fed as part of a balanced diet. The problem is Hedgehogs seem to become addicted to mealworms, eating them to the exclusion of other foods. In the long term, this can result in illness and disease and it is therefore probably best to feed them in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Is fish bad for Hedgehogs?
While I’ve never witnessed a hedgehog consume a fish (and I’ve no intention of offering one either) this question generally relates to fish-based cat food. Fish protein is beneficial and therefore within a balanced, cat or dog food is fine for hedgehogs. Hedgehogs have an excellent sense of smell and may be put off by (or attracted to) strong odours and fish of course, have a strong odour. Consumption of a lot of fish protein will travel through a hedgehog’s digestive tract very quickly resulting in fishy smelling Hedgehog poo. This was once thought to be proof hedgehogs couldn’t digest fish but this has long since been shown to be untrue.
Are sunflower hearts and peanuts dangerous for Hedgehogs?
Sunflower seeds and peanuts are not a dangerous food type and provide a major contribution to many animal feeds, as well as being widely available for garden birds. Sunflower hearts and peanuts are very fatty, and Hedgehogs enjoy them for this reason, so feed them only as a treat or within a balanced diet. Hedgehogs can often be seen foraging under bird feeders, and it’s believed that it’s the food that attracts them. From my own observations I believe hedgehogs enjoy all the invertebrates that garden bird food attracts: worms, slugs, bugs and beetles, every bit as much if not more than the seeds themselves.
Should I feed vegetables to my hedgehogs?
Hedgehogs do not generally feed on any vegetable matter but do ingest some greens incidentally while feeding on worms and other invertebrates. They do not make a nutritional contribution and do not need to be provided.
I’ve heard about Hedgehog Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), should I be concerned?
MBD is a disease of all vertebrates including humans and it has many causes, diet being one of them. It is a weakening of the bones (amongst other symptoms) caused by a lack of calcium. The Hedgehogs’ diet is poor in calcium and much of its natural food prey have a poor calcium/phosphorous ratio (the same is true of bats, another nocturnal insectivore). Therefore, when providing supplementary feeds, it’s important to ensure we add calcium to their diet and do not strip it even more. The two things hedgehogs need are room to roam and good quality food that has an appropriate calcium balance to avoid this condition.
What can I do to help Hedgehogs in my garden?
The following are my top tips for helping Hedgehogs in your garden:
Finally the don’ts….. What harms hedgehogs?
There are so many easy ways to support and provide food for hedgehogs, that there are simply never reasons to offer milk, salted food or sweets. Hedgehogs may well appear to be enjoying them, but you could well be killing them with kindness. Do not feed these items.