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What do hedgehog eat

What to feed Hedgehogs


1st March 2019

I have written this article with the intention of offering positive and helpful advice for anyone who wants to help hedgehogs in their garden. For over 30 years I’ve studied hedgehogs, and during the course of my professional career I have read and funded research into hedgehog nutrition and digestion in the wild. I hope you find this guide useful on what you can feed to hedgehogs in your garden.

The short answer.

What food should I feed to wild hedgehogs?

Good quality proprietary hedgehog biscuits, dog biscuits and cat biscuits are best in that order. Along with plenty of fresh drinking water offered in a shallow sided dish. Cooked meaty dog and cat food are also good alternatives.

Hedgehog Drinking

The slightly longer answer.

What else should I consider when feeding hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs are 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.

More to consider when feeding hedgehogs.

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 better not to feed them at all.

Can I feed dried fruit such as banana chips and raisins to hedgehogs?

While hedgehogs will forage fallen fruit and berries and can digest them, they are not an important part of their diet. The issue with dried fruit is the much higher sugar content and stickiness compared to fresh. As there is no nutritional reason for feeding dried fruit, the small risk of tooth decay excludes their use. Dried fruit will not attract hedgehogs to your garden and better foods are available.

Hedgehog next to an apple

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 in health food shops for humans. 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 spilt food attracts: worms, slugs, bugs and beetles, every bit as much if not more than the seeds themselves.

Hedgehogs forage miles every night

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?

We have a specific article covering this subject: HERE.
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.

A little more about Hedgehogs in the garden.

“What can I do to help hedgehogs in my garden?”

My top 4:

  • Water: Make sure there is clean accessible drinking water available for hedgehogs every night.
  • Room to roam: Hedgehogs are natural foragers and need access to large areas to find food, accommodation and a mate.
  • Food: Hedgehogs need reliable access to food whatever the weather. Hot, cold, wet or dry they need to eat every day. A small bowl of supplementary food will be greedily appreciated.
  • Shelter: Hedgehogs need sleeping, breeding and hibernating quarters and these are usually different for each requirement. Plenty of space, quiet corners and dry cover will help them flourish.
Hedgehog garden shelter

We have lots of blogs on hedgehogs just follow this link for more tips and ideas: Hedgehog Blogs.

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.

*There is an argument to be made for hedgehogs being omnivores rather than true insectivores. This is based on their slightly longer intestine and adapted molars compared with true insectivores such as shrews. Research into gut content shows the main bulk of their diet is made up of beetles, millipedes, caterpillars, earthworms and small slugs and snails. Vertebrates were also found including frogs, bird eggs, chicks, as well as carrion. Plant material was often found including grass and leaves, but this is thought to be incidental eating whilst consuming other food matter. Fruit and berries have also been found and these are believed to be deliberately eaten.

–    Ark Wildlife continue to research hedgehog wellbeing and dietary health and are currently carrying out trials on new ways of providing highly palatable balanced nutrition with improved digestibility.

  1. Paul Ravenscroft says:

    I’ve been feeding our visiting hedgehog dried hedgehog food, however, cats also like this dried food – is there an alternative that cats do not like? There doesn’t seem much point in feeding it cat food, as is recommended, as it will never get the chance to eat it. I also give it dried calcium worms but thought some variety might be good.

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for caring for your hedgehogs. Cats can be a bit of a nuisance in some gardens and we provide a food called Ark Hedgehog Muesli for this purpose, as it’s less palatable to cats. It’s a supplementary feed of crushed seeds, nuts and calcium worms fortified with calcium for strong bone growth.

  2. Simon says:

    I have two hedgehogs that visit every night. One has taken up residence in a house we made. I feed them ground cat biscuits with a small helping of dried meal worms, along with fresh water.

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Simon It's wonderful when hedgehogs make our gardens home isn’t it 🙂 Just a quick note of warning. You’re doing all the right things but also be aware that hedgehogs can become addicted to dried mealworms and they’re not very good for them. They’re fine as a ‘occassional’ treat but better still is to use an alternative such as Calcium Worms which have a better nutritional balance and still make a great treat for them. (See our blog on Hedgehog MBD for more info).

  3. Paul Finn says:

    Hi, we have a number of hedgehogs that visit our garden and it’s lovely. We currently feed them dried cat food every night under our cat house (our cat has decided to live outside) and they don’t seem bothered by each other. My questions are:

    1. We would love to watch them more and would like to put a small light under the table. Is there a type you would recommend that won’t scare them away?
    2. As I say we have a number of hedgehogs but we’re not sure if they’re the same ones every night. Is there any way to safely identify them as we have resorted to naming them all Henrietta?

    Thank you

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Paul, hedgehogs are pretty resilient creatures and won’t be bothered by a cat or a light. A low energy LED lamp would be your best bet as these are cool and have very low running costs. Some people do put markers on hedgehog spines to identify them but we don’t advocate either touching or taming wildlife as this can increase their risk of predation or harm. Hedgehogs are creatures of habit and it’s highly likely they will be the same animals visiting nightly and you will become familiar with the individuals without markers. Watch for the order they arrive and look at their shape and sizes. More than anything else, you’ll notice they all have personalities and it’s fun learning who’s who.

  4. Maggie says:

    Hi. We think we have a nesting female in our hedgehog house. Hoping she is pregnant after her liaisons with a big male hedgehog over the past week. We're currently putting out hedgehog biscuits and water every night which she is feasting on. If we are lucky enough to have hoglets what food is best to leave out for them? X

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Maggie, Keep feeding Mum, she needs a lot of calories! Being mammals Mum will provide milk for her babies until they are ready to leave the nest and start forging with a full set of teeth themselves. It’s very important once the babies start visiting the garden, you provide a supplement for them but NOT so much they don’t need to forage. They must learn the shill’s needed to hunt and find food for themselves and not reply on handouts. We’d recommend continuing to put out meaty Ark Hedgehog Food Original along with plenty of water (you can also soak the food in warm water to make a soft mash). You could increase what you’re feeding by, say 50% but don’t overfeed, the babies need to learn life skills. Autumn is the only time to spoil hedgehogs with food and fatten them up as much as we can.

  5. Gary says:

    Hello there, we have a couple of hogs visiting nightly. We’ve been leaving out a small bowl of hedgehog food and suet pellets that you get for the birds. They seem to be clearing the bowl. Do you think the suet is beneficial for them!

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Gary, A few suet pellets will not harm your hedgehogs, but they do not provide the nutrition they need either. A mixed diet of meat-based protein and good fibre like that provided by Ark Hedgehog Food Original is ideal but like us, hedgehogs do like a treat too. You could consider adding a few Dried Calcium Worms as a treat as they are closer to their natural diet but a few kitchen scraps and / or bird food from time to time will do no harm and will also keep them interested.

  6. Alex says:

    Hi there, I bought your hedgehog food last year and it was a big hit with my local hedgehog. I had a little left over from last year and I'm pleased to report the hedgehog is back and still enjoying the food. He had a good meal and drank lots of water too! I will order another bag soon. Great product

  7. Nicola says:

    Hi, I recently noticed hedgehog poo on my lawn and have started to leave a couple of handfuls of hedgehog food out each night for my visitor. Last night I stayed up hoping to catch a glimpse of my new neighbour. Imagine my surprise when I counted 4 in the garden at the same time. They came to the saucer 1 at a time, then scuttled back off to the garden border. I counted 7 visits to the saucer over an hour and a half. I’m wondering if some of those 7 visits could have been the same hedgehog twice or would they be unlikely to revisit the food source so frequently? As I have at least 4, how much food should I leave out? I don’t want to over feed them.

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Nicola
      What a lovely surprise 🙂
      Your hedgehogs will indeed come and go to the feeding dish several times a night. They are natural foragers and don't sit and feast in one sitting. Due to these natural foraging instincts, it's also highly unlikely to ever overfeed a wild hedgehog. As a rough guide for you, a generous handful of hedgehog food per individual is a good nights feed.

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