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What do hedgehog eat

What do hedgehogs eat & what can you feed them?


28th September 2022

Last Updated: 5th April 2024

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 should I feed wild hedgehogs?

Hedgehogs can eat good quality proprietary hedgehog biscuits, dog biscuits and cat biscuits, which are best in that order. Along with plenty of fresh drinking water offered in a shallow sided dish or feeding station for hedgehogs. Cooked meaty dog and cat food are also good alternatives. Ark wildlife stocks a great range of hedgehog food that means you don’t have to go making your own!

Hedgehog Drinking

The slightly longer answer.

What do hedgehogs eat in the wild?

Of course, there are no specialist hedgehog biscuits (or even dog/cat biscuits) out in the wild, so hedgehogs tend to eat a more carnivorous diet when there are no handouts on offer. Beetles, caterpillars, earthworms, millipedes, snails and slugs are all favourites, but hedgehogs are fairly flexible when it comes to their diet. As well as chicks, bird eggs and even frogs, they will sometimes eat berries and other fruits if they come across them.

Like many wild animals in the UK, hedgehogs face disappearing habitats, as well as predators and various other threats, so their numbers continue to decline. As a result, they have learned to be adaptable, right down to the foods they eat.

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.

Can hedgehogs eat mealworms?

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 hedgehogs dry fruit (such as banana chips and raisins)?

Dried fruit is not an important part of a hedgehog’s diet. Dried fruit has a 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.

When should I feed wild hedgehogs?

The best time to put out food for wild hedgehogs is just after dusk. Hedgehogs are up and about during the night, so dusk is when they’re starting to search for food. Feeding wild hedgehogs is especially important when the weather is hot and dry as natural food will be hard for them to find. But even when hedgehogs are hibernating, their deep sleep might not be constant. They may wake up in search of food before going back to sleep. 

Where should I put food for hedgehogs?

First of all, make sure that hedgehogs can get in and out of your garden (a hedgehog highway — get involved with the Hedgehog Street campaign!). 

Then find a sheltered spot in your garden for a hedgehog feeding station, designed to stop cats, birds and foxes from eating the food. Fill it with lots of hedgehog-safe food and water at sunset, ideally using a hedgehog food bowl and a hedgehog water bowl. Only put out small amounts of food as this is to supplement their diet. 

Clear away any uneaten food in the morning and refill the dishes each evening so the food and water is always fresh. It’ll be quiet in winter, so start up the station in another season. Finally, ensure you always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the food and dishes (hedgehogs can spread diseases). 

How do you feed hedgehogs in your garden?

Placing food in hedgehog feeding stations is a great way to help feed wild hedgehogs. These stations can be placed in a safe spot within your garden and have enough space to place two dishes inside. Since these stations have a hinged roof and predator-protected entrance holes, they stop cats or foxes from stealing any of the food!

Alternatively, you can place food in shallow dishes to leave out in your garden for hedgehogs. However, you’ll have to watch out for other sneaky visitors who might want the food for themselves.

What do hedgehogs drink?

Hedgehogs will drink water from natural sources such as puddles, but leaving out a shallow dish of fresh, plain water is the best way to ensure they stay hydrated all year round. 

What is Hedgehog Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)?

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is caused by a hedgehog consistently eating foods which are too low in calcium and too high in phosphorus. This can result in the hedgehog’s body leaching the calcium stored in its bones into the bloodstream to try to counterbalance. But this means that their bones then don’t get enough calcium, causing the bones to break or become misshapen. If a hedgehog fills up solely on peanuts, mealworms, oats and sunflower hearts, they won’t have a balanced diet and this can lead to MBD. MBD in hedgehogs is harrowing: it’s a debilitating, excruciatingly painful condition that can lead to death.

Much like we have to eat everything in moderation and only indulge in unhealthy foods as treats, hedgehogs should do the same. Hedgehogs need good-quality food with the appropriate calcium balance to avoid this condition. For more information, take a look at: A Guide to Hedgehog Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

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. If you’re looking to help hedgehogs in your garden, why not purchase a starter pack for hedgehogs?
Hedgehog garden shelter

We have lots of blogs on hedgehogs if you want more tips and ideas.

Finally the don’ts.

What should hedgehogs not eat?

  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Raw meat
  • Citrus fruit
  • Oats
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Onion
  • Avocado

While hedgehogs are quite adaptable when it comes to their diet, eating both meat and fruits, there are some foods you should avoid putting out for them. 

Bread is something that many people have traditionally given to hedgehogs, as well as birds, of course. But it has little nutritional value and only serves to fill them up, meaning they won’t then go in search of more nutritious foods.

Milk is another foodstuff traditionally left out for hedgehogs. However, it will do them more harm than good due to their lactose intolerance.

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.

We are pleased to offer you a copy of Vale Wildlife Hospital’s advice sheets for feeding hedgehogs in your garden. They are one of the UK’s largest wildlife hospitals and hedgehog rescue centres. We therefore follow their guidance regarding hedgehog care as appropriate.

External sources/references:

Help a hedgehog – advice by The Wildlife Trusts
Feeding garden hedgehogs – a guide by the RSPCA
The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2022 report

  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.

  8. derek n annetts says:

    heres a funny last year i had a problem with rats i caught 17 in one year in a humane trap , this year i noticed some what i thought was rodent sign chewed plastic etc s o i left out the rat trap caught nothing though the bait was gone the trap door not shut ! thought very small mouse or clever rat then on the 4 th day i realised i had an animal in the trap yes you got it a hedgehog, now he is there every night likes my biscuits and seems to disappear under a belfast sink plant pot on bricks my only worry in winter as this whole area is ex retail open area & all concrete he may freeze in winter ? ive tried to catch him again in the trap and export him to a neighbours garden but he now recognises the trap this area is a small cul de sac and he must of wandered in via the front garage roller doors which dont quite reach the ground so hopefully he may wander out one night and find a garden area to spend the winter got quite a appetite!!

  9. Samantha Ellis says:

    Hi there
    We have at least two hogs, plus four or five foxes visiting our garden as we scatter a little food in front of our trail camera (a few handfuls of peanuts, dog food plus scraps if we have any). Fresh water is provided in several places and there's loads of cover in undergrowth, log piles plus a larger animal house we put out for anyone who needs it. Should we be doing Anyang differently, or add anything to the menu? There isn't enough to fill them up, and often the hogs and foxes eat side by side so we know the peanuts aren't being scoffed by any one individual!

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Samantha
      You're doing the right thing. It's always good for animals to get a 'quick snack' and drink as they start their nights foraging but we should only supplement their diet and not make them depecndant on us. By putting out a little pick n mix your're keeping them wild but also geving them a helping hand. Ehjoy your wildlife, we alsohave hedgehogs and foxes feeding side by side but theu all scatter as soon as the badgers appear!

  10. Peter from Little Clacton says:

    I've moved into a new property with a well establish large garden and pong just before the big lockdown and have inherited a nice large array of animals which you are helping to feed – all the different birds (blackbirds, robins, greenfinches, goldfinches, sparrows, blue or great tits (or both) and magpies who all love your food (also some wood pigeons and collared doves but they just get scraps thrown out the feeding areas). Also the tadpoles, which have feasted on your food and now are little frogs. And also 4 squirrels who love the two large squirrel feeders I have one on a breeze block on the ground other on a fence both which get filled with hazelnuts and walnuts and (although they don't really eat them) dried bananas. Oh and also a grass snake though – i've not been feeding it but assume its been helping its self to the young newts and frogs 🙁

    To my surprise this early evening (9:30 so just as dusk setting in) I saw a squirrel's feet disappear fulling into the large green squirrel feeder I have on the breeze block and stay inside for 5-10 minutes (which is strange) to my surprise as the lid opened a hedgehog appeared it had obviously been having a good munch in there – on what not sure assume though they had a selection of hazelnuts, walnuts and the dried banana slices. I

    t was a real nice surprise and funny that it managed to get inside the feeder so very intelligent to work out to lift the lid 🙂 I had suspected I had a hedgehog as do have large areas of bushes/trees with undergrowth to rummage around but nice to finally get confirmation. So i've bought a little shelter and food for them to see if can entice them more and make it bit easier for them to feed and provide them with some proper food – though am sure they will still snack on the odd nut I guess. Here is hoping a have a whole group of them as all are welcome.

  11. Susie says:

    Mine loves it’s hedgehog musili and it’s biscuits I bought from your website. It’s being coming every night since the end of March a couple of times two of them. It’s made my lockdown ? I must send the latest video of it demolishing your food

  12. S J says:

    Hi There, I have a little hedgehog that has been in our garden for the last few days and he’s out during the day from around 10am he just wanders around. He seems healthy and is eating hedgehog food and drinking but sleeping at night in a wood pile near our house. Is he ok?

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi SJ
      Hedgehogs do not typically come out to feed during the day, this usually indicates they are very hungryor thirsty, driven to feed outside their norml active hours. If it's eating, drinking and pooing OK it probably just needs more food made available at night. If it's small, make sure the food you're using has enough protein and the nutrition suitable for a growing hedgehog. Does it alsohave access to roam beyond your garden? Heddgehogs forgae widely (up to 2 miles a night) this way they can seek out all the food and mixed nutrition they need. We'd suggest you keep a close eye on it, have you got a camera trap to see if its active at night? Can it roam? Has it got enough, and the right food? If it continues to appear during daytime for more than a few days you should contact your local hedgehog carer for specific advise.

  13. Dave says:

    Hi, I sometimes put out oats and bread scraps for the birds and have noticed hedgehogs eating the leftovers of both. Are either of these harmful?

    1. Ark Wildlife says:

      Hi Dave
      As you rightly note hedgehogs will tuck in to any left over scraps left out for the birds, they really are opportunist feeders! Bread and oats do not make up a part of a hedgehogs natural diet but a few equally won't do the any harm. A problem can occur however if hedgehogs feed to much on bird food scraps, along with bread etc. You can read our article on metabolic bone disease for details but simply speaking to much of the wrong food ie bird food, can result in bone defects and even death. You can help avoid such an event by either putting out some good quality hedgehog food or meaty dog food which will tempt them away from the bird food and give them the protein and calcium they need. Otherwise you might consider only putting out oats and bread for the birds during the day while the hedgehogs are sleeping.

  14. Gloria Berry says:

    Young hedgehog taken up reidence IN our settee ! he is no trouble and cats not at all interested. We are surrounded by fields and have a large garden but he/she should really be outside. Best way to go about this would be ?
    Eating cats food, takes himself go the conservatory every night, appears to like bananas

  15. Anne says:

    I have a thriving community of hedgehogs fed on Ark hedgehog food. I have rescued 5 babies this autumn (just in my garden) which have been taken to animal rescue, the most recent only weighing 156g. Two have been returned to be overwintered by me. I put out food and water all year round in a feeding shelter, which is where dried food is ideal. I have been doing this for about 6 years and have rescued 20+ successfully. Everyone who feeds hedgehogs please carry on through the winter in 2016, 2019 and last year they didn't all hibernate.

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