Since the year 2000 the UK's hedgehog population has fallen by half. This is the reason it's become increasingly important to help out the hedgehogs whenever we can! That’s why we decided to write a straightforward, factual and accurate blog all about feeding hedgehogs so you can be sure you are helping them in providing the right kind of care.
Why Do We Need To Feed Hedgehogs?
If you are new to the idea of feeding hedgehogs, one of your first thoughts may be why? Why is it important to feed hedgehogs and what should the outcome be? Well hedgehogs have two particularly crucial times of the year when they need all the support we can give. The first is during the breeding season and the second is prior to hibernation.
The hedgehog breeding season can start as early as April and can go straight through into September, depending on a few factors including the climate. The most likely time for breeding is during May or June when the days are long and hopefully it's warm!
As the population becomes denser, fewer hedgehogs can be supported in any one area, especially as populations of birds eating the same types of food increase. This competition puts huge numbers at risk of starvation and also into more dangerous situations as they search further to forage for food. This often involves crossing roads or coming into contact with much larger animals.
Hedgehogs need to weigh at least 600 grams before they can safely hibernate. This means they have the spring and autumn to eat as much as possible before hibernating, usually around October time. This is critical because if they weigh anything below this, they are at huge risk and are very unlikely to survive hibernation and live through the winter. Crucially however, the monumental problem hedgehogs face is that at the time of hibernation in the late autumn there is much less natural food around. Slugs, insects and other foostuffs are sparse at this time of year meaning that the task of sourcing food, preserving energy and gaining weight becomes a very real challenge. Considering these struggles, providing feed for hedgehogs really is the best and kindest thing you can do and it will go far in ensuring that they are of a sufficient weight and have all of the energy and nutrients they need to survive the harsh winter.
What Do We Feed Hedgehogs?
So now we know why you may be considering the question of what exactly you should feed to hedgehogs. Similar to birds and all other wildlife, hedgehogs eat a mixture of natural food and specially formulated species-specific food. A hedgehog’s natural diet consists of substantial meaty ingredients such as beetles and insects, caterpillars, worms, slugs & snails, which are all rich in energy, protein and calories. Such feeds are designed to fuel hedgehogs through the year and especially as they prepare for the challenge that is hibernation. Luckily many of these food sources can be found within your own garden, meaning that the perfect hedgehog diet is right on your doorstep. Ensure as far as possible that there are plenty of natural areas in your garden, preferably including leafy areas and some piles of leaves. These will attract insects and slugs which will provide an instant and ideal food source for your hedgehogs.
Many feeds contain mealworms which are a great option as they provide hedgehogs with a meaty, tasty, nutritious boost. However it is wise to be cautious and limit the amount of mealworms in a hedgehog’s diet. This is because mealworms leech calcium from hedgehog’s bodies meaning that if hedgehogs consume too many, they are at risk of contracting Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD). However, this does not necessarily mean that Hedgehogs should avoid mealworms altogether as they are rich in nutrition, deeply beneficial and they would need to consume a tremendously large amount before they are at risk from MBD. Providing mealworms are fed responsibly therefore, they can go far to maintain a hedgehogs healthy and balanced diet. The best way to provide them is within a mix, preferable a Hedgehog specific mix. This is because the other feeds in the mix substitute the calcium and balance out any loss they may experience. Similarly, if Hedgehogs are foraging in a mix, they have to pick through the different feeds so are unable to over load on just the mealworms. This way of eating is also a natural method so is ultimately the ideal way to feed hedgehogs.
When it comes to choosing a mix, it is best to pick one that has a low ratio of mealworms and one that contains other high quality feed. Our Hedgehog Biscuit Boost for example contains only a 10% ratio of mealworms which are mixed amongst crunchy, pea sized nuggets that are the absolute ideal size for hedgehogs. These meat based biscuits are tasty, nutritious, packed with energy and provide hedgehogs with a quick and essential energy burst. Also availble without Mealworms as plain Hedgehog Biscuit.
Either of these feeds are a great choice when it comes to caring for Hedgehogs this autumn and hopefully if you are thinking about providing for them over the next few weeks, our blog has helped answer some of your most sought after, hedgehog related questions. It is a good idea to feed from a small dish or tray and provide a couple of tablespoons worth of feed each evening. As with all animals, make sure there is access to a fresh supply of water alongside your feed also.
Our Hedgehog Biscuit Boost contains a great blend of nutrious biscuits and protein rich mealworms.
While creating natural sources of food in your garden is an admirable start, it is unlikely that hedgehogs will be able to get all of their nutrients, energy and calories from this. Hedgehogs ideally need to consume 100 grams of feed a day to maintain their weight goal of 600 grams before hibernation. In this case, the extra feed you provide for hedgehog visitors to your garden is vital.
Similar to birds and other garden wildlife, it is best to feed hedgehog specific food as this will provide them with all of the right kind of energy and nutrients they require. Like all creatures, hedgehogs have special dietary requirements and ideally need feed that is nutritious and high in calcium. Calcium is an essential for maintaining their health and wellbeing as well as to prevent them from contracting diseases they can be prone to, such as metabolic bone disease.
Metabolic bone disease is a distressing condition which occurs when a Hedgehog experiences calcium deficiency. It has the effect that it causes bones to become very brittle and thin as it strips them of calcium and leaves Hedgehogs weak; often unable to walk and in some cases even stand up. They contract this disease when there is a lack of calcium in their diet and therefore what we feed to hedgehogs is crucially important.
Other Ways To Help
Providing shelter for hedgehogs is another way to ensure their safety. Especially during the colder winter months whilst hibernating, staying dry, warm and cosy is essential! There are plenty of places online where you can learn how to build hedgehog houses but we have found this to be a little hard work! So instead here on the farm we use and stock two different hedgehog houses. Why not visit our hedgehog page for further information.