The wild hedgehog diet – why beetles not slugs are the No.1….

wild hedgehog diet
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Would you eat a slug? Well, they aren’t top of the foods that hedgehogs like to eat either.

Beetles, followed by caterpillars are the number 1 wild foods for hedgehogs.

wild hedgehog diet

wild hedgehog diet

But here we have a bit of a problem. The use of pesticides on our crops and in our gardens over recent years means that insect numbers are falling dramatically. The trend towards tidy gardens also means there are fewer plants for beetles and butterflies and places for them to hide away over Winter.

Slugs, snails and earthworms, as well as being the less favoured foods for hedgehogs, also create another problem. They are the intermediate hosts for internal parasties that can make hedgehogs very sick. You can read more about that here.

So… what can you do? It is vital to garden for insects. Do everything you can to create habitats for beetles and butterflies. Build a log pile and a compost heap. Build a bug hotel. Leave areas long and wild. Grow a wide variety of plants that are attractive to insects. As well as providing food for hedgehogs, these plants will also provide foraging cover for hedgehogs and also nest sites.

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Borders packed with a wide variety of plants are best for insects – and hedgehogs

Supplementary feeding and leaving out food and water for hedgehogs can also help give them a helping hand although it’s not unknown for a hedgehog to walk past a bowl of cat biscuits in favour of munching on a beetle. It will definitely help though.

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Build an insect hotel to attract bugs to your garden and provide somewhere for them to over-winter. Mine has a hedgehog house underneath!

If you want to control slug numbers in your garden please never use slug pellets. They poison hedgehogs. Once a hedgehog has been poisoned, very little can be done to save it.

I know I’ve said that slugs aren’t great for hedgehogs but they are good for other wildlife, including frogs. If you want to limit slug numbers, you can try a range of safe natural methods including copper tape and beer traps. I also use a natural nematode solution like Nemaslug, which is harmless to wildlife and helps to keep slug numbers under control.

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Provide supplementary food and water for hedgehogs, as well as gardening for insects

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. I also have a wildlife garden that I have made as wildlife friendly as possible. You can read more about my work here and also how to support it.

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Why you shouldn’t feed hedgehogs mealworms

Hedgehogs feeding in garden
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Like many people, I used to feed dried mealworms to my visiting garden hedgehogs. I used to feed them in moderation but I had no idea quite how bad they were for the health of my spiky friends.

I knew that mealworms were to hedgehogs what sweets are to children. If given the choice, they would live on nothing but this junk food. They are highly addictive and hedgehogs will soon choose to consume nothing else.

What I didn’t know though was that mealworms, and probably also foods like peanut kibble and sunflower hearts, actively strip bones of calcium. This is the likely cause of increasing numbers of hedgehogs coming into hedgehog rescues with metabolic bone disease, including Benjamin who was cared for here last year.

Hedgehogs feeding in garden

I used to feed visiting hedgehogs a mix of kitten biscuits and a few mealworms. Now I’ve cut out the mealworms completely.

Please read the article to find out the full reasons why you shouldn’t feed these foods. A good quality kitten or cat biscuit, water and some meaty cat or dog food is all you need to keep your prickly visitors healthy.

You can also help by making your garden insect friendly to ensure there are plenty of beetles and caterpillars – their favourite natural foods. There is plenty of calcium in the exoskeletons of beetles.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. You can find out more about me and my hedgehog hospital here. Like all wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self-funded and you can find out how to support my work here.

I also make handmade silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to raise vital funds for my hospital. You can visit my online jewellery shop here.

Hedgehog with metabolic bone disease – why mealworms, peanuts and sunflower seeds are bad for hedgehogs

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Meet Benjamin. He is very poorly.

Benjamin was admitted to my rescue at only 330g. He has been surviving by eating bird seed over the Winter.

Benjamin has metabolic bone disease. Basically, his bones are very thin due to calcium deficiency. This is why he has problems walking. He will be in a lot of pain – it is like a human who has rickets or osteoporosis.

He was fed on a mix of sunflower hearts, mealworms and hedgehog biscuits but he has been seen picking out his favourite bits and leaving the hedgehog biscuits. This means that he will not have got enough calcium in his diet. Mealworms actively strip bones of calcium and sunflower hearts also have a calcium/phosphorus ratio that is too high.

There is a brilliant article here that tells you more about the calcium/phosphorus ratio and busts some of the myths about things you should and shouldn’t feed hedgehogs.

There is little natural food around at this time of year and so his diet will not have been enriched by natural foods, such as the exoskeletons of beetles, that hedgehogs eat in the summer.

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The wild hedgehog diet. They will get calcium from the exoskeletons of beetles

Benjamin is receiving calcium injections and a high calcium diet. He has to be handled very carefully because his bones are so brittle, they can break easily. The thinnest bone is on his front right leg and this is the one that he struggles most to walk on.

It will be a long road to recovery for Benjamin – for the nutrients to build up in his bones. He will also require extensive hydrotherapy to build the strength in his bones and muscles.

As well as metabolic bone disease, he also has a high burden of internal parasites – fluke and roundworm which he also needs to fight but his immunity will be low due to his poor nutrition.

To avoid problems like this, please feed wild hedgehogs only cat/kitten biscuits, meaty cat or dog food (not gravy or fish flavours) or specialist hedgehog food. This diet will contain all the nutrients they need to supplement wild food.

Benjamin’s problems were diagnosed by a vet following an x-ray. It is vital not to self-diagnose or give hedgehogs supplements without a professional diagnosis. Giving too much vitamin D or calcium can cause many problems in wild hedgehogs that do not have metabolic bone disease.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. You can find out more about my work here and also how to support it.

I also make silver nature jewellery to raise funds for my hedgehog hospital and you can visit my jewellery shop here.

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Build a hedgehog feeding station

Hedgehogs feeding in garden
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Want to feed hedgehogs but not your neighbourhood cats? A hedgehog feeding station may well be the answer. It also helps to keep the food and the hedgehog dry when it is raining. Hedgehogs aren’t keen on rain!

There are lots of options for feeding stations. You can buy a ready made one, I use a wooden hedgehog house (see header pic) or you can also build your own very cheaply from a plastic box. Please remember that a feeding station should only be used for food – don’t mix dinner with bed and breakfast. Use a separate hedgehog box to provide a house.

You will need:

  • A plastic storage box with a lid. A minimum of 12″ wide by 18″ (but can be bigger)
  • A stanley knife or strong scissors to cut the hole
  • Measuring tape to measure the size of the hole
  • Strong tape to cover the cut edges of the hole
  • A brick
  • Small but heavy ceramic bowls for food

Building the box

  • Decide whether you want to have the box with the lid on or whether you want to turn the box upside down with the lid underneath.
  • Carefully cut out a hole around 4.5″ square.
  • Tape up the edges of the hole – they may be jagged
  • Line the box with newspaper
  • Put the food at the far end of the box
  • Place a brick on top to help prevent the lid being taken off by a fox/cat
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Feeding station lined with newspaper. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

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Place a brick on top of the box. Pic courtesy http://www.thehedgehog.co.uk

Check the box daily and change the newspaper when it gets dirty. Wash the food bowls regularly to keep them clean.

You can also decrease the risk of cats getting into the feeding station by placing the entrance up against a fence or wall with only a hedgehog sized gap behind it….

If you want to check that your visitor is, in fact, a hedgehog, you can place a non-toxic ink pad at the entrance followed by a white paper lining. You should then be able to spot hedgehog footprints made by the ink….

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Hedgehog footprints. Pic courtesy http://www.hedgehogstreet.org

For suggestions of what food to put in your feeding station please read my blog.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. I make silver jewellery to raise funds to support my work. My work is entirely self-funded. You can also make a donation to support my work here.

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What to feed hedgehogs in your garden

Hedgehogs feeding in the garden
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Hedgehog numbers are declining at an alarming rate, with there thought to be less than a million now left in the wild. Supplementary feeding is crucial to help them survive.

What do hedgehogs eat?

It is a myth that hedgehogs solely or mainly eat slugs. Whilst they do occasionally like to get their teeth into a juicy fat slug, they mainly eat insects, including beetles and caterpillars. Hedgehogs are also opportunistic and will eat a wide range of other foods including birds’ eggs and small dead animals like mice.

wild hedgehog diet

wild hedgehog diet

Too many slugs, snails and earthworms are bad for them as they carry lungworm and roundworm which, in large numbers, can cause hedgehogs to become very poorly and die.

One of the best things you can do to help hedgehogs find their favourite food sources is to grow a wide variety of shrubs and plants to attract insects. Also provide plenty of piles of old logs and other hidey holes for beetles.

Providing extra food and water helps to keep hedgehogs fit and healthy and to put on weight for hibernation. It also stops them resorting to worms and slugs. Supplementary feeding is particularly important in the Spring as hedgehogs are emerging hungry from hibernation and in the Autumn to help them get up to weight for Winter. Leave out a shallow bowl of water year round.

NEVER feed hedgehogs bread and milk. They are lactose intolerant and it can make them very ill.

Also avoid dried mealworms, peanuts and sunflower hearts – they can cause serious bone problems. You can find out more here. There is also a great article here that explains the reasons and busts the myths about some other foods that you can and can’t feed to hedgehogs.

Suitable hedgehog foods include:

  • Meaty cat or dog food (including gravy and fish flavours). I go for loaf varieties.
  • Cat or kitten biscuits
  • Specialist hedgehog food e.g. Spike’s or Ark Wildlife

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Watching hedgehogs feeding is a popular pass time for all members of our family, including our cat Alfie!

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. You can find out more about my work here and also how to support it.

I also make silver jewellery inspired by nature to raise funds for my rescue work (which is entirely self funded). You can visit my jewellery shop here.