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What Do Hedgehogs Eat? What are the Best Foods for Hedgehogs?

What Do Hedgehogs Eat? What are the Best Foods for Hedgehogs?

Seeing as Hedgehog Awareness Week is happening from the 5th to 11th of May, we thought it would be useful to spread some awareness of hedgehogs! This post will focus on an important topic: which foods are healthy for your spiky friends, and which should be avoided?

Much like Homer Simpson, hedgehogs will munch on just about anything. However, plenty of ‘just about anything’ is really, really bad for them. This includes some surprising treats which well-meaning people put out verycommonly.

Less habitat means more homeless and hungry hedgehogs

Public awareness around global warming is finally on the rise – thank goodness! However, climate change is creating a ‘silent crisis’ under our very noses. Natural habitats for native animals are in rapid decline. This has caused a massive fall in population numbers for many species, such as skylarks, red squirrels, the small blue butterfly, bees and hoverflies, long-eared bats, and wildcats.

Oh, and let’s not forget our beautiful hedgehogs. (Especially when it’s Hedgehog Awareness Week!) According to the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), their populations have declined by between 30% and 75% across different areas of the countryside since 2000.

One of the causes? Britain has lost as much as 90% of its meadows, rendering our spiny friends homeless. And hungry.

Hungry hedgehog

Hedgehogs are moving into our neighbourhoods

With the loss of meadows and hedges, hedgehogs have been forced to try their luck in urban areas, meaning they’re looking to our parks and gardens. They can travel several kilometres in a single night to find food, often going the extra mile – literally – to find wild spots like piles of leaves to hide in.

Their proximity to us brings a pile of new perils such as lawnmowers, or unaware gardeners raking them up. They’re also at high risk of being run over by cars, especially if they can’t find safe passageways between gardens and are forced to cross roads daily.

wildlife conservation

Nature’s being deprived of insects for them to eat too, so hedgehogs depend on the munchies we provide them. Big shout-out to everyone who’s doing their best to help them!

But even with the best intentions, food aid may cause damage as well. The effects of a poor hedgehog diet can be pretty severe.

Life-threatening hedgehog metabolic bone disease

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is already a familiar issue within aviary, bird, and reptile communities. It’s fairly new amongst hedgehogs, but there’s been a sure increase in diagnoses in recent years.

A calcium/phosphorus imbalance in their bodies puts them at risk of MDB, which causes suffering and is eventually fatal.

MBD causes the following symptoms in Hedgehogs:

  • Disruption in calcium metabolism
  • Weakening of bones
  • Joint abnormalities
  • Reduced nerve transmission
  • Weakened muscle contraction and tremors, including in the heart
  • Loss of blood’s ability to clot
  • Paralysis, seizures, and cardiac arrest

None of that sounds like a huge amount of fun to us!

Causes of hedgehog MBD

There are several causes for Metabolic Bone Disease, such as:

  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Underlying illnesses
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Lack of exercise
  • Calcium/phosphorus imbalance

One of the main culprits is poor diet, especially when there’s not enough calcium and too much phosphorus in their food, or vice versa. Fortunately, we can have a direct influence on this. We can stop feeding them mealworms and sunflower hearts, for example.

But they love mealworms!

This is true, but remember: they’ll eat just about anything, and they’re well up for munching on foods they find tasty. Does this include unhealthy stuff? It most certainly does; that’s anything extra salty, sweet, or fatty. They’re a bit like us, really. But unlike us, they don’t know it’s bad for them.

Which foods are bad for hedgehogs

What not to feed hedgehogs

The ideal hedgehog’s total diet would have a calcium to phosphorus ratio of between 2:1 and 1:1. Anything outside that range can quickly cause them a whole heap of health hazards.

Take sunflower hearts. They have a disastrous ratio of 1:15. Mealworms, meanwhile, manage a ratio of 1:7. Furthermore, they’re highly addictive to hedgehogs, soon making them only want to consume them. More like meal-to-avoid worms in our book!

calcium phosphorus ratio
Avoid food with an improper calcium/phosporus balance

Other poor-ratio foods are beetles, peanuts, and crickets. It’s best not to give these at all, even as a snack. Chances are that hedgehogs find some of those treats while foraging anyway. With a lack of decent, suitable insect nutrition in the wild, we can help them at least get their regular fill of proper food.

Dairy’s another big no-no, because hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. Milk and cheese will give them bad diarrhoea and can lead to serious illness too.

As for sweet treats like raisins, sultanas, currants, dried berries and the like: go easy. Better still, leave them out completely. Hedgehogs will take any chance they get to gnarf down food with high sugar content, giving them serious tooth decay and further digestion issues.

Here’s a handy table so you can quickly check what not to include on a hedgehog’s menu:

BAD food for hedgehogs

Reason

Mealworms 

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio: 1:15

Sunflower hearts

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio: 1:7

Peanuts

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio: 1:6

Crickets

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio: 1:6

Beetles

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio: 1:3

Cheaper cat/dog food brands

Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio

Chemical additives

High sugar content 

Dairy (cow’s milk and cheese)

Lactose intolerance 

Raisins, sultanas, currants, berries

High sugar content

Bread

Hedgehogs cannot digest this well

Large chunks of meat

Hedgehog teeth are too tiny to tear or chew big pieces 

Bacon or corned beef

Too salty

Fish Hard to digest, not natural
Eggs Poor calcium:phosphorus ratio of 1:2.77
Fruit/veg High sugar and/or starch content

What do hedgehogs eat?

So what should you feed hedgehogs? What foods can they actually eat?

Food that has a – you guessed it – good calcium/phosphorus ratio. This will maintain good hedgehog health and keep away scary diseases like MBD. It also shouldn’t be sugary or salty, or contain dairy, wheat, or nasty additives.

Giving small pieces of low-fat meat like chicken breast as an occasional snack works too – no more than a teaspoonful a day.

Make sure to replace wet food daily as it can go off quickly in the summer; it’s best to stick to dry food in winter as wet food can freeze.

And of course, last but not least: leave out a shallow bowl of fresh water every day!

Want to watch hedgehogs in your garden? Keep an eye on spiky activity with a wildlife camera, or install a bird box camera near the entrance to your hedgehog’s nesting site.

Feeding Guidelines

  • Every evening, leave out a handful of food per hedgehog in a shallow dish
  • For extra protection, you can serve the food in a hedgehog feeding station
  • Always make sure there’s a shallow bowl of fresh water available, especially during warm weather, and make sure it’s not frozen during wintertime
  • If feeding additional wet food, make sure to replace it daily in case it goes off during warm weather or freezes in the cold

In short:

Do Feed 
(refresh daily)
Do Not Feed
  • Daily fresh water in a shallow bowl

  • Specially designed hedgehog kibble with a calcium:phosphorus ratio between 1:1 and 1:2 such as Brambles Hedgehog Biscuits or high-quality cat/dog dry food (such as James Wellbeloved)


  • Specially designed hedgehog wet food or high-quality cat/dog wet food (such as James Wellbeloved)


  • Small pieces of low-fat meat like cooked chicken breast or turkey
  • Milk 
  • Cheese
  • Sunflower hearts
  • Mealworms
  • Peanuts
  • Crickets
  • Beetles
  • Fatty/salty/red meat
  • Large chunks of meat
  • Raisins, sultanas, currants berries
  • Cheaper dog/cat food full of additives/sugar/bad calcium:phosphorus ratio
  • Bread
  • Fish
  • Egg
  • Fruit/veg

Help Hedgehogs

Besides feeding them healthy meals, there’s lots more you can do to help hedgehogs live hedgily ever after. For example:

Thank you for reading, and big hogs to you for helping our spiky garden friends! 🦔💚🦔

hedgehog

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33 comments on What Do Hedgehogs Eat? What are the Best Foods for Hedgehogs?
  • Bessy Gok
    Bessy Gok

    I found a adult hedgehog in my garden tonight it’s the first time ever I’ve encountered one and it really got me excited I hoped I would see one soon.. I have it cat food slugs water and a blackberry. I looked online to see what I could feed it and also joined the woodland trust while I was at it. I really want to keep it so I’m going to build it a proper little home I already sneaked into the neighbors garden and took a few old logs and nestled it under the honeysuckle. I really hope he doesn’t leave.

    June 17, 2024
  • Sapphi
    Sapphi

    I have just left a cherry Tom ( cut small ,) along with a raspberry ,and cat kibble out for our resident hedgehog. Last year we had 3 hedgehogs. This year so far only a juvenile,who likes to alternate between our upgraded hedgehog residences. I love wildlife and have been a pesticide free gardeners for several years now. I’m finding educating my neighbours hard work,when it comes to using pesticides. It really irks me,even though I am never rude to them.

    May 30, 2024
  • Lou
    Lou

    We have just noticed the Hedgehogs back in the garden now the weather is improving, I leave wet mealworms out for our numerous blackbirds, and am trying to avoid the hedgehogs getting these. I think a slightly higher feeding tray may work, although the blackbirds like the ground. Most of the mealworm should be gone before the hedgehogs emerge at night. The rest of the birdfood is in hanging feeders, but not sure if suet pellets are bad for hedgehogs.

    March 30, 2022
  • Ernie Macmillan
    Ernie Macmillan

    I appreciate the fact that you guys put some work and some scientific studies into this, but my hedgehog cannot eat that high quality hedgehog food. I have had my hedgehog for 3 years and in the beginning, we bought him food that costed $15 for hedgehogs made for hedgehogs and he wouldn’t eat it. He is extremely picky and will only eat “market fresh chicken and turkey meal recipe”. Those bags are $7 each last him months before they have to be replaced. I do not know what you say is “cheap cat or dog food” but this is the only thing that he will eat. I have offered him mealworms, fresh fruit and vegetables, and even little pieces of meat. He refuses them all. He will literally starve himself before he puts anything but chicken and turkey cat food in his mouth. It’s very weird, but I’m assuming he’s just very picky as he is a healthy hedgehog and has no other problems. :/ This is just my opinion and from my experience, but I hope this helps someone.

    March 30, 2022
  • Richard Mechen
    Richard Mechen

    Since seeing a Hedgehog foraging in our street two days ago I have made 13cm square holes in our fences leading into my chemical-free garden. Another hole now leads into my neighbour’s garden which had a large area of grass. I am glad I found this webpage as it has given me sound advuice that contradicts some rubbish I had already read. I have ordered correct foods and created a secure feeding station. I’d rather give them nothing but water rather than put out things like peanuts and sunflower hearts I already have. Thanks for creating such a comprehensive and informed website.

    January 21, 2022
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