What can I feed visiting wild hedgehogs (that is good for them?).
18th June 2017 at 4:49 pm #6688
I asked Oxton Wild Hedgehog Rehab permission to copy this when the site was down. I forgot about it until a post from Caroline Gould (Vale Wildlife Hospital) today, which I’ll ask permission to share with you.
Please read all of this:
What can I feed visiting wild hedgehogs (that is good for them?)
OXTON WILD HEDGEHOG REHAB·MONDAY, 10 APRIL 2017
The recent post about poor little Gherkin, metabolic bone disease, and the issues with feeding mealworms, has led to someone asking if I could put something together about feeding wild hogs. I write this with the presumption that if you are reading it, you care greatly about the welfare of the hogs in your garden, and do not want to feed them things which are known to be harmful to their health. Please, on your part, also assume that this is written with the same aim, and with experience of caring for lots of hogs (hundreds), and also the shared experience of a huge UK network of wild hedgehog rehabilitators and wildlife hospitals.
This year, we have already had two admissions prior to little Gherkin, with metabolic bone disease (confirmed by a veterinary surgeon), both barely able to walk, and in pain. Both of these, like Gherkin, were fed large amounts of mealworms.
So, in answer to the question, what can I feed visiting wild hogs, that is good for them..?
> Its easy. 1) A hedgehog specific biscuit, or
2) Cat biscuits (any flavour will do*) or
3) Wet cat or dog food (any flavour will do*).
*please read further on for more details
It really IS as simple as that. So if you wanted a short answer, please dont feel you have to read any further 🙂 For those of you with all the if’s, but’s, and maybe’s, please do read on.
First, more information about what you CAN safely feed them as above…
Hedgehog specific biscuits: Here, we feed our visiting wildies with a mix of two things: Ark Wildlife hedgehog biscuits, and Ark Wildlife hedgehog mix. This doesnt get eaten by the neighbourhood cats, the hedgehogs like it (please bear in mind that it WILL take them a few days to get used to a change in food), and the wild birds finish off any bits leftover. I have no affiliation with Ark wildlife, its simply that our wild hogs will eat it. There are other alternatives available. However, I have confidence that Ark wildlife have done their research and formulated a nutritionally complete and appropriate food – it was originally developed for hedgehog rescue centres and wildlife hospitals.
Hedgehog biscuits are also good for their teeth, do not freeze in winter, or go off and attract flies in summer.
Cat Biscuits: People often ask me which one? That depends entirely on you and your budget. We prefer to feed a good quality cat biscuit, (we use cat biscuits for our rescue hogs) and use Royal Canin Kitten, which we have never had a hedgehog refuse. It does not need to be a kitten biscuit (unless you know you have some very young hogs visiting just out of their nest) – cat biscuits are small enough in size for hogs to manage. The flavour does not matter. I repeat, the flavour does not matter. Chicken, fish, rabbit, duck… its all protein just the same. The “dont feed hedgehogs fish flavoured food” is an old wives tale which gets endlessly circulated on the internet. And for those who say “but fish isn’t a natural diet for a hedgehog”, how many hedgehogs have you seen hunting chickens, rabbits or ducks…? Rescues up and down the land feed cat and dog food which contains fish. As far as I know, no hedgehogs have turned into snorkelling fish stalkers in the local ponds…. 😉
Cat biscuits are also good for their teeth, do not freeze in winter, or go off and attract flies in summer.
Wet Cat or Dog Food: Again, people often ask me which one? And the answer is the same as above – it depends on your budget, and the flavour does not matter, for all the reasons already discussed above. We dont feed wet food to our wild garden hogs here. It gets extremely cold in winter and is at risk of freezing, and in warmer weather it is at risk of going off and attracting flies, which is the last thing visiting wildlife needs.
Still with me? Great. Read on for more answers to the common issues raised by the good folk who feed hedgehogs in their garden…..
But the hedgehogs will only eat mealworms!
Okay. This has to be the most common thing I hear, usually in a frustrated despairing tone..! Let me ask you something. Would you feed your child nothing, and I mean nothing, but chocolate? No. What about if they had a tantrum and refused other food? Im guessing still no. Thats because you have some common sense and know that regardless of the fact they love it, a diet of chocolate is not good for them.
Please apply that same common sense to the wild hedgehogs in your garden. Yes, they love mealworms. Yes, if you’ve been feeding loads of mealworms and you change to a proper, nutritionally complete diet, they are likely to have a tantrum. But they WILL EAT WHEN THEY ARE HUNGRY! And yes, I do know this because every year, we admit ill hogs, from members of the public who insist they will not eat anything apart from mealworms. And every single one of those hogs, when mealworms have not been on offer, have caved in and eaten the food available. For some thats taken a day, some two, some three or four days.
BUT if you are STILL offering a bowl of mealworms alongside other food, of course they are going to eat the mealworms and leave the food (think of the child with chocolate!). So PLEASE ditch the (expensive) mealworms, so that they only have healthy food on offer. And wait. They will come back and eat.
So, whats this about mealworms and metabolic bone disease?
Food contains calcium and phosphorus. The body of any mammal, (and others) needs blood levels of calcium and phosphorous to be correct to prevent illness. If too much phosphorous is eaten, calcium is taken from the body’s calcium stores (bones) to maintain the correct blood ratio of calcium and phosphorous. This causes bones to become poor density, soft, bendy and at worst deformed, and results in a hedgehog being barely able to walk due to pain, and at high risk of fractures.
Every day I, and other rescues, see endless photos online of people feeding bowls of mealworms to their wild hogs. Mealworms (live and dry) are very high in phosphorous and low in calcium. Imagine a pair of scales – the amount of phosphorus consumed must not be more than the amount of calcium – to prevent bone loss AT LEAST as much calcium must be consumed, preferably more. So all these hogs being fed loads of mealworms are getting lots and lots of phosphorous and hardly any calcium. This is causing awful bone disease. This is happening because people are feeding their wild hogs diets high in mealworms, sunflower hearts and peanuts. All have very high levels of phosphorus and hardly any calcium. They are not a necessary part of a wild hogs diet, please avoid feeding them. You are feeding your wild hogs because you care about them – care enough to feed them nutritionally balanced food 🙂
But if I feed proper food, the cats/dogs/fox/(insert relevant animal as appropriate) will eat it!
As I said previously, when we were feeding the wildies with cat food, yes, the neighbourhood cats were very happy 😉 I didn’t want to have an enclosed feeder, so swapped to feeding the ark wildlife biscuits and hedgehog mix, which the local cats dont touch (and they were pretty miffed!). You have two choices – feed a hedgehog biscuit/mix the cats wont touch such as Arks, OR place the food in a cat proof feeder. You can buy these (riverside woodcraft do a great feeding station)
or make one VERY cheaply from a plastic underbed storage box….
But cat food/hedgehog food/dog food isn’t their natural diet!
Neither are mealworms!! Or peanuts, or biscuits, or cake, or wagon wheels, or any of the other, frankly ridiculous things which people feed wild animals. However, cat and dog food is nutritionally balanced and complete, and will NOT cause skeletal deformities, raging tooth decay, nutritional deficiencies or spine and fur loss – all of which occur with an inappropriate diet.
Mealworms do not exist in the wild. Nor do any of the items above…
So what is a hedgehogs natural diet?
Hedgehogs are not insectivores as many people think. Studies have shown they are omnivorous. These studies have analysed faeces and stomach contents of wild hogs, and food preference trials in captive wild hedgehogs.
The main bulk of the diet is caterpillars, beetles, millipedes, earthworms and earwigs. Slugs form a very small percentage of their diet (and transmit lungworm). They also eat frogs, toads, small mammals, carrion, and eggs. It is thought that any fruit and vegetable matter is eaten incidentally (i.e. attached to their food) rather than intentionally. Diet will vary with habitat – and available species.
The aim of providing supplemental feeding is not to try and replicate their natural diet – YOU CANT. But you CAN provide a nutritionally balanced food to support their natural diet.
But why cant I feed dried fruit, sultanas, cake, biscuits, wagon wheels, etc etc..? They like it!
So does the child who only wants to eat chocolate… but seriously – rescues are admitting an ever increasing volume of hogs with severe dental disease, even in young hogs. How severe you ask? One rescue had a hog with such severe dental disease, the jawbone had become infected and crumbled. Hogs cannot clean their teeth. Sweet sugary foods cause dental decay in other mammals too. PLEASE do not feed these things.
But I like giving them a treat!
They are wild animals. The concept of treats is a human one, very tied into human emotion. Wild animals do not understand treats, they will eat what they are given. The best way of treating your wild hogs is to feed them safe, nutritionally balanced and appropriate food.
But the gardener/ my neighbour/someone on the telly (insert appropriate term here) says its fine to feed them mealworms (etc)!
Ask yourself what they know about the care of wild hogs? How much research have they done? Sadly there are still some less enlightened and up to date rescues who tell people to feed these items. All I can say to you, is that the above information is EVIDENCE BASED, and supported by some of the largest and most experienced rescues and wildlife hospitals in the UK.
Lastly, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and for caring about our native hoggies.
Oxton Wild Hedgehog Rehab.19th June 2017 at 2:56 pm #6702
Part of the problem is that Hedgehog Street still says:
Hedgehogs will relish any combination of the following:
Meat-based dog or cat food
Unsalted chopped or crushed peanuts
Dried or fresh meal worms (in moderation)
I recently sent an email and referred to the article which Penny posted a while back, (which, I think, is the same as, or similar to, the one you have posted) (and also extracts from a previous post you ‘linked’ on the pre-update forum) saying that:
I ‘wonder if it is time to revisit this advice and consider (a) including hedgehog food in the list – there are numerous types available these days – and (b) excluding peanuts, sunflower hearts and dried mealworms or at the very least say that they should only be offered in small amounts.’
(in moderation) has since been added after mealworms, but peanuts and sunflower hearts still remain.
The following comments were made:
‘ …. Please remember that all the research done so far (which to be fair is very limited – attached) on supplementary feeding shows that wild hedgehogs only use it as a supplement. These claims about the CaP ratio are more significant to animals in captivity that are only eating a limited range of things…..’
‘ ….. Hedgehogs are facing a lot of far more significant threats and we are resource limited in fighting them, so I would urge you to focus on issues that we know are a problem – these are listed in the strategy in detail.
You can play an important role in this by encouraging fellow carers to complete Lucy Bearman-Brown’s important questionnaire, which will hopefully provide a baseline for a centralised database for your sector. With this in place we could start to rank the hazards that hedgehogs face in order of importance and we could also we could use the number of animals being submitted as another way of monitoring the national population status. It would be a major step forward to know even basic information about the animals being processed by the 800-odd rehabber centres across the UK indeed it is quite shocking that we don’t know how many hedgehogs get rescued every year when it could a significant proportion of the UK population…’
Whilst information collected from this questionnaire could be very useful, it must be confusing for people, if Hedgehog Street is offering different information regarding feeding hedgehogs, from what many of us have been repeatedly saying on the Forum.
If so many hedgehogs are turning up with problems as a result of eating too many mealworms, etc. perhaps some of them are actually, now, using the food as more than just a supplement (the research was quite old). Whilst I appreciate that resources are limited, it seems to me that it would be a simple matter to amend the list of foods and anything which can easily be done to help hedgehogs should be. My feeling is that if we are trying to help hedgehogs, we should give them the best food for them which we can – regardless of whether it is only supplementary feeding..
I am not a carer, just an ordinary person who is concerned for the welfare of hedgehogs. Perhaps it needs someone ‘on the front line’ to make the suggestion to the powers that be(?).19th July 2017 at 9:23 am #7000
I am a newbie to Hedgehog street. I and a neighbour on the otherside of the road are getting regular visits from a hog(s?) .
Needless to say the topic of what to feed them has come up, and so far research declares milk is a big no no. However when looking on Amazon for sdvisory books I found one by Pat Morris (linked to hedgehog street I believe) criticised for reccomending milk.
Just wonder if it is possible to get some clarification from the horses mouth, ie Pat Morris on this.20th July 2017 at 2:55 pm #7023
First of all, welcome to Hedgehog Street. I am pleased to hear there are hedgehogs in your area.
It is not essential to feed the hedgehogs, if they are doing alright without it. What we feed, should only ever be supplementary to what they can find themselves. The idea is not to encourage them to become too dependant upon us. But there are times, when they would welcome a helping hand, for instance when it is very dry and before hibernation when they are trying to build up their resources and after hibernation when they will probably be quite hungry. Also if they are still around late into the year when the wild food is diminishing, etc. A very important thing, for them, though, is water. They cannot always find that for themselves, so if you don’t have a pond, a large shallow plant saucer is ideal for them.
The best things you can do for the hogs are to improve the habitat in your garden (lots of tips on this site) and link it with as many others as possible, so that they can more easily find their natural food. Some people like to give them some food, as a way of keeping an eye on them, to make sure they are doing ok, but I sometimes wonder whether we get a bit hung up focusing on the feeding bit, on the forum, at the expense of the improving/expanding the habitat bit, which ultimately is more important.
If you do feel you want to give the hogs some food, then cat/dog food, cat/kitten biscuits or hedgehog food (from a reputable source) are the best things to offer. They really don’t need us to offer any food other than these.
I think it is probably unlikely, although not impossible, that Pat Morris would be commenting on the Forum, so you might have to put up with the rest of us! ‘Hedgehogs’ the book written by Pat Morris contains a wealth of very interesting information about hedgehogs. However, I think it is generally accepted, these days, that hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and cows milk is not a good thing to offer them. Pat Morris, in the 2014 edition of ‘Hedgehogs’ acknowledges that bread and cows milk can cause ‘upset tummies’ in hedgehogs and also says ‘ … it would be better to offer them something more nourishing and with fewer side effects and to avoid giving it to babies …’
The only thing the hedgehogs need to drink is water. That is so much easier to access anyway, so why complicate things?
I know, I would make a very poor substitute for Pat Morris, but hope this helps a little.
Good luck with the hedgehog/s. I hope you enjoy their visits.8th September 2017 at 12:45 pm #7620
I’m mortified. ive been feeding a hedgehog for about 6 weeks. she (brenda) is only small. I went online a was suggested cat food which she ate then I read about dried mealworms which I started giving her every night. the last couple of weeks ive had 3 headehogs coming at night including Brenda and Ive just read that mealworms arent good and Ive probably got the addicted?? what can I do? I’m so upset I might of caused them harm8th September 2017 at 3:03 pm #7621
The problem with mealworms has only recently come to light and I would like to bet that most of us are guilty of feeding too many at one time or another. I wouldn’t worry too much, like Lynda says they can be weaned off them, it’s just a matter of finding something else that they like. Ours love Purina One kitten biscuits and wouldn’t touch the Ark wildlife ones, but I know that tastes vary across the country and from one year to the next! I would be inclined just to sprinkle half a dozen mealworms on top of whatever you choose to replace them with as a garnish, rather than cut them out completely for now.
I like your choice of name, we also have a Brenda, but ours is the size of a tank….too many Purina One biscuits! 🙂25th October 2017 at 2:41 pm #8054
My hedgehogs will not touch wet cat and dog food. The do like the small dry cat ‘biscuits’ contaning mixed meats. Cheapest are from Wilkos. I have been giving them small amounts of mealworms with bird suet sticks. Is that OK?
They turn their noses up at hedgehogs bits, though they do like the dried banana that the packet contains.
They have a feeding box which I have made cat resistant.30th October 2017 at 5:31 pm #8103
I don’t know for sure, but my instinct would be that suet sticks would best be avoided, in the same way that too much fat would not be good for us. I found the following quote:
‘ …. Hedgehogs have a propensity for eating almost anything and will readily consume high fat foods (e.g. cat food, processed meats, etc.) put out in gardens and if offered in captivity. Hedgehog metabolism is geared to the digestion of high protein invertebrate prey and unrestricted access to high-fat foods can result in fatty liver disease, obesity and coronary complications as is seen among humans …..’
I would be inclined to cut the mealworms out too, but if they won’t eat the other food without them, keep them to an absolute minimum i.e. only a pinch of mealworms with some other food. They really need the very best nutrition we can give them, especially at this time of year. And, of course, lots of water.12th December 2018 at 10:44 am #13375
It seems the answer to the original post is hedgehog or pet food ONLY, despite some of the advice elsewhere. Here is a post on FB last week from a vet:
*PLEASE DO NOT FEED HEDGEHOGS PEANUTS OR SEEDS*
Peanut came into us Friday night after a lady was monitoring him on her wildlife camera, she had noticed he hadn’t been eating or drinking. This had caused him to loose a drastic amount of weight over a few nights (as you can see from his shape how skinny his back end is)
When the nurses and vet anaesthetised him to check his mouth, they noticed something was lodged, turns out it was a peanut! (hence his given name) Once this was removed and he was awake, he couldn’t wait to much down a bowl of food.
Peanuts and seeds are so dangerous to feed to Hedgehogs, because of the shape of their teeth, even though they are good eaters, peanuts will become lodged in their tooth/mouth and just like in this case, this poor little fella was unable to eat and drink.
If the lady had not caught him and brought him in, we dread to think of how he would have suffered in the wild with no help 🙁
If you have a bird feeder with peanuts in, please ensure it is safe and the nuts are not falling out on to the floor, there are little trays you can get to put underneath to catch any loose nuts and seeds.
Any nuts or seeds are a danger for Hedgehogs, please DO NOT feed these. Wet meaty kitten/puppy food is great to help the smaller ones put weight on and kitten biscuits are also smaller and easier for Hedgehogs to eat 🙂
**Sorry can’t copy the photos here, but the message is clear**12th December 2018 at 1:20 pm #13376
You may not have noticed that this topic is very old – from 1917. It is unfortunate that it was brought back into prominence (by a previous post). Feeding advice has moved on since then. Hedgehog Street now recommends: a combination of meat-based wet dog or cat food, hedgehog food or cat biscuits. https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/feed-hedgehogs/
Thank you for emphasising the dangers of whole peanuts, although since I can remember the advice was not to feed whole peanuts to hedgehogs. Even for birds it isn’t recommended to feed peanuts whole, for similar reasons and whole peanuts should be put in containers so that the birds have to peck pieces out and not eat them whole – or especially feed them to their young.
But peanuts and seeds are also not so good for hedgehogs because of the ratio of calcium to phosphorous which, similar to mealworms, but to a slightly lesser extent, can contribute to bone problems.
None of the stuff we feed hedgehogs is particularly good for them. Ideally we all need to be making more effort to create suitable habitat for them, so that they can find their own food. That is what is best for them.13th December 2018 at 12:49 pm #13380
I’m not sure whether you realise that this site and forum is about wild European hedgehogs (i.e. not pet hedgehogs). European hedgehogs should not be kept as pets. If you have found a wild hedgehog which is sick, the best thing to do is to take it to a wild hedgehog carer. To find your nearest wild hedgehog carer, please see https://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/found-a-hedgehog/
Unless you have some expertise, it isn’t a good idea to try to treat a wild hedgehog yourself.29th September 2019 at 4:40 pm #18519
Who can pick out for me the best product from the list provided in this site?
https://bestpetfoodreview.com/best-dog-food/29th September 2019 at 8:32 pm #18520
You seem to have picked out a very old post to add your link to!
Different people have different preferences about what they feed the hogs. There is, of course, hedgehog food widely available these days as well.
The following link is some information about feeding hogs. On the second page you will find information re. phosphorous and calcium. I suggest you do your homework on any cat/dog food you may decide to feed the hedgehogs to find out whether the calcium/phosphorous ratio is a good one. Otherwise a good amount of protein and not too much fat, is probably a good idea.
http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding-wild-hedgehogs.pdf30th September 2019 at 10:23 pm #18543
Well, not been on for a while and there’s been an explosion! The first post I have read before and is very informative, but it disappeared the last time it was on. I have to agree with Nic, it’s getting very confusing for readers as like the first post, you have to keep going back to it to check and re read. Would it not be simpler to have a food chart with Bad on one side and Good on the other, with an easy access button. Anything that is controversial, leave it out, as you will have selected enough good foods with cat/dog/hedgehog to make a good difference to Hedgehog health. As said previously, we all (or most) of us make the mealworm mistake. This has mainly been because we see hedgehogs eating under bird feeders where they have been picking up dropped mealworm, sunflower hearts, fat balls and peanut bits, which we have wrongly assumed they eat.
For those of you who have fed mealworm, yes, it’s a mistake, but don’t beat yourself up, Chang the food now. I stopped it completely. They will sulk and refuse food for a few days (mine take 3 days to try something new) but then they take the good food coming back for more. Best wishes.30th September 2019 at 11:57 pm #18548
The problem is that:
(a) The start of this is a very old post (from June 2017) and some of the information which follows is outdated. Since then there have been various posts which are very much more concise. It is unfortunate that this one has been brought to prominence again – not for the first time, as is evident!
(b) This topic should not be under ‘Carers/Rescuing a Hedgehog’ in any event. This section is for Carers/rehabilitators, sick and injured hedgehogs/ rescuing hedgehogs etc. If this section gets clogged up too much with other things, it makes it more difficult for the Carers/Rehabilitators who have limited time – due to looking after sick, injured, underweight hoglets, etc. to read it all.
So I suggest that if anyone wants to continue this conversation that they start it again under one of the other headings and preferably use the most recent advice on feeding. No-one will go far wrong following the advice from http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Feeding-wild-hedgehogs.pdf
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