Hedgehogs are very inoffensive and completely harmless to humans.
The old wives’ tale that they carry fleas is only partly true – yes they do have them, but their fleas are very very fussy, and will not transfer to or survive on other animals such as dogs, cats or (you may be relieved to know) humans !
Wild hedgehogs are very wary of humans and animals, and it takes a long while to gain their trust. I’m now at the stage where hogs will march up to me and happily munch away with me sitting on the back door step – they eat their food, sniff my foot, then scuttle off.
The trick is to remain still and quiet, and you will soon find yourself watching hedgehogs for hours on end in gloomier and gloomier light (eventually they become black, moving blobs making them stand out from everything else in your garden – they do tend to crash around in the undergrowth, however, so you can track them through sound rather than sight !).
Hedgehogs can move very quickly, up to 5 mph at times. However, if they are disturbed their first instinct is to freeze and then curl up. This is why many hogs get injured by lawnmowers and strimmers, or in bonfires and compost heaps.
What to feed hedgehogs
One of the most damaging pieces of advice is that hedgehogs love bread and milk. Whilst they may love them, they are the worst possible types of food to feed hedgehogs. Their tummies are not capable of digesting cows’ milk, and this results in a runny tummy. If this continues the hog will eventually dehydrate and die. In the same way that bread isn’t the best thing to feed birds, this food is low in nutrition and high in bulk thus filling the hogs up – it’s rather like us eating a Big Mac : it may be filling, but it’s nutritional value is negligible ! See this St Tiggywinkle’s fact sheet (PDF file) about why milk and bread should not be fed to hedgehogs
So, please don’t feed bread and milk, but do feed some of the following :
the easiest food to give hogs is white-meat dog or cat food in jelly (not gravy) – examples are chicken, turkey, rabbit, even duck flavours. Younger hogs prefer the mushier kitten or puppy version. Serve in a saucer or shallow dog bowl (hogs also happily eat from the half food/half water plastic feeding bowls which Wilkos sell for 69p)
- it is possible to buy special wet hedgehog food, called Spike’s Relish : ask your local pet shop to order some in for you !
- It is important you add dried food to a hog’s diet when serving up wet food, to aid dental care of the hog’s teeth. The easiest to get hold of are little cat biscuits (I find the IAMS kitten biscuits – purple packaging – go down quite well, no matter how old the hog is). In the wild, hogs eat beetles for the same purpose – to keep their teeth healthy ! You can either add the biscuits to the wet food or sprinkle nearby. What the hogs don’t eat, other wildlife will !
- I have yet to meet a hedgehog which doesn’t like dried mealworms. Wilko’s sell 100g tubs for £2.49. I get through a tub every two days, but then I do attract lots of hedgehogs !
I scatter little piles of these around the garden (to encourage natural foraging behaviour). The sound of four hogs munching dried mealworms at the same time can be deafening !
- Wild Things dried hedgehog food – I have only just started using this, and at first the hogs seemed a bit reluctant to take it. However, the levels in the bowls do now seem to be going down, and I know for a fact birds and cats won’t touch this stuff. Pets At Home in the Castle Marina retail park sell 2 kg bags for about £8
- Hogs may also eat : sunflower hearts (for birds from Wilko’s), chopped nuts, sultanas, tiny pieces of cooked chicken, bits of fairy cake, raw mince, cooked potato. Hedgehogs are traditionally very fussy eaters, so some will like one thing and hate another, whilst a different hedgehog will have opposite tastes. You should only really put these foodstuffs out as occasional treats
- The most important thing to provide hogs is a shallow dish of water. Hedgehogs drink loads every night, especially when eating food provided by humans – try to have more than one bowl on the ground if you can
Don’t worry if you miss a night or two – your food will not be the only thing hedgehogs eat during the course of a nightly forage. They walk miles each night in search for food, but your supplementary feeding will give them the boost they need to find more, especially critical when mothers have recently given birth, or when the ground is very dry.
How to give hedgehogs a home
Hedgehogs should never be taken from the wild and kept in an enclosed garden : indeed, to do so is actually illegal.
I have heard stories of people deliberately taking a hedgehog from its natural habitat and placing it in their garden so that it will eat all their slugs and snails. This is wrong on so many levels – snugs and snails only make up about 5% of a hog’s diet and, if truth be told, they’d rather not eat them, as they can make hedgehogs very ill (especially if the slugs and snails have eaten metaldehyde pellets, or are carriers of parasites such as lungworms).
However, if you are leaving food out you’ll soon find that word will spread in the hedgehog community, and if you’re lucky you’ll be visited throughout the evening by a whole gang of marauding pricklies, who will include your garden on a long list of places they visit each night during their foraging activities.
But what about going one step further and making them somewhere cosy to rest up ? Hogs are very nomadic about where they sleep, especially during the summer, so often will rest up in very informal nests. If you can provide either suitable habitat (a good wild area in your garden, such as piles of logs, or bushy evergreen vegetation such as bramble, tall grass, etc) or even a hedgehog house, you may find your garden becomes a valuable pitstop.
Some may surprise you and stay on for even longer – I had one hibernate in one of my garden boxes all winter long, and made sure he had access to dried food and water throughout the winter (although I suspect the resident blackbirds nicked a lot of the food !)
You can buy hedgehog houses or even make your own – see the BHPS website for some good ideas