Are you lucky enough to have a hedgehog visiting your garden? These much-loved mammals are in trouble, with the UK population possibly falling by two-thirds in the last 25 years alone.

Evidence suggests this decline is most severe in rural areas and hedgehogs are actually faring better in our towns and villages than the countryside. This means gardens can be an important refuge for the species. One way you can help any visiting hogs is to provide some food. But what do hedgehogs eat and when should you feed them?

What do hedgehogs eat?

Insects and other invertebrates are the hedgehog’s main natural food source. A typical diet includes:

  • Beetles
  • Earwigs
  • Caterpillars
  • Earthworms
  • Millipedes
  • Fly larvae

Hogs hunt by snuffling through the undergrowth, using their keen sense of smell and hearing to catch any prey they disturb. While invertebrates are top of the menu, hedgehogs are opportunistic eaters. Carrion, fallen fruit and the eggs of ground-nesting birds may all be taken should a hog come across them.

It’s thought a lack of food may be a factor in the hedgehog’s decline. This is because invertebrate numbers have been reduced by agricultural intensification and pesticide use.

What to feed hedgehogs

As opportunistic eaters, hedgehogs will readily consume food left out in your garden. The best foods to provide are:

  • Meat-based cat or dog food
  • Specially-made hedgehog food
  • Cat biscuits

Don't forget to put out a shallow dish of water too - it can be a lifeline for hedgehogs, especially during a hot dry summer.

It’s not exactly clear how much urban hedgehogs rely on food provided by people, but it’s thought to supplement rather than replace their natural diet.

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When to feed hedgehogs

It's a good idea to put out food for hedgehogs all year round. In spring, it will be a boost for those emerging from hibernation, while in late summer and autumn it will help hogs build up those all-important fat reserves to survive the winter.

Their hibernation is not constant - as their fat reserves deplete, many wake up to search for food before going back to sleep, especially youngsters born later in the year. A bowl of cat biscuits left undercover will stay dry and edible for at least a week.

Putting food and water out for any visiting hedgehogs is especially important during periods of dry, hot weather, when natural resources can become scarce. 

What not to feed hedgehogs

The following foods should be avoided when feeding hedgehogs:

  • Bread and milk: hogs are lactose intolerant so milk can make them ill and bread has little nutritional value.
  • Mealworms: thought to cause health problems when eaten in large quantities.

How else can you help hedgehogs?

Encourage minibeasts

You can help hogs further by making your garden attractive to their invertebrate prey. Allowing areas to become overgrown or adding a pond, log pile or compost heap will provide habitat. Birds and other wildlife that feed on these minibeasts will benefit too.

Make a hedgehog highway

As well as providing food, it’s important to ensure hedgehogs can easily access your garden. An individual hog can range over a mile in a single evening, but when gardens are surrounded by impenetrable walls and fencing it becomes difficult for them to move around. Create a 'hedgehog highway' - a space of just 13 x 13cm to allow any hog to get in and out of your garden. You could ask neighbours' permission to make the gap in any shared boundaries, and encourage them to do the same on all sides to help local hedgehogs travel even further.

Provide somewhere to sleep

Hedgehogs also need sheltered spaces to sleep during the day and hibernate through the winter. Overgrown patches, compost heaps and log piles can all be used by resting hogs. Another option is to buy or build a hedgehog house. Place the house in a quiet, shaded corner of your garden to have the best chance of a hog taking up residence.

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