Hedgehogs are insectivores and are therefore welcomed by gardeners as “natural pest control”. However, in captivity, they should not be fed on slugs, earthworms etc., because these can transmit endoparasites. The food given to a hedgehog in care must be similar in composition to natural food, rich in fat and protein.
Hedgehogs should never have an unbalanced diet! The basic components of a varied diet are:
- Tinned cat or dog food
- Eggs (hardboiled or scrambled)
- Cooked chicken
- Mince (stir fried until browned through)
Mixed with the following “roughage” (essential for good digestion):
- Wheat bran
- Porridge oats
- Dry hedgehog food
Additional vitamin and/or minerals are only occasionally needed and should only be given when prescribed by a veterinary surgeon. An overdose – especially of fat soluble vitamins – can do more harm than good! The different basic foods can of course be mixed together, for example, tinned cat food with cooked mince, or scrambled egg with mince. Corn oil is the best for frying, as it contains beneficial elements for the hedgehog.
Per portion (150g yoghurt pot) mix either a dessert spoon of wheat bran or two dessertspoons of porridge oats or dry hedgehog food with the meat, egg or tinned food. Moisten the mixture as necessary with a little water.
Never give hedgehogs any food straight from the oven or the fridge! Never feed left-overs, nothing sweet or spicy. Fruit and vegetables, cheese, nuts, fromage frais or yoghurt should not appear on the hedgehog’s menu! To “clean their teeth” (hedgehogs are prone to forming tartar) at least once a week give them some cooked, skinned chicken wings, necks and giblets with the bones.
You should avoid feeding a monotonous diet, for example, only tinned cat food. If cat food is given for a few days at a stretch, at least use different kinds and enrich it with a teaspoon of corn oil.
The different brands of dry hedgehog food available commercially are only suitable as mixers, they are definitely not complete foods!
Give the hedgehog fresh water to drink. The lactose in milk makes it indigestible for hedgehogs and will give them diarrhoea, which can lead to enteritis and infections which can be lethal. Put the water in a solid, flat-bottomed glass or earthenware bowl.
The following well tried alternative mixtures are suitable for a middle sized juvenile hedgehog:
- 100 g tinned cat food, mixed with 2 dessert spoons of dry hedgehog food
- 100 g chicken, mixed with 2 dessert spoons of porridge oats and 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
- 60 g beef mince cooked with 1 teaspoon of oil, mixed with 1 dessert spoon of wheat bran
- 30 g beef mince and 1 egg cooked with 1 teaspoon of oil, mixed with 2 dessert spoons of porridge oats
- 60 g scrambled egg cooked with 1 teaspoon of oil, mixed with 2 dessert spoons of dry hedgehog food
Hedgehogs need differing amounts of food. It will depend on body weight and state of health. A middle-sized hedgehog will eat about enough to fill a 150g yoghurt pot. The amount of weight gained will tell you the correct portion size to give.
At the beginning weigh the hedgehog every day, later on once a week is sufficient. Put him on his back in the scale pan and blow on him a bit to make him stay still. A very thin animal can gain 15-20g a day to regain its weight, later it should be 10-15 g a day.
As a rule food is put out once a day in the evening. You should obviously feed an evidently hungry and agitated hedgehog running around its enclosure during the day. The same applies to weak animals who will frequently only eat a little and often. Food remains must be thrown away and the dishes washed in hot water daily (or after every feed).
Very sick and weak hedgehogs who are not eating for themselves, must be fed by syringe. Put the hedgehog on its back on your hand in a sitting position, so that it doesn’t choke. Use- if nothing else is to hand -Hipp-meat puree (infant food from 4 months), a better choice (for hand feeding over several days) would be Hill’s Prescription Diet Canine a/d Feline (from the vet), diluted with a little fennel or camomile tea. As an emergency measure, you could also use low-lactose ready-to-use cat milk. Feed 10 to 30ml four or five times a day into the side of the mouth.
You should always leave a dish of food in the enclosure so that the hedgehog can eat for himself as soon as he feels ready to do so.
A hedgehog who has to be hand-fed, must of course be taken to a vet or a hedgehog rescue centre!
Foods which suit humans or which are good for them, or which make other animals grow big and strong, will not do the same for a hedgehog. The following foodstuffs are not on the hedgehog’s menu:
- fruit: apples, pears etc.
- vegetables: salad, carrots etc.
- milk products: cheese, fromage frais, yoghurt etc.
- nuts, raisins
- human baby food
It is a myth that hedgehogs eat fruit! If you see a hedgehog in the garden near windfallen fruit, he will be attracted to it merely by the worms and insects crawling on it. Because of the way their gastro-intestinal tract is made, hedgehogs cannot digest or get nourishment from vegetarian fare. Even if a hedgehog nibbles hungrily at an apple, it may taste sweet, but it won’t be nourishing him! So the long and the short of it is that a vegetarian hedgehog is a starving hedgehog!