Feeding of Casualty Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog (Mammal Husbandry & Management)

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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / Hedgehogs: Health & Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty & Convalescent Feeding which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" and "Hedgehogs: Health & Management" Wildpro volumes, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog
  • The main prey items of hedgehogs are earthworms, insects and other arthropods. They also take in small amounts of vegetable matter. 
  • Hedgehogs are nocturnal and normally feed mainly at night.
  • See the individual species page for details.

Fluids (water):

  • Offer a rehydration (electrolyte) solution such as Lectade (Pfizer Limited) to drink on admission.
  • Water should be freely available at all times unless the casualty is unconscious or severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Both water and a rehydration (electrolyte) solution, in separate shallow containers, should be made available initially.
  • Water, not milk, should be provided for all except suckling and weaning hoglets.
  • Heavy straight-sided dishes are recommended to prevent the hedgehog from tipping the bowl over. 
  • (V.w5, V.w26, V.w45)

Convalescent Diet:

Complete liquid nutrition may be required for example due to a mouth problem or after food deprivation.

Suggested convalescent diets include:

Short term Maintenance Diet:

Feed mainly at night (B291.12.w12, D24), but with small amounts of food available during the day.(D24)

  • Food should be provided in measured amounts (weighed), not ad libitum, as hedgehogs may overeat and become obese. 
    • In the wild a hedgehog generally fills its stomach twice in one night, eating a total of about 71g of food every night (J180.21.w1). This can be used as a guide for how much food to provide [note that with dry food a smaller weight of food is required than with tinned food, but the provision of water is even more important].
    • A daily food requirement of 60-90g wet weight (18-28g dry weight) of food per day has been calculated based on an estimated daily energy requirement of 90-140 kcal (377-586 kJ) per day for a 500-700g hedgehog. (B228.6.w6)
  • For sick and underweight individuals twice daily provision of food is recommended. (B284.6.w6)
  • For pregnant or lactating animals the amount of food required is increased and may reach three times normal. (J213.2.w1)

Suggested short term maintenance diets include:

  • A varied diet should be provided if available.
  • A suggested mixed food can be prepared from tinned cat food (e.g. Whiskas, Pedigree Pet Foods (Waltham)) mixed with insectivorous food (e.g. Prosecto, John E. Haith), a vitamin-mineral supplement such as SA37 (Intervet) and water, plus puppy chum (Pedigree Pet Foods (Waltham)), plus day-old chicks (chopped for juveniles under 350g body weight). (D24)
  • Hedgehogs can be maintained on a diet of tinned cat or dog food, with a third of a standard (400g) tin provided per hedgehog per night. (B151, D25)
  • Proprietary hedgehog foods or insectivorous foods designed for birds may be used alone or in combination with tinned foods.
  • Diet may include meaty household scraps, tinned cat or dog food, raw or cooked chicken carcasses, as well as soft fruit, nuts, soaked dog biscuits and bread scraps. (B156.7.w7)
  • Mealworms, mincemeat, scrambled egg, cooked chicken may be added to the diet.(D24)
  • Mealworms may be used to supplement other food but are not suitable as an exclusive diet. (B284.6.w6, B291.12.w12)
  • Natural foods gathered locally (e.g. earthworms, beetles) may be given to enrich the diet, however it must be recognised that these act as intermediate hosts for various parasites. (B284.6.w6)
  • Pelleted (dry) complete cat or dog food as part of the diet may be useful to reduce calculus build up. Suitable foods include Hill's Canine Growth, Hills Feline Growth and Hills Feline Maintenance (Hill's Pet Nutrition).(B151)
  • Meat, cooked or uncooked, except pork, may be given. (D25)
  • A bit of bran may be added to the diet when used for overwintering hedgehogs, to add a little bulk. (V.w45)

Supplementary Feeding Hedgehogs in your Garden:

  • Tinned or dry complete dog or cat food may be provided.
  • Special diets for feeding hedgehogs are available, e.g. "Spike's dinner" (see: Spike's Site) and "Claus Hedgehog Food." (D82)
  • Water should be provided as well as food. This is essential if dry food is provided.
  • To reduce the chance of other animals (e.g. neighbourhood cats) eating the food intended for hedgehogs it should be provided in a protected location:
    • A 16cm (6 inch) diameter 74cm (29 inches) long piece of drainpipe, wedged with a brick on either side to keep it steady, may be used as a feeding site, with the food, on a fresh piece of newspaper, placed in the middle of the pipe. (D82)
    • Alternatively the food may be provided under a cover of a square of wood raised on a brick at each corner and weighted down with another brick to prevent cats knocking the wood off to get at the food.(D104)
    • Food may be placed under an upturned box with a hole cut in one side to allow access by the hedgehogs. (D89)
  • Dry food rather than tinned food may be advisable in winter when hedgehogs may be hibernating as this may be left for several days without going off. (V.w56)

N.B. The following are NOT recommended at any time:

  • Bread-and-cow's-milk: this may cause digestive upset (diarrhoea), particularly in juveniles, and is unsuitable nutritionally.
  • Biscuits, nuts, cheese.
  • (B151, B156.7.w7, B284.6.w6, D24)

(B151, B156.7.w7, B284.6.w6, B291.12.w12, D24, D25, V.w5, V.w26, V.w56)

Appropriate Use (?)
  • Fresh drinking water should always be available in a container of an appropriate size and type for the species concerned.
  • Fluid replacement therapy other than oral fluids may be required for casualties which are extremely dehydrated on admission or are unable to take in and absorb oral fluids.
    • Fluid therapy should continue until the animal is no longer dehydrated, even if it is self feeding.
  • Feeding of convalescents should take into account their requirement for additional nutrients for healing as well as maintenance requirements.
  • Feed mainly at night (B291.12.w12, D24), but with small amounts of food available during the day.(D24)
  • The required fluid intake for maintenance should be considered when designing convalescent diets.
  • Energy requirements for maintenance and healing should be calculated and used to determine the quantity of food required for both convalescence and short-term maintenance diets.
  • Convalescent diets should be easily absorbed/digested.
  • Care should be taken not to under or over supplement with vitamins/minerals.
  • Diets intended for feeding from a syringe or by stomach tube (gavage) must be of a sufficiently fluid consistency to pass through the syringe nozzle or down the tube without it becoming blocked.
  • The natural diet should be considered when deciding on suitable ingredients, including consideration of taste/smell.
  • Fresh food must be provided daily.
  • Regular cleaning of food and drinking water containers (e.g. daily) is important to reduce the risk of disease.
  • Food and water containers should be sited to minimise the risk of contamination with droppings/faeces/urine.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Hedgehogs easily become obese. Overfeeding leads to excessive deposition of intestinal fat and may result in lameness and fatty degeneration of the liver. Suggested maximum allowable weights for adults are 800-900g. (B291.12.w12); 1,200g.(B151); juveniles should not be allowed to pass 700g. (D97)
  • A diet of insects alone may lead to calcium:phosphorus imbalances and should be avoided. (J34.24.w1)
  • Water bowls should not be left in the accommodation of a casualty which is unconscious or is severely debilitated and unable to hold its head up.
  • Dehydrated and malnourished individuals sometimes drink rehydration fluids but refuse plain water initially; others will drink water but not rehydration fluids. Both should be made available.
  • No diet, however well balanced nutritionally, is useful if the animal does not eat it, for example because it is not recognised as food.
  • Ingestion of food should be monitored, not assumed. This may include weighing food before presentation and weighing waste food after removal, and periodic weighing of the animal.
  • Monitoring of weight/body condition is particularly important for group housed/group fed animals, within which some individuals may take more food and others not get the food they require.
  • Diets suggested on this page are intended for short term use for wildlife casualties; they are not necessarily suitable for long-term use or in individuals which are breeding.
  • Diets suggested on this page are not necessarily suitable for feeding infants; information on appropriate diets for very young individuals are described in the page on hand-rearing.
  • If naturally-available food items are gathered for feeding to casualties it is important to be aware of the possibility of contamination with chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides, as well as the possibility that they may introduce internal parasites (acting as intermediate hosts).
  • Feeding cat food long term may provide excessive amounts of vitamin A in the diet. This has been found problematic in some strict insectivorous species but may be less of a problem in hedgehogs as they are more omnivorous. (V.w16)
  • Some carers recommend that fishy cat foods should not be used (B151); others find that these may be preferred by some hedgehogs. (V.w56)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Oral rehydration (electrolyte) solutions are widely available from veterinary suppliers and chemists. 
  • A basic oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution may be made by dissolving one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in one litre of water.(B203)
  • Lectade, Pfizer Limited: from veterinary suppliers and agricultural feed suppliers.
  • Ensure (Abbott Laboratories)
  • A/D Hills Science Diet (Hill's Pet Nutrition) from veterinary suppliers
  • SA37 (Intervet) from good pet stores
  • Prosecto, John E. Haith from good pet stores or by mail order.
  • Day-old chicks can be bought from some pet stores and from specialist suppliers.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • No particular expertise is required.
Cost/ Availability
  • Food items are generally widely available and relatively inexpensive. 
  • Proprietary hedgehog food, insectivorous bird food and mealworms are available from petshops and mail order firms. 
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Under the Protection of Animals Acts 1911-2000 it is an offence not to provide animals (including captive wild animals) with necessary food and water. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, P19.2.w1)
  • Care should be taken not to let an individual become accustomed to a single food item as this may result in difficulties in feeding the animal if the food item becomes unavailable, and in preparing it for release.
  • Every effort should be made to provide appropriate natural, locally available foods to animals which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods before they are released, in order to re-accustom them to a natural diet and reduce the chance of digestive problems following release.(P24.233.w11)
  • The release of animals which, by virtue of an inadequate or inappropriate diet whilst in captivity, are not fit to survive when released may be considered an offence under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960.
Author Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Becki Lawson (V.w26); Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Kay Bullen (V.w45); Dru Burdon (V.w56)

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