Hedgehogs are solitary animals that spend most of their lives digging for insects, snails, bird eggs, and other prey. Their long, pig-like snouts make them exceptional foragers.
When threatened, hedgehogs crouch and hiss and can raise their spines to protect their tucked head, face, and belly. Their best defense, though, is their ability to roll themselves into a protective ball.
Hedgehogs need a habitat that is rich in plant and insect life, which means rural areas with lots of grasses and bushes. They also require a good supply of hiding places to seek shelter and protection from predators.
When a hedgehog feels threatened, it can curl up into a ball and have its spines stand straight up, making it look like a porcupine. They can remain in this pose for hours, protecting themselves from predators or unfavorable weather conditions.
Because hedgehogs are omnivores, they need access to both plant and animal foods in order to survive. Luckily, hedgehogs have proven to be very adaptable and can thrive in urban environments. However, the encroachment of homes and businesses and the use of chemicals in gardens can impact their populations. You can help hedgehogs by ensuring they have entry points to your garden and creating spaces where they can roam freely. You can also make your garden a hedgehog friendly environment by linking it up with other gardens to give them sufficient space to hunt for food and nest.
As insectivores hedgehogs eat insects, worms, slugs, millipedes, beetles and snails. They are also opportunistic feeders and will eat carrion, bird’s eggs, small vertebrates, fruit and other foods they can find.
Hedgehogs need a good source of protein in their diet as well as fats. If you are feeding your hedgehog a low quality dog or cat food, be sure it contains a high percentage of meat and avoid foods with grains, cereals, sugar or other fillers. Fish is a good source of protein but you want to make sure it has a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio.
Bread is something people traditionally put out for hedgehogs but it has no nutritional value and serves only to fill them up and distract them from looking for better food. Milk is another item that should be avoided because hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. It may be fine to give them a little bit of ice cream or cottage cheese as a treat but you should not feed it to your hedgehog as part of his regular diet.
Hedgehogs root through undergrowth, sifting through leaf litter and moss looking for small insects, worms and invertebrates. They have poor eyesight but a powerful sense of smell. They work systematically over large areas each night, eating about 8% of their body weight each night.
Baby hedgehogs are called hoglets, and they are born with their quills covered by a puffy fluid-filled skin until they have been weaned. Their mothers take them on foraging trips and show them how to find food.
You can supplement their diet with specialist hedgehog food, meaty cat or dog food and a little steamed or raw vegetables. Do not feed them raisins or dried fruit, slug pellets, crickets (they are high in phosphorous) and bread. These foods are not nutritionally balanced and will cause calcium and phosphorous levels to get out of balance in the body causing metabolic bone disease. This is a painful and slow way to die. Also avoid feeding them Yucca schidigera which can cause loosened stools and gastrointestinal haemorrhages and Menadione sodium bisulfite complex (a cheap synthetic vitamin K) as this can be harmful to the kidneys, liver and lungs.
Hedgehogs need regular physical exams with their primary veterinarian and bloodwork or x-rays as needed. They also need annual vaccinations to protect against common diseases.
It is best to adopt hedgehogs while they are young. This helps them become accustomed to handling and makes it easier for them to bond with people. They may seem grouchy or sad at first and they may curl up in their natural defense position but with patience and daily social interaction they will begin to get used to being held.
When hedgehogs are feeling agitated or nervous they will lick their backs and spread saliva over themselves, this is called self-anointing. They do this to re-establish their scent and it is harmless. They will also occasionally make noises like twittering or whistles to let people know they are happy or stressed. They may also squeal, grunt or hiss when threatened. Baby hedgies chirp and whistle when they are with their mother.