Starvation fears as hungry hedgehogs fill up our wildlife centres

Starvation fears as hungry hedgehogs fill up our wildlife centres

As hundreds of starving, underweight hedgehogs arrive at our wildlife centres this winter, we're encouraging the public to put food out to help the hungry wild animals survive the colder months.

Baby hedgehog on scales at animal centre © RSPCA

As winter approaches and hedgehogs' favourite prey - invertebrates like slugs, worms and beetles - becomes less available, many fail to gain the weight they need to survive through hibernation. As a result, low weight is the most common problem for hedgehogs in our care at this time of year.

Of the 793 hedgehogs admitted to our wildlife centre over the past three months:

  • more than half (494) were affected by hunger
  • 194 were brought in because they were starving
  • 113 were orphaned and unable to feed themselves properly

Another 187 were admitted due to 'abnormal behaviour' - including being active during daylight hours, often a sign of extreme hunger.

Leave out food for hedgehogs this winter

Leaving out food for hedgehogs can help them get through the winter. We recommend supplementing a hedgehog's diet with:

¿ tinned dog or cat food

¿ crushed dog or cat biscuits (not fish-based)

¿Good quality hedgehog food that provides a well-balanced diet - often available from suppliers of wild bird food

¿Leave a shallow dish of fresh clean water every day. Clean the dish outside (not in the kitchen) every day with hot soapy water and rinse well

¿Never feed hedgehogs bread or milk - cow's milk can cause diarrhoea and bread is very low in nutrients.

Our scientific officer, Evie Button, said:

Hunger hits hedgehogs hard in the winter. But the public can play a vital role in helping them get through these colder months by putting food out for them.

When their prey food is scarce during the winter, supplementing the diet of hedgehogs in your garden can really make a difference. Tinned dog or cat food, crushed dog or cat biscuits or food made specially for hedgehogs left out in the garden along with a bowl of fresh water will supplement their normal diet effectively.

Hedgehogs need considerable fat reserves to get them through the winter. As autumn turns to winter, prey such as insects become much more scarce, and that can prevent young hedgehogs from reaching an appropriate weight of 500g or more so they can hibernate safely.

Winter is a struggle for hedgehogs finding food

While September sees the tail end of orphaned hedgehogs coming into our care, from October onwards, the balance tips towards those that are found out during the day looking for food or that are starving. These animals may also be orphans which are now struggling as they were not able to put on as much weight without their mother's help. However, you may also see hedgehogs out and about during winter when the weather is mild, as they'll often wake up during hibernation to forage for food or move their nest sites.

This year up until the end of November 2020, we've so far taken more than 6,000 calls about hedgehogs from worried members of the public, the majority to report sick and injured animals.

Anyone with concerns about a wild animal's welfare can contact our advice line 0300 123 4999. Find out more about how to help hedgehogs in your garden.

To help us continue rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming animals in desperate need of care please donate online or call our donation line on 0300 123 8181.