The idea of hedgehogs feasting mainly on slugs and snails is somewhat of a misconception. It’s true that hedgehogs are very useful natural pest controllers, snaffling up all kinds of unwanted creatures in your garden, but gastropods form only part of their varied diet, which includes beetles, earth worms, millipedes, caterpillars, earwigs, frogs, and bird’s eggs. In fact, if they are forced to eat too many slugs and snails, because of lack of alternative food, they are at risk of lungworm infestation. Hedgehogs suffering from this parasite, which slugs and snails harbour, will develop the symptoms of a heavy smoker, wheezing and coughing their way to an early death.
Well-meaning people feeding their local hedgehogs traditionally put out bread and milk, but it’s now known that this old staple gives them diarrhoea. It’s much better to crack open a can of dog or cat food, preferably chicken flavour, their favourite. Dried food is good too, but best avoid fish varieties. There’s also specially prepared hedgehog food, available in pet shops.
Feeding hedgehogs, a declining species in Britain, is great fun, but also a responsibility. So while away on holiday, ask your neighbours to take over. There’s lots of useful advice at www.thehedgehog.co.uk including ideas for hedgehog feeding stations, like the one shown in the photograph. It’s a simple plastic container, effectively adapted to keep cats and dogs from stealing the food.