Hedgehogs are known as quiet, solitary creatures, but while they’ve cultivated a cute status with many people, they should not be kept as pets. 

If you know you have hedgehogs coming through your garden, and you’re doing everything you can to encourage them because of their dwindling numbers, that’s great! However, it’s not as simple as leaving out some water and leftover foods.

Pumpkins, one of the nation’s favourite fruits to decorate in October, are often left outdoors on the ground. This leads some people to think they’re good for hedgehogs to eat, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

A hedgehog is technically a wild animal, and while some people try to keep them as pets, it’s important to know that their diets are just as delicate as those of many other animals. This means we can’t feed them any old things. 

Read on to learn more about the hedgehog diet.

What happens to a hedgehog that eats pumpkin?

Feeding a hedgehog pumpkin, whether on purpose because you’re keeping them as a pet, or inadvertently by leaving your jack-o-lantern outside in the garden, is bad news for them.

As a highly fibrous fruit, pumpkins present a challenge to hedgehogs. While their nocturnal search for food in autumn may lead them to take a risk on a pumpkin out of desperation, it’s likely to give them diarrhoea. This, in turn, causes dehydration and can be deadly to little hedgehogs.

Even if a hedgehog manages to survive the dehydration, the weakened state it leaves them in will not bode well for them. We’ll touch more on the importance of hedgehogs feeding during autumn later.

What do hedgehogs eat?

The European Hedgehog, with its furry belly and spiny back, is actually a pretty opportunistic creature. Given its relatively small size, it’s understandable that they mostly feed on things that they can easily reach, such as insects and some fruits or veggies.

That means the hedgehogs you might glimpse in your garden at night are omnivores. From beetles, slugs and caterpillars to even snacking on other dead animals, hedgehogs need meat in their diet.

That’s why some campaigns encourage the use of meat-based dog or cat food if you really want to leave food out for them. However, you should avoid leaving your old pumpkins on the ground for them, as we’ve already mentioned the detrimental impact that can have!

Leaving fresh water out for a hedgehog is also a great idea, but avoid milk or dairy-based products as hedgehogs cannot digest this.

Why are hedgehogs eating more in autumn?

If you’ve ever wondered why you find hedgehogs easier to spot during the autumn months, then you probably didn’t realise that they’re hibernators. This is a natural survival strategy on their part to get them through the cold winters by creating a nest, insulating it and hunkering down.

In order to prepare for this phase, a hedgehog needs to be well-fed. In autumn, they’ll begin to build up their fat reserves, which is why you’ll notice them scavenging in your garden at night. Once they’ve got enough to sustain themselves during hibernation, they’ll begin to mysteriously disappear.

That’s why it’s so important that we give hedgehogs the best chance of survival by making sure we’re not feeding them the wrong foods or leaving items around – like pumpkins – that could do more harm than good.

Once hibernation season has begun, we also recommend leaving the undisturbed areas of your garden alone. That means piles of logs and leaves should go untouched, as disturbing a hibernating hedgehog can sap their energy and risk their survival.

What can I do with my leftover pumpkin instead?

Pumpkin is the flavour of the season come autumn, whether it’s a pumpkin-spiced latte or a giant, grinning lantern placed on the wall outside for Halloween. So what can you do with leftover pumpkins that are on the turn?

One way to deal with them is to use them for cooking before they start to go bad. If you absolutely have to make them into a jack-o-lantern and keep them, then you should never discard them on the ground.

Most people do this with the best of intentions, so if you still want to feed the birds and squirrels with your pumpkin, try leaving it up in a tree so that hedgehogs are unlikely to nibble at it. 

If you find a hedgehog and need to know more about their diet, we recommend you consult a vet or the RSPCA who will be able to give you a professional opinion and recommend the right action. Again, it’s not ideal to try and domesticate hedgehogs – you should leave them alone if you spot them in the wild as they may have a family that depends on them. Instead, make your garden a friendly place for them, but include ways for them to escape such as gaps at the bottom of your fencing.

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