Earlier this summer I found two hedgehogs eating suet/mealworm pellets which I put out for birds in a ground cage in the garden. As I know that the species is in decline in the UK, I was keen to encourage them. Therefore I started putting out cat food in the evenings for them and in due course bought a hedgehog house.
The two hedgehogs seemed very pally and would grunt loudly at each other. This is a courtship behaviour called huffing. They were much keener on wet cat food than the hedgehog kibbles and I wonder if this is partly because wet food appeals to their sense of smell.
Later in the summer I was informed that Hessilhead Wildlife Trust near Beith, Ayrshire, was wanting to re-locate over a hundred hedgehogs that had been taken off of a Scottish Island to conserve wild bird nest sites. I was very keen to have some more garden visitors and in due course brought home a mummy hedgehog and her two babies, who by this time were quite big.
What surprised me was how smelly they were and how mobile their long snouts were. I put them all in the hedgehog house which I had filled with hay. Mummy hedgehog went to sleep but being typical teenagers, the kids decided to come out into the early evening sunshine even though it was hours till wake time.
One baby hedgehog made a beeline for the food in the bird cage and once there didn’t want to come out. The other spent a long time skipping about the grass, obviously delighted with the feel of grass under its feet. They had been born in captivity and had spent the time in a shed rather that in in a garden.
For weeks the food we have been putting out in the evenings continued to disappear but we only got rare sightings of them. They have not eaten anything for the last week, so either they are eating enough from the garden or they have moved elsewhere. I hope that at least one of them will come back to the hedgehog house to hibernate.
If you want to encourage hedgehogs in your garden put out wet cat food, but not fish flavoured. Think about a hedgehog house or putting up some planks against a wall to provide a sheltered spot. Have openings in fencing or walls so that hedgehogs can move from one garden to another. Cover ponds so they can’t drown in them. Avoid giving bread or milk as this causes diarrhea in hedgehogs. Be very careful when cutting back foliage in the autumn. Use strimmers only when you can see that there isn’t a hedgehog sleeping. It is helpful for hedgehogs if you can keep some areas sheltered and with enough foliage to support bedding and their diet.
Hedgehogs can do you some favours too. They eat lots of slugs, beetles and Daddy Long Legs larvae.
A Finnish study has shown that growing up with a dog in the house improves the immune response of babies. Early respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and allergic reactions are reduced.
If a man has type one diabetes his chance of passing this on to his children is one in three. Maternal type one diabetes also increases the risk of type one in children but to a much lesser degree. Genetic susceptibility is reduced to a small extent if the baby is brought up in a house where the dog lives in the house. Unfortunately cats don’t confer the same benefit.
Reported in JAMA Paediatrics 2014 and BMJ 19th July 2014