© RSPCA 2009. All rights reserved.

If you've got a garden, hedgehogs are useful visitors. They will eat slugs, beetles, caterpillars and a variety of other insects.

To attract hedgehogs to your garden you can try providing natural shelter - 'wild' areas - or man-made - a piece of board against a pile of bricks to form a type of bivouac.

Food and fresh water at any time of the year will encourage visiting hedgehogs to return regularly. You could try leaving out minced meat, fresh liver, tinned dog food (not fish-based), or even chopped boiled eggs.

Hedgehogs like milk but it may give youngsters severe diarrhoea. So it's safest to use either goats' milk or very diluted cows' milk. But the best choice is plain, fresh water each night in a shallow bowl.

Garden dangers

  • Garden ponds can be death traps to small animals - make sure there is always an easy way out. House brick steps or wire mesh are often used.

  • Strimmers should be used sparingly under hedges and undergrowth - hedgehogs and other animals are likely to be resting there during the day.

  • Drains and similar open holes frequently trap unwary hedgehogs, which can starve if they are not rescued. Keep all drain covers in good condition and cover any holes.

  • Litter is a real hazard - hedgehogs often get their heads stuck in tins, plastic binders from drinks cans or discarded yogurt pots. Dispose of yours carefully.

  • Nets, particulary those used for tennis, football or cricket, must be furled well above ground when not in use - hedgehogs often get entangled and die of starvation. Fruit nets are also dangerous but can be kept taut to stop animals getting entangled.

  • Slug pellets can poison hedgehogs and should only be used as a last resort. Instead, try using beer traps, or sprinkling fine sand or ground-up shells around the plant you need to protect. If you have to use slug pellets, place them under a slate.

  • Hibernating hedgehogs
    Hedgehogs hibernate between November and mid-March. Try to keep aside a hedgehog-friendly area of garden where you can leave welcome heaps of leaves and brushwood. If you have to light a bonfire, always make sure there are no animals sheltering in the middle of the pile.

    Autumn orphans
    Hedgehogs born late in the season will not have sufficient fat reserves to survive hibernation. Young orphans found weighing less than 500g (1.1lb) at the end of the autumn will need to put weight on to see them through the winter or, if left, will probably die.

Orphans found weighing under 500g after mid-October can be housed indoors and fed two heaped tablespoons of food daily - including small amounts of crushed dog biscuits to provide bulk and roughage - to put on weight before being released to hibernate.

A garage or similar building is an ideal temporary home, but don't put hedgehogs on a metal grid or wire floor - they have sensitive feet! Place the hedgehog in a large box with plenty of clean, fresh hay, crumpled newspapers or dry leaves.

If the orphan is very young it should be kept warm - a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel is ideal. Also take care to keep direct human contact to a minimum so that the animal does not become unnaturally tame.

On reaching a weight of between 550 and 680g (1.2lb-1.5lb), the young hedgehog - if active and while the weather is still relatively mild - can be released at night back to the area where it was found.

If an alternative release site is required, select an area where there are invertebrates, no potential hazards and signs of other hedgehogs being active in the local area. Continue to provide food and a shelter with nesting material to help the hedgehog build a winter nest.