There doesn’t seem to be a week go by without someone asking how they get a hedgehog for their garden to eat all the slugs and snails they’re over-run with.
Whilst the hedgehog is touted as being the Gardener’s Friend, eating unwanted slugs and snails, unfortunately for the poor hedgehog, a diet consisting mainly of slugs and snails can be fatal!
Slugs, snails and earthworms can carry a parasite that infects hedgehogs, causing them breathing difficulties and affecting their ability to forage successfully. A hedgehog’s main diet is beetles.
The good news is that they can tolerate a small amount of slugs and snails, but only as long as they’re otherwise fit and well.
Unless you control slugs and snails with nematodes, or have a large population of hedgehogs that can chomp only a few each to control them and thus survive themselves, these garden pests can slowly kill off your hedgehogs!
Applying nematodes to your garden will reduce the slug and snail population allowing you to build your local hedgehog population by encouraging beetles – leave a pile of logs in a quiet corner where beetles can thrive. As the hedgehog population increases, your slug and snail population will decrease as they naturally eat a few slugs and snails each.
We’re seeing increasing numbers of poorly hedgehogs unable to breathe properly or feed well with lungworm infections brought about by eating too many slugs and snails. Each one requires around 3 weeks’ treatment to return them to the wild, fit and well again. But if there’s insufficient natural food stock for them, it’s not long before they succumb to a lungworm infection again and the cycle repeats.
Hedgehogs with lungworm have a “smoker’s cough”. They often wheeze too. This is because the lungworm grows in their lungs, each worm producing thousands of larvae, which the hedgehog then coughs up. As the disease takes hold, they spend more time fighting the infection than feeding, and eventually appear on your lawn “sunbathing” because they’re too weak to retain body heat. This is a late stage, and whilst it can still be treated, the success rate diminishes as the time before treatment increases – they’re on their last legs – time is of the essence.
So spare a thought for your hedgehogs and ensure they don’t have to eat lots of garden pests that might kill them.