Huffing hedgehogs

I was walking around the garden last night. It’s amazing how much unseen activity there is after dark: plenty of rustling in the borders, small rodents no doubt, or perhaps a few larger ones! Then I heard the ‘huffing’, a loud persistent raspy panting or puffing. Which could only mean one thing … we have hedgehogs back in residence.

Hedgehog in garden

And here’s the proof. Erinaceous europaeus!

It has been several years since we have seen any hedgehogs in the garden. Our cosy straw-filled hedgehog boxes have gone unused for the past two winters, so I was thrilled to find they were back.

I quickly threw a few hedgehog treats onto the lawn in the vicinity of the activity (we actually still had some hedgehog biscuits left over from the days when they were coming in regularly – see below), and low and behold a hedgehog emerged. After all that huffing, he (or she) was hungry!

The huffing is often made in mating season (April to September, with May and June being the most active months). It is part of a hedgehog’s courtship behaviour, where they huff and circle each other. So we can but hope for hoglets later this year. Watch this terrific piece of footage on YouTube of hedgehog courtship behaviour to see and hear the huffing behaviour for yourself! They huff at other times too, so you may hear them doing steam train impressions through your herbaceous borders after dark.

Feeding hedgehogs

Hedgehog numbers in the UK have declined by more than a third over the past decade and they are now on the endangered species list. So if you find them in your garden, look after them!

Hedgehogs are insectivores; over 70% of their natural diet comprises beetles and other insects, worms and a tiny number of slugs and snails, but you can supplement their evening dinner with:

  • Meaty cat or dog food
  • Specific tinned or dry hedgehog food, available from garden centres and pet shops
  • Cat biscuits

Do not give them:

  • Bread or milk – they can’t digest them!
  • Salty meats such as bacon or corned beef
  • Dried mealworms. Although they are a good source of protein, they have a poor calcium: phosphorus ratio. Too little calcium/too much phosphorus can lead to metabolic bone disease (which is on the increase in hedgehogs) so it is best to avoid them completely. A healthy calcium: phosphorus ratio is 1:1 or 1:2.

Make sure you:

  • Provide a source of water (no other type of liquid refreshment) – they drink a lot!
  • Provide a sloping exit out of ponds so they can get out if they fall in.

For more information on hedgehogs go to The British Hedgehog Preservation SocietyThe Mammal SocietyPrickles Hedgehog Rescue or Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital.

Do you have hedgehogs in your garden? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or let me know on Twitter @15greenmins


  1. Lots of huffing and puffing in my garden last night . The urban hogs are getting very active now – I saw 3 all at once . 2 doing the circling bit and the other feasting on kitten biscuits . This one is living in a bag of straw in my garage. There should be another one around too (Picnic) as she was over wintered at the hedgehog rescue and released back 2 days ago – we have marked her with a small blob of nail varnish on her rump so we know it’s her. She was a tiny poorly Sept/Oct 2021 baby .

  2. I live in Tenerife, and had heard on the grapevine that there was a hedgehog colony near my house, but up until December had not seen any. I always leave dry cat food outside to feed the stray cats, and in December I heard a crunching sound outside my door. I turned on the outside light to discover a little hedgehog tucking in to the biscuits, with the stray cats sleeping in their beds just inches away. I had wondered why the bowl was always tipped on its side in the morning. This evening I heard alot of huffing, and puffing, and when I looked out of the window, I saw 2 hogs. 1 smaller and 1 larger. The larger appeared to be chasing the smaller. So I have found myself reading this article about mating hedgehogs. How fascinating this all is. I never had any idea they made such noises. I hope we get little hogs soon. Thankyou for the information on feeding too. I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for little hoglettes.

  3. Hi, have heard rustling under our hedge for some years but only a few weeks ago actually saw the culprit!
    Quite a large dark hedgehog, was great to see!
    Bought some food, put out water and next night he was back, rubbing his nose onto the patio, I assume marking or scenting.
    Since then he has been every night and three nights ago a smaller hedgehog turned up, lighter coloured and smaller.
    Just now went out to see if there was anything happening and heard the huffing, I watched the two of them walking in circles after each other and this is when I came upon this site.
    Daughter is 5 and managed to see them last night as they are coming earlier and getting braver, she was ecstatic 😊
    Will look to make a den/ home for them and let’s see what happens!

  4. Hi. A lot of Huffing going on last night , I couldn’t sleep that well because of the heat and when I heard this huffing sound I shone the torch down from the ensuite window and two hedgehogs were down by the back gate…

    • Fabulous. We’ve had the same in our garden this week. I thought the huffing was just when they mated, but have since found out they do it at other times as well. It’s still breeding season though (April to September), although May and June are the most ‘active’ months.

  5. I have just been out and heard some huffing. It was 2 hedgehogs behind the bins. We have been putting food and water out but never heard them do this before. Usually you can hear them crunching their hedgehog food

  6. Steven Randall

    Some of the feeding advice on this page is incorrect / outdated.

    Fish flavoured cat biscuits or cat food in jelly is fine.

    Cooked meat is not recommended
    Peanuts and sunflower hearts are a big no, they cause mbd just like mealworms
    Sultanas and raisins are high in natural sugars and bad for their teeth.

    The best thing to feed them is cat food or kitten biscuits.

    • Thank you Steven, I’ll make a few tweaks to the article as it was written a while ago. I appreciate the updates. I’m going to put a useful link on there about the calcium: phosphorous ratio in various foods.

  7. I have 2 hedgehogs…one is huffing an gonna have babys 😁

  8. Michelle Fawcett

    We found a hedgehog that had crawled into a plastic bag to hibernate in our garage so we converted a plastic storage box into a little hut filled it with shredded paper and then a week ago we noticed little poos on our decking so we checked the box and yay the hedgehog had survived the winter, now to our delight it has stayed and now has a mate and they come every night to feed on the biscuits and water we put out and they are courting we may get some hogletts it’s really fascinating watching them and I think they are living under the decking.

  9. Margaret Cunningham

    I’ve hedgehogs in my garden I feed them and give them water they are adorable and so harmless what a joy they are and to have the pleasure of looking after them and they are right outside my back door .

  10. We have a cat problem- other peoples- i want to deter them but assume ultrasonic cat scares would also deter hedgehogs – is this correct?

  11. Summer night and window open heard this strange huffing noise, carefully with a torch discovered two hedgehogs…. how wonderful, apologized and left them undisturbed

  12. We have 5 regular hedgehog visitors every night, they appear at around 9.45. We give them our cats crunchies and meaty cat food. They are eating us out of house and home, so tonight I have given them chicken dog food which is a little cheaper.
    They absolutely love it 4 were eating from the same banqueting bowl. The 5 th small hedgehog was busy rolling a slug around.
    The are so fascinating to watch and the noises are amazing.
    One ran over my husbands foot the other night not at all bothered by our presence. We have had them join us at evening BBQs and seem them splashing around in water bowls.
    My cats are fascinated by them as are we.

  13. Checkout ‘Berties Wildlife’ Group on FB on what & what not to feed hedgehogs.
    Or Hedgehog Highway group.
    Main thing is do NOT feed mealworms. One of the worse foods for them.
    Best is kitten biscuits due to the size.

  14. We have been feeding a young hedgehog through the winter (presumably too small to hibernate) and happy it has survived and is thriving and coming to the back door most nights for food. I recognise its loud chomping and once when I put my hand too close its hissing ! Last night for the first time I heard it panting/huffing . When I investigated….sure enough there was another larger hedgehog next to it. Delighted that they are courting and we might see young ones this year ! Thanks for the info. Yes a privilege to share the garden with such wonderful creatures.

  15. Fiona Margaret Reed

    We have 3 hogs in our garden. We have been supplying them with chicken flavoured cat biscuits and as we feed the birds they also get to eat sunflower hearts. We sat this evening watching two huffing and circling and then watched as two of them came down to eat the cat biscuits and take a drink of water. We were within 2 ft of them when they were eating. Such beautiful little creatures and we are honoured to share our garden with them

    • How fantastic. As you say, it’s a real privilege to have them in the garden. We have one regular evening visitor so far this year, and we are hoping that more will join him as the year progresses. Enjoy your huffing friends.

      • Good evening, I’ve just heard huffing noises in my garden. Behold a big hedgehog circling a smaller on with lots of huffing going on. I’ve only seen single hedgehogs in the past so it was a good surprise. Maybe I need hedgehog nests so I can see the babies. Lol

  16. How wonderful to have a hedgehog!
    Loving 15m of green Sharon – layout, photos, writing – all brilliant – keep it up!

    • Thanks Jane – very kind!
      We’re thrilled that the hedgehog(s) are now coming in regularly (they love chicken-flavoured dog food!) and we’ve had two in together on several occasions, still huffing at each other on the lawn.

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