In the Wild
- Hedgehogs are insectivores and like many other insectivores they can eat one third to one hundred percent of their body weight in insects and food every night.
- Hedgehogs eat the whole insect including the hard exoskeleton.
- Wild hedgehogs seem to have a preference for soft-bodied insects such as centipedes and millipedes when available. (Graffam)
- They are also opportunistic omnivores and may feed on small vertebrates they can catch or carrion they encounter. Birds’ eggs are said to be a hedgehog favorite.
- Hedgehogs do not have a cecum, which is the lower end of the colon in other animals. Herbivores have a relatively large cecum, hosting a number of bacteria, which aid in enzymatic breakdown of plant matter such as cellulose whereas carnivores have only a small portion of a cecum called vermiform appendix. Hedgehogs have been known to eat some seeds, soft fruit, and vegetation. Their body is not designed to digest plant matter; it is probable that they eat these foods because there is a shortage of their preferred diet.
- Traditionally, hedgehogs are a welcome friend in gardens and will never become agricultural pests.
What We Know
- A majority of the hedgehog diet information available today originates from research by Dr. Graffam-Carlsen of the Bronx Zoo. She presented her research at Go Hog Wild 1998, a convention of hedgehog enthusiasts.
- Like humans and other animals, hedgehogs need a blend of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water.
- Animals and insects that hedgehogs consume in the wild are eaten whole. The intestines, bones, fur etc. provide calcium, minerals, tooth abrasion and adequate vitamins.
- We believe the protein content should be greater than 20% for the average healthy hedgehog. Most breeders use 28-35% protein sources for nursing moms and growing babies.
- The fat content should be between 5 and 15% for the average hedgehog. A higher fat content is beneficial to nursing moms and growing babies but a maintenance food should be on the lower side of fat content.
- Dr. Graffam indicates there is up to 15% fiber in an insectivore’s diet and that most foods do not typically contain this much fiber. Like humans, hedgehogs may benefit from added fiber in the diet.
- When taking into consideration the fiber content of foods, more fiber is normally needed for foods with higher moisture content. In Graffam’s study the animals fed canned cat food benefited from additional fiber. Animals fed a dry diet would typically not require as much fiber in the diet.
What We Don’t Know
- Diet is one of the hottest and most widely debated topics of hedgehog owners. Some individuals have much stronger opinions than others and of course most people think they are right and THEIR WAY is the ONLY RIGHT way to provide adequate or proper nutrition.
- I firmly believe there isn’t a perfect food that will meet every animal’s exact needs simply because no one truly knows exactly what hedgehogs need. Like humans, hedgehogs have different body types, metabolisms, levels of activity and stressors.
- To my knowledge, few advances have been made since Dr. Graffam’s pioneering research. A scientific study on hedgehog diet would be on a large number of animals, over an extended period of time, and under controlled conditions with complicated analysis following the study. Unfortunately hedgehogs are not popular enough in the pet industry to warrant the limited research funding available in the pet industry.
Variety in Diet
- Hedgehog breeders, enthusiasts, and other experts within the hedgehog community recommend and use a wide variety of foods.
- A varied diet is probably the safest way to meet a hedgehog’s unique and somewhat mysterious nutritional requirements.
- Variety in diet can be achieved through a blend of dry foods or by using one staple food and providing a variety of nutritious treats to supplement the main diet.
- Providing a variety of foods will help to prevent your hedgehog from becoming attached to only one food. You could have a serious problem with your hedgehog not eating if an animal is attached to one food and that food becomes unavailable or you run out.
Food Ingredient Quality
- The quality and preparation of animal foods is as different as human foods. Foods can range in quality from highly processed to Certified Organic.
- There is no doubt that organic and human grade foods are good but it certainly isn’t what the animals would eat in the wild. Keep in mind that in the wild hedgehogs eat carrion (whole dead animals including meat, fur, skin, and bones), whole insects and a fair amount of soil and debris along with their food.
- I am certainly not advocating feeding your pet road kill, but wild animals gain valuable vitamins and nutrients through what we leave out of their food. The vitamins and nutrient that we put back into foods are our best guess at what animals would obtain naturally through their environment.
What a Food Should Contain
- When looking for a food for your hedgehog you will want to carefully read the ingredient list.
- Look at the ingredients carefully when choosing a food for your hedgehog. Foods SHOULD contain:
High quality protein sources
- Meat protein sources should be in the top two ingredients in the ingredient list.
- Chicken, chicken meal, and lamb are the best protein sources for insectivores because they are the most easily digested.
- Pork and beef are cheaper sources of protein but not as easily digested.
- Foods that contain several protein sources tend to be more beneficial because they provide a wider variety of amino acids that are the building blocks of all cells.
Appropriate protein and fat ratio.
- Different protein and fat levels are required during different times of the hedgehog’s growth and development.
- Nursing moms and growing babies need more protein (30-35%) than hedgehogs at a maintenance level.
- A higher fat content is beneficial for animals that require more calories but too much fat can lead to obesity and its associated health problems.
- Many foods are available in regular and light forms.
- Lite forms of cat foods are traditionally used at the maintenance level.
Appropriate kibble size and hardness
- Hedgehogs have a small mouth compared to cats and dogs. They do not use their feet to pick up their food and nibble it as would rodents and some other small animals.
- One must be willing to crush a larger sized kibble. I have seen malnourished hedgehogs on a good food simply because the kibble was too large for the hedgehog to eat.
- Some crunch in food helps to clean hedgehog’s teeth similar to what the exoskeletons of insects would in the wild. Tooth decay can result from a diet of only soft foods.
- Very hard foods can wear down or damage teeth and may be impossible for hedgehogs to eat that have missing or broken teeth.
- A consistent diet of soft foods can also lead to tooth and gum diseases.
What a Food Should NOT Contain
- Things to AVOID in foods:
- Sunflower seeds, peanuts, or other seeds and nuts are best left for rodents and birds. Hedgehogs do not have a beak, specialized tongue or the use of their front paws to help them crack and eat the meat of sunflower seed. Seeds and nuts are serious choking hazards. Numerous hedgehogs have been reported to have peanuts stuck in the roof of their mouth. Read hedgehog food labels carefully. A couple brands contain seeds and nuts in their food and treats.
- Raisins and other dried fruits and vegetables sound good in theory but are actually more harmful than good. Raisins and dried fruit tend to stick to hedgehogs’ tiny teeth and the roof of their mouth and are likely to cause tooth decay. Dried vegetables are hard for the hedgehog to chew as well as hard for the hedgehog to digest. Read hedgehog food labels carefully. A couple brandscontain dried fruits and vegetables in their food and treats.
- Meat by products, fats or other food components that are listed generically such as: meat and bone meal, poultry by products, animal proteins or animal fats. The best sources of protein are those that specifically list the type of meat and fat: chicken, chicken meal, etc.
- Corn has recently become a highly controversial food component in dog, cat, hedgehog, and other pet diet.
- Some believe corn has little or no nutritional value and is merely a filler in food and therefore should not be part of carnivore or insectivore diets.
- However, corn is one of the staple diet components for meat producing animals including cattle, hogs, poultry, sheep and goats. It does provide a source of protein, fat, and nutrition for these animals and is blended in to other animal feeds as well.
- Corn has also been a staple grain in human diets and its use are documented throughout history.
- The type and quality of corn, portion of the corn used, and how the corn is processed are all components that determine the actual nutritional value of the end product.
- Fresh corn on the cob from a Farmer’s Market, canned corn, frozen corn, popcorn, microwave popcorn, corn syrup, corn oil, and corn meal are all examples of different types of corn in our diet. It is obvious that sweet corn is going to have a completely different chemical make-up than corn meal and corn syrup.
- Most hedgehog owners will agree that corn should not be the only source of protein in a hedgehog’s diet or the main ingredient in a food.
- Excluding all foods that contain “corn” in a hedgehog’s diet or categorizing foods that contain corn as “bad” cannot be nutritionally justified.
- Several different brands of hedgehog foods are available on the Internet and in pet stores. Some hedgehog foods are very good, some are only adequate as a treat and not a complete diet, and other foods are simply not good for your pet.
- Just because a food is labeled for a particular animal does not mean it is a quality food. No manufacturer is going to put on their label that their food is junk!! Each product is going to say it is good for your pet whether it truly is or not.
- Inadequate hedgehog foods have given ALL hedgehog foods a bad name. I will not publicly slander individual brands of food so it is up to you to read the labels and make educated food decisions for yourself.
- More information is available in our Food Comparison Charts and our Diet Recommendations Guide.
- Just about any information that you read will have slightly various recommendations and use preferences of cat foods.
- I recognize the fact that high quality foods are good for your pet.
- However, very few of the hedgehogs in the pet market today or in the past were raised or are currently being raised on high quality cat foods alone. Breeders with more than a few animals simply cannot produce a hedgehog at a price their customers can afford using only top quality brands of cat food.
- I am certainly not advocating feeding hedgehogs junk, but I do think we underestimate the value of some foods. After all, cats are not insectivores they are carnivores and there are differences in their nutritional requirements.
- More information is available in our Food Comparison Charts and our Diet Recommendations Guide.
- Preparing for this paper I found conflicting opinions on the Internet as to whether or not dog food was acceptable.
- The biggest disadvantage of using a dog food as a hedgehog food is that the kibble size tends to be WAY to big even using the small bite varieties.
- Some high quality dog foods have similar ingredients and content to the above mentioned cat foods and if they are crushed it appears they could be a suitable part of the hedgehog’s diet.
- The main difference between cat and dog foods is the absence of Taurine in dog foods. Taurine is necessary for cats but not dogs and it is still unknown whether it affects hedgehogs’ overall health.
Canned or Soft Foods
- Canned cat or dog foods are generally palatable especially when thinned and slightly warmed.
- Canned or soft foods can be used as treats. Whiskas cat treats in the foil packs are popular treats with many hedgehogs.
- Soft foods or canned foods are good for hedgehogs with broken or missing teeth, or other health issues.
- Soft foods should not be fed as a sole diet because they do not provide tooth abrasion accomplished with chewing harder foods.
- Moist foods should not be left in the cage longer than 4 hours due to bacterial growth. (Graffam).
The Most Important Nutrient
- Water is one of the essential nutrients for humans and animals alike. Animals of all types can survive much longer without food than without water.
- Fresh water should be available to your hedgehog at all times.
- It is a good idea to check water flow in water bottles daily because the bottle can become plugged with bedding or the ball can get stuck in an odd position.
- Stale water can grow harmful bacteria so it is a good idea to change water on a regular basis.
- Some hedgehogs will refuse to drink or drink little if they don’t like the taste of the water. We suggest using filtered or bottled water if you suspect your hedgehog is drinking less than two ounces of water per day.
- Hedgehogs that don’t drink enough water are susceptible to kidney problems that could lead to an early death.
- Watch your hedgehog for excessive chewing or jerking on the metal part of the water bottle. This behavior can lead to tooth problems and so you will need to switch to a water bowl.
- Water bowls can spill easily and if you don’t clean the bedding frequently you could develop a problem with mold or mildew in your cage.
Monitoring Food Intake
- Hedgehogs need fresh food and water every day. It is very important for you to make sure your hedgehog is eating and drinking enough every day.
- Sudden changes in eating and drinking habits are often the first indicator of a more serious problem.
- Your hedgehog should reach its adult size by six month of age. We suggest weighing your hedgehog on a regular basis to make sure that it is not gaining or losing a significant amount of weight.
- You may need to slightly decrease the amount of food that you give your hedgehog once it has reached its adult weight to prevent obesity.
- Diet related health problems as a result from over feeding are a serious concern for many pet hedgies.
- How much food and how often to feed are discussed in our Diet Recommendations article.
Obesity and Diet Choices
- According to Dr. Graffam, hedgehogs can eat 33% of their body weight if allowed. This is comparable to a 150-pound human eating 50 pounds of food.
- Obesity is the number one problem with captive hedgehogs and many die in a state of obesity. (Graffam)
- The most common disease associated with obesity is Fatty Liver Disease.
- Kitten food, wax worms, and ferret foods are very high in fat and calories (Smith).
- Exercise, appropriate foods, and limiting calorie intake are all ways to help keep your hedgehog healthy.
Introducing New Foods and Other Diet Tips
- Hedgehogs can have food allergies or reactions most commonly noticed as “green or yucky” poop.
- We suggest using the same approach to introducing new foods to hedgehogs as is recommend for human babies.
- Only one new food should be introduced at a time over a period of 2 to 3 days or a week. Should a problem arise it will be easier to detect what diet change initiated the problem.
- One way to provide environmental enrichment is to scatter a favorite food throughout the cage to encourage your hedgehog to “hunt” for its treat. This will help your hedgehog burn calories and exercise as well
- Most and fresh foods should be fed in the evening and remove uneaten portions in the morning.
- Hedgehogs are going to have their own taste preferences just like we prefer certain foods. Some hedgehogs will eat a variety of different foods every day and others will only eat their staple diet and nothing else. Most hedgehogs will have favorite foods and flat out refuse others.
- Like picky toddlers, hedgehogs may find that they really do like something after it has been offered to them several times.
- You will have greater success in coaching your hedgehog to try new foods if you start at a young age rather than waiting until they are older and set in their ways.
- It is a good idea to keep track of your hedgehog’s food preferences and the food’s effects in fecal quality. Some foods may not be appropriate on a regular basis but would be a good idea when your hedgehog isn’t eating.
- We suggest waiting to give your hedgehogs most treats until they are settled into their new home and eating on a regular schedule. By eight to ten weeks of age your hedgehog should be ready for treats. Freeze dried insects may be started earlier.
- Some hedgehogs love treats but others will prefer to stick to only their dry food.
- It is important to only introduce one new food or treat at a time. Should your hedgehog develop an upset stomach you will know which food or treat is to blame.
- Daily treats are acceptable but you don’t spoil your hedgehog so that it is too full for its staple food.
- Once you find a food your hedgehog likes, don’t over feed it. That way your hedgehog will continue to enjoy it as a treat rather than expect it as a standard part of the diet.
- Make sure you remove any uneaten portion of moist or fresh foods to prevent spoilage or contamination.
- Some hedgehog owners like to “hide” or scatter dry food treats to provide additional hedgehog activity.
- Refer to the selection below on the advantages of dropper feeding your hedgehog treats.
- More information is available in our Hedgehog Treats guide and our Insects A La Carte guide.
- Most adult mammals are not designed to digest milk well and should therefore be avoided in adult animals. (Graffam)
- Intolerance is demonstrated by stomach and intestinal problems are indicated by diarrhea and foul smelling stool.
- Yogurt containing live active cultures is easier than milk to digest and can be beneficial to your hedgie as it is a good source of calcium.
- Many care sheets suggest low fat cottage cheese and other cheeses as long as the hedgehog does not appear to have ill affects. Small amounts should be introduced during monitored feedings.
Fillers in Foods
- Studies have linked artificial fillers and preservatives in pet foods to cancers, ear infections, respiratory infections, joint problems, and a myriad of other health and wellness problems. (Hyne)
- One must be careful when looking at fillers because fillers can be processed differently and some may contain low-level chemicals due to the processing.
- According to Jim at Pet-Pro, fiber can be considered filler.
- Soy hulls are used by Pet-Pro specifically to increase the fiber that would ordinarily be obtained in nature. While some may some consider soy hulls filler, it decreases the need for added fibers. Pet-Pro Products uses natural fibers come from the use of whole grains in the products.
- The fiber and filler debate can be quite confusing because the nutritional value can be different for the same product depending on the type of processing.
- Fiber may need to be added to some diets. Ways to add fiber to a hedgehog’s diet include supplementing with Grape Nuts Cereal, Benefiber, or Baby Oatmeal.
- What goes into the hedgehog must come out of the hedgehog!
- Almost all poop stinks but what your hedgehog eats will determine how bad.
- Keeping track of how different foods affect your hedgehog’s fecal quality will help you adjust its foods accordingly.
- Many foods offer free samples for you to try.
- One of the most frustrating things for hedgehog owners is when their hedgehog goes on a hunger strike.
- Hunger strikes can begin for a variety of reasons including illness, change in environment, change in food, or temperature.
- The most important thing to do is to get your hedgehog started eating again. First, check your hedgehog to make sure there are no obvious signs of illness or stress as well as its housing temperature. Start tempting your hedgehog to eat with its favorite foods.
- Offering your hedgehog’s favorite food soaked in low-sodium chicken broth or favorite canned cat foods will often do the trick.
- Hedgehog enthusiasts have developed various blended mixtures of foods to try to entice hedgehogs to start eating again. These recipes can be found in our Picky Eaters guide.
- A trip to the veterinarian is required if your hedgehog stops drinking or refuses to eat for more than a few days.
Diet Related Articles
Graffam, Wendy Ph.D. Hedgehog Nutrition Research. Outline of presentation from from Go Hog Wild, 1998.
Hyne, Steph. Posts found on www.chinsandquills.com and http://www.cuddlycrittersexotics.com/