If you are planning on adding a hedgehog to your family, you will want to acquaint yourself with their unique dietary needs before bringing your new friend home.
Wild Hedgehogs in Nature
Before we get into the dietary needs of pet hedgehogs, let’s take a look at the natural diet of their wild hedgehog counterparts.
Wild hedgehogs can be found in parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa. They are considered insectivores because they receive most of their nutrition from insects like caterpillars, slugs, and beetles.
When given the opportunity, hedgehogs are known to supplement their diet with small prey like young rodents, toads, and birds’ eggs.
Pet Hedgehogs are Omnivores
A healthy diet for a pet hedgehog is high in protein and low in fat. Although pet hedgehogs are considered omnivores, their diet should be heavily meat based because their bodies aren’t able to digest large amounts of plant matter.
Popular food to offer your pet hedgehog is unseasoned lean meat (chicken, turkey, and beef), farm-raised insects. and small amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Dry Hedgehog/Cat Food
Dry food should make up most of your pet hedgehog’s diet. While commercial hedgehog food does exist, it can be difficult to find in some pet stores. Luckily, most dry cat foods will meet a hedgehog’s dietary needs.
When choosing an appropriate food for your hedgehog, look for dry foods that are high in protein (28 to 35%), and made from chicken or another lean meat. High fat diets are dangerous for hedgehogs, so you will want to look for kibble that is low in fat. A range of 5 to 15% is usually recommended. Fiber is another important nutrient, and it’s recommended that you choose a food with the highest fiber content possible.
Before buying a dry food for your pet hedgehog, read the ingredient list to ensure it is free from non-nutritious and indigestible ingredients like corn, wheat, and cellulose. These foods are used as cheap fillers and offer no nutritional benefits. Similarly, avoid food that contains unnamed sources of meat and by-products because it’s a sign of poor-quality control.
Moist Food Options
Pet hedgehogs can have some of their diet supplemented with moist food like canned cat and dog food. Like with dry food, you want to look for food that is chicken based or another similar lean cut of meat and high-quality: no corn, cellulose, wheat, by-products, or unnamed sources of meat.
Moist food is a good option if your pet hedgehog can’t chew dry kibble due to illness or missing teeth. If your hedgehog is healthy, moist food shouldn’t be given more often than dry food because the kibble helps with beneficial tooth abrasion.
Ensure uneaten moist food is removed within four hours because it can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
As hedgehogs are naturally insectivorous, it makes sense that should offer your pet hedgehog insects too.
Insects are an important staple in your hedgehog’s diet because their exoskeletons contain the polysaccharide, chitin. Chitin is significant for hedgehogs because it serves the same function as fiber.
You can buy live insects or canned insects. You should never offer your hedgehog insects you have caught yourself or purchased from a bait shop because they can carry bacteria, toxins, and parasites.
Popular insects for your pet hedgehog include mealworms, crickets, beetles, and millipedes.
Fruits & Vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are not a necessary component in a hedgehog’s diet but can be offered in small amounts. If your hedgehog doesn’t like anything you’ve offered – don’t worry about it. Dry kibble provides enough nutrients for most hedgehogs.
It’s recommended that fruit is offered no more than once per week due to the high sugar content. Popular choices are fruits in the berry family because they contain less sugar and more fiber: blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
Vegetables can be offered more often as long as they aren’t starchy or difficult to digest like potatoes and corn. Green beans, cucumber, and dark leafy vegetables are good options to try with your hedgehog.
Water is an essential component of a hedgehog’s diet and needs to be readily available at all times. It prevents dehydration and significantly reduces the risk of kidney problems developing.
Most people use a stoppered water bottle that attaches to the cage because they’re almost spill-proof and it’s easy to tell how much water your hedgehog is drinking. A water bowl is another option, but they spill easily, and soiled bedding can contaminate the water. It doesn’t take long for bacteria to develop in stale water so it’s important to empty and refill your hedgehog’s water bottle everyday.
If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, there is a chance your hedgehog won’t like it either. If your hedgehog seems to refuse water, try offering filtered or bottled water instead.
Like most humans, hedgehogs love treats. Treats should be offered in moderation because hedgehogs are prone to obesity and most treats contain significant amounts of fat and sugar.
Insects and portions of cooked meat are nutritious and well-liked by most hedgehogs and can be offered up to three times per day. Other treats that your hedgehog will love are apples, bananas, bell peppers, scrambled eggs, rice, and packaged baby food.
Hedgehog Foods to Avoid…
All hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so you will need to avoid offering any dairy products to your little pal. Some hedgehogs can tolerate small amounts of yogurt and soft cheeses once per week, but it’s not recommended.
Meat is a staple in a hedgehog’s diet, but it needs to be cooked before offering a piece to your pet. The main reason being their digestive system is not equipped to process raw meat safely. Secondly, uncooked meat can be contaminated with bacteria like Salmonella that is eliminated once cooked.
Consuming raw meat can cause intestinal distress and in worse cases, death.
Although we might find grapes to be a refreshing sweet treat, they are toxic to our hedgehog friends. Therefore, they should never be offered to your pet in any form, including raisins.
Tea Tree Oil
Although this essential oil isn’t a food item, it’s worth mentioning on the list because it’s extremely toxic to hedgehogs. Avoid using bath products, sprays, and candles containing tea tree oil because inhalation alone can cause organ failure.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds should be avoided because they are difficult for pet hedgehogs to chew and can become choking hazards. Additionally, they are high in fat and calories, which most hedgehogs don’t need.
Wild Caught Insects
As mentioned earlier, wild caught insects should never be given to your pet hedgehog because they can carry diseases, parasites, and bacteria and might have been affected by insecticide.
If you want to feed your hedgehog insects, you can purchase live and canned insects from most pet stores.