Hedgehog nutrition is not a highly studied subject. This means there is no official analysis of exactly what percentages of macro and micro nutrients hedgehogs need each day in their diet. It is up to hedgehog owners to make the best decisions in which foods to offer their pets, and at what frequency (how often to offer those food items). Consulting with a Licensed veterinarian who is savvy in raw feeding and exotic nutrition is a great way to receive insight regarding your hedgehog's diet.
This website is going to list many things regarding feeding that you may not have heard of before. We are progressive thinkers and care providers who have coupled together to offer methods we have seen benefit hedgehogs.
In the wild
In the wild hedgehogs have been noted as being primarily insectivorous. This means that the bulk of their daily diet consists of insects found in the natural habitat.
Though they are insectivorous, hedgehogs are also secondary carnivores. This means that they will seek out and eat other mammals, reptiles, and birds.
Hedgehogs are also scavengers. this means that they will eat the carcass of other animals and the left overs from a much larger predator's meals.
African Pygmy Hedgehogs do not eat plant matter with any regularity in the wild. Their digestive tracts have evolved in such a way that they are unable to digest plant matter effectively. Feeding plant matter (fruits/vegetables) to a hedgehog can cause stomach upset and nutrient deficiency.
Many websites and informational sources encourage owners to feed plant matter. However, Hedgehogs do not have a cecum in their body. A cecum is an organ that breaks down and helps the body process vegetable matter. Hedgehogs rely on chitin for fiber, not plants.
It may be worth noting that wild hedgehogs who have no access to other more appropriate food sources may eat vegetation in order to survive.
Cat kibble is often recommended as a base food for hedgehogs. This may have started due to cats also not requiring vegetation in their diets, or this may have started as an economical way to feed them. Either way, cat foods do contain nutritional completeness and contain high protein that seem to benefit hedgehogs more than commercially available hedgehog food.
The most preferred cat foods are those higher in protein and contain less peas or legumes.
Because peas and legumes are cheaply sourced protein boosters, they are in most cat foods.
This is why we practice natural food offerings in conjunction with cat food. By offering many different whole food types along with the kibble, we are still offering nutritional completeness while reducing the amount of processed foods our animals are consuming.
Cat kibbles are essentially "dead foods", all processed foods are. During the manufacturing process much of the whole food's naturally occurring enzymes, probiotics and micro nutrients are stripped away. A living body needs these things in order to not tax and wear out the pancreas.
The pancreas aids in proper break down of consumed items. A worn out or over worked pancreas can result in many health issues, including diabetes. By offering more whole and natural foods we are giving the pancreas a little break. Whole raw foods ( the less cooking/ processing the better) contain a plethora of enzymes that assist the body in breaking them down, without solely relying on the pancreas .
What to look for in a cat food
When selecting a cat food, ingredients should be checked first. Food that contain real meats within the first several ingredients is preferred.
Look for a food that does not contain peas or legumes,but if it does contain these, be sure they are listed a few ingredients down.
A percentage of at least 30% protein is ideal. It is okay to venture off into a 40%% protein kibble. Most cat foods are low in fat and fiber. This is not ideal for hedgehogs because in the wild they consume much fiber (via chitin) and fat (via whole prey and various insects. Many insect larva are fairly ample in fat. Larva are the most easily obtained insect life stages by hedgehogs). You will make up for lack of proper fiber and fat by offering insects and other natural food items (including whole prey).
Offer a small amount of cat kibble every day along with various natural and whole prey foods. On days you are unable to offer the natural foods, offer more kibble to make up for the reduced caloric value of just the kibble.
A great " mix in" to cat kibble includes insect powder, either purchased or home made. See the below section on insects to learn how to make this chitin powder at home. This powder can be offered daily, whether or not other insects are offered.
Kibble storage/ Mycotoxicity
Please remember to store your animal's food in a dark, cool, dry place. Use an airtight container.
Sadly I was awoken at 2 am by a frantic animal owner whose hedgehog was being treated for signs of poisoning/ toxicity.
The vet asked to see the food. The bag was kept on a kitchen counter in its original paper bag. Visible mold was present inside the bags bottom.
A lot of thin speckled mold was in the bottom of the bag. The bag bottom had a darkened "ring" on it, suggesting it had been getting wet by the sink.
Hugo, the hedgehog, did not respond well to any treatment. His liver enzymes were very high and he eventually passed away.
I asked one of the vets about toxicity this morning. He stated "If an animal suddenly becomes ills and dies, it could be due to toxicity."
I'm now wondering if some of the mysterious hedgehog's passing I've seen in the community were actually mycotoxicity.
Mycotoxicity is something I have heard about in rabbit food. I used to breed rabbits and my 4H mentor always stressed the importance of storing rabbit pellets in a dry covered container.
How can we limit the chances of mycotoxicity and be sure we are feeding safely?
Some breeders and vendors offer homemade foods for sale OR home packaged food mixes. These foods are not produced nor packaged under the federally required FFDCA/FDA guidelines for pet foods. They're also not part of the voluntary USDA/FSIS guidelines.
I wanted more info on this so have contacted the FDA. Briefly I was told that you cannot repackage any pet foods for resale unless you are certified to do so. You can't just create and sell foods either. There are processes that assure the safe production, and packaging of pet foods. This includes labeling.
1.) Only buy kibble from a legitimate brand that is in it's original packaging.
2.) Store your kibble safely. DRY and airtight containers.
3) Don't handle kibbles with wet or dirty hands.
4) use non expired pet food products.
Please store your hedgehog food appropriately. If you have any questions on how to do this, ask your vet or check out the USDA & FDA websites. (The below links must be copied then paste into your browser.)
FDA pet food regulations=
Articles of mycotoxicity and prevention=
FDA mycotoxicity info and guidelines=
Hedgehogs need insects several times per week. Feed as many as they will eat in one feeding per day without becoming obese. If you cannot offer insects every day, offer them at least 3 days per week. You may want to consider raising your own feeder insects to be sure you always have a supply on hand.
Common offered insects include; dubia roaches, super worms, earth worms, black soldier fly larvae, wax worms, crickets,horn worms and meal worms.
Even though meal worms are the most easily accessible insects, they should be fed less frequently due to concerns regarding calcium and phosphorus.
Dubia roaches are great to offer often. They will not infest your home as common myths claim.
Gut loading insects
All offered insects should be gut loaded prior to feeding them to your hedgehog. This means that you offer the insects a final meal of foods that they will eat, and in turn pass on the nutrients from those foods to your hedgehog.
Gut loading with high orac foods can have a positive impact on your hedgehog's health. High orac foods help protect the body from free radical damage. They help cells stay healthy.
Some good gut loading foods include;
blueberries, raspberries, apples, red cabbage, peaches, oregano and basil.
You may also choose to add a calcium or vitamin supplement made for pets to your gut loading regimen. Adding a probiotic and enzyme supplement may also prove healthful.
How to feed insects
Insects may be offered live in a bowl ( crickets will hop around the cage while your hedgehog chases them down) or frozen and thawed.
If you are not keen on feeding live insects, you can gut load the insects then freeze them in your freezer. Let them sit in the freezer for at least a day or two. remove them from the freezer and allow to thaw to room temperature. Insects defrost quickly. Feed them to your hedgehog.
Insects may remain frozen in the freezer for many months, this is great for buying in bulk to ensure you always have a supply on hand.
*Some insects do not freeze and defrost well, horn worms, earth worms and black soldier larva may turn mushy when defrosted. Many hedgehogs will eat them any way, but some may lift their noses at mushy bugs*
Offering the chitin benefits of insects in other ways
Some hedgehogs do not readily accept live or frozen insects. If your hedgehog is this type of picky, keep trying various insect over times. Most times picky insect eaters eventually give in and gobble up the insects they're hard wired to consume.
In the mean time, you will want to be sure your hedgehog is still getting enough chitin in it's diet. This can be done by sprinkling 100% cricket powder or 100% locust powder on the cat kibble. You may also want to mix up the type of insect powders you offer if you can locate other types. Sometimes black soldier fly larva powder is available from reptile supply companies. It is also recommended that at least to types of insect powders are used at a time to offer more nutritional completeness, though this may not be necessary.
If you are unable to source cricket or locust powder, you can make a powder at home. This powder can be made by grinding freeze dried insects into a powder and mixing it into the cat kibble. Insects that are great for this are; crickets, grass hoppers, and black soldier fly larva. Most of these freeze dried insects are readily available at pet shops in the reptile section or at farming supply shops in the poultry section. This home ground insect powder can be mixed in kibble every day, even if you feed live or frozen insects as well. When you mix in any insect powder, you only need a a small amount to lightly coat the kibble with the powder.
Offering your hedgehog meats in it's diet can really bring forth an improvement in health.
Most hedgehogs take much delight in chowing down on various meats, so it is also considered enrichment.
Offering cooked meats to your hedgehog a few days per week is a great idea.
Cooked meats you can offer include; beef, turkey, chicken and organ meats (including heart and liver). Keep in mind that organ meats should be fed at a lesser frequency than the others, roughly 1-2 times per week in a smaller sized serving.
When cooking meats for your hedgehog be sure to cook the meats thoroughly and do not use any flavorings or seasonings. A small amount of olive oil may be used if cooking in a pan, but keep in mind that heated oil oxidizes and forms trans fats, this can cause free radical cell damage and raise cholesterol.
A safer method of cooking meats involves baking in the oven with a little water on the bottom of the pan or boiling in water only. Meats can also be cooked in an insta pot or crock pot.
Hedgehogs can eat thoroughly cooked fish, but be aware that it will cause more potent smelling feces.
* If you have a seafood allergy, feeding your hedgehog seafood may be dangerous to your health. Hedgehogs anoint and may have the seafood on their bodies, causing you to have a reaction. The feces of animals fed seafood may also cause a reaction. If you have an allergy avoid kibbles that contain seafood as well. This is also true for any other allergies you may have to any other foods listed (or not listed) here *
Some owner's opt to offer raw meats to their hedgehogs. Most hedgehogs absolutely love raw meats and devour it upon offering. Hedgehogs, being wild animals, do not have access to fancy kitchens in nature and have evolved to digest raw meat items. Please only give raw meats to hedgehogs older than 6 months of age. This will ensure that the animal has a well established immune system before being introduced to a raw diet.
When feeding your hedgehogs raw meat stick to items made for the pet trade. By choosing to only feed marketed brands it ensures that the items have been inspected within the facility they were produced and packaged.
Meats can be offered several days per week for as long as a rotational variety is kept up. Most owners stick to offering raw 2-3 days per week in their rotation of cooked meats, insects, and whole prey additional to the kibble.
Over time and with experience you will be able to develop a food offering schedule that works best for you, your budget, and your hedgehog.
Some meats that can be found easily and are packaged for pets include; lamb, quail, duck, rabbit, turkey, chicken, beef, bison and goat. Many raw organs are also available. Organs can be offered 1-2 times per week in smaller serving sizes.
If buying pre made complete raw meat diets, aim for those made for cats as they contain no vegetation.
When handling and serving raw meat items, it is very important to use universal precautions and safe food handling and preparation methods. It is also important to maintain environmental hygiene and remove all bowls, dishes, water bottles and feces from your hedgehog's cage after feeding raw meats. Disinfect all dishes, bowls and water bottles right away to lessen the chances of bacterial over growth and transmission.
After feeding your hedgehog raw meat items you will notice a change in feces form and color. Organ meats tend to result in a darker softer feces, while whole meats or meat with bone tend to result in smaller better formed feces. When feeding raw meats there is a higher digestibility compared to other foods. Your hedgehog's body will be able to utilize the nutrition in the raw meat very effectively. This will result in a smaller feces that is more void of bulk and nutrients.
Freeze Dried Raw Foods
Freeze dried raw foods are a great alternative for those who do not wish to frequently handle frozen raw meats.
These foods are available at most pet shops. The same guidelines apply to freeze dried raw foods as the raw meats listed above.
Whole prey items are the food items that often get the bad rap. Even more so than with insects, owners get grossed out by offering whole prey. Hedgehogs are fully equipped to consume the carcasses of other animals, providing whole prey mimics that and is quite enriching for the animal.
Whole prey items are the whole bodies of another animal being offered to your hedgehog for consumption.
Whole prey items include; feeder rats, mice, chicks, quail, and feeder anole lizards.
These items can be purchased at pet shops and online. they are kept frozen until just before feeding time. these items must be defrosted to room temperature before offering to your hedgehog. DO NOT cook or heat these items.
To offer these items to your hedgehog simply place them in a dish in the cage.
Some hedgehogs are selective in which whole prey items they will consume.
Some animals will not eat rodents that have furry bodies, so their owners will have to stick to pinkie rats and pinkie mice.
Some animals will not eat chicks with feathers, so it'll be up to the owner to de-feather those chicks or choose an alternative to feed.
Feeder anoles have been enjoyed by many hedgehogs, but are harder to find.
Some hedgehogs have enjoyed feeder hamsters, gerbils, and even rabbit kits (babies).
Whole prey can be fed once weekly, possibly twice weekly if your hedgehog is very active, has trouble maintaining weight or needs extra fat in it's diet. More whole prey items should be offered during the colder months to help prevent hibernation attempts.
Listed are some links that will help source your feeder rodents and other whole prey items.
When feeding whole prey items to hedgehogs it can sometimes be difficult to source a wider variety of whole prey items.
There are some alternative methods to sourcing these food items that you may consider trying.
Reach out to local reptile breeder and inquire about purchasing their non vital babies and slug (infertile) eggs. A lot of reptile breeders will toss out slug eggs and non vital babies giving great incentive to sell them to hedgehog owners for a low fee. These food items can be stored in the freezer ( with proper storage methods) for a few months, leaving great potential for a relatively long term food source for your hedgehog.
Rabbit showers and breeders
Hedgehog owners may find it beneficial to contact rabbit breeders to inquire about purchasing their hard cull kits or non vital kits.
A kit is a baby rabbit. its are a lot larger in size compared to a rat or mouse and can be valuable for multiple feedings.
Small mammal breeders
Many small mammal breeders of species such as hamsters and gerbils hard cull and occasionally have non vital young as the rabbit breeders listed above do.
An aviary facility is a place or person who breeds birds. They may prove a great resource for obtaining infertile eggs and non vital chicks.
Reach out on social media in groups, via business pages and websites. It never hurts to ask as the worst one of these breeders can do is decline your inquiry. Attending rabbit, small animal and reptile expos is also a great way to meet such people and form a working relationship with them.