Feeding Guidelines - A Summary

Dry Food

  • Feed 1 or more brands of high quality cat kibble - include one food in your mix that meets WSAVA criteria

    • Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s, Iams, Eukanuba 

  • Food can be ground up into smaller pieces for easier chewing

  • Store extra food in the freezer to keep fresh

  • Be aware that fish based foods may cause stinkier poops, but not as a rule

  • Have kibble available at all times (free feed) since we do not know the exact nutritional or caloric needs of hedgehogs

Look for:

  • Protein levels 30-35%

  • Fat levels 10-15% - higher if your hedgie is very active, lower if on the heavier side

  • Fibre levels as high as possible

    • Kibble can be dusted with chitin or cricket powder to increase fibre

  • A meat or meat meal as one of the first ingredients

  • Named by-products

Avoid:

  • Legumes (peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc), white potato

  • Unnamed by-products (eg. “Animal by-product”)

  • Low quality brands 

 

My dry food mix for adults:

- Royal Canin Adult

- Purina One Adult Indoor Advantage

- Iams Adult Indoor Weight/Hairball Control

My dry food mix for young hedgehogs or mothers:

- Royal Canin Development Kitten

- Purina One Kitten

- Iams Kitten

Choosing a Food

There is a lot of contradictory information and myths online about food, and many people believe their way of feeding is the only way. Try not to stress about it too much, just remember – high quality cat foods + insects! Higher quality and biologically appropriate foods will keep your hedgehog healthier and likely prolong their life. The problem with hedgehogs is that there is little research dedicated to their needs, so we try to mimic what we know of their natural diet with insects and a well rounded kibble.

 

Hedgehogs are considered opportunistic omnivores. They eat mainly insects and invertebrates, with other small animals, eggs, and plant matter that they scavenge. Hedgehogs have digestive enzymes called chitinases, which allows them to break down chitin for fibre, which is found in the exoskeletons of insects. It may help digest plant based cellulose too, though one study looking at stool found plant matter wasn’t digested as well. For this reason I suggest keeping plant based foods as occasional treats. You’ll probably find your hedgehog’s favorite treats will be meat based!

Dry Cat Kibble

Since we don’t yet know the exact dietary needs of hedgehogs, a high quality, nutritionally complete dry cat kibble should be a staple in all diets. Hedgehogs should have at least one type of kibble available at all times, but a mixture of 2 or more foods is best. I use a mixture so I still have one food available in case the other brand changes formulations or isn't available. Hedgehogs are notoriously picky and may refuse to eat a new brand/formulation.

 

A couple small bags of food will last you a long time for one hedgehog. To keep the food fresh, store in a freezer or cool space in sealed bags/containers and take out a small amount at a time for feeding. This will help prevent fats from going rancid and the food from tasting stale and unappealing.

 

Dry cat food will help to mechanically clean the teeth, scraping off plaque as they chew. While this is great for dental health, it can also damage their teeth if the kibbles are too large or hard. Their mouths are much smaller than a cat’s, so food can be ground up into smaller pieces if your hedgehog is having difficulty chewing.

 

When looking for kibble, check the ingredients list and try to avoid legumes (peas, beans, lentils, etc) and white potato, especially in the top 5 ingredients. Look for foods with named by products (“chicken by-product”), rather than unnamed by-products (“animal by-product”). Fish based foods are okay to feed, but they may make your hedgehog’s stool smelly!

Use at least one brand of food that follows WSAVA guidelines in your mix (Purina, Royal Canin, Hill's, Iams, Eukanuba - more info on WSAVA below!). 

How much to feed

Since we do not have any information on the caloric needs of our hedgehogs, I always free feed. My hedgehogs have access to kibble at all times. If you are looking for weight loss, increase exercise or feed a food with less fat rather than restrict the amount of food they have access to.

Guaranteed Analysis – Protein, Fat, Fibre

The guaranteed analysis will list the protein, fat, and fibre levels found in the food. Protein levels are generally suggested to be between 30-35%, though higher levels of protein won’t harm a healthy pet.

 

The fat content of the food should be between 10-15%, but the target level will vary depending on your hedgehog. Very active hedgehogs should be fed higher fat levels, and more sedentary hedgehogs should be fed lower fat levels so they don’t gain too much weight. Young hedgehogs (under 6 months) need higher fat content while they are growing and are fed a kitten food to help them develop.

 

Fibre content in the food should be as high as you can find. Fibre can improve digestive health and can help prevent obesity. A hedgehog’s diet would naturally include much more fibre than what can be found in cat food, so you can’t exactly overdo it here in your kibble. You can use supplements such as chitin or cricket powder dusted over the food to increase fibre levels.

Nutrition Standards

AAFCO (the Association of American Feed Control Officials) has established standards for feeding trials, nutrient profiles, ingredient regulations, and more in the pet food industry. If feeding only one type of kibble, look for one that is listed as both complete and balanced for cats based on AAFCO standards. “Complete” means that the food has all of the nutrients in the food that are required. “Balanced” means that those nutrients are found in the right levels.

 

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) also has guidelines for choosing a quality food. These include being able to give exact nutrient profiles for food, having a full time veterinary nutritionist on staff, using AAFCO testing and AAFCO nutrient profiles, having quality control measures, and more. Brands of food that meet these criteria include Royal Canin, Purina, Hill’s, Iams, and Eukanuba. These food brands do lifelong feeding trials and have been thoroughly researched. Even though their research isn't hedgehog based, I suggest including one of these brands in your food mix. I currently use Royal Canin, Iams, and Purina in my diets.

Food myths

Many people online will demonize fantastic WSAVA compliant brands of food just because they have corn, grain, by-products, etc., but remember that the body needs nutrients, not ingredients! If it is a quality brand, you can be assured they are doing quality controls and nutrient testing their ingredients and finished foods. 

 

CORN: Corn is often classified as a 'filler', offering no nutritional value to the food, but this is simply not true - it is a great source of healthy fatty acids, antioxidants, proteins, and carbohydrates. Kibble is processed making the nutrients in ingredients such as corn usable and digestible. It is not the same as you eating corn on the cob. 

MEALS: 'Meal' just means it is a rendered product- the water/fat has been cooked out of it and it is now a product concentrated with nutrients.  Products on the label are listed in order of weight, so 'chicken meal' listed further down the ingredients list will likely be contributing more nutrients to the food than the 'chicken' listed as the first ingredient, because 'chicken' is largely water weight that will be eventually cooked out. 

BY-PRODUCTS: By-products are the parts of the animal that are not being used for a specific purpose, such as human consumption. This does not mean they are not usable or high in nutritional value. In some cultures what we consider by-products are a delicacy. By-products have more nutritional value than the muscle meat we consume - think of wolves, when they eat a meal they go for the nutritional organs first. By-products cannot be feathers, hair, hide, hooves, teeth, horns, or intestinal contents. Dried liver treats are an example of a by-product that people love to feed their pets!

'MEAT': I have seen some people falsely claim that companies use roadkill or euthanized pets in foods. Most quality brands will list the species of the meat used in the food, but sometimes you will just see 'meat meals' or 'meat by products' on the label. In pet foods, the meat or meat byproducts have to come from cows, pigs, sheep, or goats, otherwise they have to specifically say what species the meat comes from (such as kangaroo or other novel proteins).  

Insects

     Insects are important to feed as this is what they would eat naturally in the wild. They should be fed as a regular part of the diet. You can buy insects from your local pet store, online, or you can raise them yourself. You should feed your hedgehog insects raised for pet consumption. If they were caught outside they may have come into contact with pesticides and may have internal parasites that wouldn't be healthy. Before feeding, add some fresh fruits and vegetables in with your insects to 'gut load' them, this will make them more nutritious for your hedgehog.

     Live insects are the best option for your hedgehog. Live insects can be frozen before feeding so you don't have to deal with them moving/jumping around - I do this with crickets. If live isn't an option for you, ProBugs packaged insects is my next recommendation. 

 

     Some hedgehogs refuse to eat them, but as long as you are feeding a healthy kibble your hedgehog will be fine! Always try to offer insects numerous times, leaving them in their cage overnight. Sometimes it just takes a while for them to sample one! You can encourage them to taste them by adding them on top of their kibble or cutting them in half to increase the smell.

 

     Some types of safe insects are:

  • Mealworms (their pupa and beetles - beetles have the highest fibre content) - worms should be fed sparingly as a treat 

  • Crickets 

  • Black Soldier Fly Larvae - healthiest 

  • Silkworms

  • Hornworms

  • Waxworms - high in fat, should be fed sparingly unless your hedgehog needs to gain weight

  • Superworms

  • Grasshoppers - can be difficult to eat due to size, can be hard to find for pet consumption

More information on insects and other feeders to come!

Food Lists

Safe Foods

  • Cooked, unseasoned meats: chicken, turkey, fish, etc.

  • Cooked, unseasoned eggs

  • Cottage cheese, plain yogurt: Can be fed in small amounts only as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant

  • Fruit: berries, melons, apples, bananas, peaches, etc. Fruit should be given in moderation due to their higher sugar content and lower digestibility 

  • Veggies: leafy greens (not iceberg), peppers, pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot (cooked)

  • Baby food: as a treat

  • Wet cat food: Use the same guidelines as picking a dry cat food 

  • Insects: Should be store bought or raised yourself to reduce risk of pesticides and parasites 

Unsafe Foods

  • Human junk food (chocolate, chips, candy,butter, salt, etc.)

  • Processed Meats

  • Citrus (oranges, pineapple, grapefruit, etc.)

  • Tomatoes

  • Seeds

  • Dried Fruit

  • Grapes and Raisins

  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • Rhubarb

  • Anything with tea tree oil in it