Feeding Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are classified as insectivores since they primarily eat bugs and worms in the wild. In captivity the main part of their diet should be a dry food (dry foods help keep the teeth and gums healthy). The European Hedgehog has more access to plant items in the wild and is, thus, more of an omnivore than their cousin, the African Pygmy Hedgehog.  Many websites that talk about hedgehog diets are sites for the UK or other European countries, so these should not be directly applied to the African Pygmy Hedgehog. We feel that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the African Pygmy Hedgehog diet in captivity because of this confusion. The African Pygmy Hedgehog should be fed primarily meat, although, some will learn to eat vegetables. They love fruit, but fruit contains a lot of sugar and should be fed only very sparingly – too much sugar in their diet will cause them to become overweight and even diabetic.

There are many brands of hedgehog food on the market today, but most are just inexpensive and unhealthy repackaged cat foods sold at a higher price (and most of these are not made of quality ingredients). We feed primarily Purina One Adult Cat Food – Chicken Formula. This is a dry cat food that has chicken as the first ingredient and corn is lower on the list. There are other brands you can use, but always read labels. You are looking for a real meat (not a “meal” or “by-product”) as the first ingredient and corn should not be in the top 2 ingredients. The protein should be below 38% and not less than 34%. The fat should be between 12% and 15%. Food that is too high in protein (such as meal worms or kitten food) cause Fatty Liver Disease (fat in the diet is NOT what causes FLD).

How much to feed is not a simple answer. As a rule of thumb, babies up to about 6 months old should be fed “free” amounts of dry food – food should be in the bowl at all times. If you notice, though, that your baby is getting very chubby then you will need to measure how much he eats a day and adjust that amount according to his weight. An obese hedgehog will not live nearly as long as a healthy one. Having a wheel in the cage from the time they are young is important. A hedgehog that is bored will eat out of boredom, but once they are overweight they usually will not want to run on a wheel, so it is important for them to learn to enjoy the wheel before they learn to enjoy food too much. DO NOT feed low fat food to any age of hedgehog even if it is an older overweight one – they still need fat in their diet. Instead, if a hedgehog is overweight the amount they eat needs to be measured out so that they are eating less. And additional exercise should be given, especially if they are not running on a wheel on their own.

Below are some other types of foods that you can give to supplement their diets. Only feed an amount that will fit on a quarter per day so they don’t stop eating their hard food.

Meat sources:

  • Cooked lean meats (like chicken or turkey, but not ground meat or deli meat since these are not good quality meat)

  • Scrambled or hard boiled eggs (both whites and yolk)

  • A good quality canned cat food (we scrape the gravy off the top when we open the can)

  • Live insects like crickets & meal worms (NEVER feed freeze-dried insects of any kind due to stomach impaction issues). Meal worms are very high in protein (as are any larval stage of insect) so they should be fed in moderation (no more than a few twice a week to a well fed hedgehog and never to a hedgehog that tends to be over weight). Crickets do not have a larval stage, so they are healthier than meal worms, but difficult to feed since they can hop away. Meal worms change into a beetle and use most of their protein during this process, so if you are up for breeding meal worms this a very healthy and fairly easy alternative (and they love them). Google “Breeding Meal Worms” to find instructions on how to do this.  However, live insects are not necessary to be fed to a hedgehog on a good quality cat food diet.

  • Organic Baby food – a good option for trying to get medicine down a sick hedgehog, especially if a syringe is needing to be used.

Vegetables (NO starchy veggies like corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or carrots):
Many hedgehogs will not eat vegetables at all and do not need them

  • green beans (fresh or frozen & thawed – not canned)

  • cut tomatoes (fresh)

  • squash & zucchini (cooked)

  • green peppers (fresh)

  • cucumbers (fresh)

  • dark green leafy veggies (like spinach) that has been washed very well

  • baby foods (especially for an older or sick hedgehog)

Do not feed fruit more than once a week, if at all. We only feed fruit when needing to get medicine down

  • Berries – blue berries, strawberries, black berries, raspberries

  • Avoid bananas, apples, or other fruit that is higher in natural sugars

  • Never feed grapes or raisins that can be toxic to hedgehogs

You will need to experiment with your hedgehog to see what he/she likes best. Offer only one type of new food at a time over a several day period to see if he/she likes it. Leave the new food in his/her food bowl overnight and remove any left-overs in the morning (having a separate bowl for this type of food is helpful so the hard food does not spoil as quickly). If he/she does not touch it after several days to a week, then you can assume they do not like.

Veggies can be given daily (except for starchy ones like carrots). Do not feed any corn or potatoes since these are harder for hedgehogs to digest and have no real added nutritional value that hedgehogs need. But hedgehogs do not need veggies in their diet, so if your hedgehog will not eat them, don’t worry.

Fruits are high in natural sugar and can make a hedgehog gain weight more quickly, so it is best to only offer these as a once a week treat or less and definitely not at all if your hedgehog is over weight. But only feed berries and avoid fruits that are high in natural sugars, like bananas and apples. Grapes have been reported to being toxic to hedgehogs and other animals, so do not feed them or raisins at all.

You will need to experiment to see what your hedgehog likes best and try to offer the treats they like when you have time for bonding because the quickest way to an animal’s heart is through their stomachs. But if your hedgehog will not eat anything other than dried cat food, don’t worry – a good quality dried cat food really has everything that a hedgehog needs.

It is best not to feed any food out of your hands since you may accidently get bitten and this could cause the hedgehog to bite out of habit thinking you will give him food if he bites.