Hedgehogs come from different regions of the world and their diets will differ somewhat. However, since most pet Pygmy Hedgehogs are a man-made hybrid of wild African White-Bellied Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris), their diet is not the same as a wild hedgehog. So what do you feed them?
Pet pygmy hedgehogs feed mainly on dry cat food or special hedgehog food. They also eat fruits, vegetables, insects, mealworms, and berries on occasion as treats.
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Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures. They spend their days sleeping and nights busy roaming about and snacking on insects and other invertebrates. Your pet pygmy hedgehog will not need as much food as a wild hedgehog as it won’t be as active and doesn’t need to hibernate. We need to understand what our hedgehogs require in their diet to be able to provide the best care we can for our pet hedgies.
Hedgehogs are actually classified as an insectivore. But if you examine the real diet of a hedgehog, you’ll see that it’s more accurate to call it an omnivore. Hedgehogs in the wild will eat a wide range of foods, not just insects, the omnivore label is probably more accurate.
Certain foods are recommended for pet hedgehogs because they seem to have the best effect on a hedgehog’s health and longevity. If you want to know the basics of a hedgehog’s nutrition, then read on for some insight into food, weight management and some fabulous recipes for treats you can make at home for your hedgie.
Balancing your pet hedgehog’s diet
In general, the most important thing to remember when feeding a pet pygmy hedgehog is that they need a balanced diet consisting mainly of proteins and vegetables. Because they are so different from their wild ancestors we do not try and mimic their natural diet.
Here are some general guidelines for preparing their diet in terms of nutrition. Following these principles when it comes to your hog’s diet will help them stay nourished, happy, healthy, and strong.
Dr Wendy Graffam’s research suggests these values based on a dry matter basis (DMB):
- 22% protein
- 5% fat
- 15% fibre
It is hard to find a commercial food that fits this recommendation and realistically if you are feeding dry cat food and other foods this is the range that you can aim for:
- 22%-35% protein
- 5% – 15% fat
- 2%- 25% fibre
The average lifespan of a pet pygmy hedgehog is 3-5 years. With proper diet and veterinary care they can live up to 10 years old.
A hedgehog loves eating a wide range of different foods, so making sure they get plenty of choices when feeding them is important. It won’t just keep them happy; it’ll help round out their diet too! And it will ensure they aren’t missing any essential vitamins or minerals. Not all hedgehogs love every food so don’t be surprised if they turn their nose up at some things you offer. A bit like a child, keep offering it and give them a chance to try it and then decide whether they like it or not.
How much should a pygmy hedgehog weigh?
As with any animal, a healthy weight is dependent on a number of factors including genetics, diet and exercise. Obesity and being overweight can lead to a variety of health problems, including heart disease and arthritis, as well as an increased risk of strokes and cancer. Being overweight will also affect your hedgehog’s quality of life as they will be sleeping a lot more and lazing about rather than playing and having fun. Unfortunately, hedgehogs are prone to gaining weight, which is why we pay so much attention to how much they weigh and what we feed them.
African Pygmy Hedgehog Weight Chart
Below is a table with a guide on average weights for pet pygmy hedgehogs:
|Age||Weight in grams||Weight in ounces|
|by 6 weeks||200g||7 oz|
|by 6 months||300g||11oz|
|by 12 months||400g (female) |
Healthy hedgehog body shapes
Hedgehogs usually fall into three body types which can be seen when you look at them from above:
- round ( )
- waisted )(
- long | |
How can I tell if my hedgehog is overweight?
You can tell if your hedgehog is heading to the porky side as they should be able to curl up into a complete ball ( usually teardrop-shaped when you look from above). If there is some belly fluff sticking out, or a double chin then it’s time to check their weight and diet.
How can I tell if my hedgehog is underweight?
If your hedgehog is really active and spends all night running in their wheel then you’ll need to add more fats to their diet ( up to 20% of their total diet) to keep their weight healthy and stable.
What to feed your pet hedgehog
Hedgehogs have the unique ability to break down chitin from insects. Chitin is a protein that may be found in the insect’s hard exoskeleton and also provides some fiber. Chitin is an essential element of a wild hedgehog’s diet, but it isn’t for a pygmy hedgehog.
Usually, it’s best to split what a hedgehog eats up into two categories—one for the main food source and one for snacks and treats.
Your pet hedgehog’s diet will usually be made up of either special hedgehog food or more often, high-quality cat food which ironically has a better balance of nutrients your hedgehog needs.
You need to aim for 70-100 calories per night for a 400-600 gram hedgehog.
Commercial hedgehog food
Hedgehog food is a dry food mixture that is designed to provide the essential nutritional requirements but unfortunately, most of these foods are not made with high-quality ingredients and full of fillers, so hedgehog owners opt for cat food as their mainstay.
Some brands of hedgehog food even have seeds and dried fruit which can be a choking hazard or get stuck in the roof of your hedgehog’s mouth. Poor hog. Even worse, some brands contain raisins, which are toxic to hedgies!
Saying that though, some commercial hedgehog food brands are okay to mix in with your cat food:
- Spike’s Delite
- Sunseed Sunscription Vita Hedgehog Adult Food
- Brisky Diets Hedgehog Feed
- 8 in 1 Pet Ultra-Blend Select Hedgehog Food
- L’Avian Hedgehog Food
Cat food and cat biscuits for hedgehogs
We suggest that you choose hard cat food rather than tins of wet food. Hard foods tend to be high in fiber so they’re good for hedgehogs who need extra help digesting their meals.
Another reason to choose hard cat food is that it will help keep your hedgehog’s teeth healthy and prevent dental problems. However, be mindful when choosing hard foods that you look at these factors:
- size – too big and your hedgehog might choke
- shape – ‘x’ or ‘y’ shaped pieces are easier than round pieces. Watch out for things poking out from the kibble that may make your hedgehog’s gum or tongue sore
- hardness – dog food kibble is harder than cat food and crushing the kibble makes it easier for your hedgie to eat.
When choosing cat kibble for your hedgehog look for high-quality chicken cat foods that contain at least 30 percent protein and between 5 and 15 percent fat and at least 2% fiber. It’ll help you keep them within the right range for optimal health.
Do you need to add vitamins and supplements to a hedgehog’s diet?
No additional vitamins or supplements will be needed if you are feeding your hedgehog a high-quality diet. However, some supplements can be beneficial but given with caution and usually under veterinary advice. Remember your hog is tiny and so should the doses be:
Flax or Fish Oil
These are great supplements and apart from the internal health benefits you will notice healthier skin and fur. Fish oil is great for hedgehogs with dry flaking skin and is easiest for your hedgie to process. Look for cold-pressed or unrefined oil in soft gel capsules. A few drops each night on their food is enough.
Acidophilus (lactobacillus acidophilus)
This is like ‘Yakult’ for hedgehogs and can help restore gut flora to normal if your hog has been on antibiotics. Acidophilus can also help reduce the effects of lactose foods ( hedgies are lactose intolerant but do like yoghurt). You can find this in a powder in plastic capsules and dust a small amount on your hedgehog’s food. Once opened it should be kept in the fridge. But you only need to add this when needed.
This supplement helps repair the cartilage in joints. Damage to joints can be from strenuous exercise ( such as a hedgie who continuously runs on their wheel all night), arthritis ( older hedgies) or obesity. Feeding this to your hedgehog though will only help prevent joint issues, so if your hedgie already has problems, speak to your vet. It’s found in tablet form and can be ground into a powder. Add a pinch every other night to your hedgie’s food. It can’t be overdosed, so don’t worry about measuring exactly.
Prepare some treats for your hedgehog at home, it’s easy and fun!. Check out the recipes below for some hog treats!
How much to feed your hedgehog and how often
Obesity is a problem for hedgehogs, so it’s critical to keep track of how much you’re feeding it. Because a hedgehog burns a lot of energy at night and is very active, its diet should mainly consist of cat or hedgehog kibble.
In general, a full bowl of food should be made available for your pet hedgehog 24 hours a day and put out every night for them (they are nocturnal after all!).
The bowl should consist of:
- One to four tablespoons of kibble should be offered to an adult hedgehog every day, slightly more for a baby or growing hedgehog.
- One teaspoon of fruits and vegetables and some insects as a treat two or three times a week.
Larger and more active hedgehogs may require additional nutrition; however, you’ll need to weigh your hedgehog daily to monitor their weight and adjust your portion size accordingly. Weigh the food too and record it next to the hedgehog’s weight (this is what we do at the zoo on a daily basis).
My daughter would count how many pieces of kibble she fed each night to make sure her hogs were eating enough. Weighing or counting the kibble also allows you to make changes easily to the diet and spot signs of potential health problems. If you spot any changes in your hedgie’s appetite or eating habits a quick call to the vets is a good idea.
Ideally your hog should eat most of the food in the bowl and just leave a few pieces so you may need to increase and decrease the amount to find the right balance. That way you’ll know they are not going hungry (because they ate it all) and you won’t waste lots of food, as you need to replace it every night.
If your hedgehog has more than a 10 percent weight gain, reduce the amount of food given. If you don’t see your hedgehog eating much during the day, don’t worry. To avoid spoilage, any uneaten food should be thrown away the next morning, and fresh water should always be accessible.
You might occasionally like to feed your hedgehog something different as a treat. Treats provide extra enrichment for your hedgehog and help you bond with your pet. There’s nothing like a tasty reward for your hedgehog to spend time with you.
Ingredients for homemade hedgehog treats
When thinking about preparing food and treats at home you’ll need a supply of insects, fruits, veggies along with your cat food to make up our scrummy recipes.
Insects your hedgehog can eat
Insects are nutritious and provide additional fibre to a hedgies diet as well as being mentally stimulating by allowing them to hunt for their prey.
Insects that are bred for reptiles are fine to offer. Avoid bugs used for fishing bait as they aren’t kept in great conditions and could make your hedgie sick.
When feeding live insects make sure you gut load them too. What’s that you say?
The term “gut loading” is used to describe the activity of feeding your live insects with healthy fresh fruits and veggies the day before you feed the insects to your hedgehog. Why do we do this? We do this in order to flush out out any old food in the insect’s system so it doesn’t pass to your hedgehog when they eat it.
Gut loading is also a good way to sneak veggies into your hedgehog that they don’t like eating. For example – hedgie doesn’t like broccoli – feed them mealworms that have broccoli full tummies!
Protein and Fat Content of Insects for Hedgehogs
Our hedgehog favourites are:
These are small, wriggly and give a great chewy treat. A couple of mealworms a night is recommended for a healthy weight hog.
Live waxworms are higher in fat but lower in chitin content than mealworms so these should be saved as treats for hedgehogs.
Live crickets provide chitin as well as mental stimulation for your hedgehog – watch them chase after and see the delight on their face as they catch their prey!
You can buy insects live, freeze-dried and canned. Live insects are great enrichment as your hedgehog will need to hunt down and catch their food – you can buy them online and have them delivered straight to your door:
Just remember not to feed them insects you’ve caught or bought somewhere like a bait shop – always go to a specialist store.
Remember: insects make great treats – they are not to be fed as the main protein source for your pet pygmy hedgehog.
Lots of hedgehogs will refuse to eat live insects and might even be afraid of them! Not to worry, just buy freeze-dried insects and add them to the recipes instead so they get a taste for them.
Fruits your hedgehog can eat
Dried fruit should be avoided, but a small amount of fresh fruit can be offered to your hedgehog as treats. Here’s a list of fruits that are suitable to feed as treats to your hedgehog:
- Cantaloupe Melon
- Honeydew Melon
Vegetables your hedgehog can eat
Fresh asparagus, peas, sprouts ,and sweet potatoes are all good vegetable options for your hedgehog.
- Bell Peppers
- Green pepper
- Leafy greens
- Green beans
- Sweet Potato
When you feed vegetables, make sure they’re diced. Cook harder vegetables, such as carrots, to make them softer.
Peas and corn should be given in very small amounts as they can unbalance the Calcium/Phosphorus levels in a hedgehog’s metabolism.
Never feed a hedgehog (wild or pet) bread and milk. Hogs are lactose intolerant and bread has no nutritional value to them.
Meats to feed your hedgehog
Unseasoned meats are good for treats. You can boil, steam, roast or brown them:
Other foods used in our hedgehog treat recipes
As well as the above we like to use eggs, baby food and wet cat food. Although hedgies are lactose intolerant, some like cottage cheese and plain yoghurt.
Are you ready to cook?
Here are our favourite recipes for you to try:
Tinka’s Happy Hedgehog Meat Balls
There are many different types of food that a hedgehog can eat. They can eat insects such as crickets, mealworms, and beetles. They can also eat fruit such as apples, bananas, and watermelon. Vegetables that they can eat include courgette, green pepper, cucumber, and broccoli. Here’s a summary to take away:
- Small pieces of pea-sized food, crushed but not into powder are best
- Look for cat food with a guaranteed analysis of 35% protein, less than 15% fat, and at least 2% fibre
- High-quality cat food with meat listed first
Pygmy hedgehogs can eat:
- High-quality dry cat food
- Some brands of specialised hedgehog food
- Lean meats
- Boiled or scrambled eggs
- Some fruit & veg
- Baby food
Hedgehog Food – Diet FAQs
Is cooked meat good for hedgehogs?
Can hedgehogs eat apples?
Can hedgehogs eat strawberries?
Can hedgehogs eat bananas?
Can hedgehogs eat carrots?
Can hedgehogs eat lettuce?
Can hedgehogs eat tomatoes?
Can hedgehogs eat blueberries?
Can hedgehogs eat grapes?
Can hedgehogs eat cucumber?
Can hedgehogs eat chocolate?
Can hedgehogs eat avocado?
Can hedgehogs eat popcorn?
Can hedgehogs eat mushrooms?
Can hedgehogs eat millet spray?
Can hedgehogs eat coconut?
Can hedgehogs eat tuna?
Do hedgehogs eat acorns?
Do hedgehogs eat ants?
Do hedgehogs eat bird fat balls?
Can hedgehogs eat cheese?
Can hedgehogs eat corned beef?
Can hedgehogs eat grass?
What do wild hedgehogs actually eat?
Insects and other invertebrates are a wild hedgehog’s main natural food source. A typical diet includes:
- Fly larvae
In the wild a hedgehog hunts by sniffing out its prey from among the leaves and twigs. Using its sensitive whiskers, it feels for anything moving. If it finds something tasty, it digs into it with its strong front claws. Invertebrates like insects and worms are at the top of the list, but hedgehogs are opportunists who’ll eat anything, within reason. They’ll eat carcasses, fallen fruits, small animals they can catch and the eggs of ground-nesting birds if they find them.
Some scientists think that a lack of food could be one reason for the decline of our wild hedgehogs. Because insects’ populations have declined due to increased farming practices and pesticides, they’re now endangered species. (woodlandtrust.org.uk)