Since the dawn of time (okay, not that long, but since hedgehogs became popular as pets) hedgehog owners and breeders have debated what food is best to feed to their spiny friends. The great food debate continues today and exotics vets, breeders, hog owners, and a vast amount of other resources still tend to disagree on what food is best. Let's explore this topic further.
Why Do People Feed Cat Food to Hedgehogs?
Historically, commercial hedgehog food was not always available, and then when it initially became available, it wasn't as nutritious as many people had hoped for.
Cat food is available to almost everyone, no matter where they live, and contains protein and is a small kibble that hedgehogs can eat. This is why many people opted, and may still choose, to feed a cat food over a hedgehog kibble. Another reason why people may feed cat food to hedgehogs is that they simply continue to feed whatever the pet store or breeder fed after taking their new hog home. Cat food, not dog food, is offered because it is a smaller kibble that most hedgehogs don't have a problem chewing.
Why Do Some People Think Hedgehog Food Isn't the Best Option?
Some people have only had experience with the early days of hedgehog food, or low-quality brands of hedgehog food, therefore they feed a very high protein brand of cat food instead. The protein source doesn't bother them and the fiber in the diet replaces the chitin component. They can also readily get a high protein cat food from their local grocery or pet store instead of having to order a good hedgehog food online or drive to a specialty pet store.
Not every pet store carries hedgehog food, especially smaller stores that know that the majority of their customers don't have pet hedgehogs.
What are a Hedgehog's Nutritional Requirements?
Hedgehogs are omnivores or insectivores, depending on where you look it up. This means their primary food should be made up of insect protein (chitin) and a variety of fruits, vegetables, cooked meats, live insects (such as mealworms) and more.
In the wild, they are opportunistic feeders and will eat almost whatever looks tasty. They hang out in gardens and have up to 44 little teeth to munch on practically anything they want. Therefore we need to really think about what we offer them to eat in captivity.
They require a mixture of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, water, and more. Protein in the food you feed should be over 20%, fat should be between five and 15%, and a good amount of fiber. Dr. Graffam, who did a lot of research on hedgehog nutritional requirements at the Bronx Zoo in the 1990s, states that if canned cat food is fed to your hedgehog you should supplement it with more fiber (Benefiber, baby oatmeal, etc.) and that hedgehogs need hard foods to crunch on to maintain their tiny teeth. A variety of protein sources is best but insect and poultry are easiest for hedgehogs to digest.
So, What Should I Feed My Hedgehog?
I recommend feeding a quality, dry, hedgehog food with at least 20% protein and a fiber content with double digits as the staple food. You should also make sure the food has L-carnitine listed as an ingredient for heart health or supplement the diet with a small amount (ask your exotics vet how much but usually a hedgehog needs about 50 mg a day for treatment of cardiomyopathy).
Many zoos, universities, parks, and museums feed Exotic Nutrition's Hedgehog Complete Food In addition to this food you should offer live insects, cooked chicken, vegetables, and fruits. A very small amount of canned cat food can be offered as a treat. Stay away from seeds, raisins, and dried fruits and vegetables (they get stuck in their mouths).
If you are unable to order your hedgehog's food online and your local pet store doesn't carry a quality hedgehog kibble then the next best thing is to feed a holistic or high-quality chicken cat food with a small kibble. Just remember though that this is not the ideal food since there is no blood meal or chitin in it like the hedgehog food contains.