Hedgehogs appear to be omnivorous, eating both plant and animal foods. Their natural diet includes insects, worms, snails, slugs and occasional fruit. But homebound hedgehogs typically chow down on kitten, cat, dog or ferret food supplemented with earthworms, mealworms, crickets and small amounts of chopped fruits and vegetables. There are now commercially available hedgehog diets but whether these diets completely provide all the necessary nutrients to your captive hedgehog is unknown.
The exact nutritional requirements for hedgehogs are not known. Despite some research, there is still a lot to be learned. The most current data about diets has come from the observation of the European hedgehogs and application to other hedgehog subfamilies must be done with care. It is very important that hedgehog owners continue to educate themselves on their captive hedgehog’s requirements. This is a relatively new pet and more and more information is being learned about them.
Hedgehogs in Captivity
In the wild, a hedgehog spends most of his life searching out and feasting on bugs, slugs and worms. Because that’s unlikely to happen once he’s ensconced in your family room, you’ll have to be the hunter-gatherer as well as the maitre d’.
Hedgehogs in captivity are sedentary and prone to obesity, so their diet should be relatively high in protein and low in fat. Remember, hedgehogs primarily sleep during the day and forage for food in the evening. The main meal should be offered later in the day when they are more active. However, you can leave small amounts of food in their cage for them to snack on throughout the day.
Low-calorie dry cat food or hedgehog food with some fruits and vegetables should be the mainstay of your hedgehog’s diet. The cat food should be a high-quality brand such as Eukanuba or Science Diet, which provides nearly the appropriate amount of protein (30 to 50 percent) without too much fat (not more than 20 percent). This also will allow your “hedgie” to get the right amount of calcium. Commercially avaiable hedgehog food can also be fed.
While insects won’t provide all the nutrients necessary for a healthy pet, crickets and mealworms should be included in your prickly friend’s diet as a protein source, as well as a source of mental stimulation. Be sure your crickets and mealworms are on a good diet that includes extra calcium to boost the nutrients received by your hedgehog. Calcium deficiency from a strictly insectivorous diet can cause metabolic bone disease.
Providing Water, Watching Weight
Water should be available to your hedgehog at all times. It can be provided in a shallow dish or in a sipper-tube bottle. Make sure your hedgehog knows how to drink from the sipper-tube bottle before you install it as the only water source. All water containers should be rinsed and refilled with fresh water every day to prevent contamination with bacteria that can make your hedgehog sick.
A homebound hedgehog probably will be sedentary. He isn’t out there searching for food and burning those calories, so his weight must be monitored carefully. The typical African pygmy hedgehog should weigh about 500 grams; the European garden–style hedgehog will be twice as large. If your pet goes much over those weights, check with your vet about cutting back on the hedgehog’s food.