There are tens and tens of different kinds of pets that you can adopt that stray far away from the traditional “cat” or “dog” that people adore as pets.
Some of these animals, such as horses and lizards, are pretty easy to work with when it comes to their diet, as many people own these animals and want them to be happy. Other animals, particularly animals that are not extremely common as pets, may be harder to find the necessary materials for.
One unfortunate example of this is with hedgehogs and hedgehog food. While the popularity and normality of owning a hedgehog as a pet has increased drastically in the past few years, there are still many troubles that come with adopting and taking in hedgehogs.
A very good example of one of the biggest problems with taking in hedgehogs is the fact that their diet can be hard to find.
By technicality, hedgehogs are considered insectivores. This puts hedgehogs in a unique position of not quite being a carnivore, as hedgehogs traditionally only eat the “meat” off of insects.
On the other hand, animals that are insectivores need to have some form of animal protein in their diets, meaning that they cannot live as herbivores, though they can have a notable amount of plants in their diet as well.
Now that you have a bit of a better idea of what hedgehogs are going to eat, you are going to want to consider what hedgehogs will eat in the wild. This will help you out immensely when it comes time for you to formulate a diet for your brand-new hedgehog.
The first step to this process is to first know what a normal diet for a wild hedgehog is going to be.
What Do Hedgehogs Traditionally Eat?
As mentioned above, out in the wild, hedgehogs are known to be natural insectivores. This is different from your traditional carnivore, as insectivores focus almost exclusively on insect life and will leave most other forms of animal alone, as they will not be able to properly digest that kind of material.
Instead, insectivores have a special enzyme in their digestive systems that allow them to digest and process chitin. For reference, chitin is the hard exoskeleton of most bugs that you come across.
Chitin, for hedgehogs and other insectivores, is going to be the primary source of both protein and fiber in the hedgehog’s life, making it important for you to make sure that you feed your hedgehogs bugs that have a higher chitin content in them. Chitin also becomes a source of fiber, but chitin is not as central to a hedgehog’s fiber intake as it is to its protein intake.
Unfortunately, eating only bugs that have an exoskeleton is not the proper way to sustain an insectivore’s diet. There are several other kinds of bugs that are involved in an insectivore’s typical diet, with chitin being just one branch for your hedgehog to get its daily amount of protein from. There are also mealworms and crickets, as well as any other bugs that might be in the area.
For insectivores, another massive amount of fat and protein comes back through mealworms, waxworms, and crickets as well. Mealworms can be found at most stores that offer bait of some form, and some pet stores will offer a freeze-dried variant of mealworm that might be easier for you to feed to your hedgehog at first. Thankfully, mealworms are pretty easy to find in stores.
Crickets can also be used for both entertainment value or to improve your hedgehog’s health, as crickets are known for having a fair bit of nutrients in them as well. If you can, purchasing the crickets live is going to be the best option for your hedgehog.
Not only will the hedgehog get too much of one of its favorite treats, but it will also be able to enjoy the thrill of catching its prey, which is not something that many owners do for their hedgehogs.
Aside from insects, unlike obligate carnivores, hedgehogs are not strictly confined to one area of food. This means that you can get away with feeding your hedgehog fruits, vegetables, and cooked meat, just as you would feed to your family.
What About Other Animal Foods?
In a situation where you may not have access to the products necessary to give your hedgehog a truly effective insectivore diet, you may not know what to do or what you should even try to make for your hedgehog friend.
After all, it can be somewhat difficult to get mealworms or crickets without dealing with shipping, and then when you do find what you need, it will often be at a more expensive price.
Because of this fact, there are many people who opt to switch to brands of bugs that have had no contact with any insecticides. If you find yourself in this kind of position, you might find yourself tempted to try and supplement the proteins and nutrients that your hedgehog needs through other means, such as with cat food or dog food.
Both cat food and dog food are not going to be adequate replacements for a full insectivore’s diet. While the nutrients that are offered in both cat and dog food will meet some of the requirements that hedgehogs need, it is also what is inside of the food that makes a massive difference as well, as it can be tough to know what your hedgehog is going to need.
More often than not, if you only have two choices to choose from to provide foods for your hedgehog, you are going to want to opt for cat food as the best option. Cats, as obligate carnivores, have a naturally higher protein amount in their food than other species, such as pandas.
While it will not be a complete replacement for the nutrients that your hedgehog is losing through a lack of proper food, it will keep your hedgehog fed enough that you will be able to go to one of the more specialty insectivore food packs for your hedgehog.
Dog food, both wet and dry foods, is not going to be an optimal situation in the eyes of any hedgehog. Dog food is designed for dogs, as one might come to expect, but the problem with this is that dogs are considered omnivores.
This means that there is going to be some degree of plant matter in dog food that your hedgehog is not going to be able to benefit from, and in some cases, this can be harmful to your hedgehog as well.
One good example of this is going to be the fact that many commercial dog foods are going to have filler ingredients, such as raisins or seeds, that are actually detrimental to the health of a tiny hedgehog’s heart.
If you want to make sure that your hedgehog is getting all of the nutrients that it needs, but you do not have insectivore-friendly food, then cat food is going to be your next best option, but only with a few caveats.
Making Sure the Hedgehog Gets What It Needs
When you are working with an alternative food source that is different than what is typically done for an animal, such as switching to a kitten diet rather than keeping with an insectivore diet, you are going to want to be absolutely certain that you are getting your measurements right. It can be hard to gauge how much cat food is going to have the same nutritional equivalent of what hedgehogs need.
If you are working with cat food, you are going to want to make sure that the kibble is made from a high-quality brand that carries its reputation well. Once you have found a high-quality brand of cat food that you would feel comfortable feeding your beloved hedgehog, you will want to begin working with all of the numbers on these food labels.
A good hedgehog-suitable type of cat food is going to require a minimum of 30% as well as no more than 20% fat. Thankfully, it is relatively easy to find cat food with these nutritional values in just about all the different pet stores, both in-person and online.
While you are feeding your hedgehog this cat food, you are going to want to make sure that you keep an eye on how much food the hedgehog is eating and you will want to watch for any signs of intestinal distress.
Additionally, you are going to want to make sure that you are feeding your hedgehog at the appropriate time of day as well. One thing to keep in mind about hedgehogs, especially hedgehogs that have settled into life at your house and have adapted to a schedule of their own, is that they tend to be the most active during the night.
What this means for you is that if you have a tendency to feed your hedgehog during the day, you might notice that your hedgehog is not eating as much as you might expect it to. If you are new to the idea of owning hedgehogs, this might be startling at first, as any animal that is not eating its food is going to be a cause for concern.
Before you worry too much though, you should keep an eye on the hedgehog’s food level during the later portions of the day and well into the next morning to see how much has been eaten in the night.
By making sure that you do what you can to get your hedgehog the nutrients that it needs, you can feel confident in knowing that, in the long run, it will be well worth it and that your hedgehog will be energetic and as healthy as can be.
This is especially the case if you are feeding your hedgehog fresh fruit, vegetables, and live insects.
The Bottom Line
When taking care of hedgehogs, it is obviously going to be important that you make sure that the hedgehog is getting the food that it needs. If you are in a dire situation and all that you have for your hedgehog to eat is dog food that contains raisins and seeds, then it might be worth using to tide your hedgehog over until you are in a position where you can offer better food for your hedgehog.
When looking at the nutritional composition of the foods, you should make sure that you have at least 30% protein and less than 20% fat content. These are the specifications needed to ensure that, even if the food wasn’t originally designed for your hedgehog’s body, it will be more than enough to keep your hedgehog happy and healthy.
With all of that being said, the best thing that you can do for your hedgehog is to give it the opportunity to go outside and take it to a place where it can forage and hunt its own insectivore food. By making sure that your hedgehog has some form of protein and fat in its diet, you can rest assured knowing that your champion spirit will still remain.
Above all, you should aim to try and find a form of insectivore-friendly food for your pet before resorting to feeding your hedgehog dog food in any form, either wet or dry.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.