The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Having a pet hedgehog is not always easy, but it is rewarding. Hedgehogs can be moody and prickly, but in the end, if you have patience, they will take a special place in your heart with their quirky nature. However, the kind of foods they eat is a whole other story. A friend recently got a pet hedgehog. She wanted to know what not to feed hedgehogs.
When feeding your hedgehog, avoid food like grapes, milk, and dairy products, dried fruit, avocado, potatoes, raw meat as it might contain E Coli and Salmonella. Hedgehogs have sensitive digestive systems, so it’s crucial to avoid food that can make them sick or are poisonous.
My friend was really worried she would give her hedgehog food that might harm the hedgehog’s digestive system or make him sick, so I thought I would go to a vet that specializes in exotic animals to get more information. I thought I would share what I discovered about what not to feed a hedgehog.
What Not to Feed Hedgehogs
Most hedgehogs are considered insect-eaters, but the African pygmy hedgehog is classified as an omnivore. These small but tough little mammals have been observed to scavenge on carcasses in the wild.
Hedgehogs, like most omnivores, have a varied diet in the wild, but we must be familiar with what our pet hedgehogs should and should not eat; here are some of the foods that are unsafe and toxic to feed to hedgehogs:
- Grapes and Raisins
- Dried Fruit
- Milk and dairy products
- Raw meats
- Processed meats
- Citrus fruits
- Spicy foods
- Peanut butter
Why Are These Foods Unsafe to Feed Hedgehogs?
The foods that are unsafe to feed a hedgehog are all dangerous or unhealthy for different reasons; some foods can cause an upset tummy, and others are deadly to hedgehogs. Here are the reasons these foods are toxic to your ouch mouse:
Grapes and Raisins
Most experts agree that hedgehogs should never be given grapes or raisins. Not much is known on what particular part of grapes and raisins makes hedgehogs sick. There has been speculation on whether it’s the skin, the fleshy part, or the seed.
What they all agree on is it’s toxic to hedgehogs and leads to kidney failure, renal failure, liver damage, and it can damage the rest of the hedgehog’s internal organs.
You should never feed avocado to your hedgehog. Avocados contain toxins that can cause your hedgehog severe intestinal damage. Avocados are also high in fat, and hedgehogs need a low-fat diet as feeding the wrong foods can lead to obesity in these tiny mammals.
It is very dangerous to feed dried fruits to your hedgehog because it contains more sugar than fresh fruits, and it’s damaging to your hedgehog. Dried fruits also contain preservatives that are toxic to a hedgehog.
The last reason why it’s a bad idea to feed dried fruits to your hedgehog is that it breaks into small pieces and because hedgehogs have small mouths, it can be a choking hazard.
Milk and Dairy Products
You should never feed your hedgehog milk or dairy products because hedgehogs are lactose intolerant. Wild and domestic or pet hedgehogs are all lactose intolerant. It makes digesting food that contains any dairy products difficult to digest.
It can also lead to severe pain when a hedgehog is fed food containing dairy as the gas that builds up in their tiny digestive tracts expands.
Raw potatoes are toxic to hedgehogs, and cooked potatoes are high in calories and low in nutritional value, making them food that can easily lead your hedgehog down the path of obesity.
Not only is obesity in hedgehogs bad for their health in general, but they have tiny feet with a delicate bone structure that won’t be able to hold up their bodies if they become obese, seeing as hedgehogs are very active animals, this would be torture on them.
While hedgehogs can eat cooked lean chicken and lean, low fat, cooked meats (in small amounts), raw meat should be avoided at all costs. Hedgehogs that eat raw meats might be exposed to Salmonella and Campylobacter (a bacterium that causes fetal loss in animals).
It’s a bad idea to feed your hedgehog processed meats. It contains preservatives and additives that are harmful to your hedgehog. Processed meats also have high amounts of added salt because many canned and processed meats are smoked.
Nuts are not toxic to hedgehogs, but it is very high in fat and can lead to obesity in your spiked ball. You can add a few nuts into their food but be careful with peanuts as it may make them sick.
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruits are not a good idea to feed your hedgehogs as it is very acidic and will damage a hedgehog’s delicate digestive system. It will also cause severe discomfort and pain to your hedgehog.
Bread should not be fed to hedgehogs because there is no nutritional value in bread. Bread is also high in calories, and like potatoes, it can also become a choking hazard and stick to the roof of your hedgehog’s mouth, making it hard to swallow.
Spicy foods should not be given to hedgehogs. Spicy food can cause severe stomach upset and severe pain to your hedgehog. Some spicy food can also contain additives and preservatives harmful to hedgehogs.
It can also contain peas, nuts, milk, and other foods that are not suitable for hedgehogs to eat and should be avoided.
Peanut butter is also not a good idea to give to your hedgehog as it contains additives and preservatives harmful to hedgehogs. It has added salt that is also not good for hedgehogs to consume.
Peanut butter is also high in fat and can cause obesity in hedgehogs if they are fed too much peanut butter.
Peas are thought to be highly dangerous to hedgehogs. Peas upset the phosphorus to calcium balance in a hedgehog’s system. Peas contain a higher amount of phosphorus and thus throws off the delicate balance between calcium and phosphorus.
Celery should never be given to hedgehogs. It is highly toxic to them and will lead to gastrointestinal irritation and damage. The gastrointestinal irritation will, in turn, lead to red blood cell damage.
If your hedgehog eats celery, please seek immediate medical help because if you leave it too long, it might lead to your hedgehog’s death.
Chocolates are not good for your hedgehog to eat because it contains added sugar and salt that are very dangerous to your hedgehog’s health. It also contains high amounts of fat and oils that are a health risk leading to obesity.
It also contains added preservatives and additives that are mixed into the chocolate to extend its shelf life; these preservatives and additives are unsafe for your hedgehog to eat.
What Are the Best Kind of Food to Give to Hedgehogs?
When you read about all of the foods that hedgehogs should not eat, you might get discouraged, but you don’t need to worry; there are plenty of healthy and nutritious foods for your hedgehog to eat.
What kind of food your hedgehog needs will depend on what country your hedgehog is from. Usually, pet hedgehogs are African Pygmy hedgehogs, and they don’t have the same dietary requirements as wild hedgehogs.
Depending on the source, hedgehogs are either insectivores or omnivores. Omnivores are more accurate as hedgehogs in the wild and domesticated eat various foods, not only insects. Their digestive system is uniquely adapted to break down and utilize chitin.
Chitin is a substance found in the exoskeleton of insects; it is mainly protein but does have a unique kind of fiber that hedgehogs need. Insects are an important part of a hedgehog’s diet, but it’s not the only food a hedgehog needs to stay healthy.
Here are some foods that are an essential part of a hedgehog’s diet:
As we saw in the section above, hedgehogs do need insects to survive and thrive, and here are some of the best insects to give to your hedgehog as part of a balanced diet:
You can give your hedgehog live or freeze-dried mealworms. Mealworms are an excellent source of chitin. Live worms also give them a little mental stimulation as they move around; your hedgie will have to “hunt” them.
Live or freeze-dried crickets are a good source of chitin for hedgehogs. It also provides for mental stimulation as they move around. It’s important to remember, if you are feeding them live crickets, you need to “gut load” before giving them to your hedgehog.
Gut loading refers to feeding the crickets beforehand to ensure your hedgehog gets enough nutrients out of the crickets.
Canned snails are deshelled and high in fats and protein. Hedgehogs need to stick to a low-fat, high protein, and fiber diet. So it’s best if you only feed canned snails to your hedgehog as a snack.
Waxworms are higher in fat and lower in chitin, so it is best if you only give it as a treat to your hedgehogs. You can give waxworms as a treat about three times a week.
Some fruits like dried fruit should not be given to hedgehogs. But there are certain fruits that you can provide your hedgehogs.
- Berries: Berries are low in sugar and can be given as part of a balanced diet.
- Kiwi: Remember to remove the kiwi’s skin and cut the fruit into pieces small enough so that your hedgehog doesn’t choke.
- Watermelon: Hedgehogs love watermelon. Give your hedgehog seedless watermelon 2-3 times a week. It also helps keep them hydrated.
- Peaches: Peaches are a good source of carotenoids, antioxidants, and vitamin C. Remember to take off the skin of the peach, remove the pip and cut it into small pieces before feeding it to your hedgehog.
- Cherries: Cherries are high in sugar, so they should be given to your hedgehog as a treat. Remember to remove the skin and the pips before feeding them to your hedgehog.
- Apples: You can feed your hedgehogs apples mixed with other fruits twice a week. Give around half a teaspoon at a time, remove the skin and seeds, and cut them into small pieces before feeding them to your hedgie.
- Bananas: Bananas, like most other fruits, are high in sugar and should be given in moderation. Cut the banana into small pieces to avoid a choking hazard, and never feed your hedgehog banana skin.
Vegetables can add valuable nutrients to your hedgehog’s diet. There are certain veggies to avoid, like dried veggies, potatoes, peas, and celery. Here are a few vegetables that are suitable to feed your hedgehog as part of a balanced diet:
- Veggies like carrots, bell peppers, and zucchini can be given to hedgehogs. However, they should always be cooked first, without spices, oil, and butter. These veggies are hard for hedgehogs to chew if they are raw and digest easier when cooked first.
- Leafy greens like lettuce, kale, watercress, and cabbage are suitable to give raw to hedgehogs but take care if the leafy green is high in iron and vitamin A, which could damage their bones. So maybe only once or twice a year to avoid bone damage.
- Broccoli can also be given to your hedgehog. Remember to steam the broccoli without any spices, oils, or butter and cut it into very small pieces to avoid choking.
- Cucumber is one of the best veggies you can feed your hedgehog. It is nutrient-packed and helps to avoid dehydration. Peel the cucumber and cut it into small pieces to prevent choking.
- Butternut squash is a good source of fiber for hedgehogs and should be cooked without any spices, oils, or butter. It’s also a good food to feed hedgehogs who may have an upset stomach.
You can give your hedgehog cooked meat in moderation. Giving your hedgehog lean meats such as skinless chicken or turkey are good choices as they are low in fat and high in protein.
Cat Kibble, Dog Kibble, and Hedgehog Kibble
A suitable kibble should be the bulk of your hedgehog’s diet. There are hedgehog kibbles formulated with all the right nutrients and foods that your hedgehog needs.
If you choose a cat or dog kibble alternative, ensure you keep the nutritional needs of your hedgehog in mind. The kibble should contain no seeds, raisins, peanuts, or peanut oil and should have at least 30% or more protein and less than 20% fat.
Hedgehogs are fantastic little prickly pets to have. You only need to ensure they don’t eat foods that are harmful to them. When looking for the right foods, keep their nutritional needs in mind and avoid toxic foods like celery, grapes, and raisins.