Hedgehog nutrition

Hedgehog nutrition

An outline of the presentation Dr. Graffam of the Bronx Zoo gave at Go Hog Wild 1998, summarizing her research on hedgehog nutrition.

Wendy Graffam, Ph.D.

Wildlife Conservation Society


Hedgehogs are generally found in

* Africa
* Europe
* Hedgehogs are generally classified as insectivores. However, they have been known to eat some plant matter


* An animal that eats primarily insects
* A specialized type of carnivore
* Insectivores, in general, are poorly studied
* Often consume the entire insect
* This includes intestines
* Exoskeleton


* Eat primarily insects
* There is low vitamin A in insects
* Insectivores may or may not have requirement for preformed vitamin A
* Insects contain fiber!
* Up to 15% fiber (NDF) – similar to Bran Flakes or Fruit and Fiber cereal!!
Like humans, may benefit from fiber in the diet

Hedgehogs in the “Wild”

* African species eat
o Beetles
o Ants
o Termites
o Grasshoppers
o Moths
o Centipedes
o Earthworms

Hedgehogs in the “Wild”

* Generally, seem to have a preference for soft-bodied insects (centipedes, millipedes)
* Eat other insects when easier to catch than soft-bodied
* Hedgehogs will forage long distances (miles!)
* Researchers have noted 2 periods of foraging activity per night

Hedgehogs in the “Wild”

* Eat approximately 57-71 g per night (European hedgehogs)
* About 6% of body weight (wet basis)
* Stomach capacity is only about 32 g
* Therefore, theory is that they must fill their stomachs 2 times per night

Hedgehogs in Captivity

* Need to forage for food?
* Hunt for prey
* Burns calories
* Exercise
* We offer high-calorie, high-fat diets and no exercise!

Hedgehogs in Captivity

* Often fed
* Cat or dog food (canned or dry)
* “Hedgehog” food
* Produce
* Milk products
* Meat
* Invertebrates

Basic Hedgehog Requirements

* Water
* Energy
* Protein
* Fat
* Fiber (often not included)
* Vitamins
* Minerals


* All animals require fresh, clean water
* Water is the most important nutrient
* Hedgehogs probably get some of their water from their food too


* All animals require energy
* How much should I feed my hog?
* Hedgehogs require around 70-100 calories per day
* Based on body size (I used 400-600 g)
* kcal/day = 2(70*body weight0.75)
* Insectivores may run lower
* Other eq say 30-40 kcal/day


* Hogs are known to consume up to 1/3 of their body weight per night
* If offered, they will consume many more calories!
* Ad lib mealworms: 1 animal (650 g) ate 1880 g in 19 days – increased weight by 68%!!!

Vitamins and Minerals

* Animals in the wild
* From prey
o Muscle
o Intestine
o Bones
* From soil (accidentally ingested)
* In captivity, we must provide all of these

Commercial Diets
– Pellets or Extruded diets


* Tooth abrasion
* Contain vitamins and minerals
* Generally low in fat (not cat foods)


* Hard to chew
* May be plant based
* May not be palatable

Commercial Diets
– Seed/Grain Diets


* Inexpensive
* Variety


* Generally high in fat (seeds)
* Plant based
* May not be as palatable or well digested
* Vitamins and minerals may be dusted on
* Allows self selection

Commercial Diets Nutrition Suggested Requirement
– All values on a dry matter basis

Commercial Diets – Protein
Suggested requirement – 22%

Commercial Diets – Fat
Suggested requirement – 5%

Commercial Diets – Fiber
Suggested requirement – 15%

Commercial Diets – Calcium
Suggested requirement – 0.9%

Commercial Diets – Phosphorus
Suggested requirement – 0.9%

Commercial Diets – Iron
Suggested requirement – 75 ppm

Commercial Diets – micromineral

Hedgehog Diets Cat Food Sugg. Req.
Copper (mg/kg) 4-23 7-16 3-7
Manganese (mg/kg) 11-146 11-70 5
Zinc (mg/kg) 20-175 100-190 30

Suggested requirements are based on domestic cats, dogs, foxes and mink

Cat Food

* Dry food
* Select food with meat as first ingredients rather than plant products
* Feed dry if at all possible
* Canned food
* Does not provide tooth abrasion
* Very palatable
* Cannot be left in cage for more than 4 hours (due to bacterial growth)



* “Natural” feed
* Palatable


* Not a nutritionally complete food
* May be expensive
* Some high in fat
o Earthworms contain 9 times the energy than other major prey items!

Insect Supplementation

* Often purchased insects have not been fed
* This means they are “empty” shells rather than nutritious food
* Empty insects are likely imbalanced in calcium to phosphorus
* All insects should be handled and supplemented properly

Ways to Supplement Insects

* Buy Premade cricket/insect supplement
* See reptile dealers for these products
* Some crickets or mealworms will come on a nutritious bedding: so check with your supplier
* Buy poultry layer mash and use as bedding
* Make your own
* Grind up dog food and mix with Ca supplement
* Recipe

Insect Supplementation

* Recipe
o 80 g ground dog food/poultry mash (1/4 cup)
o 20 g Ca Carbonate supplement (4 tsp)
* Store in a sealed container in the fridge
* Use as food or bedding for insects


* Cricket housing
* House in large aquarium
* Feed high-calcium cricket food
* Provide water via vegetables or shallow dish with a sponge
* Mealworms/waxworms
* House in plastic container with holes in fridge
* Bed on high-calcium cricket food

All-Meat Diets

* Do NOT feed raw meat
* Unsupplemented lean meat does not provide
o adequate calcium
o balanced minerals
o tooth abrasion
o adequate vitamins
* These are provided naturally by the intestines and bones of the prey item

All-Meat Diets

* If feeding a cooked meat diet
* Supplement each kg meat with:
o 8 g beef liver
o 10 g of calcium carbonate
* Abrasives at least 1-2X/week insects?

Dairy Products

* Should I feed dairy products to my hog?
* Probably not
* Adult mammals not designed to digest milk well
* Really just a food for baby mammals
* Can cause diarrhea
* High in fat and calories
* Limited quantity OK as an occasional treat


* How can we increase the fiber in hedgehog diets?
* Add hard-shelled insects (crickets)
* Add other fiber sources
o Chitin?
o Cellulose?
o Bran?
* Feed light cat food?

Fiber Trial – WCS

* 4 hedgehogs
* 3 diets
* Canned cat food alone
* Canned cat food with cellulose (fiber) added
* Canned cat food with chitin added

Fiber Trial – WCS – Results

* Hogs were able to digest some of the fiber
* Chitin in diet increased hog’s ability to digest fat (opposite of human claims)
* Fiber seemed to improve fecal quality

Nutrition Summary

* Always have clean water available
* Provide a balanced diet, if possible
* Cat food
* Hedgehog food
* Provide a source of fiber
* Provide a variety of insects and produce

Basic Food Safety

* Be careful not to handle hedgehog feces or insects before handling your own food or dishes, etc.
* Do not leave produce, soaked food or canned food out for more than 4 hours at room temperature
* Keep insects contained
* Do not feed raw meat or eggs

Health Issues

* Obesity
* Hedgehogs can eat 33% of their body weight if allowed
o Like a 150 pound human eating 50 pounds of food
* Propensity to obesity in captivity
* Many die in extreme states of obesity
* Range long distances in the wild
o Provide a wheel or opportunity to run in captivity

Health Issues

* Cancer
* Beta-carotene vs. vitamin A
o May or may not help to prevent cancer

How Can I Help?

* Weigh regularly; maintain body condition
* Develop body condition scoring system
* Keep detailed records of food preferences
* Monitor diet effects on fecal quality
* Summarize handrearing and growth info.
* Fund nutritional research

1 Comment

  1. Otto Vrana on February 29 at 12:02 pm

    Dead pent subject material, Really enjoyed reading.

Leave a Comment