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Old 08-17-2015, 11:56 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Advanced Nutrition Guide

Welcome to the Advanced Nutrition Guide! This sticky is so named because it will go a bit more in depth on looking at commercial pet foods. The issues discussed here are all legitimate issues & concerns, but may be ones past the concern of most people. This may be because they're already overwhelmed with learning the basics of finding a good food, or they just don't have the time to research a company extensively, or find a food that meets even more standards. All of this is perfectly fine - most of this comes down to a difference in opinion and a difference in what people want in their pet's food.

I just want to make this clear, especially for new owners - If you're already feeling overwhelmed after reading the Beginner's Guide, please do not feel like you have to read this. You can find a perfectly good food for your hedgehog if you follow the guidelines in the first sticky! You are not a bad owner if you decide you would prefer not to worry about even more standards with pet food. I decided to write this sticky to help people who are interested learn more about potential pitfalls in a food, not to overwhelm new owners even more.

The Advanced Nutrition Guide

I. Protein & Dry Food - Why Less than 35%
II. DMB Values
III. Ingredient splitting
IV. Grain Free Food Ingredients
V. Not All Veggies Are Created Equal
VI. Behind the Food - Researching Companies

I. Protein & Dry Food – Why Less than 35%

It used to be frequently recommended (and still sometimes is) to give hedgehogs a “high protein, low fat” diet. But what does that mean? Simply using words like “high” and “low” give no indication of what should be the specific goal.

These days, the guidelines commonly given out are for 35% or less protein, less than 15% fat. I find that a lot of people are confused about the protein guidelines, why 35% is the cut-off point, why some people recommend even lower cut-off points (32%, 30%, etc.), and why there's a cut-off point at all. After all, if they eat a diet of mostly insects in the wild, along with some meat, isn't that pretty high protein?

The main difference between the kibble we feed our hedgehogs and their natural diet is the moisture content. Protein and the water content of the food are very important to consider together due to how protein is processed in the body. The liver processes protein and any waste generated goes through the kidneys & is excreted in urine. The body can't store extra protein, so it also gets processed by the liver and kidneys, and excreted.

Normally these organs don't have any trouble dealing with excess protein. Problems arise when there are other issues going on with one of these organs, especially bladder infections, kidney disease, etc. Extra stress on the organs when there is already a problem can make the original problem worse & create more issues for the animal. Because it's difficult to tell if your pet is already susceptible to potential kidney problems unless they're actively having health issues, it's generally best to keep the protein on the lower side, just in case.

With canned food, live/canned insects (not freeze-dried), and cooked or raw meat, the DMB (explained below) protein levels are often higher than what's recommended for the maximum with dry food. This is less of a concern due to the high moisture levels in these food items. The extra water in the food helps to keep things moving and flush out the kidneys & bladder to help get rid of the extra waste that may come from excess protein. Animals are generally built for a moisture-heavy diet, and many (especially obligate carnivores like cats) can have difficulty making up for a dry diet by drinking enough water on their own. While this may not be a huge issue for hedgehogs, it's still a risk that they won't drink enough water to make up for a dry diet with excess protein. This isn't something animals will instinctively do, not when they're built for getting so much water from their diet.

So why 35%? Back when hedgehogs were starting to be kept as pets, “high protein” food was recommended because the highest protein foods were around that. As we learn more about animal nutrition, protein percentages for dog and cat foods (especially cat foods) have increased. These days, high protein can be as high as 50% for dry food. This can be appropriate for carnivores like dogs and cats. But hedgehogs are opportunistic scavengers and don't eat strictly meat – they also eat berries & some other plant matter. It's possible that foods with 40-50% protein would be too high for them and case health issues. I can't say that I've heard of this happening thus far, but given the risk & the fact that they do fine on lower percentages, it's safest to stay below 35%.

If you find a really good food that you can get easily, fits all of the parameters, but has protein that's a tad higher (36 or 37%), it's not 100% guaranteed cause your hedgehog problems. Try it out if you think it's worth it, and see how your hedgehog does. Just keep in mind the potential problems, monitor your hedgehog's drinking and urine, and be prepared in case you do notice any issues. Everyone makes the choice for their pet's food and it's important to do your research, know the pros & cons, and make an informed decision. That's the main goal of these nutrition stickies – to help you make an informed decision.

If you're up for more reading, this article also explains how the quality of the protein source factors in -

II. DMB Values

DMB means dry matter basis. This is what the protein and fat percentages of a food are when you factor out any moisture that is in the food.

To calculate the DMB values, follow this formula:

100 - % moisture = % dry matter
% protein (or fat) / % dry matter = % dry matter protein (or fat)

So when should you consider the DMB values of a food? The suggested percentages for protein and fat for hedgehogs are given for dry food, without considering DMB (as far as I know). This means that unless you prefer to be thorough when comparing dry foods or if you'd prefer to follow the guidelines with the DMB values for a food, it's not completely necessary to calculate DMB values for dry food if you are only comparing dry food to dry food. Most dry foods have similar low moisture levels (typically around 10%), so the DMB values will not be hugely different from the values given on the bag.

However, due to the high moisture levels for canned food, it is a good idea to calculate the DMB values. While high protein wet food is less of an issue than with dry food, it's still not a bad idea to keep the protein levels moderate even with wet food if you're going to be using it as the main diet. If it will just be an occasional treat or used as an emergency syringe-feeding food, it's probably less of an issue. The DMB fat percentage is probably a greater concern, especially if you have a hedgehog who puts weight on easily. If you feed canned food as a frequent treat or a regular part of the diet, go for one that's lower in fat.

It's also important to calculate DMB percentages if you're going to be comparing dry food to wet food, due to the vastly different moisture levels in the two types of food. Same goes for raw or home cooked diets since both of these options are also quite a bit higher in moisture than dry kibble.

III. Ingredient Splitting

In the first nutrition guide sticky, I discussed the basics to look for on an ingredient label. Following those guidelines, one can find a perfectly good food to feed their hedgehog. However, if you really want to get picky about your ingredient label, there are a couple other things to look out for that will be discussed here. The first one is a trick that manufacturers can use to manipulate the rules on listing ingredients by weight & make a food look better than it might actually be. It's called ingredient splitting.

Ingredient splitting is where you see multiple ingredients that all come from the same food, e.g. corn, corn gluten meal, or peas, pea protein, etc. It doesn't have to be a deal breaker, especially in a food that has the right percentages & doesn't have any bad ingredients. But keep in mind that if you add up the weights of those different split ingredients, it's possible that the corn, rice, peas, whatever, may outweigh the meat in the food, which isn't ideal.

A similar issue to look out for is how many carb-loaded ingredients there are in the food. It's great to have a meat/meat meal as the first ingredient and that's what you should aim for. But take a look after that & see how many grains or other carb-heavy ingredients come after that. If you have chicken meal, followed by oats, rice, and barley, it's pretty likely that all of those grains outweigh the meat. While all of these grains are better quality than wheat and corn, you still don't want them to be the majority of the food for an omnivore or carnivore.

IV. Grain Free Food Ingredients

It's important to watch grain-free foods for the above issues as well. Grain-free is one of the newer trends in pet food. Personally, I prefer grain-free foods...if they're good quality. But manufacturers can use the same tricks to have less-than-ideal ingredients that end up outweighing the meat in the food. For example, these are the ingredients up to the first fat in Authority Grain-Free Adult cat food:

Chicken, Chicken Meal, Dried Peas, Dried Potatoes, Pea Protein, Potato Protein
Chicken and chicken meal, good! Unfortunately, that chicken probably loses most of its weight when the water in it gets cooked out, so that's one strike. Dried peas & potatoes means that they don't lose any water weight when the food gets cooked, so there's a good chance that there's already more of them than the chicken, even though it's the first ingredient. Then you see that there's both dried peas & pea protein, dried potatoes and potato protein. More or less these are the same thing, and it means that it's very likely potatoes & peas outweigh the chicken in this food, even with the chicken meal being present.

Another issue with these ingredients – while potato protein is defined by AAFCO (the group that regulates pet food & pet food ingredients), pea protein doesn't even have an official definition yet. So you don't really know what that ingredient is or where it's coming from. And at least for dogs and cats, these vegetable proteins are not a very accessible form of protein as compared to animal proteins that these carnivores are meant to be eating. While we don't know enough about hedgehogs to say for sure whether they could easily use these vegetable proteins, it's pretty likely that it's still not as accessible as insect/animal proteins.

V. Not All Veggies are Created Equal

There's one more problem with potatoes and peas. While they might initially be considered a step up from corn and wheat, they're still not ideal as pet food ingredients. White potatoes are high in carbs, which convert to sugar. This can make a pet put on weight, and it can also contribute to and exacerbate health problems such as diabetes and cancer. Peas, which are a legume, are high in sugar, high in phosphorus (which can affect the calcium: phosphorus ratio), and also contain phytates, which can bind and affect levels of some minerals. Here are a couple of links that discuss peas further - and

Veggies are an improvement over grains in the eyes of many people. But some veggies are high in nutrients while others, like white potatoes, are lacking. A better replacement for white potatoes would be sweet potatoes or squash – both are colorful, nutrient-dense foods that also provide bulk and fiber for a pet food.

If you're curious about other veggies, do some research. Spinach is often touted as a great food for protein, but sometimes it gets missed that spinach is also high in oxalates, which bind calcium & make it unusable. Carrots are good for vitamin A, but they're also high in sugar as far as veggies go. Sweet potatoes are a great food, but they're also extremely high in vitamin A, so that may be something you want to consider. These veggies are unlikely to be in high enough amounts in pet foods to cause any kind of problem (especially when nutrients inevitably get lost during the cooking process due to extreme heat, etc.). But these things are still useful to know when you're looking at ingredient labels or if you're planning out supplemental veggies to add to your hedgehog's diet or if you're considering doing a home made diet.

VI. Behind the Food – Researching Companies

I won't go into a lot of detail about the various companies here. That would take quite a bit of room and time to cover. I just thought I'd list some of the things to look for and to be aware of if you're planning to consider what company produces your food.

First off, why should you worry about this?

- It's recommended to use a mix of foods for hedgehogs. One of the reasons for this is in case the food gets recalled due to a production error, contamination, etc. Foods made by the same company are frequently produced in the same buildings, even if they're different brands. It's possible that you could have two different brands, but if they're produced by the same company, they could end up both being recalled & you would still have the problem of finding a food your hedgehog will eat & an upset hedgie tummy from the sudden food change.

- Speaking of recalls, it's useful to know how many recalls a food brand and/or a company has & what those recalls were for. If they have a lot of contamination recalls, there might be something iffy going on with their sourcing or manufacturing processes. It's also good to know how a company acts when they have a recall. Are they up front about it? How do they announce it? If they don't use the word “recall” without hesitation, it's possible they're trying to avoid using words that would be easily found by people researching this very issue. If they insist it's not their fault or are continuously blaming their sources or something else, that might be a red flag as well.

- Some people like to know what company is producing their food so they can research where the company sources ingredients. Some people prefer to avoid ingredients from overseas, such as from China, due to looser regulations in food quality & safety. Unfortunately, many or most vitamin supplements are produced in China, so this may be a difficult to impossible goal to achieve. Still, some small companies make a special effort to source their ingredients as locally as possible and if they do, they'll often advertise this as a point of pride.

- Companies can be large ones that manufacture multiple food brands, such as Purina (owned by Nestle), whereas others can be small companies that only produce a single brand. There can be pros and cons to both of these options and you'll want to do research to see if you can find out how and where the company manufactures their food and whether this affects your opinion on the food. Writergirlmel put this nicely, so I'm going to quote her here:

Even small brands vary in quality. I've seen some "high quality" foods I consider no better or worse than mid-grade box store (i.e. Walmart, Target) foods. And I've seen some offerings from "box store brands" (i.e. the big 3) that are decent, particularly as part of a mix.

My vet (highly recommended by the HWS, very experienced with hedgehogs) actually prefers it when smaller brands are bought out by the "big 3," including Purina, because those manufacturers do more "in house" and often don't change the formula (meaning the same ingredients are used in the same proportions).

I'm not sure I 100% agree since I'm still researching it, but as he explains it, the smaller brands outsource a lot, so it's easier for quality to be less consistent. The Big 3 may have some questionable offerings in their box store lines, but it's likely those are intentionally questionable according to our standards -- meaning they are not intended to contain the highest quality ingredients.

If the formula doesn't change -- and it could change regardless of brand ownership -- the quality won't necessarily slip due to a Big 3 buy-out. It might, but, then again, it may improve due to in-house consistency. Or it might stay the same. Only time will tell. But regardless, it's important for every hedgehog owner to define their own standards beyond the basics and do their own research to evaluate whether or not the brands they're using meet those standards.

Personally, I put more stock in the guaranteed analysis, the ingredients, the manufacturer's safety record adjusted for production levels than I do the name and marketing.
As with everything else, how you feel about the company and what you're looking for in the food and the company that produces it comes down to just that – your feelings, your opinion. Each person must decide what they want in their pets food and how particular they want to be about standards, what they won't budge on and what they're willing to compromise on.

I hope this guide has effectively explained some further issues that can be considered and debated on with pet food. I'm sure I left plenty of points untouched, but my main goal was to provide an overview of the various topics and put the idea into people's minds. After all, you can't research it if you don't know about it!
~*~*~ Kelsey ~*~*~

RIP my sweet Lily ~ 6/12/08 - 1/20/12

Last edited by Lilysmommy; 11-15-2015 at 07:16 PM.
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Old 05-11-2016, 02:12 PM   #2 (permalink)
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This is great information, thank you. One more thought with regard to researching companies is whether or not the food is produced here in America. We started our mealworm company when we discovered that almost 100% of dried mealworms are imported from China. We opened a container from what we thought was a reputable US company and a bunch of bugs (not in the mealworm life cycle). China products are fine in a lot of situations but when it comes to our pets it doesn't seem prudent to import foods from that far away.
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Old 05-11-2016, 02:35 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by SunshineAcreWormFarm View Post
This is great information, thank you. One more thought with regard to researching companies is whether or not the food is produced here in America. We started our mealworm company when we discovered that almost 100% of dried mealworms are imported from China. We opened a container from what we thought was a reputable US company and a bunch of bugs (not in the mealworm life cycle). China products are fine in a lot of situations but when it comes to our pets it doesn't seem prudent to import foods from that far away.

I Believe there is a part on the main forum to advertise products. Please stop posting about your company elsewhere. Thank you.
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Old 01-01-2020, 11:52 PM   #4 (permalink)
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My hedgie, Bubba, has been eating the same food for 2 years. The store that carried his brand of cat food, Canidae, is now closed and I can not find the same food online. Is there a brand that I can safely change to. I tried another one, made by Canidae. I didn’t notice the first day, that he wasn’t eating the new one. I have enough of his old food for about a week. Any ideas would be much appreciated....thank you from HHMama & Bubba boy��
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