Hedgehog Central banner
Not open for further replies.
1 - 1 of 1 Posts

· Premium Member
12,071 Posts
The Beginner's Guide to Hedgehog Nutrition

I. Optimal Percentages
II. Ingredients & How to Read Labels
III. Hedgehog Foods
IV. Dog Foods
V. Why use a mix?
VI. Switching Foods
VII. I read the sticky...now what??
VIII. Further Reading

I. Optimal Percentages

- Protein level should generally be between 28-35%. Slightly over 35% is okay, especially if it's only one food in a mix - it's best to keep total protein levels below 40% though. People mention that they were told hedgehogs need a "high protein diet" - this advice was given out when high protein was still around 35-40%, before the foods that have over 40% or even around 50% protein now. If you're curious about why these higher protein foods aren't a good idea for hedgehogs (and some other animals, like cats!), check out the Advanced Nutrition Guide sticky.

- Fat level is highly dependent on hedgehog. Most hedgehogs need between 10-15%. Babies can have higher fat while they're growing (until 6 months), closer to 15% or a little above. Runner-type hedgehogs that have a hard time keeping weight on generally need 15-20% fat. Take your hedgehog's energy levels into consideration and weigh them regularly to watch weight gain/loss - also judge their overall body shape for clues to how much fat they may need.

- Fiber levels should be as high as you can find - hedgehogs need higher fiber than cats do, so you usually don't have to worry about fiber being too high, but too low. Do your best, but focus more on protein/fat levels. Insects and veggies can provide extra fiber in the diet if needed.

II. Ingredients & How to Read Labels

There is a LOT of misinformation out there regarding pet food ingredients, both for good ingredients and bad. If you want to do more research, this is my favorite site to use as a starting point: www.dogfoodproject.com . The site covers the information mentioned here much more thoroughly. I will outline the basics here, on how to read a label and what ingredients to avoid or to look for.

To begin with...Do NOT believe advertising - the goal of advertising is simply to get you to buy the product. The rules that companies must follow are not as strict as they should be, and it's very easy for advertising to mislead the consumer (you) into thinking the food is a good source of nutrition for your pet. I won't cover all of the ways the name of the food or the front of the bag can deceive you into thinking it's a good food here. That is covered in depth here - The Dog Food Project - Dog Food Label Information 101 All I will say here is...Ignore the pictures on the front of the bag, ignore the name of the food. Ignore all of the advertising, and look at the nutritional information (protein, fat, etc.) and the ingredients first & foremost.

So what do you NOT want to see in your ingredient list?

A more complete list can be found here - The Dog Food Project - Ingredients to avoid

- corn, wheat, brewer's rice - provide little nutrition & mainly serve to fill the animal up (and make bigger poops!). They may also be used to boost the protein content of the food, cheaper than using meat. This isn't an easily accessible form of protein for omnivores & carnivores. They need protein from animals. Brewer's rice is not the same thing as whole brown rice (which is one of the easier grains for carnivorous animals to digest). It's a cheap by-product from the human food industry & not a nutritious ingredient.

- cellulose - Usually included to add bulk to the food & for fiber. However, cellulose can be anything from dried celery to dried wood, made into a powder. All animals need fiber in their diets. But this is not an appropriate source of fiber for dogs, cats, or hedgehogs. There are better sources of fiber that offer more nutrients.

- unnamed meats, meat meals, and unnamed fats - the restrictions on sourcing are much looser for meat ingredients that are not specifically named. Ingredients like poultry, poultry meal, meat and bone meal, animal fat, etc. do not have to come from animals specifically slaughtered to be used in pet food. So they can come from what's known as the 4 D's - dead, dying, diseased, or disabled animals.

- by-products - avoid whether named or unnamed. Sometimes these can be good things like the internal organs of an animal (liver, kidney, brain, etc.), which are high in nutrients. This can also include things like necks, feet, intestines, etc. These things are okay in moderation & part of a complete raw diet. But they're not ideal as a main protein source. When the ingredient is simply "by-products", you can't be sure of what you're getting. It also means that the make up of this ingredient may change from batch to batch, which alters the make up of the food.

- BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin - these are all preservatives shown to be toxic in various ways

- food dyes - food dyes have been linked to food allergies in dogs and cats. They're also only found in the lowest quality foods, which have many other problematic ingredients.

- menadione sodium bisulfate - this is used as a source of vitamin K in some foods. Quoted from Dog Food Project: "This synthetic version of vitamin K has not been specifically approved for long term use, such as in pet food. It has been linked to many serious health issues." There's a page specifically for this ingredient, found here - The Dog Food Project - Menadione (Vitamin K3)

Here's what you DO want in your ingredient list!

* named meats (such as chicken, beef, turkey, etc.), meat meals (chicken meal, duck meal, etc.), and fats (chicken fat, turkey fat)

* a meat or meat meal as the FIRST ingredient (The higher on the list the ingredient is, the more weight it contributes to the final product.)

* a minimum of grains (only one or two - for example, you don't want to see rice, then oats, then barley, or all of those grains end up making up more of the food than meat)

* Foods with more than one protein source (chicken & turkey, for example) are useful for including more different nutrients than a food with only chicken.

*** Look at the first several ingredients, up until the first fat/oil listed - those ingredients make up the bulk of the food. Anything listed after that first oil isn't going to be in a very large amount. Usually this includes vitamins & minerals from a supplement, probiotics for digestive health, and sometimes fruits & veggies. The first two things are good to see. Fruits & veggies that far down on the list are usually more to appeal to the human consumer than anything. The amount is so small, they don't do much good. They're not necessarily a bad thing to see, but they won't be much good either.

But I thought meat meals weren't good? Isn't a meat better?

This is a common misconception, that meat meals are lower quality than just meat. In reality, meat meals are actually even better to see on the ingredient list. Meat meals, such as chicken meal, means that the chicken meat was already cooked, then ground down before being added to the food mix, versus uncooked chicken meat being added to the initial mix. Weight in the mix is taken before everything gets cooked down. That uncooked chicken is full of water, which disappears during cooking - the result is that the chicken is actually a smaller part of the final product. With meat meal, because it's already cooked down, there's no water and they must use a greater amount to be able to list it as the first ingredient with the most weight - and that weight won't change as everything gets cooked down into the final product.

III. Hedgehog Foods

- Vets often recommend hedgehog food. Unfortunately, just because it says it's for hedgehogs…doesn't mean it's good. Most hedgehog foods have terrible ingredients, with almost no nutrition. Take a look at the ingredient labels for hedgehog foods once you've read over the above guidelines. You won't find any that fit those recommendations! There's a few that are okay to feed in a mix if you really want to - Sunseed, Spike's Delight, and 8-in-1 Hedgehog Food - but most other hedgehog foods should be avoided.

- If your vet does recommend hedgehog food, just politely let them know you're more comfortable with feeding cat food. They shouldn't have a problem with it or try to argue further that your hedgehog NEEDS hedgehog food - if they do, personally I'd find a new vet. If they accept your decision though, their recommendation of hedgehog food doesn't mean they're a bad vet. Most vets don't have a ton of education on nutrition; not much time is spent on it in vet school. As well, they tend to go with what little (mostly outdated) scientific research is available on hedgehogs rather than long-term experience from owners, breeders, and rescuers that have tried multiple feeding methods & found what works best.

IV. Dog Foods

- It's totally fine to use dog foods too! Most people just tend to gravitate towards cat foods because of the smaller size.

- The same rules listed above for percentages and ingredients apply to dog food too. Dog foods sometimes fit hedgie guidelines even better, since they tend to be lower protein than cat food.

- Small-breed foods sometimes have smaller kibble that may be left alone, small enough for hedgie to crunch up. Almost all dog foods require being crushed before a hedgehog can safely eat it though - the kibble is too large for hedgehogs to easily crunch up. If you're not sure if a food needs to be crushed, watch your hedgie eat - if they seem to have a hard time maneuvering the food into a position to bite down, or have a hard time crushing the kibble to pieces, it needs to be crushed or cut for them. This goes for cat foods as well.

V. Why use a mix?

- We still don't know exactly what hedgehog nutrient requirements are. Feeding a mix of two or more foods offers a wider range of ingredients and nutrients, which makes it more likely we'll have all of the right things included. Many people opt to include as many protein sources as they can in their mix for this reason too - for example, chicken, turkey, and lamb. There's also duck, fish, and some other occasional sources (like rabbit). Dog foods tend to have a greater variety of protein sources including beef, pork, venison, and bison.

- Hedgehogs are notoriously picky. A sudden change of kibble can cause a food strike, which quickly leads to needing to syringe-feed, which is stressful for everyone involved. Having at least two foods your hedgehog is familiar with and will eat gives you a safety net in case one food is recalled or becomes otherwise unavailable.

- Many people become concerned about food growing stale or being wasted when buying so much food, since 5-lb bags are often the smallest size. Food should be stored in air-tight plastic containers or bags to help keep it fresh. You can also store food in a freezer for up to 6 months. Keep in mind that if you've had the food for several months and your hedgehog starts eating less or refusing to eat, it may be stale. Try buying a new bag and see if it solves the problem.

VI. Switching Foods

- Hedgehogs have sensitive stomachs and most will have some stomach upset and green poop with a sudden change in food. Some hedgehogs may be picky and refuse to try the new food, leading to a hunger strike (which can quickly cause liver shutdown and death, so syringe-feeding is necessary after a day or two of no eating).

- When introducing a new food, it's best to incorporate the new food in with the old (or to replace old with new, if that's the plan) over a period of 2-4 weeks. Make sure you move slowly, giving at least a couple days for each stage, and watch your hedgehog for signs of needing to go slower (such as eating less, green poop, etc.). If you plan to switch completely to a new food...

Phase 1: 75% old food, 25% new food
Phase 2: 50% old food, 50% new food
Phase 3: 25% old food, 75% new food
Phase 4: 100% new food

If you don't plan to switch completely, just stop wherever you want the foods balanced.

- Remember that only one new food should be introduced at a time, to watch for allergic reactions. If you're in the process of introducing a new kibble, it's best to avoid any new treats during that time. Treats can come after the main diet is settled.

- Many people are concerned about buying expensive bags of food only to find out their hedgehog doesn't like it. Check with the pet stores around you. I know Petco allows you to return an opened bag of food within 1 month, if you have the receipt, and the bag is still at least half full. Other stores may do the same, so ask before you buy it. You may also be able to get sample bags from pet stores or from the company if you contact them.

I read the sticky...now what??

A lot of people get overwhelmed when it comes to food! This is totally understandable. There are many, many brands and foods in pet stores. It's hard to know where to start even once you know what to look for. Here's a helpful guide, written by Writergirlmel:

1. Read the stickies in the nutrition section. Beginner's Guide to Hedgehog Nutrition and Recommended Foods List, understanding that the recommended foods list isn't comprehensive. It's only a starting point. Many other foods may fall within acceptable protein & fat ranges. You just have to calculate the values.

2. Do some footwork. See what's available in stores near you and what you can easily order online.

3. Decide what your goals are for your hedgehog's diet. I like 4 foods of different brands and different protein sources because I feel like that's the best way to cover all nutritional bases and protect against the food strikes that can happen if a food is suddenly unavailable or altered. You may decide you want to avoid certain ingredients, feed only limited ingredient foods, stick with a single protein source or any number of other things. It's your decision as long as the diet you choose meets the basic known requirements for protein & fat and avoids ingredients known to be dangerous.

4. Crunch the numbers. It took me two days to calculate the DMB values for fat and protein in all the foods I would consider that were easily available to me. From there, I narrowed my list and made my final choices. (Note: To calculate the DMB value, you subtract the moisture content from 100. Then you divide the value by that number. So, for a food with 23% protein & 10% moisture: 23/90=25.5% protein DMB.)

The bottom line here is that we really can't make those decisions for you. You now have all the information to make the choices on your own: what numbers to shoot for, how to calculate it, step-by-step instructions for getting through it. There aren't any real shortcuts. Yes, you can choose foods, and we can tell you what our opinions are -- on a specific mix of specific foods when we're given all the information. But your criteria may not be the same as ours, and you have to be able to do the homework yourself and make your own choice.
VIII. Further Reading

If you've gotten to this point and you don't feel like your brain is exploding yet...congratulations! This can be a lot of information to take in and get the hang of. But if you're really enjoying learning about all of this stuff and want to know more, check out our new Advanced Nutrition Guide sticky. This sticky will discuss more potential issues with various ingredients, more production tricks to look out for such as ingredient splitting, the importance of researching the company behind a food, and explain why we have to be careful with the protein content of dry food.
1 - 1 of 1 Posts
Not open for further replies.