Before you get your hedgehog, he or she will need food to eat. If you’ve done a little research in the area, you may be aware that a high quality cat food is generally recommended over hedgehog specific formulations. But which one do you choose?
Choosing a staple diet can be one of the most stressful decisions to make. I know, I’ve been there. And the voices in my head were not helping:
“I know to feed high quality cat food, but there are a million choices!”
“What if I pick the wrong one?”
“What if I mess up my hedgehog??”
We all want what’s best for our little friends, and being told as an inexperienced owner to make a choice out of dozens of different foods can be anxiety inducing.
Here, I will discuss the points I consider when analyzing a food and deciding whether or not it’s something I want to feed to Nestor.
Why Cat Food?
Although they do seem to favour insects, a hedgehog is actually an opportunistic omnivore, meaning they will eat a variety of different foods depending on food availability. Dogs are also opportunistic omnivores, but the kibble pieces are often too big to offer to a hedgehog unless they are broken up into smaller pieces. This is one of the reasons why hedgehog owners stick to cat food.
Cats are classified as obligate carnivores, meaning they only eat meat. But you know how food made for hedgehogs isn’t the healthiest choice for them? Well the same goes for cats. Many commercial cat foods contain grains, fruits and vegetables. Not ideal for a carnivore, but it suits our little hedgehogs just fine.
The 3 macronutrients to look out for when analyzing a potential food are protein, fat and fibre. The ideal food for your hedgehog would be within these guidelines:
The percentages reported on the bag don’t account for the amount of moisture in the food, which will vary from brand to brand. So to compare different foods, you must calculate the dry matter basis (DMB) for each nutrient to account for the varying moisture levels.
To find the dry matter basis for each nutrient, subtract the % moisture listed from 100. Then divide the % nutrient listed by this number, and multiply by 100.
So if protein is listed at 30%, and moisture is listed at 10%, the amount of protein in the food is actually 33% based on dry matter.
Even when I’m not comparing two different foods, I will try to keep the nutrient levels close to the guidelines based on the dry matter basis.
Once you get used to the calculation and have done it a few times, it does become quicker to do on your phone.
High quality ingredients are required to maintain our good health, and the same goes for our pets.
This doesn’t mean you have to go through a list of 20 ingredients with a fine-tooth comb for every food you are checking out. Ingredients legally have to be listed in order of concentration, from highest to lowest. The first 5 ingredients in the list make up the bulk of the food, so you can usually get a pretty good idea about the food quality just by looking at the first 1 or 2 lines or so.
An ingredient to avoid is anything labeled as a by-product. A meat by-product is basically anything that is not the meat itself. While some ingredients such as ground bone and organ meat can be part of a healthy diet, there is a lot of power in ambiguity. By being ambiguous in the listing of ingredients, it gives the company leeway to put pretty much anything that is leftover from meat production and the quality can be quite variable.
For this reason, I look for the listing of specific ingredients such as “chicken meal” or “duck meal” instead of “poultry meal”, and stay away from anything listed as a by-product so that I know the source of protein in the food is high quality.
Other ingredients to avoid are any corn or fish products, since hedgehogs can’t digest these easily (when would a hedgehog eat a fish in the wild?). Some foods will have fish oils listed for their fatty acid content, but it is usually so far beyond the main ingredients that the levels are pretty much negligible. Anything with a fish meal listed in the ingredients may cause digestive distress and should be avoided.
Basically, what you are looking for is a food that lists mostly specific types of meat and vegetables within the first 5 ingredients. If it sounds yummy to you, it is most likely a good high quality food for your hedgie.
When actually making a choice between one brand and another, it comes down to a balancing act between high quality ingredients and nutritional content.
Maybe the fat content is a little higher than the maximum recommended, but you have a baby hog that can handle a little higher fat content and the first 5 ingredients are solid.
Maybe there’s a filler in the first 5 ingredients, but the nutrient content is well within the recommendations.
The goal is to find the best food that is possibly available to you. The perfect food doesn’t do your hedgie a lot of good if you can’t obtain it easily.
You are not going to mess up your hedgehog, just do the best you can with what you’re given.
Nestor’s Food Switch
On our most recent check-up at the vet’s office, we found that Nestor is starting to gain a lot of weight and were told that it’s starting to be excessive for his frame. So we were to watch him carefully and ensure that he doesn’t gain much more.
Nestor is a good example of how a food that previously worked in the past may not work throughout life.
When we first got Nestor, the food we were advised to get was a little higher in fat and protein than recommended. But the ingredients were awesome, and he was a very active runner so he maintained a good weight.
Now that he isn’t responding as well to his food in adulthood, I found myself in the same boat as most new hedgehog owners. What food do I feed him now?
It was important to me that I could find his food locally so it would be easy to obtain, so I went one of our local pet store chain to scope out all of the different brands.
I wanted to challenge myself to find a grain-free cat food, because I wanted to mimic what an African pygmy hedgehog would eat in the wild as closely as I could.
So starting in the grain-free isle, I took a quick look at each brand’s ingredient list and nutrient values. Most grain-free brands are super high in protein, so it didn’t take too long to decide whether or not a food was appropriate.
After about 15 minutes or so, I found one brand that would be an appropriate switch: Blue Freedom Weight Control Chicken Recipe. The nutrient levels are well within the recommended range for a hedgehog and the main ingredients listed are all high quality.
A minor downside to this food is that there is a filler listed within the 5 main ingredients. A major downside to this food is that it is only sold in an 11-pound bag! Holy hedgehog, that is a lot of food!
It’s not 100% perfect, but we feel it’s the most appropriate food we can find. You may find another food to be more appropriate and better suited for your little one, and that’s ok.
As long as you try your best to ensure good nutrition and good ingredients, then it is the right choice.
What brand do you feed your hedgie and how did you decide on it? Let us know in the comments below!