Buggy Treats for Hedgehogs

There are many options available if you wish to feed your hedgehog yummy insect treats. Here’s what you need to know!

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Even though hedgehogs are opportunistic omnivores, as oppose to straight insectavores, insects are still a very important part of a hedgehog’s diet.

Because they have no cecum, a pouch in herbavores that breaks down cellulose for fibre, hedgehogs can’t directly digest plant-based foods for the fibre they need.

Instead, their digestive tracts contain chitinase to break down chitin for fibre, which is found in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans (as well as some fungi).

Even though chitinase does breakdown cellulose to a certain extent, only 38% of cellulose is digested (as oppose to 64-68% of chitin).

So it seems that hedgehogs are built more towards the digestion of insects, but can digest plant-material if insects are unavailable. For this reason, it is important for us as hedgehog owners to try to provide as many insects as our hedgie’s health will allow.

 

Mealworms

Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor) and one of the most common feeder insects, so it’s usually readily available locally as live food. They are also a favourite treat among hedgies!

When I first started buying mealworms for Nestor, they were pre-packaged in little containers and kept in the fridge to slow the life cycle. I was told that they would be fine at colder temperatures for a couple months. But over time, Nestor actually started to reject the mealworms he was offered!

So I made myself a little mini-farm to keep mealworms live at room temperature, and Nestor never rejected his mealworms after that.

Mealworm Farm-min
Keeping live mealworms is as simple as a small mason jar with a bit of cereal grains!

Keeping mealworms is very easy! My mini-farm consists of a 150mL mason jar with about 1/3 of the jar filled with a type of cereal grain for them to eat. I use rolled oats because that’s what I had laying around my pantry, but if you don’t already have anything on hand bran is a cheaper (and the most widely used) option.

That’s it! Put your mealworms in there, and add a small piece of nutritious fruit or vegetable such as carrot or apple as a water source and also to gut-load them, so that your hedgehog gets all the nutrients that their food is eating.

And no worries if you see them go through their life stages, your hedgie can chow down on all of them. The beetles actually have less fat and contain more chitin than their larval form, so don’t think all is lost if a lot of your mini-colony turns to their adult stage.

Some considerations: the lid should remain off and food should be removed after 12 hours to avoid mold appearing in the bedding. You don’t have to worry about them escaping, the beetles can’t fly and neither life stage can climb glass. This is also just to keep them alive, there are more things to consider if you actually want a mealworm farm for the purposes of propagation.

Because they are known to be a bit on the fattier side, it’s best to limit how often they are offered as treats. Exactly how much you should feed them is highly dependent on your hog.

I usually put 3 or 4 in Nestor’s treat dish at a time. Depending on your hog’s weight and health that could be a good number, or you may want to drop that number to 2 at a time.

 

Superworms

Superworms are the larvae of another species of darkling beetle (Zophobas morio). These guys are huge compared to regular mealworms! But they are considered a good treat from time to time because their hard exoskeletons also have a higher amount of chitin than the average mealworm.

Many hedgehog owners don’t feed superworms to their hogs very often, some may even avoid super worms all together. This is because superworms have large, strong mandibles that can hurt your hedgie if bitten.

Their head can also continue functioning after being severed from the rest of the body (scientific fun fact: this is true for snakes too!), so it is a good idea to either crush or cut the head off before offering it to your hedgie.

I’ve read a case where a hedgehog had actually died from the head of a superworm biting through their stomach! This is probably unlikely to happen, but the fact of the matter is it can happen. Best not to take chances.

Superworms and giant mealworms are often confused. Pet stores have been known to pass off mealworms that have been treated to keep them in their larval stage and grown to a larger size as superworms. To test if your store is selling you a mealworm or a superworm, put one in the fridge. A superworm will die at lower temperatures, whereas a mealworm will simply go into a dormant state and can be revived when brought back to room temperature.

They can be stored in a similar fashion as mealworms, with a cereal grain substrate and fruits or veggies for a water source.

 

Crickets

Crickets are probably the second most popular feeder insects next to mealworms. They aren’t as fatty as mealworms are, and they also have a higher chitin content as well.

Cricket Habitat-min
Large cricket terrarium with commercial cricket food. This $12 jar has lasted me 1 year and counting!

Cricket terrariums, as well as cricket food, are commercially available. I found that crickets were escaping fairly regularly when I kept them in a smaller terrarium with the plastic tubes for them to crawl into. A larger container without tubes seemed to mitigate the problem.

You just need to ensure you have some torn-up egg cartons for the crickets to crawl on, and some fresh food and a water source.

You can feed them with fruits and veggies with a higher water content just like with mealworms. I use store bought cricket food that contains food, water and vitamins so that those extra vitamins can be transferred to Nestor when he munches down on them!

 

Other Feeder Insects

Silkworms can be fed to hedgehogs for a nice treat from time to time, but nutritionally they come in the lowest for protein, fat and chitin content. They feed off of mulberry leaves, so they can’t really be gut-loaded either. These guys are probably best reserved for a special treat.

Waxworms have a similar protein and chitin content to mealworms, but their fat content is a lot higher. Like silkworms, they are probably best reserved for a special treat.

 

The Catch-22

Hedgehogs are made to digest insects, so it should be healthy for them to have a lot of bugs to eat, right?

The answer is yes and no. It is healthy for hedgehogs to eat a nice gut-loaded bug, but depending on the hedgehog too many buggy treats can have adverse affects on their health.

If too many fatty insects such as mealworms are fed, your hedgehog could get obese if they don’t run enough to burn off the calories.

But too many leaner insects such as crickets may cause constipation, or in some cases an impaction (blockage in the intestines). Feeding a little pumpkin is usually enough to remedy mild constipation.

So yes, they have the machinery to digest and obtain nutrients from insects. But because of the types of species available as feeder insects, the diet recommendation is still a dry cat food with bugs being used as treats.

There is no hard and fast rule about how much of each species you should be feeding. Every hedgehog is different.

If your hedgehog is a marathon runner and can handle more fat in their diet, then you could probably be a little more liberal with the mealworms.

If you find you need to watch your hedgehog’s fat intake, then you may want to feed more crickets or wait until the mealworms turn into darkling beetles (while keeping watch on their bathroom habits, just in case a little pumpkin is needed).

 

If you are squeamish around live insects, you can always buy dried or canned versions of many different feeder species. Dried insects may cause a little constipation and canned insects will have preservatives, but they are otherwise a nutritious option for your little hog.

Some younger hedgies may not eat insects right away. If your hedgehog is hesitant to try their first buggy treat, you could try cutting one in half.

Nestor didn’t even recognize mealworms as food until I cut one in half for him. They’ve been like hedgehog crack ever since!

It is also possible that your hedgehog may not even care for insects, and that’s ok too! In that case, I would bring it up with the vet to ensure that they are able to stay healthy on the fibre obtained by fruits and vegetables.

 

Does your hog like tasty insect treats? Let us know in the comments section!

Choosing a Staple Diet For Your Hedgehog

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.

 

Diet Pinterest Graphic-min

 

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.

 

Nutritional Content

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:

 

Protein

35% maximum

Fat

15% maximum

Fibre

5% minimum

 

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.

 

DMB Calculation-min

 

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.

 

Ingredients 

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.

 

Choosing One

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!