Omnivorous, carnivorous, insectivorous or somewhere in between?
When you have so many categories to choose from, it’s hard to see where hedgehogs belong. There are a lot of discussions going on from time to time, discussing if our African Pygmy Hedgehogs belong to the omnivores, the carnivores or the insectivores. So let’s lay out the differences between these three and take a look.
- Omnivores eat basically everything that they come across of. Plants, fruits, small prey animals and sometimes even their own siblings. They have a large instestine that’s about the same lenght as their small intestine and they have a cecum to help digest plant matter.
- Carnivores eat meat only. So prey animals and weaker predatory animals are their main diet. They have no large intestine and no cecum, but they do have a larger small intestine to digest animal matter.
- Insectivores are a subcategory of the carnivores. But instead of meat from prey animals, they solely feed on insects. They have the same bowel system as carnivores.
Both carnivores and insectivores do get some small amount of plant matter in their system through eating their prey, which mainly feed on plant matter. But because the small amount is already digested for some part and is only a very small fraction, it is easily digsted in their small intestines.
Now hedgehogs eat mainly insects, so you would think they are insectivores. But that’s not true. A few recent studies (like The food of the hedgehog in England, D.W. Yalden, 1976) showed hedgehogs eat pretty much everything in their path but the majority of their diet consists of invertabrates. With this knowledge, they are definitely part of the omnivore section. But still, that’s not all there is to it!
As hedgehogs are omnivores and can eat all sorts of edible matter like plants, flowers, insects and other animals, they do have a preferation to insects. There’s no specific study done towards African Pygmy Hedgehogs in their wild habitat, but there are other studies done in more arid habitats like New Zealand. Hedgehogs of Asgard has made an extensive blogpost about hedgehog diet as well, which is great to read and includes these studies. She also explains why hedgehogs are omnivorous insecteaters and a lot more about their basic diet.
History in captive hedgehog diet
No records have been made on the first captive hedgehogs and neither on specimens that came later, so it’s hard to be specific about the history of hedgehogs in captivity in the early days. However, a lot of things have become clear through contacting importers and a breeder in The Netherlands who was one of the first European owners of the species. Unfortunately, contact was very scare with them and there’s only so much that could be made of it. Hopefully, this section can become more detailed later after more contact.
In the early 90’s, when hedgehogs have been imported from the wild towards America and later on Europe and Asia, many thought hedgehog food was pretty good food to give them. There was hardly any research and most there was, was done on European hedgehogs. The foods were filled with insects as well as plant matter, so logically, people started to give it to them. It worked quite okay for the first months, until a large group of them at various breders became ill. Most of them developed Fat Liver Disease, Diabetes or other intestinal issues. Whilst some have died, a few breeders turned to other food sources and their hedgehogs starte to do better and lose some weight where they were highly obese before. Most of the people owning them at this point, started to feed cat food to their hedgehogs as well, limiting the amount of ailments somewhat later on. Presumably, that’s how people came up with feeding cat food to hedgehogs. However, since there’s no record it’s only guessing how it really happened.
Over the years, there has been more and more information coming up about hedgehog diet in their natural habitats and owners became more and more aware of their basic dietary needs. Aside from cat food, people started to give them insects and prey animals to add to their diet. People started to study the ingredient lists of various brands of cat food to see which brands were better to feed than others and there even was a list of analytical components. However their diet slowly started to improve, the ailments didn’t all disappear. Up until this day, the continues change in how people look at their diet is present. After about 30 years, there ha deffinitely been a massive change in how their det is formed. Some still holdig on to feeding cat food and insects, others making a weekly menu for their hedgehog that consists of fresh insects, meat, a bit of plant matter and additives to increase the health of their hedgehogs. With hopefully in the end, a healthier species that’s fully adjusted into captivity.
Basic dietary needs
If you read Hedgehog’s of Asgards blog, you probably have a good idea of how to form the diet of your hedgehog, but we’ll lay it out for you nevertheless. If you rather feed a BARF diet rather than kibbles, please visit this page to read all about it. However, since BARF diet cannot fully comply with their basic needs, please do consider to give kibble on the side, just in case.
Most people feed cat kibble to their hedgehog because the size of the kibble is smaller. But cats are carnivores and have a whole other need than hedgehogs do. Their kibble is not designed to be eaten by pet hedgehogs, so it might be wise to consider what you feed them. Dogs are also carnivores, (Dietary nutrient profiles of wild wolves: insights for optimal dog nutrition?, Guido Bosch, Esther A. Hagen-Plantinga, & Wouter H. Hendriks, 2014) but their kibble has more of an omnivore design. Their kibble is also les salty and less fat, which is a huge win considering how easily hedgehogs get overweight and diabetic. And there are a few brans with smaller kibbles or you could chop the kibbles into smaller pieces before feeding.
Both kibbles however are not perfectly suitable for hedgehogs. That’s the main reason people advice to mix multiple kibbles to make ends meet. Through trial and error, there’s made a list of proteine, fat and fibre percentages that works quite well.
- Protein: 28%-35%
- Fat: 10%-15%
- Fibre: as high as possible
Aside from these, it’s also very wise to look at the ingredients themselves. A high animal matter kibble is always beter than a high plant matter kibble, because hedgehogs digest animal matter a lot better. Overall, the ingredients that are in the kibble the most, are found within the first 3-4 ingredients listed on the package. If you’re in doubt, ask for advice from exprienced owners within your country to help you as they will be able to advice a brand of kibbles.
If you want to feed a fresh diet made out of meat, insects, fruits, vegetables and additives, you might want to take a look at the BARF Diet page, in which a guideline to preparing fresh dishes is given. Barf diet is relatively new in the hedgehog community, but highly appreciated by owners as well as hedgehogs you use it.
Hedgehogs aside from kibbles, need a high amount of (live) insects as well to meet their needs. First and foremost, their bowel system is designed to digest insects and meat. A high animal ingredient kibble is fine as a base, but doesn’t fully do the trick for a hedgehog. About 2-5 insects at least 3 days a week is adviced to keep them healthy. Also variation is key, so don’t stick to only feeding mealworms, but also try a few others on the snack list. Fruits and vegetables can be fed, but it’s adviced not to feed them more often than once a week. In the snack list, you will also find a few trips in regards to additives to solve various issues in relation to their skin and teeth.
Diet related health issues
Hedgehogs are very prone to gaining weight if their diet is not met properly or if you are overfeeding. Hedgehogs are on a healthy weight when the sides of their body are sightly round, but being obese comes way before being unable to ball up. And with being overweight come a lot of health issues, so it’s better to prevent! But a poor diet can also cause other problems in regards to hedgehog’s health. Here’s a few of these common ailments to make you a bit more aware of just how important a good diet really is.
Obesity and diabetes are common ailments that are often seen combined, which makes diabetes presumably (but not excluding other causes) diet related. Diabetes is an illness where the sugarlevel in the bood is not maintained on a steady level, which is due to the lack of insuline. Sometimes the body doesn’t react well on insuline, sometimes it’s not properly produced or not at all produced. This is genetically set but is more prone to come out when there’s a high fat and calorie intake. More about diabetes, the different types, symptoms and treatments are found on this page.
Fatty Liver Disease
This disease is mainly caused by a hedgehog not eating properly. The liver is used to constantly working. When a hedgehog stops eating, the liver stops its task as well and becomes “lazy” and fat. A fat liver when asked to begin working again, will have a very difficut time to do anything and fails to function, causing distress in the animal and a lot of other issues that might become fatal if not treated properly.
Renal problems are one of the main issues in pet hedgehogs, because of poor diet, poor housing or a series of other issues. In reltion to diet however, it’s very easily prevented. Most hedgehogs with renal problems in relation to diet have been fed a poor brand of food for a long period of time and seeing the symptoms is quite hard. It’s not uncommon that owners only come to the conclusion of renal problems when it’s nearly to late, severely damaging the internal organs of their hedgehog and decreasing their lifespan drastically. Feeding a good quality food with high animal ingredients can solve a lot of these issues.