An African Pygmy Hedgehog’s diet is extremely important and cat food can provide a good source of nutrition to keep hedgehogs healthy. We researched the different types of cat food available for our hedgehog.
What is the best cat food for hedgehogs? The best type of cat food for hedgehogs is dry cat biscuits as these are low in fat (less than 15%) and have a good balance of protein, at around 30%. Wet cat food can also be given in moderation but this food doesn’t contain enough protein for hedgehogs.
Any choice of cat food must provide a nutritious basis to keep the hedgehog healthy and keep them away from becoming obese, as some hedgehogs can tend to gorge themselves on food.
A healthy diet helps keep serious medical conditions at bay by reducing the chances of them becoming obese (you can also check out my article What foods are safe for African Pygmy hedgehogs?). Now let’s look at how to choose the best cat food.
1. Choose a dry cat food
During our initial investigations into the best cat food for our hedgehog, we were advised by the breeder to use dry cat food (some people call this type of food kibble but I’ve always associated that word with dog food) as it makes their poop smell less.
Great, we thought, as we were planning on keeping the hedgehog in our main family room and having less of poop smell would be most welcome.
It’s only later when we were chatting with our vet as to why dry cat food is better than wet cat food, were we actually educated in why dry cat food was actually more nutritious for hedgehogs than wet cat food.
Wet cat food has less fat as does dry cat food but more worrying is the quantity of protein with some wet cat foods we looked at providing only 12% protein, far less than what the vet had recommended as a safe level at around 30 to 40%.
Wet cat food simply wouldn’t provide the nutrition needed for hedgehogs so whilst it could be used sparingly possibly as a treat, it could in no way become part of a sustained dietary regime.
Please remember to store dry cat food biscuits properly as they can go stale quite quickly, so we always make sure the box is closed once we’ve finished adding them to our hedgehog’s food bowl.
2. Choose indoor dry cat biscuits
As these types of cat biscuits are lower in fat because they are designed for cats who are going to be sedentary and not venture out as much. Meaning they will be less likely to burn off the excess calories and therefore need less fat as otherwise they would end up just building up their fat reserves and becoming obese.
Likewise, when African Pygmy hedgehogs are kept as pets they will use less energy than they would in the wild and whilst they won’t necessarily be sedentary, they will still most likely spend large amounts of the night time on their running wheels.
So it’s safe to say they’ll get enough of their energy needs from the indoor type dry cat biscuits than the outdoor type ones. Otherwise, the additional fat content of the non-indoor type cat biscuits could cause them to become obese.
Indoor dry cat biscuits also tend to be higher in fibre content as they are designed to help move hairballs easily along the cats digestive tract (indoor cats spend more time grooming, producing more hairballs) and this additional fibre content can help in keeping the African Pygmy Hedgehog’s digestive tract moving too, making it easier for them poop.
3. Choose chicken or turkey cat food
We usually tend to choose poultry-based dry cat biscuits like chicken or turkey as this type of meat is leaner and provides a good source of protein. The brand we use has recently changed and added some vegetables to the mix and after checking this out with our vet, we’re comfortable in knowing no harm will come to our hedgehog by the addition of these vegetables.
We avoid the pork-based dry cat biscuits as this meat is rather fatty and salty, so whilst it’s tasty it doesn’t meet our requirements in ensuring a well-balanced diet for our hedgehog, the same holds true for the beef-based biscuits.
Fish based biscuits are generally considered a no-no as fish is deemed not to be good for pygmy hedgehogs and the tuna and salmon based dry cat biscuits, therefore, are not a good choice for pygmy hedgehogs. There is no proof I can find about why fish is not good for pygmy hedgehogs other than they don’t eat this in the wild and it creates smellier poops.
4. Choose cat food that’s low in fat
We are careful to ensure the dry cat biscuits new give Hynee as part of his staple diet is low fat-based. By choosing the chicken-based biscuits the fat content comes in at around 10%. This is more than enough to ensure he gets enough fat and keep him from being coming obese from his diet alone.
Occasionally give him ‘Dreamies’ but only as a treat as these contain 25% fat compared to the normal cat biscuits we use which only contains only 10% to 15% fat. Giving him 25% fat cat biscuits compared to the 10% to 15% fat ones on a regular basis will only lead to obesity and put him at risk.
The general guidelines for fat content are between 10% to 15% and we are within these guidelines with only 10% fat.
Too much fat in the African Pygmy Hedgehog’s diet will result in obesity and fatty liver disease, the latter can lead to more serious health issues and potential liver failure. We are confident by keeping within the recommended levels of protein and fat, will help to prolong the life of our hedgehog Hynee.
5. Choose cat food with the right amount of protein
Protein is good for pygmy hedgehogs as long as it’s kept within safe limits and the general consensus is to avoid any products with more than 40% protein.
My personal recommendation is to make sure the protein content of dried biscuits isn’t higher than 40% and I’ve done some reading around why this is the case.
In the wild pygmy hedgehogs will eat a lot more protein especially considering a large proportion of their diets would constitute insects, which would provide a lot of protein as well as fat.
However it’s important to understand this source of protein in the wild, isn’t dried protein it’s protein surrounded by water, just like we humans are constituted of between 50-65% water, insects will also be constituted of a relatively larger proportion of water as well.
When the insect is eaten by the African Pygmy Hedgehog in the wild, not only is the protein been eaten, there’s also water involved. This water allows any excess protein to be easily removed from the body, I don’t know the exact mechanics of how this is done but the liver and the kidneys are involved.
It’s almost like an overflow mechanism for proteins and stops the African Pygmy Hedgehog’s organs being damaged by too much protein being eaten and not being able to be removed, leaving it in a toxic state in the liver and kidneys. The last things we’d want to do is damage the internal organs of our pets.
With dried cat food, there isn’t any water, so in essence, it’s almost like eating concentrated protein, so the percentage of protein in the diet needs to be less to make it safe to eat.
We could argue African Pygmy Hedgehog’s drink water and this could offset any issues with too much-concentrated protein but this I think is a bit risky to assume they would be smart enough to drink water with their food each time so it’s better to be safe than sorry.
The dry cat food biscuits we use are typically around 35% protein-based, providing enough protein for Hynee’s dietary needs without straining his organs and causing them damage. When we do provide Hynee with additional protein-based food like roasted chicken, we only do so irregularly and not do not make it a regular occurrence.
6. Choose cat food suitable for African Pygmy Hedgehogs
It’s important to understand the distinction between the dietary requirements for hedgehogs and African Pygmy Hedgehogs, as the difference in diet is critical in maintaining the health of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. So what’s good for a normal hedgehog isn’t necessarily going to be good African Pygmy Hedgehogs.
I’ve seen hedgehog food which contains ingredients like peanuts that’s fatty, not a good choice for African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Or ones that contain a lot of protein and fat and vegetables like peas and corn, the phosphorous content of the latter being problematic in leeching calcium out of the body.
So whilst this type of food may be good for ordinary hedgehogs, they may be dangerous for regular consumption with pygmy hedgehogs.
Normal hedgehog food is designed for wild hedgehogs where animals have plenty of opportunities to expel plenty of energy and eat a variety of other foods to complement their diets.
It’s not designed for African Pygmy Hedgehogs and care should always be taken when choosing food to make sure it’s suitable for African Pygmy Hedgehogs.
7. Choose cat food with no multiple recalls
Make sure the cat food hasn’t had multiple products recalls in the last 5 years, as this may indicate the manufacturing process used by the manufacturer of dry cat food biscuits isn’t good enough and needs to be changed many times.
Well established big brands can provide a consistently good source of cat biscuits compared to smaller companies, as the larger ones are geared up to deal with demand fluctuations, have processes that are well established and are good at sourcing ingredients based on their buying power, so there’s no need to compromise on quality.
Watch out for cheaper brands and some imported brands, like those from the far east where quality control processes used by these companies may be poor or even non-existent. With the ingredients, they use is substandard or not listed in the correct combinations.
It’s vitally important we know exactly how much nutrients our hedgehog is getting to ensure his well being isn’t being compromised. Cross-contamination in production can also be a problem, just like how nuts can enter the production line of foods for humans where multiple foods are processed on the same line, the same can happen with cat biscuits.
Use two different brands
We tend to use two different brands of dry cat biscuits as this helps minimize any impact of food recalls, as the only half is contaminated and we can carry on giving our hedgehog more of the other cat food biscuits which aren’t subject to a product recall.
I’ve checked to make sure the two different brands we are using are actually two different companies and not the same company producing two different brands. As otherwise, this would be a pointless exercise in trying to minimise any issues from recalls due to manufacturers issues with their production quality.
8. Choose cat with no dangerous additions
Some manufacturers add additional ingredients to cat biscuits which are generally not a problem for cats to eat but maybe a problem for hedgehogs. It’s always very important to read the nutritional labels of any food you plan to use, to see if there’s nothing suspect in the ingredients.
Vegetables are often added to dry cat food biscuits to provide additional vitamins and minerals however care should be taken to appreciate what these extra vitamins and minerals can do if they are eaten every day.
For example, if the cat biscuits contain vegetables providing extra Vitamin A then care should be taken not to feed any additional vegetables that could provide more vitamin A. Vitamins such as A and D are difficult for hedgehogs to expel when they are ingested in excess and can become toxic to the liver and kidneys.
Another example would be the addition of spinach. This contains iron and too much iron can cause problems to the liver and reduce the oxygen absorption of blood. It can also act as a way of removing oxalates out of the body by binding with calcium and being excreted out of the body.
This is one of the ways the oxalates concentrations are kept in check to ensure they don’t end up turning into kidney stones but this benefit of calcium mopping up on oxalates also leads to calcium being expelled, so it becomes deficient and calcium is needed to help maintain strong bones.
I tend to avoid cat biscuits which have carrots and sweet potato, as both are a good source of vitamin A but too much vitamin A is toxic and not easy to expel. I would look at supplementing these food types instead of relying on it to be part of their diet through the dry cat biscuits.
Some also have potatoes added which are high in carbohydrates turning into sugar, so not good for keeping obesity in check. I’ve seen peas too which are high in carbs, phosphorous and phylates, with phosphorous being particularly bad for the loss of calcium.
So whilst certain vegetables could be considered safe for hedgehogs to eat in moderation when they are added to their daily diet as part of their cat biscuits, then the moderation becomes daily eating of these vegetables.
This isn’t good for the hedgehog, so for us, the cat biscuits we use, provide the staple nutrients for our hedgehog and we get to decide how else to supplement our hedgehog’s diet and thereby controlling the moderation of what we give him.
Watch out for milk
Some cat biscuits can have milk added, as these cat biscuits are designed for kittens to help them during their growth. Milk isn’t good for hedgehogs as they are lactose intolerant and giving them something every day that could upset their stomach isn’t a good idea. I always meticulously check the ingredients of any food item I’m considering for our hedgehog and it’s a good habit to form.
9. Choose cat food with good fiber content
Fiber is also an essential part of the hedgehog’s diet and like humans, they need this to bulk up their stools so it’s easy to pass. Impaction of the faeces can become a serious problem and require an operation, if the stools become hard inside the pygmy hedgehog.
The dry cat biscuits we use have fiber added so we don’t have to worry too much about introducing this in other ways to our hedgehog’s diet. I can report too, our hedgehog doesn’t have any real issues with his poop.
Don’t add supplements to cat food
Many people can fall into the trap of assuming pygmy hedgehogs need the same supplements we humans do. It’s important to understand they are a hedgehog and not human, therefore their dietary needs are different to us humans. The dry cat food biscuits should be able to provide a large proportion of their needs with the occasional addition of a few fruits and vegetables giving them a dose
I’ve read about many people supplementing their African Pygmy Hedgehog’s food with vitamin drops like Vitamin D and I find this very difficult to understand. As naturally, they are a nocturnal species, so how would they in the wild be able to manufacture vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), if they are never out in the sun in the daylight?
I’d assume they’ve evolved to survive on minimal amounts of this vitamin, gained partially through leafy green foods they forage. A few leafy greens once in a while would be more sufficient instead of using vitamin supplements added to their cat biscuits.
This can be dangerous as excess vitamin D doesn’t get expelled from their body easily as other vitamins when they are given at inappropriate levels. This inability to expel these vitamins can lead to the vitamin building up in their livers, ending in larger concentrations becoming toxic.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin requiring fat to be able to be utilised effectively. When I take vitamin D supplements, I also take them with Gouda cheese, as the fat in the cheese is good in unison with vitamin D. Likewise, putting a hedgehog on a very low or minuscule fat diet, will result in some vitamins not being absorbed, so it’s important to give them a good variety of food.
The cat biscuits can provide a safe level of fat and other food types can provide the vitamins and minerals they need. Do not consider using fish especially oily fish as a possible source of vitamin D, as African Pygmy Hedgehog’s and fish don’t tend to agree with each other.
I’ve spent a lot of time researching the best cat food for pygmy hedgehogs, to make sure they can remain healthy.
Dry indoor cat biscuits are the best cat food for pygmy hedgehogs as not only are they low on fat but also provide a decent amount of protein along with fibre to keep a hedgehog healthy and limit their chances of going obese.
Can you feed an African Pygmy Hedgehog cat food? Yes, it is highly advisable to feed pygmy hedgehogs a high-quality dry cat food such as cat biscuits that are low in fat and have a good amount of protein.
Can African Pygmy Hedgehogs eat wet cat food? Yes, pygmy hedgehogs can eat wet cat food but generally, wet cat food doesn’t provide the nutrients needed to keep the hedgehog healthy. With some wet cat foods not having enough protein or fat or having too much protein and fat.
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