A hedgehog’s dietary requirements need to consider foods that are safe and not toxic to them or make them obese. I spent a lot of time researching the safe foods for our pygmy hedgehog to make sure he would remain healthy
What foods are safe for hedgehogs? Hedgehogs can eat a variety of food safely including dry cat biscuits, wet cat food, cooked eggs (scrambled and boiled), lean meats (chicken and turkey), insects (mealworms and crickets), certain fruits (apples, pears to bananas) and vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens to lettuce).
Any choice of food needs to be checked to make sure it is suitable for pygmy hedgehogs as some can be toxic, like grapes, others can cause digestive problems like dairy products and some a choking hazard like carrots (when not served correctly).
1. Poultry-based dry cat biscuits
Poutry-based dry cat biscuits are the staple diet of most hedgehogs kept as pets. Using the indoor variety of dry cat biscuits is highly recommended as this has low fat and just about the right mix of protein.
The outdoor variety is designed for cats who would expel a lot of their energy outdoors running, hunting and playing. The indoor variety of these cat biscuits is designed for a cat that wouldn’t get the level of exercise outdoor cats would get. This is why there’s less fat in this type of cat biscuits.
Cat Biscuits allow pygmy hedgehogs to sort of clean their teeth, as the biting down on the biscuits they do, can remove any plaque on their teeth thereby minimising on dental problems later on. It’s amazing to see how they chomp down on their cat biscuits and the strength they have in their little jaws.
We also have another brand of dry cat biscuits which we give as treats. These dry cat biscuits have around 20% fat, so are not suitable as their regular staple food but work wonders as an occasional treat.
We only feed our hedgehog the chicken variety of dry cat biscuits. There are fish flavoured ones too and these should not be given (as a minor ingredient fish seems to be ok but you should keep an eye on your hedgehog just in case it’s not agreeable). The duck variety ones should also be fine.
We tend to buy two different brands of dry cat biscuits just in case there is a product recall, we’ll still have dry cat biscuits available. The brand’s we use have also been checked by us for previous recalls as too many recalls indicate poor food manufacturing standards.
2. Wet cat food
Wet cat food is cat food in tins and should only be given in moderation as the protein content of this type of food is not substantial enough for pygmy hedgehogs. As this food is wet in that it contains water, the protein value is further minimized as more of it can be expelled out instead of being used.
Wet cat food is fine in moderation but shouldn’t really be used as their staple diet. The last time we were at the vet’s, I noticed they used wet cat food as a treat and Hynee loved it.
We did ask the vet’s assistant what flavour the cat food was and they reassuringly said it was chicken. We needed to make sure it wasn’t solely fish-based as this doesn’t seem to agree with pygmy hedgehogs (I have found no proof of this other than it makes their poop smellier, however, I still don’t use fish-based foods where fish is a major ingredient for Hynee).
3. Cooked Eggs
We’ve given our hedgehog scrambled egg on occasion and he’s not shown any adverse effect to it. We’d made it by cracking an egg on a microwaveable plate and then cooking it according to recommended microwave timings. Then we’ve cut out some of the egg and cut this into a myriad of little pieces.
It’s nearly scrambled eggs but not quite, as cooking an egg this way limits us having to use any oils as we tend to normally cook our eggs using a refined mixture of olive oils in a frying pan.
Don’t use butter as it’s a dairy product and can be difficult for them to digest because of their lactose intolerance.
Boiled eggs would also be fine as there’s nothing really added. Just make sure any serving of eggs has been allowed to cool down sufficiently to avoid the hedgehog’s mouth from being burnt.
Avoid giving them raw eggs as this increases the risk of them getting Salmonella poisoning and only give them cooked eggs free off seasoning, dairy and oils.
4. Lean meats
Lean meats like Chicken and Turkey are great for pygmy hedgehogs as long as nothing else is added like oils, seasoning or dairy products like butter. Dairy products are problematic as pygmy hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and digestive problems can occur if they eat these products.
Meats like chicken and turkey must not be served raw and should be cooked. This is to minimise on the risks of any dangerous bacteria like Campylobacter, Salmonella and E.coli. Bacteria on the chicken can cause food poisoning and potentially be fatal.
Cooking kills of this bacteria and it’s important too to wash your hands when you are handling raw meat as dangerous bacteria may remain on your hands. Which isn’t just bad for you but if you handle the hedgehog with these bacteria, it’s also dangerous for them too.
Washing your hands after handling hedgehogs is highly recommended as pygmy hedgehogs can also carry salmonella and there have been many cases of salmonella illness in the US. Please don’t kiss your hedgehog as this seems a sure-fire way of getting salmonella into your system from your hedgehog.
Pork and Beef
Pygmy hedgehogs do like pork but this should be avoided as it’s quite fatty and salty, making it a candidate for obesity.
Beef can also be given in moderation as long as it’s cooked and cooled. Beef and pork also contain phosphorous and this can cause bone issues (more explained in mealworms section below).
My preference would always be chicken as it’s our mainstay for a roast each week and it’s a leaner meat, so need to worry about Hynee putting on weight.
Meat must always be considered as a supplement to their main diet of dry cat biscuits as meat doesn’t have all the nutrients that dry cat biscuits have.
Processed meats like hams, corned beef, bacon, sausages to hot dogs should not be considered as these can have a lot more fat and be highly processed with chemicals such as nitrates. Other ingredients like breadcrumbs in sausages may not agree with them and some fried varieties of these foods are also a big no-no as their greasiness makes it difficult for pygmy hedgehogs to digest.
Insects are favourite of pygmy hedgehogs, as they have evolved to be primarily insectivores. Care should be taken to ensure they are only fed these in moderation, as the phosphorus levels in insects, can build up in the hedgehog leading to bone problems.
It’s important not to give pygmy hedgehogs self-caught insects or insects from bait shops. As these type of insects may contain toxins or other nasties harmful to hedgehogs. It’s best to play safe and but your insects from a reputable pet shop.
Pygmy hedgehogs also like to eat other insects like waxworms, beetles, grasshoppers, maggots and millipedes. Whilst most of these will not be readily available, insects can be provided with a ‘live’, freeze-dried or canned.
Crickets can be a difficult one for hedgehogs as the ‘live’ ones are tricky for them to catch with the added headache of them jumping out of the cage (unless you have a vivarium with vents), so many owners opt for the freeze-dried ones.
The freeze-dried ones come in a jar and can be given in moderation. If we chose to give him freeze-dried crickets, we would probably give him a maximum of two a week.
WARNING: Freeze dried insects can cause faecal impaction!!!
Insects provide chitin from their exoskeletons to the pygmy hedgehogs and this chitin can help in keeping their spines healthy.
Mealworms can be given but only in moderation as they are very fatty and can also upset the calcium balance in pygmy hedgehogs.
Excess consumption of mealworms can lead to weight gain, with the problems associated with obesity and bone damage from calcium being leeched from their bodies.
Mealworms are described in the same context as what candy is to humans, in moderation they are fine but anything more than moderation results in weight gain and obesity health issues.
The calcium to phosphorous balance can be upset by eating too many insects, as mealworms are a source of phosphorous and too much phosphorus in the diet can lead to calcium being leached out the hedgehog’s body.
This calcium is expelled instead of it being used to repair and strengthen their bones. Leading to painful fractures and bone density issues, making it extremely painful for them and shortening their lives considerably.
I would not want to wishbone damage on any hedgehog and advise strongly to be careful with mealworms and other insects that can cause problems for hedgehogs when they are fed to them too frequently.
We limit mealworms to no more than a few a week. We may give one or two more after our pygmy hedgehog has had a bath, as a reward for being a good boy but this only twice a month at most.
Pygmy hedgehogs can eat certain fruits in moderation as fruit can contain a lot of sugar, leading to glucose spikes.
Pygmy hedgehogs will eat bananas but care should be taken to not give them overripe bananas. Overripe bananas have more sugar and giving these to hedgehogs on a regular basis could lead to obesity.
It’s important to cut bananas into smaller digestible pieces and to make sure the seed bit (the dark part at end of banana) is not given to hedgehogs.
We always give Hynee bananas under supervision when he’s just woken up and we’re in the process of cleaning his cage.
Bananas can be messy and any banana ending up on their fur and feet tends to dry and requires a minimum of a foot wash to remove.
Apples are fine for hedgehogs as long as the peel is removed and the apple is cut into very small pieces to avoid any choking risk.
It’s best to choose an organic variety of apple as these will have had fewer pesticides applied and to make sure the apples are thoroughly washed before serving. The washing may not get rid of all the pesticides but may help in reducing it.
We have apples growing in our garden but haven’t given these to our hedgehog. It’s something we plan to do once we know they are safe to eat. The only positive spin about these apples is there’s been no pesticide applied so they are truly organic.
I would follow the same advice given for apples for pears too. Make sure you buy organic pears, wash them and cut into small pieces to avoid any choking risk before they are served.
Softer pears may be more suitable than the harder ones as they should be easier to eat but do make sure they aren’t overly ripe as the over-ripeness leads to the sugar content being higher.
Strawberries are deemed by many to be safe for hedgehogs to eat. When we’ve served these in the past, we’ve cut them into small pieces and given them to Hynee under supervision.
As strawberries contain a lot of natural sugar, we severely limited how many times we would introduce strawberries to his diet. As regular consumption could lead to weight gain and obesity.
Word of warning about strawberries, they always seem to come top in the lists of fruits with the highest pesticides applied. So maybe it’s better to choose a different fruit that’s safer?
Peeled blueberries are fine for pygmy hedgehogs in moderation. Again make sure you buy the organic varieties to minimise on any pesticide and the peeling should reduce pesticide contamination further.
Hynee likes blueberries a lot and we give him a berry or two each month. They’re very easy for him to chew on but the sugar rush from blueberries means they should be served in moderation as they cause hedgehogs glucose to spike.
Melons like Water Melon are fine as long as they are served in moderation, with only the fleshy fruit part being served in very small pieces.
Other varieties of melon-like Honeydew and Cantaloupe are also considered by the wider community to be safe for them to eat. I would check this out first just to make sure.
Melons should be fed to a pygmy hedgehog in moderation as melon contains a lot of natural sugar. Melons do also have high water content and this helps dilute the overall sugar content a little, but care should still be taken in size and frequency of servings.
Peaches, Kiwi Fruit, Plums, Papaya and Cherries
Peaches, kiwi fruit, plums, papaya* and cherries don’t seem to have had any bad press in the wider community of pygmy hedgehog owners. Even so, I would still do your own research and get guidance from a veterinarian expert.
We haven’t given our hedgehog these fruits but if we did, we’d take care to remove any seeds, cutting the fruit into very small pieces. Cherries and plums would need to be peeled, with all the fruit washed to reduce any pesticide residues.
These fruits are quite high in natural sugar and should only be given in moderation.
*In the USA a small amount of papaya is made from genetically modified seeds. Environmental Working Group’s advice here is to try to buy organic varieties.
Certain vegetables can be given to pygmy hedgehogs but they find these more difficult to digest than fruits.
We have occasionally given Hynee Broccoli which has been cooked by steaming and been left to cool. We will cut the broccoli into very small pieces and give them to him under supervision.
The cooking makes the broccoli more digestible and easier for him to break down. Raw broccoli isn’t really recommended as it’s tough for them to chew on.
I always make sure I’ve cleaned the broccoli before cooking just to get rid of any bugs. Broccoli tends to have fewer pesticides used (appears generally midway in tables for pesticide use) and organically sourced broccoli should ideally be used as it will generally have minimal pesticides sprayed on.
Fresh spinach, washed to remove any bugs and cooked without seasoning or oils, is another good choice, as long as it’s cut into small digestible pieces. I don’t tend to use any tinned spinach as this can contain seasoning and I’m only interested in spinach with nothing else added to it.
Like spinach, kale is popular but recently I’ve noticed kale has appeared higher in the pesticides usage charts which have put me off buying this not just for Hynee but also for the rest of the family.
Other leafy greens like Arugula, Swiss Chard, Bok Choi, Dandelions (not wild from a garden), Collard Greens and Micro Greens are thought to be fine for pygmy hedgehogs to eat.
Pumpkins, Asparagus and Swedes
Asparagus, pumpkins and swedes all look like good choices for hedgehogs, as long as they are cooked without any oils, butter or seasoning. It’s important to note, pygmy hedgehogs have problems digesting vegetables as they find it difficult to breakdown the cellulose.
Giving them fruits (bananas, apples, pears, strawberries, blueberries) is a better option as these are easier to digest than vegetables for them.
We used to give our hedgehog the occasional cooked carrot but he didn’t seem to like these much, so we decided to give him something else. If you are looking at feeding your hedgehog carrots, make sure they are cooked without any seasoning or oils. They are cooled and cut into very small pieces before being given to your hedgehog.
Lettuce and Cabbage
Romaine lettuce is one variety many owners tend to fees their hedgehogs. Other varieties of lettuce don’t have much information about them in their favour. Some owners I know express concern at the limited nutritional value of lettuce and don’t think it’s a good choice.
Cabbage is also a popular choice with many owners and provides plenty of vitamins. Washed and cooked without any seasoning or oils is probably the best option.
Zucchini (courgettes), Green beans and Squash
Green beans, Zucchini and Squash are also mentioned in many owners forums as being acceptable. I have not fed any of these to our hedgehog but these vegetables may be fine if prepares correctly.
Be careful with Baby foods
Some owners have been known to give human baby food to their hedgehogs and whilst I don’t see this as an issue. Extra care needs to be taken to research the ingredients of the baby food before giving it to a pygmy hedgehog.
Anything baby foods with rice in them seem to be a problem, as a lot of research is pointing to increased levels of arsenic being present. This isn’t good news for pygmy hedgehogs, it’s also bad news for babies, having arsenic enter their bodies.
Rice has higher arsenic for the following reasons:
- it is generally grown in areas where there is high arsenic content;
- these high arsenic flooded areas make the arsenic disperse into the water from the ground easily; and
- rice more readily absorbs arsenic than other crops, even in areas of low arsenic.
To minimise this arsenic risk to humans, it’s recommended to soak rice overnight in plenty of water and then cook the rice with more water than what people do normally use. As much as three to five times as much water as rice. This helps reduce the amount of arsenic present however the rice in baby food isn’t soaked or cleaned as thoroughly as this.
The industrial processes for making baby food are less likely to soak rice for as long or use large amounts of water for cooking the rice as both of these processes would add huge costs. It’s a shame that something so potent as arsenic is entering our food chain.
If we were going to feed our pygmy hedgehog baby food, we would check the ingredients and definitely avoid those with rice.
Non-organic baby foods are most probably going to contain pesticide residue for some of the ingredients used, so it makes sense to choose the organic versions from a reputable supplier.
I always find pesticide research inconclusive as it most tests the pesticides individually and comes back as it being safe for humans, but what about the combined effects? If there are ten, twenty, thirty-plus pesticides in food, what are the combined effects of these pesticides?
Maybe one or more of these pesticides combine with others to become toxic? This is why I always try to reduce the pesticides we eat as a family and that includes the youngest member of our family, Hynee our pygmy hedgehog.
Heat treatment processes used in the manufacturing of baby foods could also introduce carcinogenic risks. Carrots in baby foods that have been heat-treated can have an increased carcinogenic risk as this creates benzene as a by-product of the heat treatment process.
Personally I would refrain from giving baby foods as part of pygmy hedgehogs staple dietary requirements and only give this as a treat. I think dry cat biscuits are the best food for them and anything else must be given in moderation.
Avoid Hedgehog formulated foods
Be wary of foods specially formulated for hedgehogs as these can generally be tailored for the larger wild hedgehog (like the European garden variety) and not the smaller pet hedgehogs.
The larger European hedgehog will most probably hibernate and needs a diet high in fat whilst the African pygmy hedgehog won’t hibernate as a pet and therefore doesn’t need a large amount of fat.
This would certainly end up making them obese and having health problems as a result. No level of running on their exercise wheel will get rid of the additional fat these specially formulated foods will provide.
Another problem I foresee with this food is the high-fat content makes it difficult for pygmy hedgehogs to stop gorging on this type of food, almost as though they are addictive to it.
This is one of the reasons why wild hedgehogs keep coming back regularly to gardens where this food is left for them because it tastes nice and is quite addictive.
I’ve also noticed some of these food varieties don’t have enough protein and this could prove detrimental in their health. As wild hedgehogs will supplement their diets with a lot of insects and amphibians, whilst pygmy hedgehogs diets are a lot more constrained.
So solely relying on this specially formulated food for the larger hedgehog isn’t advised for their smaller pygmy relation.
I’ve recently come across some specific pygmy hedgehog formulated food mixes and these initially seem fine but checking the ingredients shows a lot of vitamins have been added. Overloading pygmy hedgehogs with vitamins mixes isn’t something I consider a good idea, so I would avoid these type of food mixes.
What food is toxic to hedgehogs? Grapes, Raisins, Onions, Celery, Avocados are just a few foods pygmy hedgehogs should never be given. Other foods like dairy-based can cause digestive issues as hedgehogs are lactose intolerant.
Can hedgehogs choke? Yes, they can choke if the food pieces are too big for them or are too sticky and get lodged in their airway. When they are choking they tend to paw at their mouths or worse case they can stop breathing.