I’ve always thought of hedgehogs as predominantly insectivores in the wild feeding on insects and it made sense to give them insects like mealworms to eat when they are kept as pets too. I did a bit more digging in this area just to make sure this was the right thing to do.
Are mealworms OK for hedgehogs? Mealworms can be eaten by hedgehogs but only in moderation, as giving them too many mealworms on a regular basis is bad and can damage their bones and teeth. Mealworms contain phosphorous that can leech the calcium out of bones and teeth, leading to Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
Mealworms are likened in the same way as candy and as eating too much candy can cause health problems in humans, likewise eating too many mealworms can cause health problems for hedgehogs.
How often should hedgehogs eat mealworms?
Hedgehogs should eat mealworms once or twice a week but never exceed four mealworms in any week. Four mealworms a week is enough to give a hedgehog a treat but more importantly, provide them with a source of chitin to keep their spines healthy.
It’s important to understand the problems mealworms can cause hedgehogs. Let’s take a look at the common issues.
1. Mealworms are addictive
Mealworms are highly addictive to hedgehogs and in the video below, you can see as soon as our hedgehog Hynee gets the scent of mealworms (even though it’s the box we keep the mealworms in), he tries moves quickly to what he thinks are yummy mealworms.
2. Mealworms are fattening
It’s all too easy to take the lazy option and feed mealworms to hedgehogs. But they need a properly monitored diet to ensure they remain healthy.
Eating too many mealworms introduces too much fat into the hedgehog’s diet and if this is not controlled, the hedgehog will gain weight.
3. Mealworms can cause Metabolic Bone Disease
Eventually, they will end up becoming obese and this will create a whole host of problems associated with being overweight, such as diabetes, fatty liver and kidney problems.
I’ve seen many YouTube videos where people are feeding mealworms in large amounts to their hedgehogs which is extremely dangerous.
Feeding too many mealworms to hedgehogs is an act of animal cruelty as the suffering they will have endure as a result will be immense.
They will end up having to put down by a veterinarian to ease their pain from Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD).
What is metabolic bone disease in hedgehogs?
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) is the loss of bone density as a result of losing calcium from the bones. Feeding hedgehogs a diet with a higher ratio of phosphorus to calcium can result in the phosphorus leaching the calcium from the bones and weakening them considerably.
The hedgehogs bones and teeth weaken considerably as they lose calcium and this can lead to bones and teeth breaking.
Calcium to Phosphorous (Ca:P) ratio
As mealworms have a large phosphorus content respective to how much calcium is in the mealworm, this skewed calcium to phosphorus ratio means the additional calcium needed to make up the difference between the calcium from the mealworm against the phosphorus from the mealworm will have to come from the hedgehog.
Bones and teeth are good sources of calcium and it’s these that source of calcium that is used.
This leads to calcium being expelled with the phosphorus from the bones and teeth. Over time as more and more calcium is expelled from the hedgehog’s body, the more damage to their bones and teeth occurs. Leading to painful fractures and breakages.
“Any diet should provide balanced calcium to phosphorus levels with a ratio of 1.2-1.5:1.0 to prevent signs of calcium deficiency. By keeping hedgehogs on a predominantly mealworm diet will lead to metabolic bone disease as the calcium is depleted from the pygmy hedgehogs body.”
Why can’t hedgehogs eat mealworms regularly?
Every time mealworms are eaten by hedgehogs, they introduce phosphorus into their diet and this can be very dangerous as the phosphorus eaten needs to bind with calcium. If this calcium isn’t available in the required amounts in the mealworms or the hedgehogs diet, calcium from the hedgehogs bones and teeth will be used.
This calcium will be expelled from the hedgehogs body through their urine and faeces. Leading to calcium being depleted in the bones and teeth, causing Metabolic Bone Disease.
Eating mealworms every day in larger amounts will end up causing a lot of damage to the hedgehog’s bones, so it’s highly recommended to reduce the number of mealworms fed to hedgehogs each week to sensible safe numbers.
It’s not just pet hedgehogs who suffer from Metabolic Bone Disease, in Europe, many wild hedgehogs end up with this disease because people leave out mealworms and other insects for them to gorge on.
Leading to a crisis point of hedgehogs struggling with their damaged bones to survive in the wild. This opens them up to predators who they otherwise could protect themselves against but now struggle as a result of this devastating disease.
Do mealworms contain calcium?
Mealworms do have some calcium, slightly more if they have been bred by being gut fed additional calcium sources. However, this still doesn’t reduce the ratio of calcium to phosphorus.
Some people have put small pieces of vegetables that have calcium nutrients like broccoli in with their mealworms so once eaten by the mealworms the calcium builds up in the mealworm.
How do you feed hedgehogs mealworms?
The best way to feed mealworms to a hedgehog is to put the mealworms in an area where the hedgehog can hunt for them. By hiding them, the hedgehog can during their nightly forage for food, exhibit the hunting skills they use in the wild and sniff out mealworms.
We used to put them into his cage at night but the mealworms would wriggle under the bedding. As soon as Hynee picked up their scent, he would be like a hedgehog possessed, knocking things over as he tried to get the mealworms.
We also hide the mealworms in a makeshift tunnel when it’s not too cold to make our hedgehog hunt for them.
When it’s warmer we put some mealworms in his cage just as he wakes. He does the customary check of his cage for food after he’s had a pee and poop. It’s at this point he will come across the mealworms.
I try to put them in different areas of the cage and put one or two under the bedding, but I do remove his wheel, feeding bowls, house, heat mat and anything else that may either fall or cause problems before putting any mealworms on the bedding.
I never put mealworms in the cage when our hedgehog is not supervised as he can run a mock looking for them, like a bull in a china shop. He’ll end up knocking things over in the middle of the night and could injure himself.
Do hedgehogs eat live mealworms?
It is best to give hedgehogs live mealworms to eat but in moderation only. Live mealworms can be put in the hedgehogs cage, allowing the hedgehog to come out in the evening and during their nightly foraging in the cage, they can hunt the mealworms down, catching them and eating them.
We feed our hedgehog a couple of live mealworms once a week and as soon as he can smell them, he’ll dart across to them to devour on them. Even when he lost some of this teeth to dental problems and had problems chewing mealworms, he would still try to eat them.
Are dried mealworms good for hedgehogs?
Dried mealworms contain hardly any water and this is not good as it can be a problem for hedgehogs when it comes to digesting the mealworms. The dried mealworms can be come difficult to pass through their digestive system leading to faecal impaction, causing a blockage and making it difficult for them to defecate.
We always feed our hedgehog, Hynee ‘live’ mealworms as these are better for him compared to freeze-dried mealworms. This is because the ‘live’ mealworms contain water, making them easier for him to digest.
The freeze-dried mealworms as the name suggests are dried, so contain hardly any water and this can be a problem when it comes to digesting these freeze-dried mealworms.
As the freeze-dried mealworms can become difficult to pass through the digestive system for some hedgehogs leading to impaction, where they cause a blockage in the hedgehogs digestive tract.
Impaction can be fatal to hedgehogs and must be avoided at all costs, so ‘live’ mealworms or canned mealworms (as long as they have not been dried) are better options to try to avoid impaction.
I also think like many others, hedgehogs like eating the ‘live’ mealworms, as they may not smell differently like the canned mealworms. It’s almost as though they know instinctively the ‘live’ mealworm is fresher.
Always check with canned mealworms that nothing else has been added to try to preserve them, as this preservative could be detrimental to a hedgehogs health.
Do mealworms need to be refrigerated for hedgehogs?
Mealworms need to be stored properly and refrigerating them is highly recommended. As otherwise, they can change from being larvae into beetles. Refrigeration prolongs the larvae stage of the mealworms and keeps the fresh for the hedgehog to enjoy.
We keep our mealworms in our conservatory during the winter, as it’s very cold. This causes the mealworms to go dormant and when we take then out of their container, after a few minutes they start to move again.
In the summertime, we put the mealworms in a small refrigerator in the conservatory and this keeps them dormant throughout the warmer months.
It’s may also be a good idea to put small amounts of carrot pieces in with the mealworms when they are taken out of the refrigerator, as the water and vitamins in the carrots can replenish the mealworms.
As well as providing vitamins indirectly to the hedgehog when mealworms are given.
Mealworms can form part of a hedgehogs diet but only if they are given in moderation. As they are not only extremely fattening but because of their Calcium to Phosphorus ratio being skewed to more Phosphorus, can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease.
Why are mealworms bad for hedgehogs? Mealworms are fine in moderation when a few are given each week. However, feeding them mealworms every day can lead to Metabolic Bone Disease.
How many crickets should I feed my hedgehog? Crickets like mealworms contain a higher phosphorous to calcium ratio. Meaning a couple of crickets a week should be fine but more than this could lead to Metabolic Bone Disease.
Husbandry and Medical Management of AfricanHedgehogs by Masako Mori (Iowa State University) Susan E. O’Brien (Iowa State University)