Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [4/7] - Hedgehogs as pets
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Anything he wants, preferably MEALWORMS!!! -- Velcro Sigh, that's what happens when I ask for advice from a hedgehog. There are finally a number of good quality, properly developed ``hedgehog foods'' starting to appear on the market. While I have outlined these in the following section [6.3], I can see things soon reaching the point where using one of these foods will no longer be the `best' thing to do, but the `only' appropriate course of action. Unfortunately, they are not yet well established or widely available, enough, for me to take that position. Without the benefit of a properly formulated hedgehog food, the next best option is probably ``insectivore food.'' Unless you can get some direct from a local zoo, this is largely a do it yourself job. One caveat I would place on this is to either cook it, or use cooked meat -- never never NEVER use raw meat or egg for hedgehogs. One commercial source of this `type' of food is PawPrint [6.3]. Unfortunately, true hedgehog food is not available everywhere, and some of the `hedgehog' foods available appear to not always be the best option. So the next best widely available thing, is to feed your hedgehogs high quality cat, dog, or ferret food, such as Hill's Science Diet, or Pro Plan (don't use IAMS with hedgehogs that don't have and use wheels -- see below, though even then it can possibly be associated with problems). Both dry and canned food should be provided, as this most closely matches what their natural diet would be like, and wherever possible, it is best to use diet or light types of food -- hedgehogs do not need the concentrated protein of regular/maintenance type foods. Many breeders I have talked to use cat food with very good results, although most have now changed (or are changing) to hedgehog foods, so while it may not be the most optimal diet for hedgehogs, now that other options are coming available, many happy, healthy, long-lived hedgehogs have thrived on cat and dog food since the dawn of pet hedgehogs. That said, there are some problems associated with it (see section [9.5] on wobbly hedgehogs). It seems likely that some sort of vitamin supplement is needed, though exactly what vitamins or trace elements are lacking is not really known, at this time. Up to this point, it has generally been felt that using a diet composed mainly of dry foods is best to help avoid tooth problems such as tartar buildup, and even abscesses. Research into other animals has recently begun to point out that problems such as tartar appear to be more related to the pH (acidity) of the food being used, rather than how hard and crunchy it is. My thanks to Leslie H. for reminding me that this almost certainly applies to hedgehogs as well as other animals. As she also pointed out, the ``issue of hedgie teeth wearing down'' (which can happen in some cases), is likely as much or more of a concern as tartar, and is much harder to deal with, when it happens. Dietary needs for hedgehogs are finally starting to be addressed. One such recent study demonstrated that hedgehogs need more fibre in their diet than we have been tending to give them. Unfortunately, while the study pointed out that more is needed, the question of how much and how best to provide the extra fibre is still up in the air. In general, it is likely wise to offer your hedgehogs some fruit and/or veggies which are high in fibre, as a supplement to the basic diet you are currently using. I can only suggest that you try a variety and see what, if any, your little friends will decide qualifies as a food item. As with any such experimentation, moderation is a good idea -- at least until more is known. The good news is that we are learning, and hopefully hedgehog nutrition will start to move out of the dark ages. Over the past several years, information has come to light about possible problems with feeding IAMS brand cat and kitten food to hedgehogs. Apparently, long term feeding of IAMS cat or kitten food can result in severe, and often terminal liver problems in hedgehogs. The exception to this rule appears to be hedgehogs that have and use wheels -- almost no reports of problems have appeared in hedgehogs like this that are getting plenty of exercise (just a nightly run on a bed is not enough). I have had two reports where the autopsies showed fatty liver disease, where the hedgehogs ate IAMS and also ran on wheels regularly, but so far, only two such case have come to my attention. I do want to stress that this is still largely speculative, and reflects my own observations of the cases I am aware of. I will keep watching this issue, and keep things updated here. The problem appears to be limited to IAMS brand as far as research has been able to tell, at this point, and I want to STRONGLY stress that IAMS is just GREAT for cats (as all 5 of mine will attest to), but was never intended for hedgehogs. If I learn more, I will pass along any additional information. My source for this information is somewhat nervous about potential legal repercussions if they came out and officially stated the problem, due to the position that they hold. This tenuous position will likely remain, at least until having done much more extensive research (actual, direct research into the problem would require the cost of numerous hedgehog lives, I might add, which is one reason why none has been done). As a result of all of this, I have agreed not to list their name(s). That said, I will acknowledge that my source(s) for this information is/are (a) well respected hedgehog expert(s). I leave it to you to decide based on some of the comments that were passed to me. The first sign of trouble in hedgehogs that have been fed this food for extended periods of time is yellowish looking fat deposits under the front ``arm-pits''. Virtually every one of the animals that has been necropsied after death has died of impacted fatty liver disease. If taken off of IAMS and given a [different] quality cat or kitten food, they will recover. Both the fat and the protein should be derived mostly from poultry. [I] have heard of this serious problem from more than 100 owners and it has been documented by vets. If you have been using IAMS, don't panic -- as was pointed out, changing the food will apparently lead to any of the effects clearing up. Also if a wheel is offered and used, the problem is likely to dissipate quickly. From what I've heard, the problem is due to the types of fat, and possibly in conjunction with certain additives, rather than just the absolute level of fat in the food. My thanks to Christine Porter for pointing out this confusion. As noted, the problem generally only occurs with hedgehogs that don't get enough exercise. Increasing the exercise seems to allow hedgehogs to burn this fat that would otherwise build up in their bodies, culminating in Fatty Liver Disease. While all hedgehogs should probably have a proper wheel [5.6] [5.7], a wheel is likely critical to those that are eating IAMS, and can't be switched to a different food. I should also point out that if, indeed, the problem is due in any part to the additives, or the type of fats, rather than just the quantity of fat, then use of lite, or canned food would have no effect on avoiding problems. The following information, from Elizabeth Galante, is somewhat speculative with respect to hedgehogs, but may have some bearing on the fatty liver problems. She described a problem that resulted in the death of one of her cats a few years ago from fatty liver disease: The fat in his body started to accumulate in the liver and the liver could not function normally, because it was overloaded with fat deposits. I guess for a hedgehog if it gets too much fat too quickly then it gets deposited under the arms. If the owner decides to put the hog on a diet then the fat gets processed through the liver. If it gets overloaded it shuts down and eventually the kidneys will also causing the animal to die. It is not unreasonable to consider that a slight diet, or drop in food intake at the wrong moment could trigger the problem. It might be wise to ensure that you don't put your hedgies on a diet at the same time as switching them off of IAMS, or at least to phase it out, rather than going cold turkey. Again, this is speculative, but with so little information to go on in this area, anything can be useful to consider at this point. Hedgehogs not fed a good, balanced, commercial hedgehog food may require vitamin suppliments. These can be very important for hedgehogs to avoid ear, skin, and other problems. The vitamins included in commercial cat and dog food, while good, are not adequate for what hedgehogs really require. It can take some imagination to find a suitable supplement in some places (remember, those intended for rodents are probably not adequate) but the results of a happy, healthy hedgehog are well worth it. I would suggest that for people seeking a vitamin supplement to use, look to those formulated for animals which live on a primarily insect diet, such as some birds. Also, beware not to overdo the vitamins, which can be even more dangerous, than too little. Another diet that has been suggested is to use high quality dog food (especially frozen varieties), with cottage cheese as a supplement. Cottage cheese also makes for a good treat on occasion, even if you don't use it as part of the standard diet. However, do be a bit wary of the Cottage Cheese Zack Lessley reminded me that that hedgehogs ARE loctose intolerant, as are many animals. So use cottage cheese (or any milk based product) with care and sparingly. Zack also notes that you might also want to be wary of Kitten food for the same reason. While many are not going to contain cows milk products directly (cats and kittens are also lactose intolerant with respect to cows milk), kitten food is just not an ideal diet for hedgehogs. Here are a couple of comments on diet from Cathy A. Johnson-Delaney, DVM: I was very glad to see you mention ferret food, as commercial ferret food is far closer to an insectivore/carnivore diet than feline science diet - either growth or maintenance. I like a modification of the diet used by the San Jose Zoo (published in the Journal of Small Exotic Animal Med) - I substitute Bird of Prey diet with the ferret chow (three different brands). Since this time I have learned that some brands of ferret food `can' cause allergic reactions in hedgehogs. The reactions to ferret food are the same as they are with any food that a hedgehog may be allergic to. They break out in a rash. It sometimes appears over the back and can be mistaken for mites or ringworm, but it usually shows up on the underbelly. Nice big, sore red spots all over. -- Bryan Smith Obviously, if any sign of these symptoms does appear, discontinue feeding the ferret food you are using immediately. It would also be prudent for your hedgehog to visit a vet at this point as allergic reactions can be quite problematic. Continuing on with the topic of Ferrit food, now that there are actually a number of decent hedgehog foods available, Zack Lessley pointed out that many Ferret foods are often too high in fats, etc. to be good for hedgies: Ferret food- one of the most common problems with hedgehogs is obesity and fatty liver disease. I have ferrets, and have given my hedgie the food but honestly it's WAY too rich and fatty for them in my humble opinion. Ferrets are very oily little critters that love oily food and oil (see Feretone.. they go crazy for that stuff) -- Zack Lessley This does not imply that all ferret food should be avoided -- far from it -- but that you should be watchful when you start using a particular brand. Here are some more thoughts and suggestions from Nathan Tenny on food and supplements: They should eat fruit, but many don't want to; various fruit-based baby foods seem a little more palatable. Cottage cheese is a good semi-regular source of calcium, but seems to cause diarrhea if they eat too much too often. We haven't yet gotten ours to eat crickets, but we're assured that they will if we keep offering them, and they're supposed to be very good for them. They'll also eat earthworms and pinky mice, and possibly mealworms (though the last are reputed to cause intestinal blockages). Other sources and hedgehog owners I've heard from frequently offer mealworms as treats with no apparent ill effects, but I suspect they might not be a good recommendation as the sole source of food for a hedgehog. Mealworms are used as a treat. So far she won't eat crickets and earthworms cause anointing. She will eat the occasional flake of oatmeal which is substrate for the mealworms and will chew and then spit out Kale. -- Katherine Long One caution that has come up is that you should remove and discard any dead mealworms from the container you keep them in. It is possible for the other mealworms to develop and pass along dangerous bacteria as recounted here: [I] Observed [my] hedgehog ``Bandi'' had not consumed either food or drink from overnight Monday into Tuesday morning. Peeked under her blanket to see a very lethargic and distressed animal. She remained in a ball and hissed, refused to uncurl, and observed her ``smacking'' her lips and kind of allowing her tongue to just loll out weakly. [I] Got her into the vet within a couple of hours and it was determined that she had very high levels of bacteria in her intestine (found after putting her out and doing a rectal swab.) Cause appears to be a common bacteria associated with decaying insects (mealworms in this case) and it overtaxed her system. Antibiotics [were] prescribed and am pleased to report she was her normal self by Wednesday afternoon! It was the vet who noted all insects carry the bacteria, and all hedgehogs also have a quantity of the bacteria, but our vet said the decay process makes it a little harder on the hedgehog gut to handle. -- H. Swaggert All in all a very wise precaution, and an example of someone who was observant enough to know when their hedgie needed help. The result was a happy ending and good information for all of us. While we are discussing mealworms, a number of people have expressed worry that it might be necessary to cut the heads off or otherwise kill mealworms before feeding them to hedgehogs. This is due to the fact that feeding them to various herps who swallow their food whole, can result in the still live mealworms causing injury or death by biting into or through the stomach lining. This doesn't apply to hedgehogs as hedgies will chew up mealworms quite thoroughly -- the chances of a hedgehog swallowing a still live mealworm are nil, as anyone who has watched an apparently ravenous hedgehog tear into a mealworm treat. Did I remember to say watch out for your fingers...? The following thoughts on proper diet for hedgehogs were sent along to me by Willard B. ``Skip'' Nelson, DVM. While I agree with his suggestions, including limiting cat food, I would also like to point out that all of the breeders I've talked with, and heard about have had their herds thrive on a diet of cat and dog food, though more and more are now using proper hedgehog food, as it becomes more widely available. I think the answer is to aim as close to the ideal as you can, but know that your hedgehog can do quite well on the basic cat/dog food diet, just watch out that your hedgehog doesn't become a hedgeball. That said, let's take a look at what Dr. Nelson has to offer: Zoos have worked for years on insectivore diets and have yet to agree on the best mix, but they do not bother trying to raise, breed or maintain hedgehogs on cat food, as is being touted around currently. Indeed, they rarely use more than 20 or 30% cat food, even in small cat diets, but that hasn't stopped the ferret and hedgehog people from trying. I see obesity as the main problem in cat food diets, but one day we will have more data. Dr. Anthony Smith recommends a mix of bird of prey diet, diced fruit, vegetables, some dog or cat food, crickets and mealworms. He notes diets including mice and other exotic ingredients, and cautions feeding proper Calcium Phosphorous ratio of 1.2-1.5:1. Pet trade magazines attempt to promote cat food, claiming that ``although insectivorous, the hedgehog could be considered as a carnivore under captive conditions.'' What does it do, change its dietary needs when brought into a domestic setting? I doubt it! Drs. Wallach & Boever describe their diet including a variety of insects, worms, small vertebrates, carrion and small roots and plant material. They recommend zoo diets with a maximum of 30% commercial cat or dog foods. The rest is meats, insects and mice. I recommend an insectivore diet from Reliable Protein, 70-105 Frank Sinatra Drive, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270-2202. But I don't recommend that clients write for information and then try to decide whether or not to feed it. The public is being hoodwinked into believing that they are Ph.D.'s in nutrition and can read a label list of ingredients or a crude analysis and make meaningful decisions, it's much more involved than that, and I don't know who has written any good material on the ``pop nutrition'' craze to put it into proper perspective. Dr. Nelson's final comment is even easier to apply to other pets, and even ourselves. It's probably best to look for recommendation by a veterinarian association, when trying to determine quality, rather than trying to second guess what is good based on what ``someone who wants to sell you something'' says. Also, remember, what's healthy for you, might be really bad for your pets (and, um, er, vice versa -- just in case it isn't obvious). Melissa Kallick managed to track down the contents and analsys of Reliable Protein Insectivore Diet: INGREDIENTS Porcine By-Products, Fish Meal, Poultry By-Product Meal, Shrimp Meal, Wheat Flour, Dried Bakery Products, Crushed Roasted Peanuts, Dried Kelp, Fructose Sugar, Corn Syrup Solids, Water, Spirulina, Lactic Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Calcium Propionate (Preservative), Iodized Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Concentrated Carotene, Calcium Chloride, Propylene Glycol, Vitamin E Supplement, Taurine, Vitamin A Acetate with D-Activated Animal Sterol (source of vitamin D-3), Vitamin B-12 Supplement, Riboflavin, Niacin, Calcium Pantothenate, Choline Chloride, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex (source of Vitamin K activity), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Thiamin Mononitrate, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Selenite, Manganous Sulfate, Zinc Sulfate, Copper Sulfate, Ethylene Diamine Dihydriodide., Magnesium Sulfate, P-Amino benzoic Acid, Folic Acid, Sulfur, Biotin, Natural and Artificial Flavors. Now with taurine added ANALYSIS Crude Protein Min...20.00% Calcium (CA) Min.....2.00% Crude Fat Min........7.00% Phosphorous (P) Min...1.00% Crude Fiber Max.......6.00% Iron Min.............0.005% Moisture Max........36.00% Taurine Min..........0.003% Ash Max...............9.00% Melissa noted there are definitely some iffy items on the ingredients list, at least by human standards, but more importantly, she noted that hedgehogs apparently don't find the taste terriby appealing. However, hedgies can be amazingly fickle and will suddenly decide to devour a food they used to despise (and yes, turn their noses up at food they used to love). She also noted that the Reliable Protein have another interesting item: Finally, there is one interesting product on their web site: Freeze dried Asian tree ants and eggs. Here is the info: Ants available - Freeze Dried or Frozen Guaranteed Analysis Crude Protein.....55.5 % Crude Fat.........20.5 % Crude Fiber.......12.0 % Ash................4.0 % Moisture...........8.0 % INGREDIENTS Asian Tree Ants and eggs...100 % That might make a good treat for hedgies, and there is some more fiber... -- Melissa Kallick One thing you should never feed hedgehogs is raw meat. Hedgehogs have an amazing tolerance for naturally occurring toxins, such as those produced by salmonella. This means that if you feed your hedgehog food that is or becomes tainted by salmonella by accident, it probably won't bother your prickly little friend any. However, the chance then exists, that your hedgehog might self-anoint and you then hold him, or he might lick your hands, the result being that you come down with it. If you do, this is NOT the hedgehog's fault, it's yours for not taking proper care. Sorry for being a bit testy about this, but if anyone remembers the outcry over salmonella carrying turtles in the early 70's when turtles were banned everywhere, and many died for their dangers. Hedgehogs, unlike these turtles, are not inherent carriers of salmonella. While there has been a strain traced to hedgehogs, unlike the turtle situation in the 70's most hedgehogs that have been tested have proven to be free of salmonella. The cases which did occur, were very isolated, limited to specific groups, and happened some years ago. It is very important to avoid the same thing that happened with turtles from being applied to hedgehogs, where the situation is very very different. Hedgehogs are insectivores, and as a result are essentially carnivorous, as opposed to Guinea pigs, rabbits, and most small rodents, which are generally much more vegetarian in nature (although many are somewhat carnivorous, often in the form of insects or scavenging to some degree). The quantity they eat will vary depending on their age, sex, amount of exercise, etc., and, of course, on the type of food you are feeding them. A rough rule of thumb is somewhere around 2 tablespoons worth per hedgehog per day. More if they are young, pregnant, or nursing. Less if they are tending towards becoming a hedgeball. Hedgehogs do tend to eat at least twice per day. In effect, their stomachs don't hold all that they need in one go, so after their dinner, they tend to rest for some time while they digest what they've eaten, then it's back to the dinner bowl for another helping, usually later in the night, or early morning. This is what leads to the two main ``active'' periods of late evening and early morning. One last point, feeding a hedgehog a purely vegetarian diet is nothing short of deliberate cruelty. The proteins and nutrients necessary to keep your hedgehog healthy cannot be gotten from a purely vegetarian diet, so please don't try it.
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