The staple diet for african pygmy hedgehogs should be high quality, poultry based cat biscuits. The first ingredient in the kibble should be meat, not cereal, and protein should be around 30-35% whilst fat should be around 10-15%. You can obviously tweak this a bit if your hog is overweight or underweight. It is recommended to use a blend of a few different brands of kibble, and to have an indoor cat biscuit as part of the mix to help with odour control. Biscuits with the ingredient 'fish meal' should be avoided, although fish oils are okay. I use a lot of different brands in my mix but Royal Canin Light, James Wellbeloved Light, Purina One Light, Harringtons (chicken), Hills Science Plan Light and James Wellbeloved Housecat are usually in there. I wouldn't recommend buying big bags of food for the mix, as the biscuits will go stale over time once opened. Wet cat food is not generally recommended as it is viewed as junk food and concerns have been expressed that it is bad for the teeth. I do sometimes offer tinned applaws chicken as an occasional treat.
Commercial foods such as Spike's that are designed for wild hedgehogs should be avoided, as APH have different dietary needs. There are a few different brands of complete APH food currently on the market in the UK, opinions are divided about these, they can be purchased online.
The kibble should be supplemented with various other healthy 'treat' foods. Meats that can be offered include chicken, turkey, beef, pheasant, lamb, liver and kidney. Pork is usually avoided (salty, fatty). Meats should be cooked without the addition of oils or seasoning. Mine love boiled shredded chicken and mince (lamb, turkey, beef) dry fried with finely chopped cooked veg. Hogs also enjoy cooked egg (don't add milk or butter); I make mine microwaved omelettes with fillings such as veg, chicken and crushed dried meal worms. Organic baby foods with safe ingredients can also be offered. Fish is not recommended by everyone as it is thought to be difficult to digest and there have been reports of some hogs being allergic; ideas about this are changing though. The most up to date guidance seems to be that shellfish and 'fish meal' are definitely off the menu. I have tried my guys with a tiny bit of fresh steamed salmon and tuna steak to no ill effect.
Insects are an important part of the hogs' diet, and live insects can also provide good enrichment. I regularly feed mine meal worms, wax worms, morio worms, grasshoppers, locusts, dubia roaches and crickets. They have also tried silk worms and calci worms and enjoyed these. I cut the heads off of the morio worms as they can apparently bite. Some people feed the faster moving insects to the hogs using tongs, or slow them down by putting them in the fridge for a while. If you don't cope well with live insects or your hog is a bit shy and won't eat them when you are watching then you can kill them by putting them in the freezer. My mum hates the insects so in order to help her I portion them out into little tubs for her before freezing. Live insects should be 'gut loaded' before feeding; starving insects won't be very nutritious. Wax worms eat honey and bran; hoppers, crickets and locusts eat green leafy stuff and maybe a slice of potato or carrot for moisture; and roaches, morio worms and meal worms eat oats and slices of carrot/potato/apple. Special commercial bug foods are also available.
Freeze dried insects can also be offered and dried mealworms in particular are usually accepted. Dried insects are however not as nutritious, and should not be fed in large amounts as this can cause impaction in the gut. You can also buy canned insects online, they are quite expensive so I would advise shopping around for them, the hogs enjoy them although not usually as much as live food. Canned bamboo worms go down well although they are fattening so should not be fed too often.
I mix some dried insects through my biscuit mix, and I feed some form of live food most days. I vary the type and amount of insects that I offer depending on the hog; locusts and roaches are low fat and nutritious and I will offer more of these to chubby hogs and pregnant females. Worms, and in particular wax worms, are fattening and I will feed more of these to small, underweight hogs and lactating females.
Safe Insects include :
Fruit and vegetables should also be offered, although not all hogs will eat them and for this reason I tend to combine them with meat meals. They are more likely to eat these items in general if they are cut into small pieces. Whilst this list is not exhaustive safe fruits include cherries, blueberries, strawberries, apples, banana, kiwi, pear and mango. Citrus fruits and tomato are judged to be too acidic. Vegetables are usually cooked - with the possible exception of chopped bell peppers - and safe veg include carrot, peas, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, sweetcorn, butternut squash, sweet potato and courgette. At the moment some of mine are liking peas, sweetcorn, cherries, pear and apple. Avocado, grapes, raisins, onions and mushrooms are reported to be toxic to APH and so obviously should be avoided. Nuts are judged to be a choking hazard. No junk food, in particular chocolate which is toxic.
APH are presumed lactose intolerant and so dairy should be avoided, with the possible exception of cottage cheese which apparently contains lower amounts of lactose. Some owners opt to offer occasional treats of small amounts of cat milk, goats milk or lactofree milk. Some owners also offer small amounts of plain cooked pasta and rice.
The dry kibble is important in terms of the hogs getting a balanced diet and it should be fed to them every day. Treat foods and insects should not be offered in such large amounts that the hog is not eating its biscuits. As a rough guide for small hoglets I would advise offering no more than two heaped teaspoons of treats per night. It is also worth remembering that babies' digestive tracts are still developing; new foods should be introduced gradually. It can also take time for babies to decide to try new foods, and a new food may have to be offered over the course of several nights before it is accepted.
With regard to dietary supplements most owners put a few drops of flaxseed oil in the food once per week in order to promote healthy skin, maybe more frequently if the hog is quilling or has dry skin. Some owners use coconut oil in the same way. Evening primrose oil is used by some but is apparently harmful in high doses so best avoided. If the hedgehog has a good diet then vitamin supplements are probably not necessary, however problems such as calcium deficiency are apparently fairly common in exotic pets and it is impossible to accurately replicate a wild diet. On the advice of my Vet I sprinkle a small amount of Nutrobal powder in the food around once per week; this supplement contains calcium, vitamin 3d (which helps the body absorb calcium), and multivitamins. When hedgehogs are experiencing stress such as moving home, or when they are recovering from a bout of illness, it can also be beneficial to add a probiotic to their food. In these instances I use a probiotic powder called Avipro Plus, and I also supplement all my hogs with this around once per fortnight.
I cannot stress enough the importance of a good quality, varied diet in terms of not only maintaining your hedgehog in good health but also in helping your little one to enjoy life. It is a good idea to include some calcium rich foods such as lactofree milk, canned insects (which have added calcium), kale and broccoli amongst the treat foods that you offer. Cooked meals can be made for them in batches and then frozen, divided into small tubs or set into portions using an ice cube tray.
Written by Carol Casey (Jaggy hogs)