In the wild, African Pygmy Hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders. They’re usually described as insectivores, but really they’re omnivorous.
Insects do form the basis of a wild African Pygmy Hedgehog diet, but they’ll also eat worms, slugs, snails, bird eggs, spiders, crabs, fungi, amphibians, vegetation, millipedes, groundnuts, grass roots and even small snakes.
African Pygmy Hedgehogs are also surprisingly good at coping with poison, happily eating scorpions and dangerous amphibians. They will even use a mixture of poison and their own saliva to cover their quills as an extra defense measure against predators.
African Pygmy Hedgehog Food in Captivity
It’s important to provide African Pygmy Hedgehogs with a varied diet to best simulate what they would eat in the wild. These little mammals require a diet low in fat and iron but high in protein. They also need a substance called chitin found in the exoskeletons of insects, but fiber may be an effective substitute.
African Pygmy Hedgehog Cat Food
Most owners feed their hedgehogs cat food. This is a great base food for a healthy African Pygmy Hedgehog diet, but care does need to be taken. You should provide premium dry cat food rather than wet, and you’ll have to take a good look at the ingredients.
Ideally you want to provide cat food with at least 30% protein and under 12% fat. 10-12% fiber is also a good benchmark. It can be tricky to meet all these requirements at once, which is partly why offering a variety of food is so important.
Your best bet will be to mix together two or three different high quality, low-fat dry cat foods. The cat foods should be meat-based (chicken is perfect) rather than fish-based, as fish may cause digestive problems and lead to stinky feces.
You might find that a lot of cat food contains far too much iron and fat. These formulations are designed for more active cats and are not suitable for African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Look for ‘light’ cat foods or mixtures designed for indoor cats instead.
Most products labeled as ‘hedgehog food’ actually make a very poor diet for pet hedgehogs. This is because they’re designed to meet the dietary requirements of wild European hedgehogs that can be enticed into gardens. African Pygmy Hedgehogs have very different needs, so you should avoid most commercial hedgehog foods.
However, there are now some mixtures specially created to be perfect African Pygmy Hedgehog food. These products should be even better than the cat food mixtures that breeders and owners have been using for years. Unfortunately African Pygmy Hedgehog food products are not yet stocked in most pet stores, but they’re easy to find online.
Our favorite is the 8in1 Ultra-Blend Select Hedgehog Diet. If you’re looking for African Pygmy Hedgehog food, this is what you should buy.
African Pygmy Hedgehog Treats
Occasional treats can be a big help in giving your hedgehog the varied diet it requires. Some of the best treats for African Pygmy Hedgehogs are:
- Lean, cooked chicken, turkey, lamb or high quality mince (only in very small quantities because of high fat content)
- Small amounts of fruit and vegetables (see below)
- Feeder insects such as crickets, waxworms, mealworms and cockroaches (alive or dead, but again beware of high fat content)
- Scrambled or hard-boiled egg
- Some owners provide very occasional dog food or pinky mice (certainly not necessary)
African Pygmy Hedgehog Fruits and Vegetables
You should only feed African Pygmy Hedgehogs fruits and vegetables in small quantities. It’s also good to know that not all fruit and veg is healthy for hedgehogs, so you do need to be careful.
Some of the best fruits for hedgehogs are apples, bananas, tomatoes and various berries.
Fruits to avoid include raisins, grapes and avocados.
Healthy vegetables for hedgehogs include beans, peas, mashed potato, cooked carrot, broccoli and squash. African Pygmy Hedgehogs can also be fed dark leafy greens such as kale, leaf lettuce and spinach.
You may find that your African Pygmy Hedgehogs have little appetite for fruit and veg, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to eat a few pieces now and then. The best approach is usually to mix the greens in with cat food. Then your hedgehog will normally gobble them up with the rest.
What You Should Never Feed an African Pygmy Hedgehog
There’s a fairly long list of foods that need to be avoided if you don’t want to harm your hedgehog. Some of the foods that most often cause problems are as follows:
- Raw eggs or meat
- Dairy products (all hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so dairy products will give your hedgehog stomach trouble)
- Wild-caught insects or bait from a fishing store (they may be affected by pesticides/insecticides)
- Anything sugary that isn’t fruit
- Canned or processed foods
When to Feed Your Hedgehog
Most owners feed their African Pygmy Hedgehogs once or sometimes twice per day. As nocturnal creatures, hedgehogs are most likely to eat their food if you offer it in the evening.
Be aware that African Pygmy Hedgehogs in the wild can eat a third of their bodyweight in a single night. More active hedgehogs may eat more than you would expect.
If an African Pygmy Hedgehog perceives that food seems to be scarce, it may go into hibernation. This should always be avoided with these animals, as hibernation can cause various health problems and is very dangerous for your beloved hedgehog.
You might find that your hedgehog enjoys snuffling around and searching for food buried in its bedding. Hiding food takes a little more time on your part, but it greatly increases the amount of mental stimulation a captive hedgehog receives.
One of the most common health problems for captive African Pygmy Hedgehogs is obesity, often accompanied by fatty liver disease. It’s not hard to tell when a hedgehog is overweight – they’ll develop a double chin and have fat drooping over their knees. An obese hedgehog won’t even be able to roll completely into a ball.
If you see any signs of obesity in your hedgehog, immediately reduce the fat content of the food you provide. You should also encourage extra exercise – some wild African Pygmy Hedgehogs walk several miles in search of food every night. If they don’t have an exercise wheel to use, get one straight away. We always recommend the Kaytee Giant Silent Spinner Wheel – every pet hedgehog should have one of these!
If you’ve got any other questions about looking after African Pygmy Hedgehogs, take a look at our African Pygmy Hedgehog care sheet, where all your questions will be answered.