It’s common for new hedgehog owners to ask, “What fruits and vegetables can hedgehogs eat?” Today we will answer this, and many other questions related to why fruit, vegetables, and roots are a natural part of your hedgehog’s diet. We’ll share the benefits of individual foods and give some tips and ideas for encouraging your hogs to partake!
Do wild hedgehogs eat fruit?
A few studies have looked into the diet of wild hedgehogs and researchers have determined that hedgehogs do consume fallen fruit as part of their foraged diet. That is – they intentionally eat fruit as part of a rich and varied menu.
The benefits of fruit include fiber, antioxidants (which protect against many disease processes), phytochemicals, and vitamins.
Do wild hedgehogs eat roots?
Like fruit, wild hedgehogs will forage for roots as part of a varied omnivorous diet (see the wild food table in this link). Wild diet is usually verified by both observational and post-mortem studies of wild hedgehogs. Roots are often rich in minerals and phytochemicals and are a good fiber source.
Do wild hedgehogs eat vegetables?
It is thought that wild hedgehogs eat vegetation incidentally as part of their general foraging experience. This means that they are not actively choosing to eat vegetables – but will consume them as part of the process of picking up other food items.
Green leafy vegetables (in particular) are rich in phytochemicals and minerals and have a great calcium to phosphorus ratio, helping to maintain healthy bones.
I heard that hedgehogs can’t digest plant fiber – is this true?
As a large proportion of a wild hedgehog’s diet is insects, they are adapted to digest insect fiber (called chitin) that makes up the exoskeleton of a hard-bodied insect like a grasshopper, mealworm, or beetle.
Their digestion in the presence of ONLY cellulose (plant fiber) as a fiber source is less efficient, but certainly not absent. However, no-one would suggest plants as the primary fiber source for hedgehogs.
As for the digestibility of plant fiber itself – it’s largely indigestible. But there are ways of breaking down the cellulose in plants to make the nutrients more accessible to your hog. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
It’s known that hedgehogs require high dietary fiber (around 15%), and since their main food in captivity is cat food, we need to make a comparison. Cat’s need about 3.5% fiber or less, so most cat foods are low in fiber. Therefore, it’s important as hedgehog guardians to consider how we can make up the shortfall.
Ideally, this would all come from eating lots of insects, but as our domestic hedgehogs have much lower activity levels than their wild relations, insect consumption needs to be restricted to prevent obesity.
This is where fruit, roots, and vegetables come in, and can help to increase fiber intake – while at the same time adding health-giving vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals to the diet.
Which are the best fruits for hedgehogs?
Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are all excellent in terms of nutritional value. They have properties which help to protect against disease and aging, primarily their high levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals – naturally occurring nutrients and chemicals, which help to protect cells from damage.
Being sweet and soft, they are also attractive in terms of scent and palatability. Some of the nutrients they offer are vitamin C, E, and K – and fiber.
Other soft fruits
Nectarine, peach, papaya, and mango are all sweet, soft fruits that hedgehogs can enjoy. Always remove all pips and stones, just feeding the flesh. These fruits are loaded with vitamin C, carotenoids, and antioxidants.
Papaya is low in sugar so a good choice if your hog has weight issues.
The kiwi is an unusual fruit as its flesh is green due to chlorophyll. It is rich in vitamin C and phytochemicals, as well as good amounts of vitamin E and K, potassium, and copper. Make sure you leave the skin on as this is full of nutrients.
Sweet, red cherries may only have small amounts of most micronutrients, but they have loads of antioxidants which help to protect against disease processes and aging. Always cut them in half and remove the stone before feeding.
Bananas contain a fair amount of fiber, vitamin C and B6, folate, potassium, and manganese. They are rich in antioxidants and have many benefits including supporting a healthy immune system and heart. Vitamin B6 is needed for energy regulation and healthy blood.
This is a good fruit to begin with for your hedgehog. Make sure that it’s ripe and sweet, and feed in small chunks.
All melons are high in water content, so they make a great fluid source when it’s hot or when hogs are off their food. The flesh contains carotenoids (antioxidants), which convert to vitamin A in the body.
Apple and pear
These are two fruits that contain good amounts of fiber and small amounts of almost all the vitamins and minerals, but most of the health benefits are due to their good levels of phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Feed when ripe and choose sweeter varieties. Cut into small chunks. Can be steamed lightly to help digestibility and palatability. Always remove the seeds which contain amygdalin – a substance that converts to cyanide if the seeds are chewed.
Which are the best roots for hedgehogs?
A great source of vitamin A, this sweet root is useful for its wealth of carotenoids and antioxidants, which are thought to help protect against cancer and heart disease, and slow aging.
Carrots contain good amounts of fiber and small amounts of most vitamins and minerals. They can be grated and mixed into dry or wet food or cooked first and fed in small chunks.
These deep purple root vegetables have significant properties beyond the widespread of minerals that they contain. The pigmentation and nitrates they contribute boast several health benefits.
These include anti-inflammatory effects and is thought to reduce the growth rate of some tumors. They can be grated and mixed into dry or wet food or cooked first and fed in small chunks. May cause pink urine.
The turnip is a cruciferous vegetable (like broccoli and cauliflower) and has similar health benefits. It is a good source of fiber, vitamin B-6, folate, and copper amongst other nutrients.
This root can be grated and mixed into dry or wet food or cooked first and fed in small chunks. It’s likely to have a protective effect against cancer.
This sweet, starchy orange root is packed with fiber, vitamin A, B group, C, manganese, potassium, and antioxidants. Good for protection against cancer and the aging process.
You can safely feed sweet potato raw, but we would suggest cooking it because it tastes much nicer! This root can be grated and steamed, then mixed into dry or wet food. Alternatively, it can be roasted first and fed in small chunks.
Another cruciferous vegetable, which boasts excellent levels of vitamin C. Like many animals, hedgehogs can make their own vitamin C, but studies involving rats suggest that there is still a benefit from dietary intake, especially as animals age when natural production dips.
Rutabagas can be grated and steamed, then mixed into dry or wet food. Alternatively, it can be boiled first and fed in small chunks.
Which are the best vegetables for hedgehogs?
Many greens, but especially kale, dandelion leaves and spinach (for their excellent calcium to phosphorus ratio), are excellent to feed to the hedgehogs who find them acceptable. Greens contain soluble and insoluble fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients and a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
Feed them steamed for improved digestibility and remove all stems and thick veins. Chop finely and mix into the dry mix or wet food.
Broccoli and cauliflower
The most well-known of the cruciferous family, these vegetables are recognized as some of the most potent in terms of antioxidant and anti-tumor formation properties. They also have plenty of soluble and insoluble fiber.
Chop broccoli finely and leave to sit for 45 minutes before steaming as this allows the enzyme activity to activate the protective compounds. If you cook it whole and then cut it up, the enzymes (which are released by chopping or chewing) will be denatured and the benefits will be lost.
Pumpkin, squash, zucchini, and cucumber
These winter and summer squashes are great additions to the diet, being rich in fiber and antioxidants. They all contain carotenoids which are the precursor of vitamin A, necessary to keep your hedgehog’s eyes healthy.
All but cucumber can be fed roasted and mashed, and cucumber is best fed grated raw. It’s primarily made up of water so is a good hydration food.
Red bell pepper
Red peppers are the ripe form of the vegetable so are more easily digested than yellow or, especially, green. They also taste sweeter so can be more appetizing. Red pepper gives the benefits of vitamin A, B6, Folate and a hit of vitamin C.
As well as being a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C also helps with the absorption of iron. This, and the B6 and folate all help to prevent anemia.
Peas and sweetcorn
Though not true vegetables they are often well-received by hedgehogs and are certainly worth a mention. Peas are legumes, while sweetcorn is one species of corn, generally grown to be harvested and eaten fresh (rather than dried).
Both have good amounts of fiber and a range of micronutrients. They can be fed cooked (easier to digest), whole or mashed and mixed into dry or wet food.
What fruit and vegetables can’t hedgehogs eat?
Because hedgehogs have a somewhat limited ability to digest plant material, they should not be fed unripe fruit or raw fibrous vegetables (such as celery and kale). We would also not recommend feeding just vegetables at any meal.
Chopping, cooking and mixing in small amounts with the main diet, all help with digestion to make sure that your hedgehog gets the benefits of fruits and vegetables, though many ripe fruits can be fed raw without a problem.
There are a few fruits and vegetables that are often mentioned as potentially toxic to hedgehogs because they are toxic to some other species, and – as yet – toxicity for hedgehogs is unclear.
Therefore, it’s important to be cautious. The following fruits and vegetables should not be fed because of their toxicity to other animals:
- Avocado – The skin and pit contain the toxin persin, but sensitive animals may have issues with the flesh too.
- Grapes – Toxic to dogs, but the toxin is as yet unidentified. Raisins are even more toxic as drying them concentrates levels of the toxin. However, this article sources the hedgehog chapter in the Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook for Veterinarians by Johnson-Delaney CA, as suggesting a food mix that includes grapes.
- Apple and pear seeds, peach, apricot, plum, nectarine, cherry and mango stones – Contain a compound (amygdalin) that converts to cyanide in the stomach. Poisonous to many small animals because the amount needed to poison them is so low as it’s based on body weight.
- Raw potatoes – Best avoided as they may contain the toxin solanine. Sweet potatoes make a better nutritional option anyway.
- Onion and garlic – Poisonous to cats and some breeds of dogs. N-propyl disulfide in the allium family of vegetables damages hemoglobin in the animal’s blood and prevents the normal transport of oxygen around the body.
- Citrus fruits and tomatoes are often considered as too acidic, but I can’t find any evidence as to why this might be so.
How can you make plants more appealing and digestible?
Whether feeding fruit, roots or vegetables start slowly and build up the frequency and amount you offer. Even in the long term, about a teaspoonful is enough plant-based food each day.
Fruit should be ripe to just overripe and – except for berries and bananas – should always be presented without the seeds, pips or pit. This is because these parts of the fruit often contain plant toxins like persin and amygdalin (which converts to cyanide when chewed). They are the plant’s defense against their seeds being eaten!
Fruit should be cut into suitably sized pieces and fed alongside your hedgehog’s dry food and insects. However, if your hedgehog is reluctant you can try halving blueberries (or small chunks of banana) and mixing a few pieces into the dry mix. Alternatively, mix into some high-quality wet cat food for a meal replacement.
Roots should be fresh and as clean or organic as possible. To improve digestibility, you may choose to cook the roots first as this helps to breakdown the cellulose (fiber) and baking or steaming are good ways to do this. Cooking also releases odorants which can make the food more appealing.
Try offering small chunks of the root, but if your hedgehog is fussy mash a little cooked root into a wet food meal. Alternatively, you can try grating the uncooked root before steaming lightly and then mixing it into the dry mix.
Green leafy vegetables have a lot to offer from a nutritional perspective and it’s worth trying a few varieties to see if your hedgehog will eat them. Remember these would not be eaten deliberately in the wild so keep the amounts small and shred finely.
Cooking will break down the cellulose and make them easier to digest. Just feed the green leafy parts and remove any thick veins and stalks (which are extremely difficult to digest).
Mix a few strands amongst the dry food, but if your hog is not keen, try blending a puree of cooked greens and storing in an ice cube tray. Then you can mix a little into their wet meals until your hedgehog gets used to the taste.
However, vegetables are not an essential part of the diet, so if you are only successful with fruit and/or roots, please don’t worry.
We hope you now feel you have good knowledge of great fruit, roots, and vegetables for your hedgehog and how to prepare them. Just as importantly – that you understand which fruit and vegetables not to feed and why.
Hopefully, with patience, you will find some of these foods that your hedgehog will happily eat, so that they can benefit from the extra fiber and nutrients.