Hedgehogs have become trendy to own amongst small, exotic pet lovers. It’s hard not to fall in love with their cute faces and spiny bodies. Most people don’t know that hedgehogs are insectivores! While they might be small, they do eat meat, and a large part of their wild diet is are insects. Hedgehogs have the unique ability to digest chitin from the exoskeletons of insects, and that chitin is necessary for their nutrition!
Some people might be curious about the types of insects that hedgehogs eat. How about mealworms? While hedgehogs can eat mealworms, mealworms should be considered a treat if given to your pet. Want to learn more? Read on to learn about mealworms and hedgehogs.
Hedgehog Nutrition: What Do They Eat?
While some people think hedgehogs are herbivorous, that’s simply untrue. Hedgehogs, in particular, need animal proteins in their diets. Hedgehogs belong to a retired dietary class known as “insectivores.” Insectivores primarily get their nutrition from eating an insect. However, these creatures have been rolled into the “carnivore” label in recent years since insects have been recognized as animal protein.
Though wild hedgehogs eat insects primarily, they gravitate to an omnivorous diet when given an array of foods to eat. Still, chitin is a required nutritional intake for hedgehogs. They break down chitin which helps keep their spines firm.
In captivity, giving your hedgehog a variety of foods, including insects like crickets, fresh fruit, vegetables, pinky mice (if you can stomach it!), cooked meats, and cooked eggs, is a great way to keep your hedgehog healthy in the long term.
Mealworms can be a good treat for hedgehogs, but you shouldn’t feed them too often because mealworms are kind of like hedgehog junk food.
Nutritional Value of Mealworms
Mealworms don’t have much nutritional value at all. They’re the insectivore equivalent of candy, and unfortunately, they’re just as addictive to insectivores as candy is to humans.
Mealworms have some nutritional value, particularly for hedgehogs who can digest the chitin from their exoskeletons. However, the nutritional value is limited at best, and they have an incredibly high phosphorus to calcium ratio, which can be dangerous in high amounts.
Risks of Feeding Mealworms
There are several risks to feeding your hedgehog mealworms. Here are some things to consider before you start giving your hedgehog mealworms.
Much like a human addiction to candy, hedgehogs can become addicted to mealworms. It makes sense; they’re like hedgehog candy. However, if you feed your hedgehog too many mealworms, they may start to turn their nose up at healthier foods.
Mealworms are high in calories and low in nutrients. Too many mealworms can cause your hedgehog to gain excess weight since they’ll still need to eat their everyday foods to feel satiated and meet their nutritional needs.
Metabolic Bone Disease
Mealworms are very high in phosphorus which can leech the calcium out of your hedgehog’s bones and teeth. Calcium is needed to process phosphorus, and the body will take it out of the bones and teeth if there’s not enough calcium in the food itself. Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) can cause your hedgehog to lose bone density and weaken the bones, leaving them susceptible to broken bones or teeth.
If your hedgehog breaks a bone, most exotic vets will put them down as setting a small animal’s bones is very difficult and rarely successful enough to give the animal a good quality of life after the bone heals.
How to Safely Feed Your Hedgehog Mealworms
The first key to feeding your hedgehog mealworms safely is to exercise moderation. Your hedgehog should never have more than one or two mealworms in a sitting and never more than four in a week. Mealworms can be an occasional treat, not the main part of their diet.
If you want to help your hedgehog get some exercise while they eat their treat, hide the mealworms around their cage to allow them to exercise their hunting and foraging skills to find their treat. Doing this will also help them keep from gaining too much weight by moving while they search for their mealworms.
It’s also better to feed your hedgehog live mealworms than dried ones. Dried mealworms don’t have as much moisture as live ones. The lowered moisture content of dried mealworms makes them even less healthy than mealworms typically are.
Storing Live Mealworms
Live mealworms require special care since they’re alive. You’ll have to refrigerate the mealworms, or they’ll mature into beetles. Cold temperatures will prolong the larvae stage that you buy them in.
Mealworms may be a tasty treat for hedgehogs, but that’s all they should be. If your hedgehog turns their nose up to their food in favor of mealworms, they’ll quickly become ill from malnutrition. However, as a tasty snack every so often, mealworms are perfectly safe and even healthy for hedgehogs! Just make sure you store them correctly, or you’ll have a cup full of beetles.
Featured Image Credit: katerinavulcova, Pixabay