Metabolic Bone Disease in Hedgehogs

Metabolic Bone Disease in Hedgehogs

Upon reading articles online suggesting that peanuts and sunflower hearts could lead to metabolic bone disease (MBD), and that dried fruit may lead to tooth decay, we immediately contacted our Veterinary Advisor to seek clarification.

We asked our Veterinary Advisor to consult his scientific papers regarding hedgehog nutrition.

Our Veterinary Advisor is Professor John E Cooper DTVM, FRCPath, FRSB, CBiol, FRCVS, RCVS Specialist in Veterinary Pathology, who has himself tended hedgehogs and published scientific papers about them.  Professor Cooper immediately responded by stressing confirmation that so very little is known scientifically about the nutritional requirements of the European hedgehog, Erinaceus europaeus, (in contrast to the widely-kept {mainly in the USA} white-bellied hedgehog, Atelerix albiventris). The most authoritative book in the UK in this context is the "BSAVA Manual of Wildlife Casualties" (2nd Edition British Small Animal Veterinary Association , Gloucester, 2016), edited, by Elizabeth Mullineaux and Emma Keeble (to which both our Veterinary Advisor and his wife contributed), and the chapter on the hedgehog emphasises the omnivorous, opportunistic, feeding habits of this species. It refers to dental problems but points out how common oral lesions are in the wild. The chapter includes mention of nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (= metabolic bone disease) but does not link this condition to proprietary diets.
Haith's Hedgehog Food is intended as a supplement, to help hedgehogs, not to be fed as a complete diet in the way that one might feed an animal in captivity. European hedgehogs are generally wild (free-living) creatures; in order to help meet their omnivorous feeding habits, our diet contains a number of constituents, not just seeds.
Professor Cooper has confirmed that hedgehogs thrive on a mixed diet.  Indeed, as emphasised above, Haith's Hedgehog Food is produced and sold as a supplement.
We don't doubt that hedgehogs get MBD (all vertebrates can do so, because their bones are composed of calcium phosphate - Professor Cooper has previously written scientific papers on this condition) but we are not persuaded that there are reliable publications that unequivocally link MBD in hedgehogs with the feeding of grains, cereals etc.
Professor Cooper also points out that that the feeding of insects is very likely to be beneficial to hedgehogs. It was over forty years ago, in 1976, that D. W. Yalden reported in his paper “The food of the hedgehog in England” (Acta Theriologica 21(30), 401—424) that the contents of the stomachs of 177 hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) stomachs consisted to a large extent (55% of the food) of caterpillars, scarabeoid beetles and earthworms – none of which, incidentally, contains the appropriate Ca:P (calcium:phosphorus) ratios for healthy bone growth.
We are aware that cereals alone do not have the optimal Ca:P ratio for normal skeletal development in young, growing, animals. Nevertheless, feeding such items as a supplement to a hedgehog does not mean that it is going to succumb to nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (= metabolic bone disease, MBD). 
There are no exhortations in the BSAVA Manual (considered the "bible" by experienced wildlife vets) not to give hedgehogs a mixed diet. On the contrary, there - and in other authoritative texts – the practice is advocated, in part because it provides “environmental enrichment” and encourages weak or ailing hedgehogs to feed.
We are unable to link any scientific evidence that peanuts and sunflower hearts are unsuitable for hedgehogs or are associated directly with the development in this species of nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism (metabolic bone disease, MBD).
We do hope that by sharing this information we’ve been able to assure you that Haith’s cares deeply about hedgehog welfare and provides factual clarification regarding ingredients linked to metabolic bone disease.

Written by Gemma Saunders

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