• Evaluating Food Ingredients

    Evaluating food ingredients can help you determine whether an unfamiliar food is going to be acceptable for your hedgehogs' diet. While there are a wide variety of options available depending on the brand of food, the formula of food, and even the flavor of food, there are some pointers that may help you know how good that food REALLY is.

    Evaluating Protien Sources

    Since hedgehogs are insectivores, and therefore a type of carnivore, it is important that the food is meat based over grain based. It is VERY important that a good percentage of the top 5 ingredients are some form of meat, and highly preferred if the very first ingredient is meat based.

    When you are looking at the protien sources in a food, the first thing to look at should be what type of animal the meat is from. There are several different sources that are used in pet food manufacturing, the most common one is chicken, but lamb, turkey, duck, and beef can also be found. Any of these meats are acceptable, depending on the specific needs of your own hedgehog. If your hedgehog has shown sensitivities to certain foods, or has digestive difficulties, chicken or lamb are often sought after, due to their ease of digestion. No matter what form of meat you find, there are some rules and guidelines that rank these types. A specifically listed animal source such as chicken is preferred over a more generic "poultry" source, and especially over the extremely generic "animal" label. Generic animal labeling MAY contain such items as horse, dog, cat, wild animal roadkill, or who knows what else.

    Once you determine that it is from a specific recognizeable animal, you need to look at the other clues linked with the animal name to determine whether it is a good quality protien source, or the scraps and parts left over after the preferred peices are used in other products.

    The preferred source of animal protien ingredients will be listed as plain and simple specific animal. AKA "chicken", "lamb", "beef", etc. This means that the clean flesh of that animal is used. This does NOT include scraps and parts such as skin, feet, and other not typically eaten parts, it is the clean edible "muscle" meats from that animal.

    Very closely tied to this quality is "meal". Chicken meal (or similar meals) means that the clean meat from the animal has been cooked, dried out, and ground up to make an ingredient that still maintaints the majority of the nutrition of the clean meats of that animal, with the moisture removed.

    Meat and bone meal is essentially the clean meat meal with the addition of bones. Not feet, fur, feathers, or other non-edible parts. This is usually considered slightly lower quality than the pure meat meal, though the bones do add some additional nutrition in some cases.

    By-products are typically to be avoided. This is the non-muscle parts of the animals in question, including internal organs, skin, fur, feathers, bird feet and beaks, and other parts that are otherwise thrown out after processing a meat source. Animal digest is considered the very lowest quality protien source used by pet food companies. this is basically any part of any animal, with water added, and then heated to make a mush.

    Animal fat is also to be avoided, this is exactly what it says it is. The fat trimmed off of meat in processing is compiled together and used as a single ingredient. While there is some useable nutrients in this food, it is mostly just fat, which should be limited for most healthy diets.

    Evaluating Grains and other recognizeable ingredients
    With the trends to feed pets as high of quality foods as possible, more and more recognizeable human foods are being included in pet foods, to add to the draw for humans to purchase these foods. Many of them truly are beneficial as supporting ingredients in a food. Human foods commonly showing up in foods include such things as carrots, peas, other vegetables, nutritional supplements, and well known digestible grains. These foods are very acceptable in a pet food, though it is important to watch that they are WHOLE foods, containing the entire edible portion of that product. Processed or parts of these foods may be less digestable, or contain lower nutrition than the foods that they come from, such as beet pulp (mostly fiber and sugar), pea hulls (mostly fiber), brewers rice (leftovers from alcohol brewing), wheat gluten, and other similar processed foods.

    One main exception to this rule is corn. Corn is not very digestable, and is commonly used as a filler in many foods. Some of the processed forms are more digestable, however, much of the nutrition has been removed. When a food contains high percentages of corn ingredients, these foods end up providing less productive nutrition, which makes it necessary for the animal to consume larger quantities of food in an attempt to fulfill their needed nutritional levels, and therefore, sending larger quantities of waste out the other end.

    Ingredients to be avoided
    Some ingredients are definately discouraged for a healthy food. Some of these ingredients that are still used in pet foods are linked to increased rates of cancer, liver damage, or other health concerns.

    One of the ingredient categories commonly seen and to be avoided are chemical preservatives. Some of the most commonly seen preservatives to be avoided are BHA, BHT, and Ethoxyquin. Ethoxyquin is especially known to be a suspected carcinogen. Preferred alternatives to these chemicals are vitamin preservatives, vitamin E has been seen in many foods as a preservative.

    Another category that is to be avoided are sweeteners. These are typically used to make unappetizing foods taste better and be more palatable for the animals. These usually add extra calories, and very little worthwhile nutrition. Corn syrup and sucrose are commonly seen, as is propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is a chemical sweetener that is what gives antifreeze its' sweet taste. Coloring additives are also found in pet foods frequently, and serve the purpose of making them more appealing to the owner. Red, orange, or other colored foods are often more visually appealing to people than plain brownish foods. They serve no worthwhile purpose to the animal, and there is some suspicion that some of them may cause health problems.