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Obesity in Hedgehogs
Obesity is a common and serious problem among domesticated African Pygmy hedgehogs. It can be caused by a lack of exercise, use of high fat foods, and too many treats.
A healthy hedgehog looks a little rounded and plump, but hedgehogs with fat waddles at the "arm pits" and who can not roll completely into a ball are obese. Obesity in hedgehogs is linked to increased risk for health problems like fatty liver disease and heart attacks.
A healthy adult hedgehog can weigh as little as six ounces or as much as almost two pounds. Because of this, it is important to consider how the hedgehog looks instead of relying on numbers on the scale to determine whether a hedgehog is obese. Some hedgehogs appear more prone to obesity than others and they need a little help to maintain a healthy weight.
The next question, of course, is how how to help them? According to research presented by Dr. Graffam of the Bronx Nature Conservatory at the Go Hog Wild Hedgehog seminar in 1998, an average hedgehog needs about 70 to 100 calories a day. That really is not much food- about one to three tablespoons!
Some hedgehogs will gorge if given the opportunity to freely eat a food they really like. There is a published study citing a hedgehog who was free fed mealworms and nearly doubled its weight in a very short period of time.
A sad but classic example of this problem is a hedgehog who was known as Big Bob. Dawn Wrobel tells the story of how she went to pick up a rescue hedgehog whose owner said she would kill the hedgehog if someone did not come get it right away. Dawn quickly rearranged her schedule and arrived to find the most obese hedgehog she had ever seen. When leaving with Big Bob, the previous owner said, "Don't forget to give him his treats." Dawn asked, "Treats, what treats?" The lady said, "Oh, I feed him a chocolate bar every day." Bob got no more chocolate after that day and went on to lead a much healthier life. Some hedgehogs, like this one, manage to get their svelte figures back just through cutting back on their treats or switching to a lite brand of food.
Some hedgehogs do not seem to lose weight easily, even when food is cut back and a wheel and/or large amounts of space are provided for exercise. Our Tater was a hedghog who had that problem. Tater looked healthy at 20 ounces, but she ballooned to 27 ounces in what appeared to be a false pregnancy. I cut her food back to one tablespoon of food per day and she still did not lose weight. I switched her to one tablespoon of lite food per day and she lost a mere half ounce.
I decided that maybe Tater needed exercise and started to take her tablespoon of food and scatter it around the cage to force her to move. She finally started to lose weight! Once the weight started to come off, she got back to her usual exercise routine that included running on the wheel and exploring her cage at night. After three months, she was down to a lovely 19 ounces and we were able to begin to up her food intake.
We have heard of other hedgehog owners who encouraged obese hedgehogs to exercise by providing supervised swim sessions, though out of shape hedgehogs can tire easily to caution should be exercised with this approach. Many hedgehogs do not like water so if your hedgehog seems terrified, do not make it swim!
When in doubt, consult your veterinarian and keep in mind that a healthy hedgehog is a happy hedgehog.
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