• Your Hedgehog's Weight

    Healthy weight is a concern with all hedgehogs. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if a hedgehog should lose weight, gain weight, or stay stable. Some people try to base their weight control plans on what is the "average" weight for a normal hedgehog, which could be claimed to be around 500 g. This however, is like saying that all human females should weigh 110 lb, and all men should weigh 160. Just like with humans, hedgehogs can have very different body structures, and therefore very different ideal weights. The best way to tell your hedgehog's healthy weight would be by examining the body conditions of the hedgehog.

    The Underweight Hedgehog
    The underweight hedgehog can be determined by looking at the hedgehog from a variety of angles, and feeling various characteristics. When looking at a thin hedgehog from the front or back, the form would appear rather A shaped, with a point along the backbone and sloping off drastically on each side. The top view would appear hourglass-shaped, with dips at the waistline ranging from a slight dip, indicating a slight underweight concern, to drastically chopping in behind the ribcage in severe malnutrition instances. When holding an underweight hedgehog, the ribcage can be easily felt, and in extreme cases, each rib can be felt individually, and the breastbone at the joining of the ribs at the chest can be felt. The hipbones are also prominent in an underweight animal, in extreme cases, the bones can be felt very clearly, and seen jutting out.

    Low weight can be caused by several factors. The most common causes of low weight are not eating, either through lack of food, or only offering improper foods. This is often the case with abused or neglected hedgehogs, and is often an issue that is prominent in rescue situations. Internal parasites can also be a factor in some cases of thinness, but are not an extremely common concern. When proper food is offered, but the hedgehog seems to show very little interest in eating, an examination of the mouth and teeth should be considered, to rule out oral cancer, missing or broken teeth, or oral infection. In rare instances, there can be metabolic problems that can cause thinness. These are usually signified by massive intake of food, continuous weight loss, and parasite-free fecal cultures.

    The health risks that can affect an emaciated hedgehog can be very serious. Lack of nutrients available to the body can affect any organ system, ranging from liver damage, kidney damage, heart failure, muscle weakness, brain damage, and if left to continue, complete organ failure and death. When caught and treated early enough, much of the damage can often be stopped, and functional health can be returned. When left untreated, there is often little that can be done, once organ failure begins. Dehydration is also frequently a connected problem with emaciation. Signs of dehydration can include sunken eyes, dry mouth, and skin that when pulled into a peak, does not quickly return to regular form.

    Treatment of underweight animals should be done with care. In extreme cases, the system can be un-used to processing solid foods, and the shock of sudden available food can cause the system to become very unbalanced, or even shut down. When the animal is severely emaciated, it is not a bad idea to introduce very tiny, frequent meals to the animal, without allowing them to eat until they gorge. Sometimes, it is necessary to syringe feed the hedgehog with small amounts of liquid, bland foods. Most vets offices could provide you with a food that works well for syringe or beginning feedings. Fluids should be provided to repair dehydration, many vets' offices will do a subcutaneous (under the skin) fluid injection to help the body restore moisture quickly. Once an underweight hedgehog is past the danger point of starvation, food can usually be fed on a free-choice basis, where the base food is available at all times. Some people recommend the addition of a small amount of ferret or kitten food to the dry food to increase the amount of fat and protein content, but I suggest that you don't feed them straight kitten or ferret, due to the extreme over-concentration of fat. Protein is essential for building muscle. Of course, if the cause of the problem is something other than lack of food, the cause should be taken care of before nutritional treatment should be expected to help.

    With all of this being said, it also needs to be pointed out that just like humans, hedgehogs can have different body styles. There are some hedgehogs that are considered a slimmer bodied animal, who even when in healthy condition, appear hotdog shaped, instead of rounder. The "runner" style hedgehog will still feel fleshy, and the bones are covered with muscle instead of protruding.

    The Ideal Weight Hedgehog

    Like the underweight hedgehog, ideal body condition is best examined by a hands on approach, and veiwing from every angle. When looking at a healthy animal from above, the ideal body structure would be teardropped, with the nose being a point, and the body flowing smoothly without ripples or lumps from there back to the rounded bottom. There should be no dips, either. From the front, the line over the back should be smooth and flowing, in a C shape, not pointed, or dipped. When rolled up, a healthy conditioned hedgehog should be a relatively smooth ball, with no dips or bulges, and when firmly rolled, the stomach and face should be completely covered. When you pick up this animal, it should feel solid, not spongy, and well rounded. The abdomen should be gently curved, or smooth, with no dips in the belly.

    A hedgehog in good body condition is more likely to be a healthy, longlived animal. It has been shown in studies over a variety of species that fit individuals stay healthier and either of the extreme ranges would. As well, when an illness does appear, they are often more able to fight it off successfully, due to the lack of other stresses that weight problems can cause. A healthy body can go longer during an illness due to the reserves that it has built up. In order to keep a hedgehog in a healthy weight range, there are several things that you can do. Be sure to offer an adequate supply of a healthy range of dry foods. Many hedgehogs can be offered food at a free choice basis, where the bowl is kept full, allowing them to eat at their leisure. Healthy treats are quite all right, as long as they are only used as a treat, and not a main part of the diet. Keeping a hedgehog fit also depends on exercise to keep the body producing muscle instead of storing food in the form of fat. A good wheel with a solid surface can provide a lot of exercise for a hedgehog, and when left fulltime in the cage, can help keep muscles very fit. If access to a wheel is not an option, then it is a good idea to make sure that your hedgehog has time for out of cage exercise on a very regular basis. Exercise balls that are designed for ferrets can be a safer alternative to free-roam exercise, just make sure areas such as stairs, and outside doors are closed off to protect their safety.

    The Overweight Hedgehog
    When examining an overweight or over conditioned hedgehog, there are several signs that can be looked for. When looking at an overweight hedgehog from above, they tend to be either round, or bulgy, instead of a healthy teardrop shape. From the front view, a dip can often be observed at the backbone line, similar to a valley between two hills. At the skirt, or quill line, bulges can often be observed, instead of the quills meeting smoothly into the furred part of the lower half of the hedgehog. When picked up, the hedgehog may feel spongy instead of firm, and yellowish pockets of fat may be visible especially in the armpit and buttock areas. Many overweight hedgehogs tend to have a ponderous, swaying motion when they walk, and may tend to drag as they walk. An obese rolled up hedgehog will be unable to completely tuck into a ball, and can range from a small spot of stomach showing through, to an almost total inability to roll at all.

    Several factors can be notable in overweight hedgehogs. Lack of exercise is probably one of the largest causes, a hedgehog that is kept in too small of a cage without some form of available exercise has no way to work off the food that they eat. Inappropriate foods can also play a large part, a diet that is too high in fat can be hard for the body to process. Kitten foods, ferret foods, and high-fat treats are often culprits behind diet-induced obesity. Overfeeding of healthy enough foods can also be a prominent cause of obesity, especially in cases where more than one hedgehog is housed together, and one hedgehog is food-dominant, and takes charge of the food dish, leaving their leftovers for the other hedgehogs to share. Of course, there are always health issues that can also cause or add to obesity, including metabolic disorders, chemical imbalances, and fluid retention.

    Health risks that are very dangerous for obese or overweight hedgehogs are very numerous and often hard to treat. Probably the number one issue for hedgehogs that is linked to overconditioning would be Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). FLD is the term used for a buildup of fat deposits in the liver, due to the inability of the liver to process the amount of fat that the body is trying to work through. FLD can range in severity from unnoticed damage, to liver failure and death. Other major concerns include heart disease, breathing difficulties, and overall shortened lifespan, due to the stress put on all organ systems to support more weight than they are geared for. There are several options to try to slim down an overweight hedgehog. It is important though, to slim down the animal gradually, seeing as FLD risk increases with rapid weight loss. One very good way to help an overweight hedgehog lose a bit of weight is additional exercise. This can be encouraged through enlarging the hedgehog's cage, offering a wheel, out of cage time, and swimming. Use of "lite" formula of kibble can help in some instances. Encouraging a hedgehog to search for their food by scattering the food over an area instead of putting it into a single location can often help slim down the hedgehog as well. While a healthy hedgehog can come in almost any weight group, it is important to decide what weight range is ideal for your individual hedgehog. Taking the actions that are necessary to help your hedgehog maintain their ideal weight can help your hedgehog live a longer, healthier life.