Most Common Obese Exotic Pets: No. 2 Hedgehogs

Hedgehog portrait
If your hedgehog becomes overweight, he may not be able to curl up into a tight little ball.

Species of all kinds suffer from being fat, and as an exotic animal veterinarian, I constantly tell my patients’ owners to increase their pets’ exercise and limit their junk food consumption. This week, we’re taking a look at the top five species I treat for obesity in an effort to get everyone off to a healthier start in the New Year. 

No. 2 on my list for the battle of bulge are hedgehogs!

Although hedgehogs are insectivores and are not at all related to the pigs we commonly call hogs that eat everything in sight, many captive hedgehogs actually behave like little piggies and eat until they become obese. Here’s how these added pounds affect our prickly little friends. 

Hefty Isn’t Helpful If You’re a Hedgehog

These little prickly balls of energy generally love to run all night on exercise wheels. But they can become so obese if they are fed inappropriate, high-fat foods (such as excess amounts of carbohydrate- and fat-enriched pellets) that they become too big to fit into their wheels and too short of breath to run. Well-meaning owners often leave heaping bowls of pelleted food in their hedgehogs’ cages and confine them to small spaces where they have little opportunity to move around. Hedgehogs are also well known for their acrobatic ability of being able to contract their back muscles to roll up tightly into a ball, so that they can hide and protect themselves from predators. However, just as overweight people often have difficulty accomplishing certain physical activities because of their added weight, so do hedgehogs. Captive hedgehogs may get so fat, they are no longer able to perform the signature hedgehog move of curling up into a tight little ball. They also tend to develop arthritis in their short, stumpy legs that must support overly heavy bodies. 

Hedgehog owners can help prevent weight gain in their pets by feeding these nocturnal insectivores a balanced diet of a limited amount of pellets and insects, such as mealworms and crickets. Hedgehogs should also be taken out of their cages daily to run around the floor and encouraged to run actively in their wheels late at night. Once a hedgehog is obese, it can be hard to get him to lose weight. So prevention of obesity is a much better option for these adorable pets. If your prickly friend is already a bit porky, just remember to always consult with your veterinarian first before starting a diet or exercise program to make sure you know how to help your pet lose weight safely. 

Tomorrow: blubbery bunnies!

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