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Old 12-29-2015, 11:27 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Red face Help! My new hedgehog won't eat!

Help my hedgehog isn't eating, what do I do? Why is my new hedgehog not eating? How do I make my hedgehog eat? Help my new hedgehog has loose stools, or loose green stools. What should I feed my new hedgehog? I cannot get my hedgehog to eat!

Have you found this thread because you are asking yourself that question? Hopefully you'll find some answers below that will help guide you into understanding hedgehogs in regards to eating and digestion better.

Husbandry
First lets talk about basic hedgehog care. Double check the following items:
  • Temperature: Your hedgehog's cage should range somewhere in the 73-76 F or about 23.5-24.5 C. A consistent temperature is needed with all hedgehogs. Sometimes the first symptom that a cage is too cool is reduced activity and reduced appetite. If the air temperature is not within this range throughout the cage, please read the sticky on https://www.hedgehogcentral.com/forum...implified.html.
  • Light: Hedgehogs also require a consistent light schedule, provide about 12-16 hrs of light during the day and ensure that their cages are dark at night. Heating set-ups that emit light are not a good option with hedgehogs. Hedgehogs can be overly sensitive to any light and it may cause them to not get out of bed to eat or be active or even be cranky.
If your hedgehog is not eating on its own, rule out illness.
A veterinary visit should be done to rule out illness. There is no advice that can be given here that is better than taking a hedgehog to a veterinarian to ensure that what you are experiencing is not a symptom of illness. Hedgehogs can be amazing at hiding illness. Just because they are otherwise acting normal does not mean they are not sick.

Always feed a new hedgehog what they were previously being fed.
This is one of the more important questions to ask the prior owner... what are they currently eating? Even better, get a small amount of the old food they were eating. Get specifics. Brand, and variety. Also keep in mind that diet changes need to be done slowly, more on that below.

There are two major reasons this is important.
  • Sudden diet changes can seriously upset the hedgehog's digestive system. A minor upset may just be a little green, or mucousy stools. And can also result in diarrhea.
  • Hedgehogs can be extremely resistant to any type of dietary change. It stresses them, and in general hedgehogs react very poorly to stress. Their reaction can be so much so that they decide they won't eat at all. I've actually had many new owners tell me they didn't believe me when I would tell them that some hedgehogs will actually starve themselves instead of eating, then later apologize to me because they experienced it.
There are rare occasions where this rule can be broken. For instance, a rescuer friend of mine once took in a young hedgehog whose previous owner was feeding him bird seed and hamster food. Completely inappropriate and a complete diet change was needed. If a hedgehog is being fed a dangerous or completely inappropriate food, and if they will switch to a new food, go ahead and do it. You will likely have to deal with GI upset and possibly diarrhea, but those issues can be dealt with.

Diet changes
I don't typically recommend big diet changes in new hedgehogs as they are adjusting to being in a new home. Stress of going to a new home, and adjusting to your routine is bad enough and can cause their already sensitive digestive systems to get upset quickly. When to start a diet change really just depends on the hedgehog. I've had some that I was comfortable starting within a week, and others that the hedgehog took many weeks.

After the hedgehog has had time to settle in, then you start a diet change. Add no more than 1/4 new food the first week. I usually start out smaller and increase through the week. Second week I build up to 1/2 new. Third week 3/4. If at any point in time their stool goes soft or changes color slow down and reduce the new food to allow their digestive system to adjust. Often you can switch them by week 4 to 100% new, but I've had some that took much longer (8 weeks or longer).

Refusal to eat
If you are lucky your hedgehog will eat whatever you give, but you aren't likely reading this because all is going well. So what do you do with a hedgehog who refuses to eat?
  • Start a journal. Record the hedgehog's weight, activity levels and what foods you offered. Also monitor how much the hedgehog has eaten. Weigh or count the number of kibble before and after. This will give you data to look back on to see if there are minor changes, and and idea if they are nibbling on food or starving themselves. Also monitor for extreme weight loss. If they are losing weight you will have to syringe feed them.
  • Offer the soft food in their cage. Sometimes you can crush kibble up and syringe feed it. Get them used to the taste of that food and perhaps they will eat it on their own.
  • Keep trying. Hedgehogs can be resistant to anything new. It often can take many attempts to get them to try something new. You may also have to try different varieties.
Also look at the food you are feeding. Sometimes adding just a little water, or breaking it into smaller pieces will encourage a hedgehog to eat it.

Help my new hedgehog has loose stools, or loose green stools.

If you have 100% changed diet, or have been syringe feeding you may experience loose stools, or even very loose green stools with your hedgehog. A hedgehog's digestive system is easily upset. Stress alone can cause green to appear.

When dealing with a hedgehog who is only eating via syringe, and their stools are getting loose, I add pumpkin to their diet. I find that adding about 2-3 cc of pumpkin twice a day will quickly firm up their stools. I also add a probiotic to ensure that their digestive system is getting plenty of good bacteria in it. A “hefty sprinkle” of acidolphilus can be added to their syringable food.

But I'm feeding what my breeder fed and the hedgehog still won't eat.
This can happen. Some hedgehogs seem friendly and settled when they really aren't. I took in a rescue once who never raised a quill, crawled around on me, let me rub his skirt line, behind his ears, etc. But he wouldn't eat. He seemed extremely friendly, but in actuality he was scared. One needs to always remember that these are prey animals and when they are in a new location they are always scared and uncertain about what is happening. They always need time to decide you aren't a predator who is going to eat them.

So what do you do?
  • Breakfast in bed. Place some of their food close to their bed, or even add a small pile in their snuggle bag with them. Sometimes having food next to them in bed will encourage them to eat. And some will have a midnight or should I call it noon snack.
  • Darkness. Ensure they have a dark and quiet location at night. Sometimes they just need a lot of privacy to come out.
  • Patience. Be patient. Don't get frustrated with your hedgehog. Hedgehogs are prey animals and are naturally timid. Going to a new home is scary. They need time and a lot of patience from you for them to realize that you aren't going to eat them, that they are safe, and can be themselves. At the same time, you also need to balance patience with knowing when to intervene. You may need to get veterinary assistance if the situation warrants or syringe feed them until they are willing to eat on their own again.
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