Obesity, often due to lack of exercise, use of high fat foods, and too many treats, is a common and serious problem among domesticated African Pygmy hedgehogs. A healthy hedgehog looks a little rounded and plump, but hedgehogs with fat waddles at the "arm pits" or who can not roll completely into a ball are at increased risk for health problems like fatty liver disease and heart attacks. A healthy adult can weigh as little as six ounces, or even as much as two pounds, so it is important to consider how the hedgehog looks, rather than relying on a number 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! According to research presented by Dr. Susan Graffam of the Bronx Nature Conservatory at the Go Hog Wild Hedgehog seminar in 1998, an average hedgehog needs about 30 to 70 calories a day. That really isn't a whole lot of food (about 1 to 4 Tbsp.)! Some hedgehogs will gorge if given the opportunity to eat a lot of 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 didn't 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 tends to have this problem. Tater looks healthy at about 20 ounces, but last summer when we thought she was pregnant, she ballooned to 27 ounces. And she was not pregnant, just eating for a whole zoo, it turned out. I cut her food back to 1 Tbsp. Per day, but she still did not lose weight. I cut her back to 1 Tbsp. of lite food per day, and she lost just a mere half ounce. I finally began to count out the number of pieces of food she was getting each day, and scattered them around the cage to force her to move.
She finally started to lose weight! Once the weight started to come off, she began to move more, getting back to running on the wheel and exploring around 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. When in doubt, consult your veterinarian, and keep in mind that a healthy hedgie is a happy hedgie.