Posts Tagged: pet nutrition
For pets and people alike, it’s easier to keep the weight off than to lose it. An overweight pet with even a few extra pounds can experience disastrous consequences to their long term health and wellness. However, weight-loss diets can be very difficult to maintain – especially once behavioral patterns are established to overeat, sneak treats, and munch on snacks throughout the day.
The Heart of the Matter
The perils of pet obesity are becoming more commonly understood. Despite warnings of developing associated diseases (such as osetoarthritis, diabetes, cancer) and early mortality, a shockingly high number of pets are considered overweight or obese, especially seniors.
Weight gain occurs when an individual consumes too many calories with insufficient opportunities to burn them off. Many pets live fairly sedentary lives and eat energy-dense food. Lots of naps combined with even a normal amount of food plus regular treats can be so much more damaging than you think.
An overweight pet simply needs less food and more exercise, right? It’s not always as easy as that.
The Measuring Cup
Overfeeding is the most obvious reason for added weight, but certain medical conditions like Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism can affect a pet’s metabolism. Before you make changes to your pet’s diet, we recommend ruling out what could be going on beneath the surface.
Additionally, a wellness exam is helpful in discerning whether your pet is up for rigorous exercise from now on.
Trying to Lose Weight
There could be many other explanations behind why an overweight pet isn’t losing weight, or isn’t losing it fast enough.
The ideal place to start is with an understanding of the Body Condition Score (BCS). Taking into account your pet’s species, breed, age and lifestyle we can determine their weight and exercise plan, all in order for them to achieve the optimal score on the BCS.
A Greater Challenge
Once you know how much your pet should ideally weigh, you can determine their daily intake of food, snacks, treats, supplements, and people food. Take a long look at the ingredients lists on food labels, and call us with any questions.
An overweight pet might benefit from shaving about 25-40% of their previous calorie count, but because they depend on critical vitamins and nutrients, cutting calories from their meals isn’t necessarily a healthy alternative. Instead, reduce the amount of extra calories they receive from snacks and treats.
The Rx Solution
Prescription diets can help to ensure an overweight pet gets all the nutrition they need, without extra calories. We are happy to discuss viable options for your pet’s weight and lifestyle.
While dieting, we recommend weighing your pet every 2-4 weeks and noting any changes on the BCS. It’s reasonable to aim for losing 1-2% of body weight every week. That being said, it can take over a month for pet owners to see any changes. Please let us know if no changes to weight have occurred after 4-6 weeks.
While restricting unnecessary calories is the foundation for weight loss, the process can be supported by increased exercise. Preserving muscle mass and increasing metabolism are just two benefits of exercising to lose weight.
Other options may involve:
- Food puzzles
- Slow feeders
- Fresh veggies and fruits (to help your pet feel full during meals)
- Ensuring that all family or household members are adhering to the dietary restrictions (and always use the same exact measuring cup!)
- Camp Canine can keep your pup distracted from a rumbling tummy and will engage them in calorie-burning activities
Dedication to an Overweight Pet
A few extra pounds put on over the course of many months can really sneak up on pet owners. Surely, preventing extra weight gain is the best option, but with daily discipline and dedication, an overweight pet can definitely achieve their optimal weight.
As always, if we can assist you with questions, please let us know at Animal Family Veterinary Care Center.
I don’t know about you, but fall is my favorite season: The changing leaves, the cool, crisp breeze at night which is a perfect excuse for bonfires and s’mores, and most of all, PUMPKIN!!! I’m sure I’m not the only one who waits for Pumpkin flavored EVERYTHING to hit the shelves, but did you know that pumpkin can actually have some great health benefits for our pets?
Pumpkin contains nearly three grams of fiber per one cup serving. Fiber promotes a sense of fullness and can potentially enhance weight loss by reducing the urge. Additionally, fiber can help with feline constipation. As cats mature into their adult and geriatric years, constipation is a serious problem. The primary emphasis of treatment is placed on diet. Increasing fiber levels helps increase motility through the colon by creating a bulkier amount of stool, which stimulates the colon wall to contract thereby helping your pet eliminate waste appropriate.
Increased dietary fiber can also help pets suffering from diarrhea (opposite of constipation). Both cats and dogs are prone to different forms of diarrhea, but most often the primary offender is changes in diet or eating something the animal is not supposed (dietary indiscretion, aka our garbage lovers).
Diarrhea is can be classified as large or small bowel diarrhea, depending on a number of characteristics of the patient and their feces. Large bowel diarrhea comes from the colon and is also known as colitis. The nature of large bowel diarrhea appears vastly different from its small bowel counterpart and may have one or all the following characteristics: mucus, blood, urgency to defecate, flatulence, and large or small volume. Small bowel diarrhea relates to the small intestine, which is the part of the digestive tract that connects the stomach to the large intestine (colon). Small bowel diarrhea often takes on a pale appearance, lacks urgency in its production, and has a mushy consistency.
Pumpkin can add a healthy amount of moisture (water content) to any cat or dog diet, but especially those that consume highly processed and dehydrated kibble. According to the University of Illinois Extension’s article, Pumpkin Facts, this healthful fruit (yes, it’s a fruit and not a vegetable) is composed of 90% water. Adding pumpkin to each meal or serving it separately as a snack can promote a pet’s improved state of hydration and reduce heat in the body.
Miscellaneous, Healthful Benefits of Pumpkin
Pumpkin provides a natural source of many beneficial substances involved in the day to day cellular functions, especially potassium. Pumpkin even has more potassium content than a banana! Potassium is an electrolyte essential for muscular contraction and recovery from activity. Pumpkin is also rich in Vitamin C, as one cup contains at least 11mg. Vitamin C is a substance vital for its antioxidant and immune system supporting effects. Additionally, pumpkin is a great, whole-food source of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene.
If you don’t want to go through the efforts of carving, cooking, and pureeing/mashing your pumpkin, then purchase the canned or glass bottled version to give your pet. Avoid pumpkin pie filling due to fat, sugar, and other ingredients (spices, flavorings, or other preservatives) that could cause digestive tract upset. Below is an easy, fun fall dog treat recipe involving pumpkin that you can try out for your furry friend!!!
Peanut Butter and Pumpkin Dog Treats
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
½ cup canned pumpkin (NOT PUMPKIN PIE MIX)
2 tablespoons peanut butter
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Whisk together flour, eggs, pumpkin, peanut butter, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Add water as needed to make the dough workable, but the dough should be dry and stiff.
- Roll dough into a ½ inch thick roll. Cut into shapes or ½ inch pieces.
- Bake in preheated oven until hard, about 40 minutes.
Here’s a link for healthy pumpkin treats for people.
Much of this information was compiled from an article written by Dr. Patrick Mahaney.
Once you have determined that your pet is overweight what is the next step? First you need to determine what weight your pet should be. We can help with that at the clinic. There is an actual measuring system that will provide an accurate result.
- Decrease caloric intake
- For real weight loss to occur, your pet must eat at least 30% fewer calories than what it would take to maintain their ideal weight not their current weight.
- Keep your pet out of the kitchen and away from the dining table. This will decrease begging and you will be less likely to cave in to big, sad eyes.
- If your household has more than one pet be sure to feed them separately.
- Meal feed. Don’t leave food down all the time. There is no way to keep track of intake
- If your pet seems hungry in between meals, divide the same amount into smaller portions and feed more frequent smaller meals. Just remember begging is simply a learned response to getting, not requiring food.
- Feed a diet that is formulated for weight loss. Diets have become much more advanced and feeding the right diet can be a huge help. Science Diet recently added Metabolic Diet to their line of weight loss foods. Our clients who have tried it have been pretty happy with the results so far.
- Increase Activity
- Take your dog for a walk. It’s good for both of you! Don’t just stay on the street. Try varying the surfaces. Use sand, water or even snow, in the winter, for resistance. Add some obstacles like logs, hills or ditches.
- Try introducing fetch, fly ball or agility to your routine. It’s fun, great exercise and a wonderful new way to bond with your dog.
- If you have access to water, try swimming. However, please be careful with the strong current in the local rivers. Stick to areas that are safe for both of you.
- Don’t forget Day Camp. This provides plenty of activity for your pet while you are at work. It’s the best cure for working owner’s couch potatoes we have come up with in a long time.
- What about cats?
- Cats are problematic. Most are indoors and many also very thrifty when it comes to calories.
- Pay attention to what you feed. Yes, cats can be meal fed and they generally don’t require near as much food as you think. Again we have had very good results with Hill’s Metabolic Diet.
- Cats do better with canned food. It is generally higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates than most dry kibble.
- But…stay away from canned foods with gravy. They are almost always higher in calories.
- Use a food specifically formulated for weight loss in cats.
- Never, ever starve your cat to induce weight loss. They are particularly susceptible to fatty liver disease and not eating for more than 24 hours or too rapid of weight loss can cause this syndrome in cats. 1% or 0.2 to 0.4 pounds per week is plenty for a 20 pound cat.
- Weight loss and cats is tough and cats are way harder to induce into activity. It may be that the best exercise for a cat is simply adding another cat.
Has the U.S. become the nation of too much? When it comes to weight, yes we have! Pet obesity has become a huge, no pun intended, health issue for both dogs and cats in this country.
How to Tell if Your Pet is Over Weight
1) Run your hands down the side of your pet with medium pressure. You should be able to feel ribs under a thin layer of subcutaneous fat. If you can’t your pet is probably too heavy.
2) If you feel your pet is too heavy bring them in for a more precise body measurement. This set of measurements can determine exactly how over weight your pet is and what a good target weight is.
Causes of Obesity
1) Sometimes obesity is just a matter of too much food and too little activity.
2) However, obesity can also be rooted in other issues.
- Cushing’s Disease
- Diabetes: Diabetes can be caused by too much weight but can also be the cause of weight gain if an animal develops non-insulin dependent diabetes. Confusing but ultimately weight loss will help both.
- Any disease process that affects the hypothalamus or pituitary gland: The hypothalamus regulates appetite and the pituitary gland regulates most hormone production in the body.
- Breed: Beagles, Labs, Bassets, Cattle dogs, Cockers, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Golden Retrievers and most cats to name a few.
- Age: Just like us as pets age their metabolic rate slows and the tendency to become over weight increases.
- Neutering and Spaying: When they are not hormone driven animals will put on weight more easily. That said the benefits of altering your pet far outweigh the negatives.
- Activity level: Too many pets spend all their time inside with too little activity. This is a particular challenge for cat owners.
- Food quality: The quality of food we feed has improved. Pets need less to stay fit and healthy. Conversely if you have a finicky pet who has trained you to only feed them high caloric “junk food” they will quickly become overweight.
- Medications: Glucocorticoids, Anti-seizure drugs and tranquilizers can all contribute to weight gain.
Health risks associated with obesity
2) Heart and blood pressure disease: The heart has to work much harder in overweight pets. That leads directly to high blood pressure and heart disease.
3) Bone/Joint damage: Extra weight leads to increased stress on bones and ligaments. Almost all of our cruciate repairs could use a little weight loss.
4) Respiratory problems: Too much fat makes for a greater work load and puts extra pressure on the lungs and trachea. If you own a dog or cat with a shortened, also known as brachycephalic, facial structure this can cause serious health problems. Likewise, many of our collapsing trachea dogs show improvement with weight loss.
5) Increased anesthetic risk: What happens if you have a lot of fat and your anesthetic is fat soluble? You wake up more slowly. How much harder is it to perform surgery in an abdomen that is full of fat? A lot harder. Has obesity been shown to decrease resistance to bacteria? Yes.
6) Decreased lifespan and quality of life: Everything mentioned above will shorten your pets’ life. It will also seriously impinge on their ability to enjoy the life they have.
On the next blog we will talk about strategies for weight loss.
Pet foods have undergone enormous changes in the last 10 years. There are more choices than ever before. Some companies cater to the size, life stage and even the breed of our pets. At the other end of the spectrum are those who claim their food is appropriate for all life stages. It’s confusing and when you add in the scares caused by the constant stream of recalls. So how can we decide what is best for our pet?
Pet food standards are set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Using these guidelines the nutritional adequacy of pet food is determined by either
Formulation: With this method, the diet is not actually fed to animals so there is no guarantee of pet acceptance or the bioavailability of nutrients.
Feeding Trial: This method substantiates that a given food used as the sole source of nutrition provides a complete and balanced diet for the life stage of that animal.
Let’s look at a few other definitions.
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Not so when it comes to pet food labels. If the label says:
- Chicken, beef, seafood and there are no other modifying terms like entrée etc…it must contain at least 95% of that ingredient.
- When dinner, entrée, platter are added it need only contain 25% of that ingredient
- If the label says “with” chicken etc… it need only contain 3% of that ingredient
- If it simply says flavor it doesn’t even have to have a % it just needs to disclose the source of the flavor.
There has been an explosion pet food labeled as natural, organic or holistic. Let’s look at exactly what that means.
- Organic: Grown with only animal or vegetable fertilizers, such as bone meal, compost, manure etc… Only pet foods which meet these requirements may be labeled as such. However, keep in mind that this does not stop a company from putting the term organic in the name or making a big deal out of using one or two organic ingredients without having a wholly organic food. Look for the USDA organic label. That means that at least 95% of the food is organic. A diet labeled made with organic must contain at least 70% organic ingredients.
- Natural: According to AFFCO (American Feed Control Officials) this label applies to food that consists of all natural (what is found in nature) without any chemical alterations.
- Holistic: Who knows? This term has no legal definition and any manufacturer can label their food holistic regardless of the ingredients.
By-Products are not all created equal. We have a tendency to see the term By-Products as bad. A by-product is really just an ingredient that is produced while making something else. Vegetable oils, liver, beet pulp and Vitamin E are all by-products. Both animals and humans include by-products in their diet. The key is quality.
Preservatives can be natural such as vitamin E, spice extracts or citric acid or synthetic such as BHA and BHT. Both types of preservatives are found in human and animal foods. They help keep food from spoiling as fast.
Guaranteed Analysis: This number gives the maximum and minimum amount of each an item such as protein. Protein is simply measured as a % of Nitrates. This does not tell us what the actual nutrient content of protein really is. Make sure you know the difference. The manufacturer is not required to put the actual nutrient content on the bag. You should be able to get this by calling and asking for that information. Just be sure that is what you actually are given.
Ingredient Statement: This is a list of ingredients by weight. Again, it does not tell you anything about the quality of those ingredients.
Ash: Ash is not really ash. It is a combination of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium sodium and other minerals that remain after a food has been processed. Ash content can affect urinary health in cats.
Dry Matter Basis: Comparing dry and canned foods can be very difficult if we look at only the “as fed” numbers. This is because canned food can contain up to 75% or more in moisture. Learn to compare all diets on a dry matter basis. To do this you will need to do a little math.
- Subtract the moisture content from 100%
- X diet has 75% moisture: subtract 75% from 100% = 25% dry matter basis
- If the label states the diet contains 10% protein “as fed”
- Divide 10% by 25= 40% dry matter basis.
Finally who’s a carnivore? Not your dog. In spite of all the colorful ads on TV which hint otherwise and in spite of our desire to see the wolf in our dog. When it comes to food dogs are omnivores just like us and coyotes. Cats are true carnivores in the house.
- Much of the information for this blog was derived from the Nutrition Manual published by Hills Science Diet.
Do you ever wonder why we prescribe one medication over another? What is the difference between Carprofen and Cosequin anyhow? They both help arthritis but one is a drug and another is a nutraceutical. Would an over the counter product be as good? How do you know what is best for your pet?
The word drug is defined as a chemical compound used in diagnosis, treatment or prevention of disease and is recognized and defined as such by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States (FDA). That means drugs are controlled and monitored by the government. That’s a good thing for consumers. A nutraceutical, on the other hand, is defined as a product isolated or purified from food, generally sold in medicinal forms not associated with foods and demonstrated to have physiological benefit or provide protection against disease. Nutraceuticals are not governed by the FDA. Products that contain enzymes, good bacteria and vitamins can be beneficial to health as well but generally fall outside the jurisdiction of the FDA. That puts a whole lot more responsibility on us, the consumer, to choose wisely.
There are thousands of “un-medicines” to choose from. However, what may be the most important thing for us to keep in mind is that they are not all equally beneficial. Purity levels, molecular weights and other heady details can and do vary from product to product and remember, most are not regulated by any outside agency. So, the onus is on us, the consumer, to educate and protect ourselves. As a way to make things a little easier for you, Animal Family has compiled a short list of some of our favorite un-medicines.
L-Lysine: L-Lysine is an essential amino acid. That means animals need it but cannot manufacture it on their own. It is sold as a vitamin or supplement. Good natural sources are foods that are rich in protein. We use lysine in animals for its antiviral properties, especially for the treatment of feline herpes infections in cats. It works by blocking replication of the virus. One more added benefit of lysine is its ability to aid the body in absorption of calcium.
Denamarin: Denamarin contains two main ingredients, S-Adenosylmethioine (SAME), a very big word which describes a molecule that is synthesized by cells throughout the body. It’s important because it is an essential part of 3 major biochemical pathways needed for the health of liver cells. Silybin, the other component in Denamarin comes from Milk Thistle which is also known to have beneficial effects on liver function. We use Denamarin in animals with liver disease because of these properties.
Cosequin/Dasuquin: We use these products a lot and research backs up how helpful they are to pets with arthritis and joint damage. The key ingredients are: 1) chondroitin sulfate, a nutrient needed to keep cartilage cells healthy 2) glucosamine hydrochloride, which blocks enzymes that break down cartilage 3) manganese ascorbate which helps optimize production of cartilage components and in some products 4) ASU a substance derived from avocados and soybeans that has been shown to inhibit agents involved in the breakdown of cartilage.
Beware! There are hundreds of different brands and variations of joint products on the market but they are not all equally effective. Go with the products that have been researched and shown to work.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone which helps regulate sleep. It also acts on other hormones in the body. Melatonin has several different uses in animals. In dogs, it is used to treat alopecia or baldness and as an adjunct to other therapies in Cushing’s disease (Hyperadrenocorticism). Because it has a sedative effect it is also used as a behavioral aid in anxious dogs. In ferrets, melatonin is used to treat symptoms of adrenal tumors. Affected ferrets lose weight and hair coat. Melatonin helps to reverse some of these effects and improve quality of life.
Probiotics: Probiotics come from foods such as yogurt that are made with fermented bacteria. These bacteria are considered “good guys” and have long been used to treat diarrhea in both humans and animals. Probiotics optimize healthy bacteria in the gut, act as a source of digestive enzymes and stimulate the immune system.
Omega Fatty Acids: Like lysine, omega fatty acids are necessary for optimal health but cannot be manufactured by the body. Natural sources are fish, algae and some plant and nut oils. They are important because they have been found to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Fatty acids may also aid in preserving cognitive function and are beneficial to animals with dry, itchy skin.
Sunshine: Sunshine helps mammals, reptiles and birds synthesize vitamin D which is essential to health. Many reptile owners assume that basking is used mainly to regulate body temperature but it is, in fact, extremely important to maintaining a proper level of vitamin D. Most important, insufficient Vitamin D can slow growth, decrease reproductive success and even cause death. Birds need sunshine for the same reasons as reptiles but in birds sunshine has the added benefit of promoting a healthy plumage as well.
Cavia porcellus, better known as the Guinea Pig is a South American Rodent that has been domesticated for around 3,000 years. They are used primarily for food in South America but are beloved as pets here in North America. Guinea pigs are generally easy to handle, non-aggressive, come in a variety of coat types and colors and are a favorite small companion for children of all ages.
Guinea pigs live an average of 5 – 8 years. Thick bodied with short limbs they can weigh anywhere from 700 to 1200 grams. Pigs are a social animal and prefer to have a housemate. Females become sexually mature at the tender age of 6 weeks of age so if you have a mixed group, neuter your male. Gestation is about 4 weeks. Guinea pigs produce “precocious” young who are eating solid foods within 5 days of birth. One important thing to know is that if females do not give birth before 6 months of age their pubic symphysis will mineralize rendering them unable to deliver a baby.
Guinea pigs can be kept in a wire cage with a solid bottom and shredded paper bedding. Avoid wire bottom cages since they can cause injuries and other foot problems. The same goes for aromatic shavings which cause skin irritation and respiratory problems. Guinea pigs prefer to have a hiding place or hutch for privacy and an exercise area. Do not use an exercise ball. They are not climbers and do not need a cage top. Just make certain that the sides are high enough to keep them in. As their name suggests, Guinea pigs can be quite messy and should have their enclosure and feed dishes cleaned frequently. One final point to remember is that these mountain dwellers do not tolerate high temperatures or humidity. Try to keep temperatures between 61 to 75 degrees. Anything above 80 degrees can cause heat stroke.
Guinea pigs are vegetarians and need a diet comprised primarily of timothy hay, a commercial pelleted feed with added vitamin C and fresh vegetables such as dandelions, parsley and kale. A small amount of fresh fruit is OK but only as a treat. Guinea pigs cannot synthesize vitamin C so great care must be taken to ensure that they receive an adequate (10mg/kg/day) amount in their feed. Vitamin C tablets are also available.
The most common problem we see in Guinea pigs at the Animal Family is dental disease caused by malocclusion of the molars. If your pig is not eating well or simply looks poor it is important to have the teeth checked.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to changes in diet and environment. Because of this, they are prone to GI problems due to an over growth of “bad bacteria”. Use of the wrong type of antibiotic can also cause GI problems in pigs. Signs may include bloating, diarrhea and loss of condition.
We see urinary calculi and bladder infections more than we would like too. It is more common in pigs on a high calcium diet like alfalfa, but some may simply be genetically predisposed to developing urinary tract problems. Signs may include, frequent urination, straining to urinate, blood in the urine and vocalizing while urinating.
Their small lungs and sensitivity to Bordatella bacteria make pneumonia a particular problem for Guinea pigs. Stress, exposure to dogs and other Bordatella carriers and poor ventilation can all cause disease. Signs include nasal discharge, sneezing, rapid respiration and lethargy. Severe cases can cause death.
Bumble foot or Pododermatitis is seen in animals kept on wire flooring. This problem can be quite severe if it goes untreated. Swelling, ulceration and secondary infection can render your pig unable to bear weight. If your pet develops this problem even though you have proper flooring, you may need to check your source of Vitamin C.
Mites and ringworm are another common problem of Guinea pigs. You may see intense itching and hair loss. The good news is both are also easily treated. Your pig will love for helping him with these nasty critters.
Our blog is only meant to be an introduction to Guinea pigs. More information is available through your veterinarian, the library or on-line.
On any given day we take in far more information than we could ever possibly process. We are bombarded with a multitude of claims from television and print media in the form of news, entertainment and advertising. If that’s not enough, we also have the internet. Everybody seems to be telling us what is best for our pets. It can be so hard to sort through the noise that sometimes we just listen to whom ever says it the loudest and the most often. That’s why advertising works so well.
One of the more current popular theories circulating is that a diet that is meat first and/or grain free is better for your dog. The assumption being that your dog is simply a wolf with a collar and an inside bed. Not really.
Scientific study has indicated that excess proteins, fat, calcium and phosphorus can harm your pet over time. That’s what feeding a diet primarily comprised of meat does. The popular BARF or raw meat diet compounds that further by not cooking the protein source. It is important to understand how the diet you feed your pet effects them. If you’d like to get a better understanding of how the emphasis on meat first can affect your pet please read the two articles we have linked below. Then make up your own mind.
Wedekind/Richards PhDs : Avoiding mineral excesses for optimal pet nutrition.
Brian Mckenzie in Science Based Medicine on the BARF diet:
We recently added a new pet to our educational animals at the Animal Family. “Gnomeo” is an African Pygmy Hedgehog. In spite of his prickly nature, he is not related to porcupines. Even though Hedgehogs spines are quite sharp, unlike porcupines, their spines do not shed and will not become lodged in the skin. If frightened, a hedgehog will defend itself by rolling into a tiny, prickly ball. In the wild, they are generally solitary in nature. They seem to prefer solitude in captivity as well. Although Hedgehogs can be handled with bare hands, gloves are recommended.
As a pet, Hedgehogs are a small, reasonably clean, relatively odor free and non-aggressive. They will vocalize through quiet snorting, whistling or huffing sounds. If handled on a routine basis from a young age most will become quite friendly. It is easy to see why we are seeing more of them in practice
The average pet hedgehog can be expected to live from 3-8 years. In captivity Hedgehogs are nocturnal but will emerge during the day. They hibernate in the wild but this is not necessary in captivity and will not occur as long as temperatures are maintained at 75 to 80 F.
Hedgehogs have some unique qualities. They have a unique protein which inhibits the activity of snake venom. This allows them to attack and eat snakes in the wild. Another unusual hedgehog trait is “anointing”. If a hedgehog is exposed to a strong smelling substance, they will produce large amounts of saliva which they use to coat their spines. Nobody knows why they do this but if you find your hedgehog covered in the cat’s fishy food, don’t become alarmed.
Hedgehogs require smooth walled, enclosure with a minimum floor space of 2’ X2’. They can climb so make any enclosure tall enough so that the animal can’t reach the top with its front feet. Do not put your Hedgehog in a wire enclosure. Regular cleaning is important if you wish to keep your pet healthy. Newspaper, about 3” in depth, either shredded or pelleted makes good bedding. Corn cob or alfalfa pellets can also be used. Do not use any bedding that clumps or any aromatic wood product such as cedar or pine. Give your hedgehog has a place to hide that is not much larger than he is and easy to disinfect. Plants or rocks can be added as well but should be non toxic and easy to clean. Provide a shallow pan of water for bathing as well as a sipper bottle. Make sure your hedgehog understands how to drink from his bottle.
Hedgehogs require regular exercise. Either a commercial exercise ball that is suitable for Guinea Pigs or an exercise wheel will work. If you choose to let your Hedgehog run loose, be careful of carpets and other cloth material which can get caught up in feet as well as anal/genital areas causing injury.
Your hedgehog can be maintained on either low calorie dog or cat food or commercial hedgehog diet (2 -3 Tsp /day). Make sure to add in small amounts of fruits, veggies (1 tsp) and insects (1 tsp). Do not feed nuts and grains or milk. Like so many of our exotic pets, low calcium is always a concern as is obesity. Clean and refill food and water on a daily basis. To prevent your Hedgehog from becoming overweight make sure to check its weight frequently.
Like all exotics, Hedgehogs will mask illness. Therefore it is important for you to remain vigilant. In general, Hedgehogs are prone to dental disease including oral cancers, Ringworm, obesity and overgrown nails. They can also acquire Leptospirosis, Rabies and Distemper like virus although there are no vaccines available at this time. Mites are the most common external parasite we see in Hedgehogs. A regular health check with a fecal examination is important to maintaining your hedgehog’s health.
This is not meant to be an all inclusive guide to Hedgehogs. We do hope it has answered some questions for you. Feel free to ask us questions and to come in and meet Mr. Gnomeo.
According to the ASPCA, “approximately 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized (60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats). Shelter intakes are about evenly divided between those animals relinquished by owners and those picked up by animal control. These are national estimates; the percentage of euthanasia may vary from state to state.”
That is a really sad statistic. We work closely with many of our local shelters at Animal Family and are always surprised at the quality of the pets we see. These animals are neither worthless nor dangerous. In fact, often the opposite is true. Many are pure bred and almost all are loving, healthy animals who through no fault of their own end up homeless.
The 10 most common reasons owners give when surrendering a pet at the Humane Society of Scott County are:
- The owner is moving and is not able to take their pet with them
- The pet is too active for the owner to handle.
- The owner does not have enough time to devote to pet care
- The owner has encountered problems with housebreaking
- The animal is too expensive to care for.
- The animal is too young, too old or has developed health issues.
- The owner or a family member is allergic to the pet.
- The pet does not get along with another animal in the household.
- The pet belonged to a child who no longer lives in the home.
- The pet has become pregnant
Do you see a common thread among many of the reasons for pet relinquishment listed above? How many of these problems could be avoided by a little research and planning before acquiring a pet. For all the information on specific breeds that is available, it seems that people still jump into pet ownership on impulse.
So, please, before you bring a pet into your life, do your research. Think about your lifestyle, future plans, and overall health. How busy are you? Can you even afford a pet at this time? Do you have the time or interest for training, walks and general health and coat care. Don’t pick your pet based on looks. Don’t assume you have to have a puppy and never, ever give a pet as a gift without a thorough discussion with the prospective new owner first.
Next week, we will go over what you need to think about before you add a new pet to your family.