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Chromium Supplementation for Hedgehogs
I recently had two hedgehogs in the same family line (one age 2, the other age 1-1/2) die of fatty liver disease right after pregnancy. One died five days after her litter was born, and the other 4-1/2 weeks into nursing. Fortunately, I was able to save most of the babies, but I was pretty upset about the moms. I seldom lose hedgies to fatty liver problems (which occur at a fairly high frequency among hedgehogs in general), so my first thought was that perhaps a genetic factor was at play. I think it is also important to note that one was a big, though not overweight hedgie, and the other was pretty average size and weight. I brought my concerns to my vet1, to help me figure out what we would need to do to reduce the chance of these problems in the future.
The first thing the vet told me was that it was much more likely coincidence that the two were related. The pregnancy and lactation was probably a stress to the system, and likely exacerbated problems that were already there. We’ve had many hedgies live to reasonably old age (up to a little past 6) with no liver problems, so it’s unlikely that our diet is creating a deficiency in all our animals. We typically take a cautious approach to supplementation, choosing to provide a varied diet because so little is known about specific nutrient needs, and multivitamins often contain too much vitamin A and D, which have the potential to become toxic if they build up in the system. The vet did have a specific suggestion, however: chromium. So, it was off to the internet to research chromium and chromium supplements.
According to Jennifer Prince, DVM2, chromium works with insulin in the body to help with the regulation of the metabolism of metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. She notes that current research is experimenting with use of chromium to treat diabetes. It is often sold in the form of chromium picolinate, because apparently picolinate helps increase the absorption of chromium in the system. Excess chromium is excreted in the urine, so you can’t overdose your animal with it. Dr. Prince cautions, however, that “Chromium supplementation may result in weight gain if exercise is lacking as it slows the rate of fat loss.” So, exercise will be an important factor if chromium supplements are used with overweight animals.
Dr. Prince also notes that food sources of chromium include cheese, prunes, shredded wheat cereal, raw peanuts, peanut butter, raw mushrooms, thyme, corn, and peas. The Chromium Information Bureau3 indicates that brewer's yeast, broccoli, brown rice, and whole grains in general are natural sources of chromium. A lot of hedgies like peas and corn, and whole grains can be cooked with meat broth to make them yummy to hedgies, so those would be good natural ways to supplement with chromium.
Chromium supplements are also readily available in capsule form in health food stores. The capsules can be broken open and the contents added to the water. But remember, the capsules are made for human sized people, so you don’t need much for your hedgehog! If you decide to use a non-food source for chromium, as with any supplement or medication, be sure to consult your veterinarian first.
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