Hedgehogs need to consume quite a lot of protein in the diet, between 28% to 35%, in fact. So naturally, you may be wondering whether they can drink milk? Besides, it contains decent amounts of proteins and other important vitamins and minerals. But is this a good idea? Let’s find out!
So, can hedgehogs drink milk? Hedgehogs cannot drink milk and should not do so. Hedgehogs are lactose intolerant – they cannot produce the lactase enzyme required to break down the lactose (sugars) found in the milk, and therefore cannot digest it. Consumption would lead to an upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating, and general discomfort.
It’s not a good idea.
Even if your intentions were.
And here is why.
The milk that we could offer them is considerably different from what they naturally would consume as hoglets.
That’s right; baby hedgehogs do feed on their mothers’ milk for the first few weeks of life.
So they are certainly milk drinkers to some extent.
But only when young, and only hedgehog milk will suffice.
And they soon move on to an insectivorous/omnivorous diet.
So in reality, not only is every other ‘type’ of milk not appropriate, adult hedgehogs wouldn’t even drink their own milk anyway.
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at how important it is that you refrain from offering milk if all types of milk are off-limits and what you should offer them to drink instead.
Does Milk Kill Hedgehogs?
Milk can kill a hedgehog if it contains lactose, and they were to consume enough of it. Lactose-free milk is unlikely to kill a hedgehog, but again should never be feed.
When we think of milk, it is generally cows milk.
Its the most widely accessible and is most commonly available.
But this is perhaps one of the worst types of milk we could feed a hedgehog.
Even in what we would consider small amounts could cause severe digestive upset.
And that would have considerable implications that could end up killing them.
Whether it be from dehydration as a result of diarrhea or the malnourishment that follows.
Of course, not all milk is the same.
And it, of course, does depend on the dose and how much is consumed.
But with minimal to gain and potentially fatal consequences, it’s best not offered at all.
Can Hedgehogs Drink Dairy-Free Milks?
Hedgehogs should not drink dairy-free milk or any other milk substitutes. Even those not containing lactose, such as nut milk (almond milk) and grains (rice, oat) milk, etc, are not suitable in the diet.
Now you may be wondering why these are also not suitable. Besides, they do not contain any lactose, and most contain added vitamins and minerals?
Well, it’s usually for that secondary reason.
The vitamins and minerals.
And while it may sound strange that you should deny hedgehog access to vitamins and minerals, the truth is, they have very specific needs for them.
And it’s a lot less than your average human. They also need to be balanced.
By default, nut-milks and other milk substitute manufacturers will add synthetic vitamins and minerals to their products.
In some places, it’s even the law for them to do so.
This is known as fortification.
Vitamins such as A, B2, B12, E, D2.
These are just some of the vitamins that are often added, along with minerals such as calcium.
And in excess, some of these can be particularly dangerous.
Vitamin A and D in particular.
Hedgehogs cannot easily rid their bodies of them. So they will end up in their livers. And too much there will lead to toxicity, damage, and severe health consequences.
And just as VCA hospitals conclude:
‘Hedgehogs do not require additional vitamins if fed a properly balanced diet.’
Lastly, dairy-free milk is also very low in protein!
And as we know, hedgehogs have high protein requirements. Up to 35% of the diet.
So dairy-free, nut milk, milk substitutes, etc. These are just not suitable.
There is only one exception.
Baby hedgehogs; those who cannot access their mothers’ milk.
They will need to be fed a very specific milk substitute, such as Esbilac (which you can take a look at over at Amazon)
Even then, this should only be provided in very specific contexts, including in those sick and injured.
Nonetheless, a baby/sick hedgehog should transition over to an insectivorous/omnivorous diet in time.
What Should Hedgehogs Drink Instead?
Water. This is the only thing that hedgehogs should and even need to drink. And water should be plain, fresh, and provided in a shallow bowl.
And hedgehogs, like almost all living creatures, must remain hydrated.
In fact, the average adult hedgehog should be consuming between 25-40 milliliters of water per day.
Although younger hedgehogs, those particularly active and during warmer weathers up to 60 milliliters, may be consumed.
While this may not seem like a lot, it’s relative to their size.
In the wild, hedgehogs will routinely drink rainwater from puddles or other bodies of water.
So, hedgehogs are not particularly fussy with the water they drink.
However, if you want to provide water for a hedgehog, it is advised to put out a shallow dish of fresh water.
The dish must be shallow to ensure that they do not fall in and drown.
Tap water is fine, but ensure it is plain.
Never feed flavored waters, carbonated waters, or anything that could have sugars, chemicals, or other additives.
Hedgehogs cannot digest milk.
So, it naturally follows that they should not drink it.
While animal milk does contain protein, and some options can provide much-needed fat in the diet – milk should not be the source of these.
The risk far outweighs the reward.
Besides protein, fats, calcium, these will all be obtained through the consumption of live insects.
Outside of dairy milk, milk substitutes will not cut it either.
Again, there is little benefit to a hedgehog consuming them.
In fact, they can too be very problematic.
So stick to fresh, clean water in a shallow dish.
That’s all you need to offer in liquid form.
Unless you are nursing a baby hedgehog. But that’s another topic of discussion altogether.