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Monday, April 21, 2008

Lactose Intolerant Hedgehogs

Greenish diarrhea.

As if it's not bad enough that I have to, er, that's I'm privileged to read all those emails of yours about your adventures with diarrhea, I now stumble upon diarrhea in the wonderful world of hedgehogs.

My day is complete.

I blame Kurt Knebusch of The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. He writes an ask-it column - Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick[!] - that I found, in of all places, the North Texas e-News.

A reader asked:

Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant. I read that in a book. How would anyone know that?

You're all smart enough to know that, especially if you've been reading my blog for any length of time. You know that all adult mammals are lactose intolerant, and that would include hedgehogs.

But Knebusch can't leave it at that. He wrote:
"Greenish diarrhoea," Wildlife Online ( colorfully points out, "has been documented in captive (hedgehogs) fed on a diet of cow's milk and bread."

And documenting greenish diarrhoea, of course, is something you’d notice and learn from, I bet. Especially if you were the hedgehog. Or a scientist. Or a scientist who was a hedgehog who had greenish diarrhoea.

OK, so now you're all panting to know why in the world anyone would feed milk to hedgehogs. Even our old friends the British, who as a nation famously know nothing about proper nutrition.

Hedgehog lactose-intolerance comes up, so to speak, is an issue, you could say, in at least two ways: First, when people raise pet or abandoned wild baby hedgehogs; experts suggest giving them sheep's milk, goat's milk or soy-based formula for human babies instead of cow's milk.

Second, people in England sometimes put out bowls of bread and cow’s milk to feed wild backyard hedgehogs (which don't live in North America, you might remember). It's a traditional thing. A kind thing. But also, alas, it can give them the wind. "Put out clean water, but never milk," says the Wildlives Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, U.K.

We may not have hedgehogs in the U.S, but we do have badgers and possums and all sorts of critters that somebody might want to rescue. If you do, keep this good advice in mind. It's OK, even necessary, to give milk to baby animals. Adults should get water, though, and not milk of any kind. Unless you're a fan of greenish diarrhea. Or brown, black, white, or possibly rainbow diarrhea.

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