Undeniably cute, the spiky hedgehog is a terrific and interesting pet. Typically living 4-7 years, they are great companions for people who have the time and the inclination to socialize and handle their shy, prickly friends.
Healthy hedgehogs are bright, alert and responsive, says Stacey Leonatti Wilkinson, DVM, at Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Georgia, Pooler, Georgia. Generally asleep during the day and active at night, hedgehogs have bright, open eyes during the day, constantly sniff when exploring and can ball up completely when they choose to, she adds.
Like other mammals, hedgehogs can suffer from several health problems. Let’s look at the most common hedgehog health issues and the best ways to prevent or treat these ailments in your pet.
The most common hedgehog health issue is mite infestation, Dr. Wilkinson says.
“Most all hedgehogs have mites, but in very low numbers and may never show symptoms,” she says, “though they can also be transmitted between animals and on surfaces, depending on the species of mite.”
Skin mites can cause itching and irritation to the skin. Skin often is crusty, flaky, red and itchy, and there might be quill loss. Ear mites can cause ear irritation and a foul-smelling discharge inside the hedgehog’s ears.
Your veterinarian must diagnose and treat both skin and ear mites.
“Mites can be treated with three doses of medication two weeks apart,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Most commonly used is Revolution (Selamectin) topically, but Ivermectin can also be given by injection as long as the dose is properly calculated by a veterinarian. Prognosis is excellent if properly treated.”
To help prevent these problems, quarantine any new hedgehogs that come into your home for at least two weeks to make sure they don’t have skin or ear mites.
Hedgehogs who are overfed and don’t get enough exercise can develop obesity. You can tell your hedgehog is overweight because she will have excess flesh under her stomach that might hang down.
“A hedgehog should be able to completely roll up in a ball without any fat protruding,” Dr. Wilkinson says.
An obese hedgehog also might have trouble walking and running.
To prevent obesity, Dr. Wilkinson recommends feeding pet hedgehogs a measured amount of food daily instead of free choice.
“Indoor adult cat foods are commonly used, but there are some excellent insectivore diets available now as well,” she says. “And encourage plenty of exercise by keeping a wheel in the cage and allowing supervised time outside of the cage.”
We all love to treat our pets, and Dr. Wilkinson cautions limiting treats, especially high-fat ones like mealworms. A hedgehog treat that’s lower in fat might be Fluker’s Freeze-Dried Crickets.
Hedgehogs easily develop respiratory infections, especially when they are young. For example, bacterial infections, such as pneumonia, are common.
Signs of a respiratory infection might include sneezing, a runny or crusty nose and eyes, and raspy breathing, wheezing or coughing. If left untreated, the infection can result in lethargy and loss of appetite.
If the infection spreads to the hedgehog’s lungs (pneumonia), it can cause “increased respiratory rate and effort, labored breathing, lethargy, anorexia and weakness,” Dr. Wilkinson says.
Your veterinarian can diagnose and treat your hedgehog’s respiratory infection. Hedgehogs can die from untreated respiratory infections.
“Treatment will involve antibiotics and, potentially, supportive-care measures— syringe feeding, fluids, nebulization, etc.—if the animal isn’t eating or drinking,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Prognosis for upper respiratory infections is excellent, but for pneumonia it can be more guarded depending on the extent of disease.”
To help keep your hedgehog from developing the problem in the first place, isolate new hedgehogs for at least two weeks so you know they are healthy before you introduce them to your resident hedgehogs. Keep your small pet’s cage clean, and make sure it’s not exposed to drafts.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
A genetic neurological condition called Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) affects domestic hedgehog health. Most common in young hedgehogs under 2 years old, Dr. Wilkinson says symptoms typically start with neurologic deficits in the hedgehog’s rear legs as she struggles to place her feet normally and becomes off balance.
“Over time this progresses to affect the front legs, and eventually the animals start to feel poorly, become weak and lethargic, and stop eating,” she says. “Significant weight loss occurs, and they cannot stand.”
This chronic, progressive paralysis ultimately renders the hedgehog unable to walk.
“There is no diagnostic test for this condition,” Dr. Wilkinson adds. “It can only be diagnosed by ruling out all other causes of similar symptoms.”
These include nutritional deficiencies, strokes, tumors, bacterial infections and injuries. Sadly, veterinarians do not have a cure for WHS. Euthanasia often must be considered as the animal’s quality of life declines,” Dr. Wilkinson says, adding that any hedgehog who’s offspring developed WHS should not be bred again.
Since hedgehogs have protruding eyes, they are susceptible to injury and irritation. Signs of eye irritation including holding the eye shut, pawing at the eye or tearing.
Causes of eye irritation can be from by dust or other foreign objects, a scratch or an eye infection. Your vet must diagnose the problem.
To help prevent eye issues, keep your hedgehog’s cage clean and free of sharp objects that may scratch her eyes.
Another common hedgehog health issue is gastrointestinal infections. The bacteria Salmonella is carried by many hedgehogs, and it can spread to humans,” Dr. Wilkinson says.
Take hedgehogs with diarrhea to a veterinarian. They will perform a fecal exam to check for parasites and certain bacteria, yeast, etc., and a fecal culture to definitively diagnose Salmonella or another specific bacterial pathogen, Dr. Wilkinson explains.
Antibiotics often are necessary, and prognosis usually is good when the animal is not severely systemically ill.
Any time you suspect your hedgehog’s health is not optimal, give your vet a call or you’re your pet in for a visit. With proper care and socialization, you can keep your critter thriving and interactive for years to come.
By: Sandy Chebat
Featured Image: Via manugv71/Pixabay
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