Cute, quiet and surprisingly popular, hedgehogs make a great pet for the right family. Pointy noses, shiny eyes and natural athletes, these nocturnal critters boast a decent lifespan of 4-7 years with proper care and socialization.
So, how can you ensure your prickly pet lives a long and happy life? First, make sure you’ve got her needs covered. Next, know the signs of a sick hedgehog and how to proceed.
Characteristics of a Healthy Hedgehog
“A healthy hedgehog should always be bright, alert and responsive,” says Stacey Leonatti Wilkinson, DVM, at Avian & Exotic Animal Hospital of Georgia, Pooler, Georgia.
These energetic mammals sleep during the day and are active at night, often sniffing when walking around and exploring. When your hedgehog is awake, her eyes should be bright and open, and her belly should be lifted up off the ground when she’s walking.
“There should always be plenty of urine and feces in the cage from overnight when you wake up in the morning,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Feces should be formed, but soft and brown, not loose, green or mucousy, or black and tarry.”
Aside from a good appetite, your healthy hedgehog should be able to ball up completely. Her skin should not be flaky, crusty, red or itchy, and when touched, even healthy and well-socialized hedgehogs will hiss or stiffen up in response.
Signs of a Sick Hedgehog
“A sick hedgehog will often be less active and/or weaker than normal and usually will have a reduced appetite,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “Many times they will stop running in their wheel at night.”
Weight loss, loose or reduced stools and reduced or bloody urine also can indicate your hedgehog is under the weather. Other signs of a sick hedgehog include lethargy, panting or labored breathing, a dull expression, discharge from the nose or eyes, sneezing, coughing and paralysis.
At-Home Care for a Sick Hedgehog
According to Dr. Wilkinson, you can provide general supportive care at home, but the primary problem will not improve without proper veterinary treatment.
“If a hedgehog is weak or lethargic, supplemental heat should be provided,” she says. “Hedgehogs will enter a state of torpor (like hibernation) if their environmental temperature drops below 65-70oF, so keeping them warm is very important.”
To warm your hedgehog, place her in a blanket on a human heating pad set on low. You also can place the heating pad under one side of your pet’s cage or put a heat lamp over one end so she can move away from it as needed.
While you wait to take your hedgehog to the vet, reduce her stress by leaving her alone as much as you can. If your small pet lives with another hedgehog, remove her cage mate right away. Provide your ill hedgehog with a dark, quiet environment.
If you pet is not eating, Dr. Wilkinson says you can offer her some canned kitten food, chicken or turkey baby food, or her normal diet soaked in water or low-sodium chicken broth. A syringe might help with feeding or providing water, she adds, but do so carefully as she can aspirate or choke if it’s given too rapidly.
If your hedgehog is sick, do not bathe it unless your veterinarian instructs you to do so. Don’t expose your hedgehog to drafts or loud noises. Avoid handling it if possible.
What Warrants a Trip to the Vet
“Any time you notice something out of the ordinary with your hedgehog, it at least warrants a phone call to the vet,” Dr. Wilkinson says, adding that your vet can advise you as to what might be going on and if it’s OK to monitor yourself or if your hedgehog needs to come in and how soon.
“In general, any time your hedgehog is less active, not eating well, or you notice more specific signs like coughing, sneezing, trouble breathing, abnormal urine or feces, etc., a vet visit is warranted,” she says. “Most exotic pets, including hedgehogs, are very good at hiding their clinical signs of illness, as in the wild they would be a target for a predator if they showed any weakness. Because of this, often by the time a hedgehog shows you that something is wrong, she may be seriously ill.”
By: Sandy Chebat