Hedgehog Ailments

While hedgehogs are generally very healthy pets and don't tend to experience too many problems, there are some that should be mentioned.

Hedgehogs are small. While they generally enjoy very good health, any kind of disease or disorder can be fatal in only a couple of days, so if you suspect a problem, see your vet immediately.

As time goes on, I hope to add any known treatments, either veterinary or home-applied that I can learn, here. Remember, if in doubt, take your friend to the doctor!

Probably the first thing is to stress, again, that hedgehogs are experts at hiding problems - often until it is too late. When you see a sign of a problem, it's time to act!

With that in mind, let's take a brief tour of the hedgehog covering off various problems that do tend to show up.

Noses. Usually the nose, itself, doesn't suffer much in the way of problems, but it can show up other problems, especially respiratory troubles, such as pneumonia. In many cases, the form of pneumonia that affects hedgehogs is bacterial in nature, which means that if you act quickly enough, antibiotics can have a very positive effect. Signs to watch for include bubbles, excessive dripping or constant sneezing.

Mouths. Hedgehogs can get all manner of things caught in their mouths, especially in the roof of the mouth. Peanuts, as provided in the Vitakraft hedgehog food are probably the most infamous. I've heard from numerous people who've had to have peanuts removed from the upper jaw of their hedgehogs - some, not in time. This also applies to sunflower seeds as found in the 8in1 `treat' food. Again, these can be deadly if not removed. This can sometimes be seen by a hedgehog licking its chops excessively, and not eating.

Some hedgehogs can also develop abscesses in their mouth. or other dental related problems. This is most often indicated by a hedgehog eating on only one side, or avoiding hard food. This is definitely a case for a quick trip to the vet.

Feeding them a diet which involves a substantial amount of dry (crunchy) food may help avoid some of these problems (though tartar buildup might be more related to the pH of the food [6.2]). Often these problems can be handled without complications, by a vet if caught early.

Hedgehogs can also suffer from tumors and cancers of the mouth. These can be much harder to see, unless on the outside, and require prompt veterinary care, when detected.

Eyes. Moving further along, the eyes can suffer a number of problems, such as things getting poked into them, or caught around the eyelid, injuries from being struck by unpadded spokes on a wheel, or even cataracts. A vet visit is almost always in order. Don't fret if your hedgehog does lose his sight or even an eye - hedgies do just fine when blind. since their primary sense is smell, and hearing is secondary, with vision a distant third.

Ears. Ears rarely show problems aside from tattered ears [8.3] which do not seem to bother the hedgehog much.

Toes. Toes, and toenails do need regular exams. Toenails tend to curl around and into the footpads if not trimmed [6.5], and toenails do tend to get caught and tear causing possible infections. I have also heard of some hedgehogs winding up with fungal problems on their feet, which need specialized treatment.

Legs. Legs can get hurt in any number of ways. From toenails getting caught and the leg being pulled, to the hedgehog taking a tumble. Watch for limping, or favoring a leg as a sign of an injury. Generally this involves a vet visit to check for anything serious, but often there is little that can be done except to let your hedgie heal (though removing the cause, if you can find it, is strongly suggested).

Limping and favoring a leg can also be indicative of internal problems as well. If you, or your vet does examine the hedgie and there is no sign of actual injury, it might be prudent to check for internal problems, growths, tumours, etc.

One other serious problem that affects limbs is getting hairs or threads caught around them, cutting off circulation. Hedgehogs will go as far as to chew off their foot in such cases. If there is a hair caught, get it off! Use a razor blade, and if you do nick the hedgie's leg in the process, don't feel bad - it's far better than the consequences of not getting rid of the hair or thread. My thanks to Melanie A. Abell for reminding me of this danger.

Genitals, etc. Hedgehogs, especially males, have an unfortunate tendency to get things caught in rather sensitive places (imagine yourself squirming, naked, through bedding like your hedgehog does). Things such as bits of litter (clay, corncob, etc.) can easily become caught in the penile sheath, which can cause serious inflammation and infection, along with a host of other problems. Females are not exempt from this type of problem, either, though the incidence is much lower. A daily inspection is strongly recommended to avoid a minor irritation becoming something very serious.

Quills and skin. Aside from mites [8.2], few problems affect either the quills or the skin. Hedgehogs can get fungal infections such as ringworm, but these are fairly rare. Veterinary diagnosis and treatment will take care of fungus problems. Hedgehogs do also occasionally get cysts. These are easily treated by a veterinarian.

Internal problems. Hedgehogs are prone to a myriad of possible internal problems, especially things such as bowel obstructions. Keep an eye on your hedgie's eating habits, and on their droppings [9.2]. Major changes in dropping can indicate all sorts of possible problems. Just about any such problem is something for a vet to deal with, rather than yourself.

Internal infections of various sorts often show up in the form of green droppings [9.2]. A slight greenish tinge to the droppings is not a worry - in the case of problems, we are talking about bright, forest green!

The other large scope of internal problems are from tumors, which are quite prevalent in hedgehogs. There isn't much you can do about detecting these, except to get your little friend to the veterinarian ASAP if there is an unexplained problem or an obvious lump.

Another problem which occurs in female hedgehogs are mammary tumors. Again, if caught early enough, these can be surgically removed by a veterinarian. Fortunately, this isn't a common problem, but it is a life threatening one if and when it does occur.

Hedgehogs can also suffer from such unpleasant ailments as prolapsed bowels, and in females prolapsed uterus. These problems can be treated by a veterinarian, if you get your little friend to help quickly.

Blood in urine or feces. This is somewhat of a special case of internal problems. Blood spots in either urine or feces can be from an incredibly wide range of causes, and can be either a one-time thing (say, from constipation), or can be very serious. Any time it happens repeatedly, it bears a vet visit ASAP. Many cases will stem from bladder infections or similar ailments, which will usually respond very well to treatment with antibiotics.

One situation (focused on female hedgehogs for obvious reasons) is from tumorous growths in the uterus. The following information from Paul Ritchey, covers this in detail and also shows that tumors can be overcome in hedgies!

SYMPTOMS: Few blood dots in litter pan first day. Everything else remained normal throughout the whole ordeal (eating, activity, attitude, etc.). Blood dots were only symptom. During a brief tabletop exam by me to see if she had hurt herself, she did both of her `duties' - blood evident. During the next few days in dealing with local vets, talking to Vera, etc., blood loss increased at an alarming rate. Few dots turned into ever increasingly larger blood spots.

DIAGNOSIS: Cancerous growth in the uterus. Growth was removed and Ariel is now happy and healthy once again. In my conversations with Dr. Goodman it was noted that with such small critters it's possible for abnormal growths NOT to show up in x-rays or sonograms. -- Paul Ritchey

In addition, Paul did stress the need to act quickly, as the type of tumors that occur in this kind of situation are very aggressive, and delays in finding and fixing the cause can let things get beyond the point recovery within a matter of a couple of days.

Probably the very best way to avoid problems is to thoroughly examine your hedgehog daily. This will help you note changes in habit or health quickly, and help keep little problems from becoming bigger ones.


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