Subject: Hedgehog FAQ [5/7] - Care and Understanding

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Summary

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions and general information about pet (African Pigmy) hedgehogs. Should be helpful to both prospective and current hedgehog owners.
Part V - understanding hedgehogs, and hedgehog health care

Current Revision

Last-modifie: 25 June 2014
Version: 3.183

HEDGEHOG FAQ (part 5 of 7) -- HEDGEHOG HEALTH CARE AND UNDERSTANDING
Compiled and edited by Brian MacNamara (macnamara@hedgehoghollow.com)
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed.

This document is copyright 2014 by Brian MacNamara. See section [0.6] for authorship information and redistribution rights. In short, you can give it away, but you can't charge for it.

The basic Hedgehog FAQ has seven parts, all of which should be available from wherever you obtained this one. A complete table of contents for all seven parts is given below.

Please note: While my knowledge of hedgehogs has grown (far beyond my wildest expectations when I began the FAQ), my knowledge is still quite limited, especially in areas of health care. I did not write, or verify, all the information in this FAQ. I have done my best to include only accurate and useful information, but I cannot guarantee the correctness of what is contained in this FAQ, regardless of the source, or even that it will not be harmful to you or your hedgehog in some way. For advice from an expert, I recommend you consult the books listed in part 2 [2.1], or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem, a veterinarian who is familiar with hedgehogs.


Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE

7. *** Things hedgehogs say and do ***

8. *** Basic health care ***
9. *** Problems to watch for and related information ***


7. *** Things hedgehogs say and do ***



Subject: <7.1> Self-anointing. What is it? Why do hedgehogs do it?

I have mentioned self-anointing (or self-lathering, as it is sometime called, in at least the U.K.) repeatedly throughout the FAQ, so now it is time to explore the hedgehog's one truly unique trait. Nathan Tenny provided a good description of this interesting and perplexing hedgehog habit:

One of the most effective ways to provoke a session of self-anointing is to pick up your hedgehog when you have sweaty hands, or after having used hand lotion, or a different type of soap.

In any case, once you have witnessed this entertaining act, and you have calmed down enough to understand your little friend doesn't have rabies after all, you will likely be convinced that hedgehogs do not have backbones. It's really hard to believe something as round as a hedgehog can twist itself into that contorted a position. It's also a bit disconcerting to learn just how long that tongue is!



Subject: <7.2> My hedgehog snuffles and hides a lot. Is that normal?

Yep. If he doesn't, are you sure you have a hedgehog? The snuffling or snorting (or snurfling, as my wife calls it), while having the head tucked down, is part of the defence mechanism that has kept hedgehogs around for a very long time. It basically leaves them with their quills protecting every bit of visible surface, but still allows the hedgehog to move. The snuffling and snorting is usually accompanied by sudden lurches in the direction the hedgehog believes its potential enemy is in, to try and give it a good warning prickle.

The more your hedgehog comes to know you, the less you will get the sharp shoulder treatment. One exception to this is if your hedgehog is sleepy. A sleepy hedgehog can be very insistent about not being disturbed [3.1].

Getting your hedgehog to become familiar with you takes a lot of patience, but it is worth it. If your hedgehog tends to be somewhat shy or unfriendly towards you, try spending more time holding him -- chances are he just doesn't associate your smell with being a friend, yet. For more information on getting your hedgie used to you, see section [4.6].



Subject: <7.3> Is he just asleep or hibernating?

A quick note here: this section applies to African Pigmy hedgehogs, rather than European hedgehogs (which do hibernate, primarily between January and March).

A common concern is whether or not pet hedgehogs can, or should hibernate -- especially as winter starts to arrive. The answer to the first part -- can they? -- is yes. The answer to the second part -- should they? -- is NO!

Our pet hedgehogs are African in origin. They have adapted to the much warmer climate, and have generally lost the ability to tolerate hibernation. While they can still go into hibernation, when they get too cold, and they do have the ability to Aestivate (similar to hibernation, but to survive very hot, dry periods), their chances of surviving either for more than a brief period are virtually nonexistant. In effect the hibernation ability is almost vestigal, and aestivation is almost as dangerous for an animal which is not prepared for it.

As pets, hedgehogs do not stock up on food, nor put on the necessary extra body fat (at least in the right manner) needed to get through hibernation. A pet that is allowed to even suffer semi-hibernation extensively can suffer long term effects (becomming very weak and sick), and those that do end up in full hibernation will rarely survive beyond 1-2 days in this state, if at all.

Now that we've made it clear that they shouldn't be allowed to hibernate (or even go into semi-hibernation, what are the signs to look for, and how do you prevent it from happening? The good news is that if caught in time, the effects are reversable. If the temperature where they are kept drops too low (below about 20 degrees C or 68 degrees F), they can start preparing for hibernation and will certainly go into hibernation for brief periods, if the temperature drops much below this -- at least until the temperature returns to a comfortable level.

If your hedgehog seems to be sleeping too soundly, and you are worried, any kind of movement to his or her bed will usually earn you at least a brief spate of unhappy snuffling. If this happens, then you can probably assume you've just disturbed a sleepy hedgehog, or at least he's not in full hibernation. If this and nudging at him don't have any effect, and he's been in quite a cool (for a hedgehog) temperature, he may have slipped into the beginnings of hibernation, and should be gently (and slowly) warmed up, which should let him awaken, and come back to full activity.

Hedgehogs will also tend to slow down and get somewhat grumpy if they are kept at a temperature that's too cool for their liking. If you're finding that your previously energetic hedgehog is acting a bit slow and grumpy, and cool weather has started to arrive, then you may want to take steps to warm up your hedgehog [5.2], [7.3].

One of the most common signs of a hedgehog being too cold (semi-hibernation), is being very unsteady on its feet. Wobbly hedgehogs, or ones showing signs of problems in their hindquarters are almost always due to being too cold. There are some other causes for this type of symptom, as well (see [9.5] on Wobbly Hedgehogs), but of the cases I've heard of over 99% are from being cold.

Another sign that a hedgehog that is too cool is its going off its food. If your hedgehog isn't eating, and is walking a bit funny, it may be because he is a bit cool.

In general, the likelihood of hibernation happening is quite low, so if your hedgehog isn't making its home in the refrigerator, and you don't like living in subarctic conditions indoors, you probably shouldn't worry. That having been said, I have heard of several instances of it happening (briefly, and all fully recovered when warmed up), so some caution is worthwhile.

Recently, another cause of hibernation, or more commonly, partial hibernation has shown up. It appears that hedgehogs are quite sensitive to the short daylight hours, or even low light, as can happen during the winter months. If your hedgehog is warm enough, but still shows indications of wanting to hibernate, try leaving a light on to extend the `length of the day' for him. I've seen this help with my own hedgehogs, and my thanks to both Dawn Wrobel and Sharon Massena for bringing it to my attention.

Beyond even the light issue, it appears that some `lines' of pet hedgehogs may be more prone to hibernation, or rather trying to hibernate than others. In some cases, you may need to be very diligent to ensure your little friend doesn't drift off into a one-way winter's nap on you. Details on this, assumed, genetic link are very sketchy as yet.

Also a worry is the chance of pet hedgehogs going into aestivation. This is similar to hibernation, but is done when things get too warm. In their natural habitat, this is to let the hedgehog wait things out until cooler and/or damper weather returns. Pet hedgehogs can slip into this state, especially in light of heatwaves in recent years in North America. The problems and side effects of aestivation are largely the same as for hibernation.

Remember, keep your hedgie warm!



Subject: <7.4> My hedgehog sneezes. What should I do?

Occasional sneezes are normal. When you consider the amount of exploring that hedgehogs like to do, in combination with just how busy that little nose is, it's pretty easy to understand that the result will be an occasional sneeze.

Extended sneezing fits, or nasal discharge, however, indicates a problem, and a trip to the vet is in order. This can indicate anything from a respiratory problem, to a bad cold. In most cases, the treatment will consist of antibiotics, which usually help beat the problem in short order.



Subject: <7.5> My hedgehog's gone ballistic? Is this normal?

You've just introduced your hedgehog to a nice new big pen and all of a sudden it's like he's going crazy, running madly around the cage, trying to get out of every little nook and cranny, and generally driving you up the wall. Yes, this is quite normal (for the hedgehog -- you being up the wall, I can't comment on).

Hedgehogs appear to do this when they get into a new environment, and will usually settle down in a while, once they decide that (a) they can't actually get out (which given the slightest chance, they will), and (b) they have decided this is now home. Some hedgehogs will literally climb the walls just to check whether you remembered a roof or not. My Pocus was a fine example of this. She would climb anything, anywhere, anytime, to any height.

Some things you can do to reduce the chaos and chances of reoccurrence are to provide a familiar nest or burrow for your little beast, and to install a wheel for exercise [5.6], [5.7] (all that energy is pretty normal in hedgehogs -- scary, huh?). Lots of active play times can help too.

One other answer here is to simply enjoy the fact that you have a healthy, energetic hedgehog.



Subject: <7.6> Basic hedgehog repertoire

As far as sounds go, officially, the only sounds that hedgehogs are supposed to make is their snuffling and snorting when they are feeling threatened, and some squeaking as babies, or during mating. That said, I can tell you hedgehogs have an amazing number of little sounds in their repertoire. I have it on good advice and from personal experience that there are a number of other hedgehog vocalizations that occur in both babies and adults.

Most of the time, aside from the snuffling, the only sound most hedgies make is a soft `whiffling' sound, usually as they are exploring and sniffing for new and interesting discoveries.

One time that hedgehogs completely abandon their silent ways is when it comes to mating. This is particularly true of males who will often end up sounding like a video game gone wild with an amazing series of squeaks and chirps as they vie for the favours of the lady.

In addition, here are some comments from other people on hedgehog sounds:

I'd like to thank Mike McGary, with some commentary from Nathan Tenny and Znofyl, for sharing thoughts on the virtuoso singing of hedgehogs here to give people an idea of some of the extremes that can be reached. I would also like to note that unless a lady-hog was in his immediate company, the loudest thing that ever came out of Velcro, other than snuffling, was a contented slurp when he buried his nose in a container of cream.

The following from Znofyl and Nathan are about as good an answer to this mystery as we're likely to get without growing quills ourselves:

From my own experience, when Velcro first learned about the arrival of his first girlfriend, Sprocket, he put on the most amazing little session of barking and squeaking. She, in turn, frequently squeaked, especially if she was trying to nudge her way out from between someone's fingers to get to the rest of the world.

We have also had the experience of Mike McGary's ``rabbit-caught-in-a-trap'' squealing, shortly after bringing home Hocus and Pocus. The den they share only has one entrance/exit, and apparently one of the girls was blocking the door from the other one. It was quite a scary sound to hear, but the girls appeared none the worse for wear by the time we arrived seconds later, out of breath from a mad dash.

Continuing with the `unhappy' sounds, the hissing, snuffling sound of a hedgehog that's not happy is something almost all hedgie owners learn very quickly. Even the friendliest hedgehog will resort to this if you wake them in the middle of a good dream about mealworm nirvana! When really upset, this takes on a growling tone, and can be accompanied by `pops' that really indicate an unhappy hedgehog.

Recently I've had several reports of hedgehogs 'purring':

While I haven't had this experience, it certainly sounds like quite the thing. The closest I've come to this is to find most of my hedgies tend to make a soft `smacking' sound, almost like a cartoon animal licking its chops. By making this sound back to them, they seem to respond in turn, to it. It almost appears to be some sort of greeting, and will sometimes even bring an irate hedgie out of a huff for me. Either that or it sounds like I've caught the mother of all mealworms and they want a share...

The gist of this whole section is really to let readers know that hedgehogs are capable of making a wide range of sounds -- if and when they want.

At this rate, a hedgehog dictionary may be in line as an addition to the FAQ!



8. *** Basic health care ***



Subject: <8.1> What health risks should I worry about?

Hedgehogs have an amazing immunity to most things that are toxic. Quantities of many toxins that would kill a human hundreds or even thousands of times over will often have no noticeable effect on a hedgehog at all. This trait has inspired both legends and scientific research, with no conclusive results other than acknowledgment that it is true.

This means that should your hedgehog accidentally encounter any of the numerous poisons that exist within every modern home, chances are your little friend will wander off none the worse for wear, while if it had been another type of pet, it may have been in dire need of a visit to the vet.

However, just because hedgehogs are considered to be all but poison-proof is no reason for you to take chances. They are immune to many toxins, but there could always be an exception. You should supervise your hedgehog's wanderings and keep dangerous substances tucked safely away.

One important general health note, before we continue -- hedgehogs are absolute masters at hiding any kind of health problem. This is a survival trait that they have developed over a very long history, and for you to see through their attempts to hide illness and injury requires that you know your hedgies and their ways very well, so that you can note slight deviations in their habits before they develop into something serious!

As I pointed out in [2.1], Pat Storer's books discuss blood chemistry and what kinds and doses of various medicines have been used successfully to treat hedgehogs. I strongly suggest you get a copy of one of these books, if for no other reason than to bring with you to the veterinarian, in the case of an emergency, so he or she knows what to expect and what to do about problems.

Hedgehogs are susceptable to worms, fleas, mites, and other common pet parasites. If you have other pets (especially indoor/outdoor ones), if you give your hedgehog access to the outdoors (even supervised), or if you bring in non-commercially grown earthworms, crickets, or other insects, you might want to be especially concerned about parasites. Even taking precautions it is still possible for your pet to get parasites.

Treatment of fleas is well described in the Flea and Tick FAQ [9.4], and most safe (non-long-lasting) commercial flea treatments should work. It is always wise to try a small amount on the rump first, and wait for a couple of hours to see if there is any adverse reaction, before doing any serious treatment. Also, do remember to avoid getting it into the eyes!

Far more of a problem than fleas, and worms, are mites, which are the most common health problem that affects pet hedgehogs. Section [8.2] discusses this in detail.

Almost all forms of parasites that a pet hedgehog is likely to encounter are quite treatable, and a visit to the veterinarian will provide you with the answers and medications to do so properly.

I would also like to add a quick reminder here to use wheels with solid running surfaces and to pad the spokes to prevent injuries [5.6].

One other area of concern is obesity. Hedgehogs can easily become overweight, partially due to their potential for hibernation [7.3], they can, and will, pack on weight in preparation for a lengthy hibernation that never comes. Letting them hibernate is NOT the answer -- a diet and exercise are. If your hedgehog is getting too plump, just cut back on his food a bit, and try to encourage activity by letting him run around, or by giving him a wheel.

With respect to more severe medical problems, there are a number of serious medical conditions that can appear in hedgehogs, though, thankfully, not that frequently. These range from pneumonia, to Fatty Liver Disease, tumours and cancers.

Pneumonia rarely happens on its own. Instead, it usually appears following some sort of injury, or other medical problem, or due to extended or repeated bouts of partial hibernation. If caught early, it can be treated by a knowledgeable veterinarian -- most instances of pneumonia in hedgehogs are bacterial, and hence respond well to antibiotics. Here are some of the signs of pneumonia:

Hedgehogs are sometimes inclined to getting Fatty Liver Disease (FLD). While all the reasons are not understood, there have been some suggestions that it can be due to the type of diet, or in some cases the quantity, lack of exercise, or even genetic. One of the best ways to help prevent FLD is to provide a wheel or other regular exercise. The key signs to look for to tell if your hedgehog may be a candidate for FLD are whether there are yellowish fatty deposits showing, especially under the front armpits (legpits?). If these are present, it doesn't mean your hedgie has FLD, but it does suggest that something needs to be done quickly before it does progress to where the liver is irrepairably harmed.

Unfortunately, hedgehogs are also prone to tumours and cancers, especially in the 3-4 year old range. Whether this may be due in part to dietary factors, or just because they rarely live to that age in the wild, and we are just seeing the effects of bodily systems run amok, is not known.

About the best advice I can pass along is the suggestion that came from the 1997 ``Go Hog Wild'' Veterinary Seminar, where the doctors gave the advice to have any tumours removed ASAP, as being the best possible course of action available. Since that time, it has been found that treating hedgehogs who have tumours or cancers with steroids can have a positive effect. In addition, research into nutrition and related factors may soon help reduce the number of tumour instances in hedgehogs.

With luck and further research, hopefully we will see tumours become a rarity in the not too distant future.



Subject: <8.2> Mites (or mites, not?)

The single most common problem that affects pet hedgehogs ia mites! I average about two to three messages per week from people wondering what is wrong with their hedgehog where the symptoms are clearly those of mites. Kathleen Close sent along some thoughts from her veterinarian regarding mites, and how common they can be:

How common mites are may be related to where you live. Also, it's quite common for a hedgehog to arrive already having mites. Indeed, many breeders may not even notice it, since it is rather easy to pass off as being 'normal' when it is not too bad.

While it's not particularly difficult to treat, mites can become serious if left untreated. To give you a perspective on mites, `mange' is caused by a type of mite.

Some of the signs of mites are crusty deposits, especially around the eyes and at the base of the quills, and loss of quills. Don't panic if your hedgehog loses occasional quills -- they're much like our hair like that (although for some of us, this comparison might not work -- if you're like me, don't wait until there are no quills left thinking it's normal). If your hedgehog seems to be losing quite a few quills, more than you think is right, it's probably time to do something about it.

One further check you can make is to look at one of the quills that has been lost. In a normally shed quill, there will be a little ball at one end, where the quill fitted into the follicle. If it was lost from mites, the small ball-shaped piece will be missing -- the quill looking like it is pointed at both ends. Note: this isn't a definitive sign, either way, so don't take it as being 100% proof.

The easiest way to treat mites is often to visit a veterinarian, who will usually treat them with a shot, typically of Ivermectin. This can also be used either topically, or orally. Often it will take at least two visits and sometimes three (for stubborn cases) to make sure that all the mites are gone.

Courtesy of `chvall' who found the answer on the ``Exotic Net,'' apparently listed by Dr. Evan Blair, the standard dosage for Ivermectic is 0.1 cc per 10 lbs. You should always check the label of particular package, as it is always possible that it might be offered in different concentrations.

I'd like to add the following, courtesy of Eloise Campbell by way of her veterinarian, that the dosage of Ivermectic listed above is on the ``low end'' of the scale. This is probably a good thing for the audience that this FAQ is designed to reach, erring on the side of safety in this case, but it does provide some slight leeway for serious cases, or for accidents where a slightly stronger dose happens to be given. For safety's sake, I won't attempt to offer any guidelines on what a higher end dose might constitute -- after all dosages of medication like this is something that only a qualified veterinarian should be dealing with.

After getting each shot, it will be necessary to completely clean out your hedgehog's cage or tank, replacing all the shavings, and preferably washing it down with something like ammonia or bleach. Otherwise, the mites will simply hide in the shavings and hop back onto the hedgehog when the effects of the treatment wear off.

Because mites will hide in the bedding during any treatment, you should avoid using pourous beddings (wood chips, astroturf, Yesterdays News, CareFresh, etc.). Using something like shredded newspaper is both inexpensive (for the number of times you will have to replace everything) and doesn't provide hiding space for mites fleaing the, now, mite-hostile hedgehog.

Here are a few cautionary words from Todd Reeves, courtesy of his veterinarian, on treating hedgehogs for mites:

I have heard of countless hedgehogs being safely and properly treated by Ivermectin, in various forms such as injected, orally, and topically, and even in cases of overdose, the hedgehog came through fine, but as always with an animal of this size, dangers exist when dealing with very powerful medications.

Recently, Michael (knuckles) passed along the following information care of his veterinarian (note: this describes a pretty thorough mite infestation):

Michael also expressed relief over his vet opting not to use a mite powder. While I don't know if it would be dangerous if used carefully, powders can cause problems in hedgehogs if they get in the eyes, or end up being inhaled. Using either injections (from your vet), or a spray (where chances of inhaling it are over quickly, it's far easier to protect against, and can be flushed away from eyes much easier in the event of an accident), are safer options.

You can also treat minor cases of mites yourself, using a mild flea/tick spray. Make sure you avoid the long lasting variety, and any which use an alcohol base. If you aren't sure about the spray you've gotten, simply spray a small spot on your hedgehog's rump. If within a half hour there is any sign of distress, give your hedgie a good scrubbing there, and consider a visit to the vet. Problems are very unlikely if you don't use a long lasting spray.

In the past, I had recemmended that the Adams brand flea/tick spray was safe. Unfortunately, it turns out that Adams produces a number of flea/tick sprays
-- some of which are alcohol based, and can be extremely dangerous. While the `water-based' variety is likely safe, I must caution that care should be taken using any of the Adams sprays, and, indeed, any flea/tick spray, for that matter. Test them first, as suggested, above, and use them sparingly. Or better yet, take your little friend to a vet for proper treatment.

To use the spray, spray your little friend down along his back from front to rear, making sure you avoid the head (particularly ears, eyes, and nose). Repeat this in a couple of days for 2 or 3 treatments and that should curb the mites. You will also need to completely clean out the cage when you do this or the mites hiding in the bedding will just wait until the spray wears down, and hop back on.

Here are some cautions to help you decide if the flea spray you're looking at will do the job and be safe:

I suspect many such sprays are going to use an alcohol base, so beware that you don't get too much overspray in the air -- it isn't good for your hedgie (or you) to be breathing it.

Again, if you are in any doubt as to the safety of a spray, try a small amount sprayed on the rump. If there are any adverse effects, wash your hedgehog quickly and make tracks to a veterinarian, taking the spray with you.

Another home-remedy method that has appeared, and seems to have some real promise, is to give your hedgehog a bath in vegetable oil. Be sure to keep it out of the eyes and nose. After the oil bath, wipe your hedgehog down (make sure he or she stays warm, as they are very susceptible to becoming chilled). Leave the oil on for a day, then give your hedgehog a bath with some mild puppy/kitten type shampoo, (again taking the precautions against chills). You may need to repeat this treatment a couple of times.

The effects of the mites may take a few days to disappear after they are gone, so don't be alarmed if your hedgehog keeps losing quills for a couple of days after the last treatment.

The quills will soon regrow -- hedgehogs that have had mites and are now mite free generally recover very quickly, and frequently are much more energetic and playful.

So where did these little freeloaders come from? Well, in many cases, they arrived along with your hedgehog, and just took some time, or a stressful event to allow them to proliferate and become a problem.

One other, common source of mites is from the bedding material you are using. It is possible to get mite infested packages of bedding. You might want to switch to another package, and preferably another brand of bedding to be on the safe side. Most reputable brands of pet bedding attempt to treat their bedding products so they are pest free, but it is always possible that some managed to get through. In an emergency, you can use shredded newspaper to carry you through until you get new bedding.



Subject: <8.3> Tattered or ragged ears

This is probably the second most common problem that appears in hedgehogs, but is far less worrisome than mites.

Some hedgehogs develop what looks to be tattered, ragged, or fringed ears, rather than the smooth round edges that are normally seen. The edges of the ears end up looking like a ripped piece of paper, as if something has been chewing at them.

First of all, in almost every case, what you are seeing is a waxy buildup on the edges of the ears, rather than the ear itself being ragged. That means that cleaning it off, and solving the problem, will restore your little friend to his normal healthy round ears.

The other good news is that it doesn't appear to adversely bother hedgehogs who have it.

Recent research seems to point to a number of possible causes for this buildup, with fungus being the most likely and most common. That said, there is no single cause which always is the reason. Most likely it is exaberated by some minor dietary problem (either too little or too much of something), but the problem often occurs in only some animals getting the same diet as others. As noted, the most common trigger/cause seems to be due to fungus, while other cases are traceable to mites, but it has also been found in animals that have been tested and found to definitely have neither -- in such cases dietary supplements seem to solve the problem. Among the suggestions I've received on dealing with it are:

As noted, ragged or tattered ears can also be caused by mites, even in hedgehogs which have been thoroughly treated against them. The problem is that the bloodflow to the ears is limited enough that medications such as Ivomectin, given either orally or by injection, just don't get to that area in adequate concentrations to completely get rid of the mites. The solution can be to use it topically, on the ears directly (after softening and removing the waxy buildup).

Tiffany Mross also passed along the following suggestions on cleaning up tattered ear buildup, after some discussions on the hedgehog mailing list about using cocoa butter:

While not something that has been tested (to my knowledge), it certainly does have enough promise to warrant looking into.

I've received a suggestion from Sarah Duffy, that in retrospect makes complete sense and leaves me thinking I should beat my head on a wall for not cluing it:

For those who aren't aware, bag balm was originally created for cows udders, but is a very popular solution for dry and capped skin. It's safe for human, and of course, animal use. If you can't find it locally, I do know that Lee Valley carry it and sell online and sell pretty much worldwide.



Subject: <8.4> Hedgehog first-aid kit

Although you may never need it, hedgehogs have a knack for getting into mischief at the most inopportune times. The following is a list of items that hedgehog owners should keep handy in case of an emergency. This list is not meant to cover every contingency, but it will hopefully help with most that might arise.



Subject: <8.5> Do I need to spay/neuter my pet?

While the concept of spaying and neutering hedgehogs has been tried in a couple of places, the fact that their sexual organs are located so far internally, in what is a small animal to begin with, makes this an extremely dangerous and delicate operation, even in the hands of those who know what they are doing. The survival rate for this type of operation is below 50% from all the figures I have seen. In effect, it's not a worthwhile risk.

Given that most male/female groups of hedgehogs are not overly social except during mating, (and even then it can often be a tentative truce at best) it is unlikely that spaying/neutering is anything you need to worry about. It is uncertain if it will help much in getting male/male groups to get along without fights, and it isn't needed in female/female groups.

In addition to all of this, I suspect you will be hard pressed to find a veterinarian who could (let alone would) do the operation, though some do exist who have done it.

As a cautionary reminder, hedgehogs as young as 6 weeks old can, and will, mate. If you do have babies, remember to separate them before this age, or you will have even more hoglets on the way, and probably not as you would want.

In short, altering your hedgehog is not likely to be a worry, although Velcro would have had me believe that it might be worthwhile -- he made his desires towards the females abundantly clear, and would have had me overrun with hoglets in no time given half the opportunity (the ladies, however, defended their virtue admirably).



Subject: <8.6> Vaccinations, etc.

Although this could fit into the previous section, I felt it deserved a section of its own. After taking my herd of cats in for their annual shots, one year, I found myself wondering about what shots, if any, a hedgehog should have. Primarily, the biggest worry in North America is likely rabies, but there are other potential fungal/bacterial/viral infections as well.

After talking with my (non-hedgehog oriented) vet, I took my questions to the appropriate source (thanks Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM). It turns out the answer is quite simple, yet complicated (don't you just love it when answers are like that?).

As a general rule, for indoor hedgehogs that are not exposed to the dangers of outdoors, there is no need to worry. What complicates this is that local authorities may not see it that way, and especially in areas where diseases such as rabies exist, and they might be VERY insistent on vaccination -- even though no vaccine has been approved for hedgehogs yet. So, you don't need to vaccinate your hedgehog, unless otherwise required -- clear as mud, right?

Here are some words of wisdom from Cathy to help clear things up a bit, and to try and cover the problem areas of what to do when you DO need to vaccinate a hedgehog, or get treatment otherwise. Remember, this is primarily her professional opinion, and not a set of absolute truths.

Another set of suggestions Cathy had was for sources for your veterinarian:



9. *** Problems to watch for and related information ***



Subject: <9.1> Various hedgehog health issues

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 tumours 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 whee, 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 favouring 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 hedgies 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 hedgies' 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 tumours, 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 tumours. 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 situtation (focused on female hedgies for obvious reasons) is from tumorous growths in the uterus. The following information from Paul Ritchey, covers this in detail and also shows that tumours can be overcome in hedgies!

In addition, Paul did stress the need to act quickly, as the type of tumours that occur in this kind of situation are very agressive, and delays in finding and fixing the cause can let things get beyond the point recovery withing 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.



Subject: <9.2> My hedgehog's had funny-looking stools for a couple of days. What's wrong?

Normal hedgehog droppings can range from almost pellet-like to quite soft and sticky. Colour is usually very dark brown, almost black. Depending on diet, especially treats, they can vary quite a bit. If your hedgehog is leaving unusual droppings after having had a treat or change in diet a day or so before, then it is probably related to what he ate. If the problem continues (assuming the hedgehog is back on his normal diet), or if your hedgehog is suffering from severe diarrhea, see your vet, immediately.

One thing that can help solve diarrhea is live cultured yogurt:

There are some serious problems that are indicated by funny looking stools. Remember that if you've fed your hedgie something odd, that is likely the cause of the problem, but if he's been on his normal diet, and changes in his stools happen, it may be a warning sign. For example:

While similar symptoms in your hedgehog might not indicate the same problem, a trip to a knowledgeable vet is probably worthwhile. In general, serious kidney problems in hedgehogs are probably not easily treatable, but catching such problems early might make a big difference.

Forest green stools also indicate a likely problem. Often these are indicitive of some sort of internal infection. A visit to the vet is usually required.



Subject: <9.3> My hedgehog's not eating. What should I do?

This is often the sign of either a sick, depressed, or especially a chilled [7.3] hedgehog. Assuming your hedgehog is warm enough, and there is no likelihood of unusual stress (which can also put a hedgehog off eating), you may want to have a vet check for sickness, but clearly the thing that's needed is to get your pet back on its dinner. About the only suggestion I can offer is to attempt out-and-out bribery; offer your hedgehog his favorite treats, and try some cooked chicken or turkey. If possible, make sure he is drinking, and if necessary resort to using some thinned chicken broth, or even something with electolytes (see below). Other suggestions for bribery snacks are chopped hardboiled egg, cottage cheese, and mealworms.

Here are a few words of wisdom from Linda Wheatly on getting a hedgehog to eat:

Related to this is the problem of not drinking, or not drinking enough, resulting in dehydration. If water is available and accessible, this is usually not a problem, but if for one reason or another this does occur, it is important to get fluids into the hedgehog as quickly as reasonably possible. This might involve a vet visit and intravenous or similar fluid replacement. In less dire cases, you can use electrolyte enhanced drinks, such as many of the sport drinks now available, or better yet, Pedalyte, a form intended for children, which is quite a bit `safer' for sensitive digestive systems. Because of the cost, and quantity, this is not always an economical choice, however, as suggested by Sheri, you can get it in a powdered form under the brand name Kaopectalyte.

Remember, given a hedgehog's small size, not eating or drinking can become deadly in very short order. If the situation persists for more than a couple of days, consider taking your little friend to a vet.



Subject: <9.4> How did I get fleas in my home? How can I get rid of them?

Even if your hedgehog is never outdoors, you can bring in fleas or flea eggs on your shoes or clothing.

There's a whole FAQ dedicated to ridding your pet and your home of fleas and ticks. It's distributed in the rec.pets usenet newsgroup. You can also get it by FTP at:

(that is, ftp to rtfm.mit.edu and get the indicated file) or by sending email to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu with the line

in the body of the message (with an empty subject line).

In general, most products which are safe for use on kittens and puppies are likely safe for hedgehogs (though avoid those products listed as long lasting). Keeping in mind that bathing baby or young hedgehogs can be dangerous and should be avoided if possible [6.5]. It is better to spray on such products.



Subject: <9.5> Wobbly Hedgehogs

This description covers a myriad of different problems, all of which seem to have very similar symptoms. Your hedgehog is being wobbly on his feet. Either just unsteady as it moves around, or even falling over and laying on its slide. Obviously this is a pretty scary thing to encounter, and while the vast majority of these wobbly hedgehogs are due to being too cold (signs of semi-hibernation -- see section [7.3]), there are some other causes.

Provided that you are absolutely, positively, unquestionably certain (and that you go check 3 more times) that your hedgehog is not suffering from signs of semi-hibernation or semi-aestivation, there are a couple of other things that can cause this kind of behavior.

While there are many conditions that can result in some degree of wobbliness (beyond the normal waddling gait of a hedgehog), the term ``Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome'' has come to be applied to what is now considered to be a neurological disorder. The one thing that is certain about this condition is that nothing is really certain. Please keep this in mind while reading what follows.

The problem generally appears as a progressive paralysis, usually starting at the tail end of the spine and working its way toward the nose. The rate of progression can vary greatly, sometimes taking only weeks, other times spanning a year or longer. It usually appears in adults over a year old, but it can occur in even very young hedgehogs.

The cause of this problem is very likely genetic, probably in some ways due to the very small, and shrinking gene pool from which our little friends are bred from.

This problem can be very hard to diagnose, and generally will only be known with any certainty after a detailed necropsy.

Other, possibly more common causes of wobbling or paralysis can stem from strokes, injuries, or tumors. In the case of injuries, treatment (assuming you or your vet can determine that an injury occurred) will depend on just what kind of injury it was. For strokes, which do happen to hedgehogs, there will often be improvement over time. For tumors, surgery or steroids may help.

One other factor that may be responsible for some types of wobbly hedgehogs, especially in cases where multiple unrelated hedgehogs are affected, is from some sort of dietary deficiency. Exactly what is lacking, or in excess, is not known. This particular form of wobbly hedgehog syndrome seems to only affect hedgehogs which are raised on cat food, and generally unsupplemented with vitamins, as opposed to one of the better foods now on the market. Hedgehogs which have had supplements, or which eat a good, balanced hedgehog food do not appear to show any signs of this problem. As yet, there is no scientific answer as to why, but a change in diet might be worth trying.

Again, I would stress that over 99.9% of cases of wobbly hedgehogs are from hedgehogs showing signs of hibernation, or aestivation. Before you start worrying about any other causes, be very, very sure that this is not what is affecting your little friend -- especially if it's the late autumn, or the temperature has suddenly dipped, or mid-summer and the temperature has gone way up.