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Illness and Health Concerns

Hibernation, Torpor, Aestivation - Why temperatures are so important
When introduced to cooler temperatures African hedgehogs do not have the natural ability to enter a state of dormancy and successfully recover from it.  They are indigenous to a climate that frequently experiences extremely high temperatures and rarely experiences cooler temperatures.  They have not evolved with the biological ability to endure cooler climates by means of hibernation or torpor.  They are very vulnerable to temperatures below 72°F.
!! Their inability to live in cooler temperatures is not a matter of conditioning so please do not attempt to acclimate your hedgehog to cooler temperatures !!

What are the signs of a hibernation/torpor attempt?
The signs to look for are:

  • Wobbling and unsteady on their feet
  • The stomach is cold to the touch
  • Inability to move on their own
  • Lethargic and hard to rouse
  • Abnormal breathing - this could be very shallow breathing or labored breathing
  • Loss of appetite

What do I do?
NEVER place them in water to warm them up.  This can cause shock and in addition, will make it even more difficult to warm them up.
Warm them up slowly using your body heat as described below.

  • Place the hedgehog on your chest or stomach and cover with a blanket, towel, etc. to contain your body heat.
  • Talk to him/her to encourage alertness.
  • Continue to warm him/her up slowly.  This can take quite some time, up to an hour in many cases.
  • If you notice minor movement after a few minutes, continue warming.

If the hedgehog begins to struggle to get away, assess the movements to see if they seem "normal".  If the movements do not seem normal, keep warming.  If the movements seem normal and intentional, place the hedgehog on a non-slip surface, and see if there is any wobbling.  If yes, keep warming.  If there is no noticeable wobble, you can place the hedgehog in its enclosure and ensure that the temperature is between 78°F - 82°F, but keep a watchful eye on the hedgehog for anything that seems abnormal. The temperature of the enclosure should remain at this slightly elevated range for at least a week as a repeat hibernation/torpor attempt is likely.  Monitor your hedgehog closely.  Check on him/her every 1-2 hours for a few days so that you can be aware of any problems.

Respiratory Issues
Signs of respiratory infection are sneezing, coughing and mucus, crustiness, or bubbles around the eyes, nose, and mouth. 
What to do:

  • Check the temperature.  If the temperature is not between 75°F - 80°F, adjust the heat to achieve that temperature range.
  • Clean away all mucus with a warm washcloth.  Mucus is full of bacteria and can prevent recovery.
  • Check for drafts.  If you discover that there is a draft around the hedgehog's enclosure, correct the problem.
  • Check the enclosure to ensure that there are no damp or wet areas as these can grow mold and fungus which can cause severe respiratory illness.
  • Remove any aromatic products.  Air fresheners, perfumes, candles, oils, etc. can cause and prolong respiratory issues.

Digestive Issues
Signs of digestive issues can include constipation and straining, dry and crumbly stool, green slimy stool (this could also be stress), undigested bits of kibble, or insects in the stool, and vomiting, heaving, or coughing.

  • Constipation and dry stool can usually be remedied with canned pumpkin; 1 teaspoon, once a day for 3 days.
  • Minor upset stomach or stress issues can often be remedied with Bene-bac Plus gel or powder, which are probiotics.
  • Issues not responding to the above-mentioned remedies will require veterinary attention.
  • Any blood or signs of blood requires veterinary attention.  

Skin Issues
The first thing to know is that seeing flakes on your clothes, furniture, etc. does not necessarily mean that your hedgehog has dry skin.  When hedgehogs anoint and the saliva dries, it flakes off much like dandruff.  A thorough rinse in lukewarm water can remove the dried saliva.
If you see actual flakes on the skin and you've tried a bath to remove any dead skin and debris, there are oils that are safe for hedgehogs.  That being said, a bath is typically needed to remove all debris from the skin before applying any kind of treatment.

The oils listed below are safe to apply to a hedgehog's skin:

  • Canola oil **
  • Coconut oil ** ♦
  • Flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil **
  • Sunflower oil **
  • Sweet almond oil **
  • Vitamin E oil
  • Wheat germ oil

♦  This oil can be very drying if used solely.  It has antimicrobial properties which, while beneficial, can strip natural oil from the skin.  There is also a possibility of clogged pores.

** These oils should not be used solely.  They should be cut (mixed) with either flax seed oil, vitamin E oil, or wheat germ oil.

There are many oils that are unsafe for hedgehogs and some are extremely toxic to hedgehogs.  Before using any oil that is not listed above, please discuss it with your veterinarian.

Additionally, salmon oil or quality fish oil can be applied to dry food for ingestion.  Just 1-3 drops applied to the food once or twice a week can sometimes greatly improve skin quality and/or reduce or even eliminate dry skin issues. 

WHS (Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome)
This is a slow-progressing and degenerative neurologic condition that can only be diagnosed with a post-mortem necropsy.
A tentative diagnosis can be given by properly educated veterinarians based on the symptoms below.
Symptoms mimic a stroke and the condition is incurable.  Palliative care to manage symptoms and basic needs are required.
Some evidence suggests that specific vitamin supplements, antibiotics, steroids, and even CBD may provide benefits in the management of symptoms.
The following symptoms are suggestive of WHS if all other diagnoses have been ruled out.

  • Uncontrolled wobbling
  • Frequent falling over lacking any obvious reason
  • Paralysis of singular or multiple limbs - Most frequently presents in the hind limbs.
  • Paralysis or partial paralysis of the body
  • Muscle atrophy associated with paralysis
  • Prolonged head tilt
  • Seizures
  • Prolonged loss of appetite
  • Wasting - Slow progressing weight loss.
  • Inattentiveness - Failure to achieve or maintain an alert state.

NOTE:  If a veterinarian has diagnosed your hedgehog with WHS we encourage you to reach out to others who have cared for hedgehogs with this disease.  These folks can often provide extremely helpful suggestions for palliative care.  They can also offer advice for coping during the difficult journey.

Prolapse: Orbital
This is when the orb (eyeball) protrudes from its socket.  Only a veterinarian can determine if the orb is simply swollen from minor injury and may be treated or if the orb has actually prolapsed and requires removal.  If removal is required, most vets can do this procedure and send the hedgehog home the same day.  Most vets will sew the eyelids together to prevent any debris from entering the now-empty socket.  Hedgehogs can live a nearly normal life with only one eye.
NOTE:  Have your vet place an E-collar on the hedgehog directly after surgery.  Hedgehogs are known to scratch at the surgical site, causing injury.

Prolapse: Rectal
This is when the tissue inside the anus has become grossly inflamed and begins to protrude outside of the rectum.  This is often caused by constipation and/or straining to have a bowel movement.  This requires medical treatment.  A vet can typically clean and prep the area, push the tissue back inside and place a stitch to hold it in place until it has healed (usually about 1 week).  The vet may also prescribe a laxative and a mild muscle relaxer.  This is to prevent straining that may tear the suture and cause the rectum to prolapse again.
NOTE:  If you notice that your hedgehog's stool is extremely dry or if your hedgehog is straining during bowel movements, you can offer your hedgehog a teaspoon of unseasoned canned pumpkin.  Pumpkin has a natural stool-softening effect.

Prolapse: Genital
Females - This is when the internal tissue of the genitalia, and in some cases even the uterus, protrude from the outer opening of the vagina.  This is an urgent and life-threatening condition.  It is vital to get the hedgehog to the vet immediately.  This condition will almost certainly require surgery.  In most cases, the vet will recommend spaying the hedgehog as it is likely that the prolapse will occur again.
Causes of genital prolapse in female hedgehogs can include:

  • Complications of pregnancy or delivery
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Polyps
  • Cancer

Males - This is when the internal tissue of the penis sheath, and in some cases the penis itself, protrude from the outer opening of the sheath.  It is important to keep the area clean until you can get him to the vet.  There is a chance that the protrusion can be corrected without surgical intervention and possibly without even a suture.  However, the vet may recommend neutering the animal if it is suspected that the cause is hormonal.
Causes of genital prolapse in male hedgehogs can include:

  • Irritation, inflammation, or infection from entrapped debris (typically bedding) inside of the penis sheath
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Injury from breeding
  • Cancer

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