What To Do If You Think Your Hedgehog Is Sick
Immediate professional veterinary attention should be sought for any alert hedgehog that has lost their balance or use of any limbs, continually turns in circles, has blood in their urine or has had 3 successive days of weight loss or diarrhoea longer than 48 hours. Always check correct temperature has been maintained and if it has but your hedgehog is wobbly, not using one or more limbs or is semiconscious this too needs urgent veterinary attention. If your hedgehog is lying on their side, semi-conscious and unresponsive even at the correct temperature sadly there may not be anything that can be done to save them.
Because hibernation attempts mimic other much more serious conditions a constant awareness of their living temperature is vital and a drop in temperature because of electricity, che or thermostat failure causing a hibernation attempt should be ruled out first. Skin to skin contact is the safest way to bring your hedgehog back to his normal self and may take up to 4 hours.
A large lump on the face or near the mouth which appears overnight is very likely an abscess and needs same day professional treatment, painkillers and antibiotics. It will not get better on it's own and cannot be left as once the poison from the abscess enters the blood stream death will shortly follow.
This is a very urgent situation which needs your immediate attention Typical symptoms will include your hedgehog not using their wheel, loss of appetite, (no poos) weight loss, cool tummy and wobbliness and if not remedied immediately will ultimately lead to total unconsciousness and death.
If you suspect a hibernation attempt, YOU MUST NEVER BATH YOUR HEDGEHOG TO WARM THEM UP!
This is the worst thing you could do and could kill them. They need to be brought back up to their normal temperature slowly and steadily. Do not rush this process. It can take up to 4 hours before you see an improvement so I recommend getting a good book or film to watch. The safest way to bring your hedgehog out of hibernation is to place them on your chest skin to skin in a warm environment and wait. After a couple of hours although they may still be displaying some signs of wobbliness hopefully their body temperature should be noticeably warmer. If not fully recovered stay on the sofa maintaining skin to skin contact a bit longer. If remaining with your hedgehog for the duration of their recovery is not possible then increase the temperature in the viv to 28 degrees or place them on a snuggle-safe inside a fleece pouch and check regularly. After a first hibernation attempt unfortunately your hedgehog will likely be predisposed to further attempts so I recommend raising the viv temperature to a slightly warmer 26c permanently.
Any change in what is normal for your hedgehog needs to be monitored as it could be the first sign something is wrong. It may be something as simple as a bad meal-worm, temperature fluctuations, change in food or home if he is new to you. A little bit of green poo within the first 24 hours of getting your hedgie is normal and all should be back to normal within 24 hours.
Occasionally your spikey friend may get a bout of constipation or diarrhoea. Constipation is not quite as critical as diarrhoea which can become life threatening very quickly if left untreated. Constipation can usually be treated at home without a trip to the vet.
The first sign of constipation may be no more than hard or darker coloured pellets instead of the softer mousse like consistency you are used to that gets smeared around the wheel. A spot of blood next to the the poo may indicate excess straining to pass the stool.
A bath would be the first option to try as if you have bathed your hedgie before then chances are he pooed in the water. Bathing often has this effect on them. A little massage of his tummy area will help too.
If you feed dried mealworms as your hedgehog's only source of chitin please stop immediately as these are known to cause an impaction plus they provide no nutritional value whatsoever. Live insects are best. Give a little pumpkin if it is in season as this is very good for sorting out poorly tummies. If not in season baby food containing pumpkin is fine but check the other ingredients as often the pumpkin is combined with other fruits. Pumpkin is good for both constipation and diarrhoea. Flaxseed oil on biscuits can help or a small portion of wet cat food often makes them looser and will get things moving again.
Diarrhoea is slightly more distressing and can get serious quite quickly as dehydration may occur. Keep weighing your hedgehog to monitor weight loss. If your prickle baby is not eating then some home made chicken soup may tempt him and can also be fed with a syringe. Pumpkin too can be thinned with water and fed with a syringe. Ensure the syringe is directed at the side of your hedgie's mouth, never aim it towards the throat. Adding probiotics to drinking water will also help re-balance everything internally. Aviro plus is safe for hedgehogs.
If nothing you are aware of is different or has changed and after 48 hours your hedgehog is still not eating or drinking normally, there is weight loss, lethargy, splatted out, grumpier than normal, won't un-ball or anything else that is unusual and not normal behaviour for your hedgehog then a trip to the vet is the best course of action and the same day if at all possible. Three days of diarrhoea with no improvement is too long so I would advice if no improvement after 48 hours seek professional help.
Dry skin is often an early symptom of mites. To check for mites the "black velvet" method of testing is very quick and easy. Ruffle your hedgehog's quills over some some black velvet or other black fabric or even a black ceramic cooker hob will do. The scurf that falls will appear to move of it's own volition. This is known as creeping dandruff. Mites are often too small to see with the naked eye but if the fallen scurf moves then this is evidence that your hedgehog very likely has mites. If no evidence of mites is apparent keep checking but meanwhile moisturise the skin with a Colloidal Oat Bath or Aveeno Oil and add a few drops of Flaxseed Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Coconut Oil to their food 3 times a week.
If you have now confirmed your hedgehog has mites and not just quilling it is nothing to worry about and treatment is very easy using Ivermectin drops on the back of the neck. NEVER SUB-CUTANEOUSLY at the vet. eBbay and pet shops sell Ivermectin. I use the one for rabbits, ferrets and guinea-pigs shown below. A repeat dosage is necessary and all bedding must be either disposed of or if using fleece they can be frozen for 48 hours to kill any of the little blighters. A deep clean of the viv will also be necessary using F10 or a steam cleaner.
There are several schools of thought on these pesky creatures. Some believe they are a constant companion to your hedgehog but only cause a problem or become apparent if your hedgehog is stressed, ill or just a change in environment. Others believe they are brought onto the hedgehogs environment via us, or bedding or live food. As a preventative measure a dust bath of Diatomaceous Earth seems to work.
What is the normal weight for a hedgehog?
Hedgehogs come in varying “normal” adult weights from as low as 290 grams right up to 600 grams. If your hedgehog is a nice pear-shape when viewed from above, is able to ball up completely and has legs that do not resemble “chicken drumsticks” then whatever weight he is, that is the correct weight for him.
A list of recommended brands of biscuits is in the Care Guide and modifying light or normal varieties should solve any weight problems. “Spikes” wild hedgehog food is not suitable for our APH as the fat content is much too high and recently pre mixed hedgehog biscuits have started appearing on eBay but I recommend mixing your own as then you know exactly what is in it and how fresh it is. I would certainly avoid any that include dried fruit or vegetables as these may pose a choking hazard and have no nutritional value whatsoever. Nor do dried bugs. Yet others guard their ingredients and refuse to divulge the contents of their mix but this too is more to safeguard themselves than offer any benefit to hedgehog welfare. These kinds of people are mainly motivated by profit and exploiting a new hedgehog owner's lack of knowledge or confidence in correct food and not hedgehog welfare. If in doubt please ask and I will help you to make your own mix that is a suitable combination specifically to benefit your own hedgehog. (And save lots of pennies at the same time).
A sunken appearance around the middle is too thin. If your hedgehog is not ill, always seems to be active and running on their wheel every night, has a good appetite then adding higher fat content biscuits to their mix should help. If appetite seems diminished then the temperature in the vivarium may need to be increased to 26 degrees to encourage less sleeping and more eating. Including food like pinkies are an excellent way to bulk your hedgie up as are morio worms or wax worms. Full fat minced beef is always a favourite too. Dreamies are a higher fat content than normal kibble and if you are still struggling then a good quality high fat content wet food fed sparingly may help but is not a long term solution and a visit to your veterinary surgeon may be necessary.
This is a much more prevalent problem most often caused by incorrect feeding and much easier to remedy. Using “light” varieties of biscuits in your mix should solve the problem and perhaps some added free roaming to burn off the extra calories. If you have recently acquired an overweight hedgehog use my recommended mix (see my care guide for brands) for a few weeks to rule out bad diet as the cause. None of my hedgehogs are overweight using this mix. Also include plenty of live insects as often overweight hedgehogs were denied live insects and were just fed dried mealworms as a substitute which have very little nutritional value. As an example the insects my hedgehogs are fed every morning for breakfast are a minimum of at least 10 mealworms, 5 medium crickets, 4 wax worms, 4 calci- worms and a couple of medium to large dubia roaches. Hedgehogs need chitin from insects as their dietary fibre to feel full and so to lose weight changing to low fat insects like silkworms, cockroaches and grasshoppers while decreasing the amount of mealworms, wax worms and other fatty treats is a better way to go.
This gorgeous boy arrived at Sleepy Hollow so overweight balling up and wheeling were both impossible for him. We started him off with gentle walking around the lounge and the first time he used his wheel he only managed 0.8 of a kilometer but at the end of his rehabilitation 3 months later he was running 8 kilometers a night. His weight dropped from 668 grams to a much healthier and fitter 546 grams and he was back to pear-shape, able to roll into a ball plus his legs lost their chicken drumstick appearance which you can see in the first image of the collage mapping his progress here. No "light" biscuits were needed as all the weight came off naturally with correct feeding.
Checking your hedgehog's little toes, feet and legs should become part of your daily routine. Anything wound round one of their delicate limbs even for a short period of time must be removed immediately as it could result in the blood circulation being cut off, the limb gong black and if left untreated sadly amputation of the affected toes, foot or leg at the vet may be the only way to save your hedgehog's life.
Although one vet advised amputation of this hedgehog's foot a 4 hour journey and a second opinion later my vet was able to remove the problem with just a little gas and air and happily the little chap is now fine and made a full recovery.
Lumps and bumps
We don't know why but hedgehogs sadly seem to be particularly prevalent to tumours and cancer. A lump that appears overnight near the mouth area however may not be a tumour but a tooth abscess which they also suffer from quite regularly and would still need treatment at the vet to have it lanced, a course of appropriate antibiotics and some pain killers and hopefully a full recovery made within a few days.
Females suffer from mammary tumours which most vets can remove quite safely and their future outlook is quite positive if there is no return of the tumour.
Tumours on the legs are very difficult to remove as there is very little excess skin to manage a repair after the tumour is removed. If your hedgehog is not in pain and not concerned by the lump then your vet may advise to let it remain and just keep an eye on it.
Occasionally little raggedy tag like lumps may appear on your hedgehogs ears. This is nothing to worry about and past advice was to rub them off with a little flaxseed oil or extra virgin olive oil but this is now known to sometimes cause a fungal infection. The underlying cause needs to be found and as this problem is often accompanied by dry scurfy skin a few drops of flaxseed oil in your hedgehog's diet should remedy the problem and will prevent them coming back. Tatty ears could also be one of the symptoms of your hedgehog having mites in which case see the section on mites.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS)
This is a gradual, progressive, degenerative, neurological disease of African and European hedgehogs sometimes referred to as progressive paresis/paralysis and symptoms of wobbliness are caused by the slowly degrading muscles and their control perhaps similar to that of MS in humans. The cause at this time is unknown although it is believed to be genetic. A possible dietary role has been suggested. This horrible neurological disease is only able to be proven through an autopsy on your hedgehog's brain and spinal column which will cost £300 or more. The corroborating evidence of the disease is the confirmation of the presence of lesions in the brain and spinal tissue.
It mainly affects young hedgehogs, 2 years or under and symptoms are very similar to your hedgehog being too cold so any sign of wobbliness should not immediately make you think the worst as here in UK it is still very, very rare. Buying a hedgehog that is registered through the UK APH Club means lineage can be checked and some lines are known to have produced hedgehogs with this illness and responsible breeders have removed any hedgehogs from these lines so checking if one of these lines is or is not in your hedgehog's ancestry is very easy and would be the first thing to do. The latest pedigrees now show if there is any known inbreeding or WHS in your baby's lineage. It is general practice for breeders of hedgehogs who supply pet shops to remain anonymous and hedgehogs bought online from backyard breeders are mostly not certificated so although you will have paid the same price or sometimes more from a pet shop than someone who bought their hedgehog from a named ethical breeder with a good reputation in the hedgehog world there will probably be no pedigree or registration documents to check back on and also no refund if your hedgehog dies. No cases of WHS have been reported since the last known carriers were removed from responsible breeders lines and we are confident UK lines are all now WHS free. Recent imports from Europe are also from WHS free lines.
According to Michael Garner, DVM, Dipl ACVP, and Donnasue Graesser, PhD, cluster patterns in family lineages are apparent, but the occurrence of the disease in different species of hedgehogs suggests that heritability may be influenced by dietary or environmental factors or infectious agents. It must be noted that an infectious agent such as a virus can be transmitted by integration into the subtelomeric region of the chromosome. Thus, an infectious agent like a virus, the cause of multifocal leukoencephalopathy can be transmitted “genetically.”
To find out more about this disease there is a downloadable pdf available if you click the button.
Urinary Tract Infections, Cystitis, Stones, Tumours and Cancer
If you use kitchen roll in your hedgehog's litter tray any anomaly regarding urine and poop is instantly spotted. Urine should always be clear or pale yellow and anything different needs investigating. Foot injuries tend to be small dots of bright red blood but if at any time the paper towel has pale pink staining or urine and blood together this is cause for concern and an immediate trip to the vet is necessary.
There are no effective home remedies for blood in the urine as they are most probably caused by either a urine infection, bladder or kidney stones, a uterus infection (pyometra) or at worst a tumour or cancer. All these need an urgent professional diagnosis with treatment from your exotic Veterinary Surgeon and the sooner the better.
In my experience blood in the urine occurs the majority of times in females, and for most it is a one time event and easily treated with a course of antibiotics. Any subsequent episodes need monitoring closely and 3 or more episodes in quick succession may mean they are caused by a uterine infection which is an exclusively female affliction and much more serious. Hedgehogs like all mammals also occasionally get cancer of the uterus. The treatment for repetitive uterine infections, tumours or cancer is the same and although spaying is classed as major surgery recovery is very quick and the hedgehog should go on to live a normal, happy life in every way after.