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Hedgehog FAQ [5/7] - Care and Understanding
Section - <8.1> What health risks should I worry about?

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

   The warning signs for pneumonia are bubbles coming from the nose (this 
   can also signal an upper respiratory infection) and irregular raspy 
   breathing, lethargy and an unwillingness to eat (because they can't 
   smell?).
   -- Dawn Wrobel


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.

User Contributions:

Rio
Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
Hi, my hedgehog started running around her cage squealing so I took her out to see what was wrong. Her genital area was inflamed and she had open sores all around that area. I gave her a bath, but I'm really worried about her. Do you have any idea what this could be?
Thank you!

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Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [5/7] - Care and Understanding
Previous Document: <7.6> Basic hedgehog repertoire
Next Document: <8.2> Mites (or mites, not?)

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