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Hedgehogs - Diseases

What are some of the common diseases of pet hedgehogs?

Common conditions of pet hedgehogs include external and internal parasites, ringworm, cancer, gastrointestinal diseases and pneumonia.

 

What are the signs of these diseases?

Both internal and external parasites are seen in hedgehogs. Intestinal parasites ("worms" and protozoa) can cause diarrhea and may be diagnosed on the basis of a fecal examination in animals that are not showing any symptoms.

External parasites include fleas, ticks, and mites, and cause various types of dermatitis. Caparinia tripolis is the mite most commonly found in pet hedgehogs. It is often discovered while examining the face, as they run around the face, forehead and ears. These mites come from direct contact with other infected hedgehogs or from contaminated litter or cages where infected animals have been living. Although many animals show no clinical signs, signs may include spine loss, flaky skin, crusts at the base of the spines and scratching or rubbing against stationary objects. Ear mites may also infest your pet hedgehog. Fleas like many warm-blooded mammals and hedgehogs are no exception. Ticks are uncommon, especially if the hedgehog is kept indoors.

Ringworm is not really a worm but rather is a fungus. Clinical signs can include missing spines, hair loss, flaking, and crusting of the skin. It can be transmitted to other pets and people.

Cancer often occurs in hedgehogs 3 years of age and older. Most commonly, the cancer involves the mouth, stomach or intestinal tract, but all body parts are susceptible. As is true with many hedgehog diseases, clinical signs may not be specific for cancer and simply include weight loss, lack of appetite and lethargy.

"As is true with many hedgehog diseases, clinical signs may not be specific for cancer and simply include weight loss, lack of appetite and lethargy."

hedgehogs-diseases-1Respiratory diseases, especially pneumonia, are often seen in pet hedgehogs. Symptoms may include nasal discharge, sneezing, and difficulty in breathing. Severely affected pets may be listless and stop eating. One of the most common causes of pneumonia in hedgehogs is the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica, which causes kennel cough in dogs. It might be wise to limit contact between dogs and hedgehogs. All dogs in the house should be vaccinated against kennel cough.

Gastrointestinal problems may occur for several different reasons. Salmonella infections may not be clinically evident or may manifest as diarrhea in a hedgehog that appears ill; it can lead to dehydration and death if not managed properly. Other causes of diarrhea include dietary factors such as the consumption of milk or changing brands of food. Fatty liver disease or hepatic lipidosis is caused by malnutrition, starvation, obesity, toxins, or certain infections.

 

How are hedgehog diseases diagnosed?

As with other animals such as dogs and cats, it is often necessary to perform certain clinical procedures or diagnostic tests to reach a proper diagnosis. These procedures can include a thorough physical examination, fecal analysis, radiographs (X-rays,) blood testing, urine testing, fungal or bacterial cultures, ultrasound examinations, and exploratory surgery. Unlike dogs and cats, most hedgehogs must be anesthetized in order to perform a thorough examination or other procedures. Using gas anesthesia like isoflurane gas is safe, quick, and allows the procedures to be properly performed without harming the pet, the owner or the veterinarian!

"Necessary to perform certain clinical procedures or diagnostic tests to reach a proper diagnosis."

 

hedgehogs-diseases-2How are hedgehog diseases treated?

Internal parasites are treated with the appropriate deworming medication. External parasites are treated with a safe flea spray, injectable medication, or medicated bath and dip.

Pneumonia and other respiratory problems are treated with antibiotics. Hedgehogs that are lethargic and have stopped eating require aggressive therapy in the hospital; fluid therapy and force-feeding may be necessary. Diarrhea is managed by determining the cause, correcting the diet and providing the appropriate medication.

It may be possible surgically to remove some cancerous tumors. However, those involving the internal organs are often too far advanced at the time of diagnosis for successful removal.

Giving antibiotics or other medications by mouth can be very challenging in a reluctant hedgehog particularly if the medicine tastes bad. Injectable antibiotics or medicines may be needed. Hospitalization may be recommended to treat your hedgehog properly.

 

How can I tell if my hedgehog is sick?

In some cases, signs of disease in hedgehogs may be specific for a certain disease. However, more often, signs are vague and non-specific, such as a hedgehog with anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases including pneumonia, cancer, and even kidney or liver failure. Because of this, ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern and your hedgehog requires immediate evaluation by your veterinarian.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Rick Axelson, DVM

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.