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Hedgehog Diseases/General

Obesity: Since a healthy hedgehog is a bit on the plump side naturally, determining the difference between a healthy animal's "chubby" condition and obesity can be somewhat difficult. Since there is such a wide variety of size in domestic stock these days, an obese hedgehog can be as little as 8 ounces to as much as 2 pounds in weight, so weight guidelines are of little use in identifying a fat hedgehog!  Of far more use to you than a set of scales is a weekly or monthly visual inspection of your pet's front legs and chin. While a hedgehog in its normal trim will be a bit chubby in these two locations, an obese specimen will have a double chin and "ham-hocks" for legs and sometimes even rolls of fat under the arm-pits. Such animals will be so fat that they will even be incapable of rolling themselves into a ball!  If your pet should become this fat eliminate all treats from its diet but do not reduce the amount of dry food - the primary source of necessary proteins, vitamins and minerals. If after a month you see no evidence of weight loss, change the type of dry food that you are feeding to one that has a fat content of at least 20 percent. The theory is that the added fat will cause your pet to "bulk-up" and eat less and will actually help it to lose weight.

Bacterial Disease: Skin abscesses may be found anywhere on the body but we have seen them more commonly around the face and head. Bite wounds or traumatic injury may often result in abscess formation. Treatment involves lancing and drainage (usually under anesthesia) and topical and systemic antibiotics. Bacterial dermatitis can occur due to contact with wet shavings or excessive scratching due to mites or dry skin. Red, moist patches and/or raised pustules may be seen on the skin. Treatment involves using topical and systemic antibiotics. A good antibiotic choice is Trimethoprim/sulfa.

Dental Disease: Thorough examination of the teeth and gums of hedgehogs usually requires sedation. The dental formula is: 3/2 incisors, 1/1 canines, 3/2 premolars, and 3/3 molars, for a total of 36 teeth. Dental tartar and gingivitis are commonly seen in hedgehogs. Clinical signs may include anorexia or reluctance to eat hard or dry foods. Physical exam findings may include drolling, bad breath, tooth discoloration, reddened gums, missing and/or loose teeth. Treatment involves scaling of dental tartar and extraction of loose or decaying teeth. The prevention of tooth and gum disease is the usage of hard food as a major portion of the diet. Oral abscesses are also seen and may be due to an infected tooth root but may also be associated with inner ear or eye infections.

Musculoskeletal Disease: Traumatic injuries such as sprains, strains, and fracture may result from a limb getting caught in water bottles, exercise wheels or wire cages. Diagnosis of a body fracture may be confirmed by X-ray and depending on the fracture location, may be treated with an external splint. Sprains and strains can be treated with anti-inflammatory or splints for more severe cases. Appetite and activity level should be monitored carefully since hedgehogs may become stressed by the application of a splint.

Eye Disease: Eye injuries may result from hedgehogs fighting or sharp or irritating materials in the hedgehog’s environment. Eye prolepses may occur as a result of crushing injuries or in situations where pressure is exerted near the eyes. Abscesses behind the eye (retro bulbar abscesses) may also cause a prolapsed or a swilling. Infectious diseases or tumors of the eye are possible. The owner should routinely monitor the eyes for any change from normal. The eyes should normally be clear, dark, and free from any discharge or swelling. Your veterinarian should examine any abnormalities immediately. Treatments may include topical or oral medications, and in extreme cases removal of the eye (enucleating).

Respiratory Disease: Symptoms of respiratory disease include oral or nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, raspy breathing, and an increase in respiratory effort especially when the hedgehog is stressed. Respiratory disease can also result in a loss of appetite, lethargy, and sudden death. The primary cause of respiratory disease is bacterial infections. Common bacteria include Bordetella and Pasteurella. Other causes are viral and tumors of the lungs. Respiratory problems can also be secondary to heart disease and other chest tumors. Dusty cages and low environmental temperatures may predispose hedgehogs to respiratory disease. Hedgehogs showing any symptoms of respiratory disease should be treated immediately because the disease can progress and become fatal quite quickly. Treatments include systemic antibiotics and supportive care. Supportive care includes keeping the hedgehog in a warm, clean, and quiet place and making sure the hedgehog continues to eat. If the hedgehog has completely stopped eating, force-feeding may be necessary. Handle sick hedgehogs are little as possible.

Nutritional Disease: At this time, the exact nutritional needs of hedgehogs have not been recognized; therefore many of the problems seen today may have a nutritional underlying cause. The primary nutrition related problem is obesity. Obesity is caused by lack of exercise and a diet too high in fat. Obesity may lead to fatty liver disease (hepatic lipidosis), an increase in fat in the live. This causes the liver to function abnormally. Liver disease may result in a loss of appetite, lethargy, and weight loss. Diagnostic tests for liver disease include blood work, X-rays, ultrasound, and biopsies. Treatment includes decreasing the fat in the diet, increasing exercise, and supportive care. A well balanced diet helps decrease the incidence of dry skin and hair and quill loss.