Article written by Aimee Winterstar Hayes 21/4/13. Aimee studied a Level 3 qualification in Animal Care and got a Distinction Star. She focused her work on pygmy hedgehogs and got her first hedgehog in 2011 as a Christmas gift from her college friends. During college Aimee educated some of the staff about pygmy hedgehogs and consequently saved the life of one!
Aimee is currently studying a FdSc Equine Management but continues to studying hedgehogs as a hobby. Her interests are her little hog Truffles and horse riding. She is looking forward to getting a second hog later this month.
With any animal there are many obvious signs of ill health, this is why keeping a log book on your animals health is essential – it also helps when going to a vet to show any changes.
What are signs of ill health?
Behaviour: Monitoring your hedgehog’s behaviour is important to be aware of your hedgehog’s individual behaviour. This makes it easier to be aware of when the behaviour your hedgehog is displaying is abnormal. It is common that your hedgehog will become lethargic when unwell. African Pygmy hedgehogs are nocturnal, but many owners have been known to keep their hogs up during the day and they become diurnal, like humans. This is more difficult for albinos are they are light sensitive. If your hedgehog is sleeping during the day and is usually nocturnal it is unlikely to be because of ill health.
Weight: The average weight for an African Pygmy Hedgehog is 250-300g. Hedgehogs will lose weight or gain weight due to ill health even if there are no other signs of ill health.
Temperature: The African Pygmy Hedgehog’s normal body temperature is 35.11oC (95.2 Fahrenheit) but anything between 35oC and 37oC is normal. Any different temperatures consult a vet. It is most likely a sign of infection.
Pulse: The normal pulse rate for African Pygmy Hedgehog’s is 180-280 beats per minute, during hibernation it can drop to as few as 20 beats per minute. Hibernation should be avoided at all costs!
Respiration: Respiration of an African Pygmy Hedgehog is 25-30 breaths per minute.
Urine & Faeces: A healthy stool will be long, round and almost the thickness of a pencil. The colour should be medium to dark brown. It shouldn’t be runny like diarrhoea; it should be reasonably firm and most. Green stool can be a sign of illness or stress. Stress can be caused by a new home or food change so always consider this before changing feed.
Eating & Drinking: A fully grown hedgehog should eat 1-3 tablespoons of food a day, this can be biscuits or fresh. Ideally the hedgehog should be fed twice daily as they have small stomachs and this ensures they have fresh food access. If the hedgehog is eating less or more food than usual or not drinking enough it can be a sign of ill health.
Movement: For a hedgehog movement should appear easy, stable and limp free. Any Swelling on the limbs is a sign there are problems.
Nose: The nose should be slightly moist, it should not be crusty, bubbly (with muscus) or show signs of discharge.
Mouth: The mouth should be clean and discharge free, if the hedgehog is anointing it will be foamy, and that is normal.
Lips, Gums, Teeth & Tongue: Lips should be cut free and gums should have a medium to dark pink colour. Teeth should be white and none should be missing. Tongue should be clean.
Eyes: Eyes should be round, bright and slightly raised. They should be discharge free and open.
Ears: Ears should be round and smooth, the skin shouldn’t be flaky, they should be discharge free, without cuts, rough edges or pieces missing.
Feet: feet should be soft and cut free, claws should not be over grown.
Genitals: Genitals should be clean and dry, they should have no discharge, swellings or redness to them. There should be no blood or discharge stuck to the genitals. If your hog has just had hoglets there may be some blood from the after birth but she should clean that up herself.
Quills: The quills should be even over the hedgehogs body without any bald patches. Baby hedgehogs quill between 8-12 weeks so quill loss may appear. This should be an even process and should not leave any bald patches.
Skin: Healthy skin should be smooth and flexible. Crusty or dry skin can be a sign of mites. There should also be no lumps.
Discharge can be due to multiple problems, but all usually are due to an infection, using a saline saltine to clean the eyes daily is essential until the discharge is gone. You should wash their eyes twice a day, each eye with a separate piece of cotton wool – this prevents spending the infection back and forth. You can also change the cotton wall after each wipe – depending how bad it is. This should usually go within a week. If the hedgehog shows signs of blindness, or still has discharge after a week go to a vets, it could be caused by sawdust scrapping on the eye. This can be used for ears, anus, penis and vaginal discharge as well.
Common conditions include; cancer, dental disease, heart disease, kidney failure, leg and foot injures, obesity, overgrown nails, quill loss (caused by mites) and respiratory problems.
Help! My hog won’t stop scratching!
This can be caused by dry skin or by mites. Don’t panic. First consider the possibility of mites; has your hog been outside, could other animals have brought them in? If not, it’s unlikely to be mites. Run a nice warm bath for your hog; ensure that you put in a stocking or tight with oats in. make sure it’s added to the bath. The oats naturally soothe the skin of the hog and will help rehydrate the skin. If this doesn’t help see a veterinarian to ensure that it is mites which are causing the issue, not a fungal infection. If it is mites, the hog will need treating and all the items in the enclosure need to be cleaned. Any other animals living with the hog should also be treated to ensure the infestation doesn’t reoccur.
Why is my hog losing quills and itching loads?
This can be down to multiple reasons, first you hog could be going through the first quilling, this is causes the hogs temperament to change as well, your hog may be more grumpy than usual. If the hog isn’t going through the quilling phase, then it could be a fungal infection. This can be treated by a vet, and the infection is unlikely pass to humans unless it is ringworm.
Claw trimming should be done roughly once a month. This is to ensure that the quick does grow too far down the nail and ensures that the claw doesn’t end up ingrown into the foot. This can cause infection and will require veterinary assistance.
Ear infections, also known as Otitis is commonly seen in hedgehogs. Clinical signs include scratching, discharge, head shaking and being unbalanced. At first sign of discharge use saline to clean the area, if symptoms worsen or others appear, contact a vet as your hog may need antibiotics or radiographs.
One of the more serious issues in hedgehogs now is obesity.
It is due to our kind hearts over feeding the hedgehogs or giving them a high fat diet. Another cause is lack of exercise; however any good breeder will say the hog needs a wheel. The importance of exercise is essential to be aware of as overweight hedgehogs can develop liver and cardiopulmonary disease. Then from the skin folds the hedgehogs can get dermatitis.
African Pygmy Hedgehog’s are also prone to respiratory diseases.
Many of them are caused by bacteria and viruses, such as Bordetella, Pasteurella and Cytomegalovirus. There is also a respiratory parasite, Capollaria. To diagnose these vets will require bloods, radiographs, tracheal/nasal cytology and culture. The treatment is usually antibiotics and supportive care which is provided by fluids and oxygen therapy.
African Pygmy Hedgehog’s are prone to develop cancer.
It usually occurs after they are 3 years old. Currently it is believed that a virus is to play for this. Diagnose includes bloods, radiographs and ultrasounds. These are used to get an overview of the hog’s health. Then a biopsy is performed to discover if it is malignant and determine the extent or stage of the disease. Sadly, there are no chemotherapy protocols for hedgehogs as of yet.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
African Pygmy Hedgehog who shows signs of limited movement could have Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is a progressive, neurological condition. It is inherited so many hedgehogs who are diagnosed with it or whose parents are found with it should not be bred from. It causes problems with the back legs, spine and muscles. When the hedgehog walks it will appear to wobble, hence the name of the condition. It usually becomes apparent around 18 months of age but can be seen up to 36 months of age but Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) can appear as early as 1 month old. The best way to help your hog is to use towels and other soft items to help keep your hog upright and comfortable. As the disease progresses you may need to help the hedgehog in digestion. When helping the hog to digest do not massage the stomach anti-clockwise, massage clockwise only. Food and water should be made easy for your hog to get to as your hog may lose complete use of its limbs. The hog may also lose the ability to keep warm and therefore will require heat lamps. Feed may need breaking down over time and soft foods may need to be given such as eggs. In the latter times, you may need to pipette your hog with water to ensure it is not getting dehydrated. At some point your hog will not be able to eat on its own and force feeding will be essential. However by this point more people have chosen to euthanize as their hogs quality of life is poor.