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Infectious disease

 A hedgehog's first line of defense against contracting an infectious disease is an efficient immune system and a cleanly environment. A hedgehog's immune system can be encouraged by feeding a quality diet as listed on the nutrition page. With animals "you get out what you put in". Put in quality food and adequate care, and get out better health and immune response.


Staph Infection


Staph infection is caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. Staph bacteria is naturally found just about everywhere including; on the ground, on our skin, on clothes,  and in soil. 

  Out doors the sun's ultraviolet rays along with high ventilation and the washing away from rain. Staph bacteria is kept in check. Indoors staph can over grow if conditions are not maintained hygienically. Animals and people can contact staph infection via touch- touching an infected person/ animal or by touching an infected surface. Staph can plant it's self in cuts or sores or in mucus membranes. Staph can even cause deep rooted infection resulting in sepsis. Sepsis can be deadly. 

  Some staph bacteria are immune to most antibiotics, these resistant bacteria are called MRSA  (Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus) .

  The initial Symptoms of staph infection include; 

symptoms of food poisoning, boils, oozing blisters, and scabbing. 

If left untreated any of these symptoms could quickly graduate to sepsis. 

If a hedgehog is suspected to have a staph infection, professional medical intervention is absolutely necessary. 

   Some online sources recommend soaking hedgehogs with topical staph symptoms in Chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic agent that may help lessen the APPEARANCE of staph symptoms. Do not be fooled. Chlorhexidine soaks only mask the larger infection at hand by subduing the topical symptoms of the infection. Hedgehogs can go septic rather quickly despite seeming to have been "cured" of their infection via the soaks in antiseptic. 

  Staph infections are contagious and some are antibiotic resistant, this is an infection that should not be dealt with at home with online or folk medicine remedies. 

  Use an increase of universal precautions if staph is suspected or present. 


Strep Infection


 Topical strep infections are caused by streptococcus bacteria. These infections usually occur when strep bacteria enters a cut or scratch. Strep infections effect the skin causing irritation, "lumps" under the skin,blistering and crusty skin. It usually appears similar to staph infection with slightly less open sore areas. Fluid oozing also tends to look slightly different with strep infection than it does with staph infection. An experienced medical eye can tell the differences between these two infections visually, however diagnostic testing is absolutely necessary for proper treatment. 

  Strep infections are highly contagious and require antibiotic treatment. Just as in the staph infection listed above, strep can cause sepsis if gone untreated.

  Good hygiene and universal precautions play an important role in preventing the spread of these types of infections. 

 

Learn More

These links may be helpful in better understanding the diseases that may infect hedgehogs.


What is staph infection?


Strep infections


Salmonella in small mammals


What are fungal infections?

Salmonella

Like most bacteria, salmonella is naturally found in the environment. Salmonella is also found in the digestive tracts of most animals. Salmonella can be contracted by touching infected surfaces (or animals) then touching your mouth (or other cavities). Salmonella can also be transmitted by kissing and eating. 

   A hedgehog may experience an out break of salmonella bacteria when introduced to a new strain of salmonella, the immune system is compromised, high environmental stress is present, and when the cage is not kept clean. 

  Salmonella causes dehydration, diarrhea, foul fecal odor, vomiting, and lethargy. The symptoms of salmonella must be treated by a veterinarian to increase the animal's chances of a successful recovery. Antibiotics along with GI tract soothing medications are usually administered, along with fluids. 

   Salmonella is very contagious and must be treated seriously.  Universal precautions are an absolute must when handling animals. 

External parasites

 External parasites  such as fleas and ticks can prey upon hedgehogs. Ticks should be removed using a plastic tick removing tool. Adult fleas and eggs can be washed away using dawn dish soap and a fine tooth comb. It is very rare for fleas to feed upon hedgehogs or infest them. 

  If external parasites are a major concern due to parasites appearing on a caged animal, a re evaluation of husbandry is necessary. Assess the source of the fleas and ticks and alter the cage to prevent parasites entering. 

  For a hedgehog who visits the outdoors, a prescription for topical revolution may be needed as a external parasite preventative. 

  Mites are a common parasite of hedgehogs. Mites are thought to always be present on the animal's skin and only outbreak if the animal is stressed or unhealthy. This may or may not be entirely accurate as skin scrapings on various hedgehogs have come back negative for mites of all life stages, which would be strange if the mites were always present. 

  Whether or not mites are always present does not change the fact that owners should be aware of them and the symptoms of an infestation. 

  symptoms of mite infestation include; very dry flaking skin, tiny white specs around a hedgehog's eyes and nose, chronic scratching,  loss of quills  and eventual balding. Sometimes hedgehogs may have scabs present  due to excessive scratching and dry skin from mites. 

    The presence of mites can be diagnosed by a veterinarian via a skin scraping. The usual treatment for mites is revolution application every 14 days for approx 6 weeks OR topical Ivermectin applied in a diluted state in two sessions. 

   Many online sources state Ivermectin is an outdated and even dangerous medication. However, TOPICAL Ivermectin (applied to the skin) in a diluted form has shown very effective at eliminating mite infestations with a slim chance of side effects. 

  The Topical Revolution hedgehog owners have been using on their animals has recently changed it's formula to "Revolution Plus". The added pesticides in the Plus formula have not been tested on hedgehogs, and  these ingredients may be harmful to hedgehogs. Due to this formula change, owners and veterinarians may have to resort back to Ivermectin topical application as a parasite preventative and treatment for hedgehogs. 

  A little additional information regarding the use of Ivermectin: Ivermectin is widely used in the rehabilitation of wild hedgehogs (both African and European species) and is a popular parasite treatment for hedgehogs in  countries other than the USA. The use of Selamectin  (The active ingredient in Revolution) seems to have been a USA based trend. That leads one to wonder where, how and why the Revolution trend took off?


Internal Parasites


Parasites can infect a hedgehog internally, or inside the animal's body, especially the digestive tract. Internal parasites live inside an animal. 

     Internal parasites Can be kept under relative control by the hedgehog's natural body functions, however on occasion, internal parasites may over whelm the hedgehog's body or may be of a species that is harmful to the animal. 

   Most internal parasites are excreted via feces and can be transmitted to other animal or humans via contact with that feces. This is yet another reason as to why universal precautions are essential. 

   The most common symptoms of an internal parasite infection include; 

Weight loss, runny stools, stool with a strong odor, overly grainy stool ( textured like wet beach sand), and living parasites or fragments of them present in the stool.

   Hedgehog's suspected of suffering from internal parasite infestations should be seen by a veterinarian. Most parasites can be diagnosed via fecal sample ( poop sample) and treated with various "de-worming" or parasite expelling medications. Some commonly used medications are called Panacur and Flagyl. 

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are the most dreaded of topical infections in hedgehogs, as they are very difficult to treat. Fungal infections occur when a fungus begins residing on an animal and reproducing using the skin as a media. 

   Fungal infections can be difficult to spot in their early development. However the sooner a fungal infection is noticed and treated, the better the treatment results. 

   Fungal infections are more likely to occur in a humid environment. Fungus needs moisture to survive,  keep the hedgehog's cage dry to prevent these infections. 

  Symptoms of fungal infection include; "bubbly"  or "gunky" looking  skin. Skin with a film layer over it that does not easily wipe off, or when wiped off irritates the skin or bleeds. Quill loss is very common with fungal infections and depending on infection severity, the quills may or may not grow back. 

  Fungal infections are diagnosed by a veterinarian via a skin scraping. Usual prescribed treatments include topical anti fungal creams and washes. Severe (or difficult species fungus) infections may require risky oral medications to clear up. 

  The best treatment for a fungal infection is PREVENTING ONE ALL TOGETHER.  A hedgehog's cage must be kept dry and clean. Any dirty or wet bedding must be removed immediately as they are breeding environments for fungus. 

  Fungal infections can be contagious, so use universal precautions and extra sanitation practices.

 Never apply oils,  such as coconut or olive, to a hedgehog's skin. Doing so puts a hedgehog at an increased risk of fungal infection.

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 Eye health and injury risk

Hedgehogs tend to experience eye injuries on a fairly common basis. This may be due to many factors, including tight cluttered quarters. Hedgehogs do not have great day vision and their night vision isn't ideal either. They rely heavily on scent and topography memory to maneuver around their ecosystem. 

  This can lead to eye injury, especially if cage decor has been moved around by an owner. It's probably a good idea to keep the base of your hedgehog's cage decor in the same spot while moving around smaller soft items occasionally for environmental enrichment. 

   Some hedgehogs have "fatty eye pockets" in the corners of their eyes. It's important to periodically examine these pockets for any changes. If they grow too large, eye pressure can increase and cause major issues. 

 Fatty eye tissue can remain intact and unchanged in many animals for the duration of their Lives. While for some it can amount to other medical issues. 

It is an inherited condition that is common in darker colored animals. Several ethical breeders have noticed the issues this fatty eye tissue can cause and are being proactive in reducing in their blood lines. 


  Cancer


  Most small mammals are prone to cancers, hedgehogs are no exception. Small mammals have high metabolisms so are more sensitive to carcinogens in their diet and environment. This may contribute to cancer risk and is why we advocate for a more natural diet. 

  Oral cancers are very common in hedgehogs. They may occur more often in dark faced animals based on a 1 year spanned owner census. However oral cancers have occurred at a close rate in lighter colored and mixed visual color genetic animals as well. More research is needed to determine if color genetics can increase the risk of oral cancers in hedgehogs, at this time the numbers are too close to state definitively either way. 

    Skin cancers can occur in hedgehogs. These cancers seem to occur most in lighter colored animals. This may be due to a reduced or absent account of protective melanin in light colored and albino animals.

   Tumors and other cancers have occurred in hedgehogs.Other cancers/tumors include; bone cancer and brain tumors along with cancerous masses on the legs, chest send neck. 

     The collective cancer rate was highest in darker colored animals. This may or may not be related to the tremendous amount of inbreeding that has occurred in these animal's during a rush to produce darker animals in a pet trade that held them high in demand. 


Wobbly hedgehog syndrome


  WHS is a neurological condition that presents itself via increased difficulty to walk, stand, eat, defecate and otherwise function. WHS gets it's name due to the wobble animals with the disease present when they walk ( or try to walk). There is no cure for WHS and it's cause isn't concluded by veterinary professionals. However, there are many there's of it's cause floating about. Some theories include WHS being caused by a virus or being a genetic disorder.     Due to the large amount of inbreeding present in many WHS confirmed animal's lineage, WHS as a genetic condition is likely. 

 Sadly, WHS is only formally diagnosed after death via a necropsy and there is not a "fix all" medication available for the suspected condition during life.  Supplementation with vitamin E and Omega's have  been shown to offer some relief from WHS's brutal symptoms, but do not eliminate them.

   Keep in mind that WHS is a slow progressive disease and will not appear over night. Symptoms will appear gradually and worsen over time. Some veterinarians and owners have been successful in constructing special ramps and wheel chairs for hedgehogs with WHS. 

   Because we do not know the level of pain involved with WHS ,humane euthanasia may be the kindest option for hedgehogs suspected to have the condition. If optioning for humane euthanasia, be sure a veterinarian has ruled out other illnesses that could cause similar symptoms; stroke, hibernation attempts, ear infections, and leg injuries. 


   Respiratory Infections


Respiratory infections can be contacted by a hedgehog in a number of ways; humidity that is too high, exposure to bacteria causing the infections ( including via contact with other ill animals), and "dirty" dusty air. 

   To help prevent respiratory infections keep your hedgehog's cage sanitary, quarantine all new pets, do not hold your hedgehog if you have a cough or have been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, keep humidity low And keep air clean and free of dust particles. Respiratory infections can be diagnosed by a veterinarian and treated with antibiotics. It is important to tackle this illness early so it does not graduate to pneumonia. 


Urinary tract infections


   Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria overwhelms and infects the urinary tract. These infections need to be treated by a medical professional in the early stages. If not treated right away, the infection can migrate into the bladder and kidneys. This can create a very serious medical issue. 

  Urinary tract infection symptoms include frequent urination and blood in the urine. Treatment includes antibiotics and possibly urine PH altering medications. 

Learn More

Here are some links to help you broaden your knowledge of various disease in hedgehogs. 


VCA Wobbly Hedgehog syndrome


VCA Hedgehog Cancer


VCA Hedgehog Mites


Quilling and quill health

  Quilling is the process in which old quills fall out and new quills break through the skin.  Quilling usually starts around 6 weeks of age and continues periodically throughout the first year of life. Initial (young) quillings are usually the heaviest and most difficult or painful for the animal. Hedgehogs typically become more illusive and defensive while quilling, it is important to participate in routine handling despite the hedgehog's protests. 

   In lighter colored animals quilling seems to be more difficult and painful.This may also be effected by quill shape and structure. Lighter colored hedgehogs tend to have sharper thinner quills that cause more damage as they tear through the skin. 

   There are some things owners can do to help soothe a hedgehogs sensitive and painful skin during the quilling process. Hedgehog's skin may bleed during quilling so it is important to know the difference between quilling and infectious disease. It is also important to keep a quilling hedgehog and it's environment clean to prevent infection. 

   Omega 3's can be offered in food to better skin structure and keep skin hydrated on the inside out. Collagen may be offered via food to improve or preserve skin structure. Feeding some whole prey or ground joint is an appealing way to offer collagen. 

  It is important to not apply oils to a hedgehog's skin during quilling or any other time. Oils applied topically seal in moisture,Bacteria, & fungus and create the perfect environment for disease outbreak. 

   For general quill maintenance, ground joint and whole prey can be added to a hedgehog's diet.

   Adult hedgehogs will loose quills. Darker animals tend to shed a few quills at a time with relatively high frequency.  Lighter colored animals tend to experience a much more intense quilling, just less often. 

    It is important to remember that quilling is a natural process and every animal will experience quilling differently. 

  Signs of disease or poor quill health include;  buildup around the base of quills or the base of shed quills, shed quills that are broken, moist "mushy" quills, abnormally large balding spots due to quill loss. Growth on the quills is also not normal. No algae or mold should ever grow on or inside a hedgehog's quills. 

   Keeping a hedgehog's environment appropriately arid (dry) will help prevent moisture from entering quills ( moisture can't enter if it's not present) and help maintain overall quill health. 

   Quills come in many colors and may change coloration over time. A young dark colored animal may shed it's quills with the new quills coming in light colored.

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Hibernation attempts

In nature African Pygmy hedgehogs go through a period of reduced activity. These periods are refereed to as torpor or "semi-hibernation". For some reason hedgehog owners refer to it a hibernation even though the state of less activity is not actual hibernation. The terms torpor and hibernation will be used interchangeably here for reader ease (despite this not being definition correct).


Torpor is brought on by environmental factors such as a drop in temperature and is not a voluntary occurrence.


  Regardless of what we call it, this state can be dangerous to pet hedgehogs, especially when they are brought on quickly. 

  Causes of hibernation attempts include, sudden drop in temperature, decreased day light hours, sudden or prolonged darkness,moving from hot to cold or cold to hot areas, and not an ample amount of fat in diet and on the body. 

   Signs and symptoms of a hibernation attempt include walking with a dramatic sway and difficulty,  staying balled up in a very tight rigid ball, a slower shallow breathing pattern, and a a cool body temperature. A hedgehog who is entering hibernation will not be as active as normal. 

    If a hedgehog is attempting hibernation, the animal's surrounding temperature will need to be increased gradually in order to raise the animal's body temperature and awaken from the attempt. 

  Hibernation attempts are involuntary, they are the body's response to external cues that wild hedgehogs would rely on to survive cooler temperatures and periods of decreased food availability in their habitats. Hibernation is a biological survival mechanism 

   With pet hedgehogs, we do not provide the correct conditioning needed for our animals to enter torpor states and survive them. It would be nearly impossible for hedgehog owners to enter their animals into a state of "monitored torpor". Pet hedgehogs have not experienced actual hibernation for many generations, there fore their bodies may partially be evolving away from their ability to survive them


There are several things an owner can do to prevent hibernation attempts in hedgehogs. 


1.) Always maintain the animals cage at 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Slightly higher temps of 82-84 may also be maintained. If providing higher temperatures, be sure you can always maintain those temperatures. Animals kept at higher temps seem to be more sensitive to temp drops and may hibernate attempt more easily. 


2.) Provide ample fat in the animal's diet. Fat is necessary for hedgehogs. Many owners believe that their animals should be on low fat diets. This is incorrect. Hedgehogs have a high metabolism and are very active. They are biologically hardwired to experience and survive hibernation attempts. Because of these factors they require ample amounts of fat in their diet. 

Additional fat can be provided by offering whole prey pinkie mice and rat pups, Lamb and duck are also nice meats to offer for fatty quality. An increase in the animal's caloric intake (the amount you feed it) will also boost body fat.


3.) Provide 12-14 hours of light per day. Environmental cues that trigger hibernation include shorter day light hours. Because of this, shutting off the lights early in a hedgehog's cage may trigger a hibernation attempt. If being home to turn the lights on and off after 12-14 hours is difficult, an owner can purchase a light timer from just about any hardware store. 

If covering a hedgehog's cage to offer more privacy, be sure the sheet allows light to shine through. 


4.) Avoid moving a hedgehog back and forth between cool and warm areas. Doing so can cause a hibernation attempt. 


The sun and vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. It is important for healthy bones, teeth, and even hearts. 

Nocturnal mammals, such a hedgehogs, have evolved in a way that  they need very little vitamin D to function properly. It is important for owners to understand this as many have asked about supplementing their animal's diet  with vitamin D powders. 

Hedgehogs require less vitamin D when compared to diurnal small mammals. Hedgehogs can still become vitamin D deficient. 

Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity and  elevated  blood calcium levels include; constipation, heart disease, kidney stones, a general feeling of being unwell. Behavioral symptoms may also appear due to  Vitamin D deficiency. 

 Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin of most animals via irradiation (sun exposure), but whether or not hedgehogs do so effectively is unknown. Some nocturnal animals still do get ( and utilize) Vitamin D from UVB exposure. Even though they are sleeping during the day. Nocturnal mammals have been observed, during studies, sleeping in sun cracked burrows, shady tree areas that allow sun light to break through, and even under sunny brush. This exposure to UVB clearly has benefits within their body. 

   African Pygmy Hedgehogs haven't been formally studied enough to determine exactly how much sun light they are receiving. We do know that in their natural habitat Hedgehogs have been observed as being active as sun rise is taking place. This means that they are receiving some UV exposure, just at a lower amount than compared to a mid day sun.

  

Taking a hedgehog outside during the day


Many hedgehog owners enjoy taking their hedgehogs out during the day. As discussed above, we know that hedgehogs naturally get some UV exposure. We also know that the UV exposure they are getting is relatively low. 

  Because of this it is recommended that hedgehogs either be taken outdoors only when the UV index is low for a brief period OR for an even briefer period during high UV index hours. During higher UV index hours, owners can utilize an umbrella to offer a more appropriate area for hedgehogs to explore. 

Young hoglets ( still dependent on their mother-9 weeks old) should not be  exposed to the outdoors due to eye sensitivities and lower immunity. Young hoglets that have been exposed to UV radiation during the pivotal development periods  may have long term damage to their eyes and skin. 

Never put sunscreen on a hedgehog.


Can UV be provided via UVB lamps?


Whether  or not UVB supplementation via synthetic lighting is beneficial to hedgehogs is unknown. Some zoos provide their nocturnal mammals with brief periods of UV bulb exposure daily. Whether or not this is good for hedgehogs cannot be stated at this time. Hedgehogs receive Vitamin D and calcium through their food, which may be all they need, Older hedgehogs who have been kept indoors their entire lives are not popping up with Calcium absorption related issues such as  brittle bones and osteoporosis, so we can theorize that the calcium and vitamin D they're getting from their diets is sufficient.


Cancers and eye issues due to UV exposure


 It has been noted that nocturnal ( and even diurnal) animals that receive too much sun exposure have a higher occurrence of skin and other cancers. Keep in mind that the sun is  a lot stronger than it once was, so sun time that used to be safe now isn't as safe. 

Hedgehogs can get skin cancer. It has been observed in many animals.  Often times it it fatal and can rarely be managed with success.It seems that lighter colored hedgehogs are more prone to skin cancers from sun exposure. This is due to the reduced amount of melanin in their skin.   Melanin protects skin from *some*  UV damage. Albino animals are at an even higher risk of developing skin cancer from UV exposure. 

 Nocturnal animals have eyes that are sensitive to light, especially UV light. Too much exposure to UV light can cause long lasting and permanent eye damage, especially in young animals.