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Are Hedgehogs Blind? (And How Do They Get Around?)

Are Hedgehogs Blind? (And How Do They Get Around?)

The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.

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Cute and fuzzy are two great ways to describe hedgehogs. Their mild temperament and low maintenance make them ideal pets.

You may even train them a couple of basic tricks here and there at a basic, rudimentary level. Nonetheless, hedgehogs have no problem communicating their needs.

They typically do this by grunting, squealing, or a combination of the two depending on the species. You’ll also be happy to know that they make a low purr when they’re content or happy.

One question often comes up by hedgehog owners: are hedgehogs blind?

The quick answer is no, but there’s a lot more to it than that. So, keep reading to learn about these amazing animals and their eyesight.

Are Hedgehogs Blind?

Hedgehogs are born blind. Then, after about a couple of weeks, their eyes start to open up, and they start exploring the world around them.

Still, hedgehogs are known for their poor eyesight compared to humans and other creatures.

Why Are Hedgehogs Blind?

While hedgehogs aren’t completely blind, they do suffer from poor binocular vision. Like in humans, binocular vision is when each eye gathers information to allow us to view one single optical image.

This means that a hedgehog’s eyes don’t create one clear image, so they’re only able to make out shapes and outlines. Consequently, they also suffer from a lack of balance and coordination.

In turn, their depth perception isn’t that good either, which makes them unable to gauge how far objects are. It’s why they tend to bump into things quite often.

Are Hedgehogs Color Blind?

Yes, hedgehogs are color blind in the sense that their eyes can’t pick up on the entire spectrum. This is what the experts call ‘dichromatic vision.’

Dichromatic vision is when the irises contain only two types of cones as opposed to the three cones typically found in humans. Therefore, the eyes can only make out two of the three primary colors. It’s the same thing with many non-primate mammals and humans who are diagnosed as being ‘color blind.’

The good news is that hedgehogs are nocturnal. It’s one of the reasons they don’t need to see that many colors anyway. Being color blind isn’t a handicap to them; it’s just a way of life.

What Can Hedgehogs See?

Experts believe that they can make out outlines and distinct shapes despite having poor eyesight. The secret is in their retinas.

Take a look.

Rod Cells

Interestingly, hedgehogs are pretty good at differentiating between shapes, like houses and trees. They’re also capable of seeing moving objects due to the presence of rod cells in their retinas.

These rod cells are of average size, thus allowing the hedgehog to see moving shapes and objects in moderate light. Plus, the primary colors they see are yellow, brown, and cream.

Their limited color vision may allow them to distinguish between different tints of gray and blue, particularly when light conditions are good.

Cone Cells

Despite having reasonably sized rod cells, they have very few cone cells, or photoreceptors. According to one study, nearly 4% of a hedgehog’s retinas are made up of cone cells.

On the other hand, humans have retinas consisting of about 25% cones. So, what does that mean?

Basically, it means that by having fewer cone cells, hedgehogs are less capable of perceiving a wide range of colors.

Reflective Cells

Similar to most other nocturnal mammals, hedgehogs have something called the tapetum lucidum, which is Latin for ‘bright tapestry.’

These are the reflective cells found behind the retina. This reflective layer shines when we shine a light on hedgehogs, cats, foxes, and other animals known for their terrific nighttime vision.

Human retinas lack this reflective layer. As a result, when you shine light at someone’s eyes, it simply moves through the retina inward, which is why our vision in dim-light conditions is minimal.

How Do Hedgehogs Get Around?

Don’t feel too bad for these small critters, however. They don’t have much use for their eyes all that much anyway.

So, how do they manage to get around? Well, their other senses more than make up for their poor eyesight. They rely more on hearing and smell, particularly since these rodent-like creatures are nocturnal.

Hearing

Hedgehogs have a strong sense of hearing. Their ears aren’t big, nor do they stick out. They’re actually pretty small in comparison to the hedgehog’s overall build.

That said, their sensitive ears are extremely good at picking up low tones going as low as 640 hertz (Hz).

Their ears are also capable of hearing high frequencies up until 45,000 Hz. To put things in perspective, the highest pitch our ears can pick up is about 23,000 Hz.

So, you can see how better hedgehogs are at picking up even the tiniest sounds, both high and low.

So, what do hedgehogs do whenever they hear a sound that piques their interest? Several things actually.

If it’s a loud sound or something unfamiliar, their first instinct would be to duck their heads. In addition, they can roll themselves into a tight ball as a measure of self-defense.

On the other hand, if it’s a sound they know, they’ll stand completely still. This way, they can listen without being distracted by the rustling sound their spines make when they walk.

Smell

The nose is a hedgehog’s second most reliable sense. What’s especially interesting about hedgehogs and their noses because they’re super sharp.

After all, it’s what they use to detect the smell of other hedgehogs, not to mention unwanted intruders.

Even more impressive is that they can pick up on the scent of potential prey under over an inch of soil.

These guys are constantly using their long snout with the big moist tip, called the rhinarium. They’re constantly sniffing the air around them as they walk around.

It’s second nature to them. Not only that, but it’s one of their best mechanisms that help them get by in the world.

Touch

That long snout isn’t good for just smelling. It also helps these cute animals get to know their surroundings.

Much of a hedgehog’s tactility is done with the help of the whiskers around the rhinarium. They help it feel around whether a place is safe or dangerous.

Another vital part of their sense of touch is their spines. These long hollow hairs have a dual role.

One, they protect the hedgehog from predators. Two, they help it feel everything surrounding it as it moves and crawls around.

What Are the Most Common Hedgehog Eye Problems?

Three common problems affect hedgehog eyes. Let’s talk about each issue in more detail.

Irritations

Eye irritations are typically caused by debris or dust making its way into the eyes. A hedgehog’s first reaction will be to rub or itch it. Their eyes will also begin to water to get rid of the foreign object.

Moreover, if the hedgehog can’t seem to open their eyes, this could be a sign of irritation or eye infection. So, keep a close eye on your hedgehog.

Have they started hiding their faces more often? It’s a clear indication they’re feeling discomfort or pain in the area around their eyes.

Mites

Skin mites are always a potential risk with creatures like hedgehogs. Yet, it can take a quick turn for the worse if the condition spreads to the eyes.

These tiny arachnids can be highly irritating and painful for the hedgehog. If your pet shows signs of crustiness or flaky skin around the eyes, this could be a sign of a mite infestation.

This can be accompanied by losing quills, dandruff, or repeated scratching.

Bear in mind that severe mite infestations may lead to a fungus infection, which can ultimately lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and even blindness.

Eye-Bulging

Bulging eyes can be a result of damage to the eye socket. For example, maybe the hedgehog went head-first into a hard object, causing swelling around the eye area.

Any type of eye infection could be the culprit. If this is the case, you’ll notice that the hedgehog is pawing at its eyes more frequently.

Another possible cause could be a brain tumor. So, it’s best to have your vet take a look as soon as you notice any signs of irritation.

Possible Treatments

If caught early, treatments are usually able to heal most eye problems. Like us, each health concern relies on a range of remedies and cures to treat it. The trick is in catching the problem early on.

Here are a few of the most common treatments prescribed by vets for helping reduce hedgehog eye problems:

  • Oral antibiotics
  • Eye drops
  • Painkillers
  • Antifungals
  • Prescription drugs that can kill mites and prevent re-infestation

Final Thoughts

So, are hedgehogs blind? Even though they’re born blind, they quickly regain their sense of sight as they mature and grow. Yet, it never really becomes as strong as other creatures.

However, having poor eyesight doesn’t make them vulnerable or weak. Just the opposite; these critters quickly learn to compensate for it with their other senses.

How cute is that!

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