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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Going by the fact that many, many people all around the world enjoy keeping hedgehogs as pets, it can go without saying that they are enjoyable to keep and raise. Hedgehogs, while normally solitary animals, can be quite active and energetic, making them wonderful pets for people who do not have the space for a typical cat or dog.
However, as with all pets, you should have an idea of what kind of health situations you can find yourself in with your hedgehog.
All animals have the potential to get sick one way or another. Some animals are more resilient to certain problems (for example, a fish is not going to have the same potential for arthritis as certain dog breeds are), but all animals are going to have their weak points where things can go wrong.
As a pet owner, it is going to be your job to know what is going on with your pet and what it means.
In a best-case scenario, you will have owned your hedgehog long enough to know what its “normal” is in terms of activity throughout the day, but as most people know, misfortune doesn’t strike in ways that are easy to deal with.
Because of this, you might not realize when your hedgehog is immediately sick if you do not know what to look for.
When owning and caring for hedgehogs, one of the most troublesome things that the hedgehog will do is curl up and refuse to move from its position. To a new pet owner, this refusal to move, eat, or do anything can be quite concerning at first, and for good reason.
If you find that one day your hedgehog is not behaving the way it normally should, then you should begin considering what your options are.
However, before you can consider your options in terms of what you should do with an unmoving hedgehog, you should first have an idea of how active your hedgehog should be, and when it becomes time to call the situation of having an animal that is not just tired or stressed, but is actually sick.
When Movement Becomes Abnormal
It can be hard for new hedgehog owners to tell when their pets are having trouble, as there are more than a few situations where your hedgehog might come across as unmoving.
For instance, when hedgehogs are stressed or scared, they will curl up into a ball and not move from that position until they believe that the threat has passed. This means that if you just got done vacuuming the room that the hedgehog is in, then there’s a good chance that your hedgehog won’t be moving for a little bit, as no pet enjoys the sound of a vacuum.
Typically, hedgehogs are active at night, meaning that they are probably going to be pretty immobile during the day when you are going to want to look at it the most. This is completely normal, although after owning a hedgehog for a while, it may start to adjust to being awake and active around the same time that you would eat dinner, rather than in the dead of night.
In this case, you should be able to still wake up your hedgehog, as it will be sleeping as any animal would be. As long as the hedgehog can be roused from its slumber easily (assuming that hibernation is not a possibility), then there’s a good chance that your hedgehog is just tired.
Of course, as with just about any animal that you come across, the hedgehog will become somewhat lethargic if it is sick. There will usually be other signs of an issue if your hedgehog’s lethargy is due to sickness.
You will want to pay closer attention to the hedgehog’s excretions if you are trying to gauge if it is sick or not, and this will be the quickest way to do so aside from taking your hedgehog to the vet. You can also listen to its breathing and look at its nose and mouth.
Finally, not many people are aware of this, but hedgehogs will actually hibernate. This is often a problem, as by nature, the African Pygmy hedgehog does not have as much fat as European hedgehogs.
The African Pygmy hedgehog is the typical type of hedgehog that is kept as a pet, unless specifically specified as otherwise from your breeder. Additionally, a domesticated life is not one that will provide your hedgehog with the nutrients needed to make it through hibernation.
This means that if you know the signs of hedgehog hibernation (such as shaking), you can take the necessary steps to try and break them out of it. If it is too late and your hedgehog has already begun hibernation, you will want to contact your vet for further instruction, as getting a hedgehog out of hibernation is a very delicate process and it will depend heavily on your hedgehog’s health specifically.
These are the most common situations where you may find that your hedgehog is not moving the way that it normally should. It could mean that your hedgehog is getting its sleep in during the day, just as hedgehogs out in the wild do, or it could mean that your hedgehog is actually headed into hibernation. In some cases, it could just mean that your hedgehog has a bit of a cold and needs some time to rest.
These are all things that you need to pay attention to and consider when you are trying to determine the cause of a lethargic hedgehog. Some of these problems are pretty easy to see through and avoid, such as poking your hedgehog during the day to see if it is awake and subsequently seeing that the hedgehog has been woken up.
Other times, helping your hedgehog should only be done by a professional who knows what they are doing, such as with hibernation, as bringing any animal out of hibernation too early can present health problems.
Now that you have an idea of what to look for, you can begin looking for identifying signs that will help you determine if your hedgehog is sick or just trying to hibernate.
Determining Whether or Not a Hedgehog Is Sick
It can be hard to tell if a hedgehog is sick or not when it spends most of its active hours at night, when you are asleep and unable to monitor its appearance and actions. With that being said, if you are a diligent hedgehog owner, you will note that there are quite a few ways to tell if your hedgehog is healthy or unhealthy while it is active during the night.
For instance, when you wake up in the morning, the cage that your hedgehog is kept in should have a fair amount of both urine and feces from the animal the night before. The feces should be healthy and not notably off in color, indicating that your hedgehog is doing just fine.
When there is excrement in your hedgehog’s cage, it is a good indicator that your hedgehog’s appetite is healthy and intact.
Signs of a hedgehog being sick are, obviously, going to be lethargy and a decreased appetite. This will be somewhat hard to notice when the hedgehog is exclusively active at night, but you will be able to tell when you look at the hedgehog’s food bowl in the morning. If there is less food eaten than usual, or seemingly no food eaten, this should be cause for concern.
A more severe or advanced illness will come across in the form of weight loss, problems with the stool (usually with it being watery or bloody), problems with bloody urine, panting, labored breathing, a runny nose (or eyes), sneezing, and coughing.
Some people may notice that their hedgehogs will have a duller expression on their faces as well when they become this sick, and some hedgehogs may even seemingly become paralyzed.
These are all indicators that your hedgehog is going through something somewhat severe and needs to be taken to the nearest vet. Given the nature of owning an exotic animal that is not only somewhat uncommon but is also very small in nature, it might take some time for you to get a doctor’s appointment to help your hedgehog out.
While you are waiting, if it is obvious that your hedgehog is sick with something, you will want to follow the at-home remedies that you can practice to try and get your hedgehog at least feeling well enough to eat food. First things first, you will want to try and give your hedgehog as much of a stress-free environment as you can when it is feeling under the weather.
This means that you should try to leave it alone as much as you can stand to. Hedgehogs by nature are solitary animals, and even if they have bonded with you and tolerate your presence, they may not want company when they are already feeling sick.
If there is another hedgehog that shares the same cage as the sick one, you should relocate the healthy hedgehog as soon as you can, both for the sake of the ill hedgehog and on the chance that the sickness is a viral one. You should then ensure that the ill hedgehog has a dark, quiet environment to rest in while you wait for the vet appointment.
As many sick hedgehogs will not eat, you will want to try and offer foods that will be both easier to eat and more enticing than their normal food. Canned kitten food, (plain and unseasoned) chicken, and turkey baby food are all good suggestions and treats to get even a few nutrients into the hedgehog, or you can consider soaking the hedgehog’s normal food in either water or a low-sodium chicken broth.
In a worst-case scenario where you have to wait for the doctor but your hedgehog is not eating at all, you can force-feed it with a syringe, but be careful not to feed the hedgehog too fast as it could aspirate.
Aside from these measures you should take to keep it safe and healthy, you should minimize how much you handle the hedgehog while it is sick until you have the chance to take it to the vet.
Additionally, you should provide it with a heat source so that you can prevent any chance of inappropriate hibernation. All hibernation is inappropriate in domestic hedgehogs.
What to Do When Your Hedgehog Is Trying to Hibernate
Hedgehogs, like many other animals, will eventually hibernate when they are in the wild. Domesticated hedgehogs will still hibernate too, but in an optimal situation, they shouldn’t.
Hibernation is very taxing on a hedgehog’s nutrition system and most hedgehogs that are adopted do not have the fat content needed to survive hibernation. Because of this, if your hedgehog isn’t moving and the chance of hibernation is possible, you will need to act quickly.
Hibernation in domesticated hedgehogs can be lethal if you do not handle the case properly. Typically, when a hedgehog is hibernating, it cannot be roused from its sleep, as its core body temperature is too low for that, due to the nature of hibernation. Instead, the hedgehog might make a snoring sound if you poke and prod it.
You should never, ever try to warm a hedgehog up on your own. This process is dangerous and delicate, easily resulting in you causing permanent damage to your hedgehog’s body. Instead, you should try to be on the lookout for hibernation signs so that you can try and prevent the process before it really begins.
Hedgehog hibernation begins with the hedgehog acting lethargic, weak, and a lack of appetite. Unfortunately, these signs are all congruent with other conditions. The main hallmark of hibernation is when the hedgehog will curl up into a ball and will do its best to refuse unballing itself.
If you notice that your hedgehog is doing these things and has reached the stage of refusing to unball itself, you will want to try and revive it. The best way to do this is to contact the vet about it, as they know the best way to handle the hedgehog, but this can be expensive and time-consuming. You should first try the safest and only method that you can do to revive your hedgehog.
You can increase its body temperature passively by putting your body against the hedgehog’s. Its quills might hurt at first, but it will be well worth it in the end when your lively and lovely hedgehog is back to its normal chaotic self.