Death is an unavoidable part of pet care. Sooner or later, the time will come for you and your beloved pet to part.
Oftentimes, there’s little you can do to delay the inevitable. So, instead of denying the possibility of death, make the best of your pet’s final time by giving her extra care, comfort, and love.
In this article, I’ll show you how to comfort a dying hedgehog so she can pass as painlessly and peacefully as possible. I’ll also discuss the possible signs that a hedgehog is dying so you can extend her quality of life a bit longer.
Let’s dive right in!
How to Comfort a Dying Hedgehog
With appropriate care and love, a pet hedgehog can live up to five years, and sometimes even longer than eight years, with the oldest recorded living up to 16 years.
Well-cared domestic hedgehogs live considerably longer than those that live in the wild, so if they live past the five-year mark in your care, be proud!
When your hedgehog’s last days approach, it’s your responsibility to make her feel as comfortable as possible. Rather than wallowing in misery and heartache, take this special time to bond and remember how precious your hedgehog is to you.
Here’s how to comfort a dying hedgehog:
1 – Regulate the Room’s Temperature
As with most animals, hedgehogs struggle to regulate their internal temperature when they’re sick and dying.
If the environment’s temperature is too high, they’re at a high risk of heat stress or heat stroke. If it’s too cold, they may fall into a hibernation-like state of inactivity and never wake up.
You want to avoid both of these scenarios.
Hedgehogs are extremely sensitive to temperature changes, especially when they’re sick.
The ideal temperature for hedgehogs is between 75°F (22°C) and 80°F (26°C).
Anything over 85°F (29.5°F) and below 64.5°F (18°C) can cause stress and discomfort, which then speeds up the process of death.
Here’s how to create the optimal temperature for your hedgehog, regardless of the weather:
- Provide an extra layer of hay or paper bedding in your hedgehog’s house.
- If it’s too hot, add a self-cooling mat into the cage. You can also use a fan or air conditioner to drop the temperature to optimal levels. Just make sure the fan or AC isn’t pointed directly towards your hedgehog.
- If it’s too cold, add a heating pad or an into the cage. If you don’t have a heating pad, use a hot water bottle wrapped in a thick towel. Alternatively, turn on the electric heater, wood stove, or heating system in your home.
- Cover your hedgehog’s cage with a blanket to keep the warm air in and the cold air out.
Remember to regularly check the room’s temperature to ensure it’s not too warm or too cold for your hedgehog.
2 – Minimize Noise and Activity
Keep your hedgehog away from the daily hustle and bustle of your home.
A hedgehog nearing the end of her life needs to be placed in a calm, quiet environment that’s free from chaos and loud noises.
Now more than ever, your hedgie needs as much rest as she can get to preserve the energy she has left. She won’t be able to properly sleep if she’s surrounded by noise and chaos.
So, if your hedgehog’s cage is situated in a noisy area, such as the living room or the entertainment room, move it to an area that doesn’t get much activity, like the bedroom.
Furthermore, encourage your family members to be as silent as possible during the last few days of your hedgehog’s life. If you have other pets, keep them away from your hedgehog, as they may cause distress.
3 – Keep Her Well-Fed and Hydrated
Sick and/or dying hedgehogs don’t have much appetite. Without intervention, your hedgehog might starve or dehydrate herself to an early grave.
As you already know, hedgehogs don’t eat a lot of food. In fact, they’re known for their ability to go long periods without food. Some even survive up to 10 days without sustenance.
But although this is the case, this doesn’t mean that you should wait until your hedgehog’s appetite goes up. You may have to manually feed your hedgehog with a syringe until she’s strong enough to eat by herself.
Fill a feeding syringe with soft food such as:
- Baby rice cereal
- Chicken baby food and other meat-based baby food
- Crushed Select Diet hedgehog food
- Crushed kibble softened with low-sodium chicken broth
Avoid foods with soy or corn, as they may cause loose stools.
Feed your hedgehog about 5 to 10 mL of food 3 times a day.
Gently squeeze the plunger until a small amount comes out. Give your hedgehog some time to swallow before giving her more.
On the other hand, adult-sized hedgehogs should consume anywhere between 30 to 60 mL (1 ½ to 2 ½ tablespoons) of water each day.
Don’t force the liquid in one go, as the water might accidentally enter her lugs.
Instead, gently squeeze the plunger until several droplets come out.
Be patient and go slow. If your hedgehog is struggling, release her and try again in a few minutes.
If your hedgehog can eat by herself, feed her watery vegetables and fruits such as:
- Leaf lettuce
Chop them up into tiny, bite-sized chunks so they fit your hedgehog’s mouth. This is a fantastic way to keep her well-hydrated and cool.
Once in a while, offer your hedgehog some tasty treats.
You can use these treats to encourage your hedgehog to eat her everyday food. But above all else, treats are nice comfort foods for a dying hedgie.
Just make sure to avoid treats that may worsen the condition your pet has.
4 – Administer Pain Medication, If Necessary
In most cases, a dying hedgehog doesn’t need medication. However, if she’s in pain, you can reduce her suffering with pain medication.
Pain medication helps your hedgehog feel more at ease.
Like most animals, hedgehogs rarely vocalize their pain. They can hide their suffering until their very last moments.
Thus, keep a close eye on your hedgehog during this time.
If she’s nippy, curled up, hissing, or grumbling, she could be in pain.
With that said, never give your hedgehog anything that isn’t prescribed by a qualified exotic vet. Take the advice of your vet when it comes to dosage and administration.
If your hedgehog is in the point of no return, so to speak, euthanization might be the most humane option. Again, take the advice of your exotic vet specialist to make sure you’re making the right choice.
5 – Provide Affection
Now’s the time to provide your hedgehog with all the love and affection you can give her.
Hedgehogs are solitary animals by nature, only coming together to mate. However, this doesn’t mean they hate affection.
From time to time, hedgehogs seek warmth and comfort from their trusted human companions. Some hedgehogs like to be cuddled and petted, while others find comfort in solitude.
You know your hedgehog best; if she’s naturally affectionate, it’s safe to cuddle and play with her during her last moments.
Whilst it’s tempting to spend every waking minute with your dying hedgehog, you have to put your hedgehog’s mental health first.
Depending on your hedgehog’s condition, she might only be able to tolerate minimal contact. If you overdo it, she’ll get stressed out, further making her feel sick or distressed.
Don’t leave her completely by herself, though; regularly check her health and her overall state to make sure she’s as happy and comfortable as she can be.
Signs That a Hedgehog Is Dying
Hedgehogs rarely show signs of pain and when they do, it’s often too late for medical intervention.
Here are some signs to look out for when you think your hedgehog is dying:
Abnormal Sleeping Patterns
Hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures, meaning they sleep during the day and stay awake during the night. So, if your hedgehog suddenly starts sleeping at night, this might be an indication that something is wrong.
Before you panic though, remember that hedgehogs are big sleepers. In fact, they sleep away 95% of the day and night.
But if your hedgehog sleeps all throughout the night for several nights in a row, it’s worth consulting a vet to make sure everything is okay.
Unusual Feces or Urine
If your hedgehog’s feces is loose, green, black, or tarry with mucus, there might be something wrong with their digestive system.
Healthy hedgehogs have firm brown feces that are about 0.5 to 2 inches long.
Dark, green, or loose feces might be caused by dietary changes, but it normally reverts back to its original state after a few days.
If your hedgehog’s feces remain abnormal for more than three or four days, it’s reason enough for concern and a vet visit.
On the other hand, blood in your hedgehog’s urine and feces is almost always an indicator of cancerous tumors, digestive issues, and cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder).
As soon as you notice blood on your hedgehog’s feces or urine, take her to the vet immediately for a check-up.
Lack of Appetite and Rapid Weight Loss
If your hedgehog is losing weight fast, this is a sign that she’s nearing death’s door. The same is said if your hedgehog stops eating because she lacks the appetite.
After sleeping all day, your hedgehog should be eating and drinking normally.
So if your hedgie doesn’t approach her food and water bowl when she wakes up, it’s safe to assume that something is wrong.
Keep a close eye on her for the next few days. If she doesn’t eat more than half the food she normally eats, try offering her favorite treats to encourage her to finish her food.
You can also try syringe feeding her.
In the event that both attempts fail, don’t hesitate to visit the vet.
Your hedgie might be suffering from intestinal blockage, inflammation or infection of the intestinal lining, or tooth or gum issues that prevent her from munching solid food.
Mouth tumors are likewise linked with difficulty eating and weight loss.
Weakness and Lethargy
Some hedgehogs are naturally “lazy,” making them seem weak or lethargic when they really just prefer resting. If this is the case, you shouldn’t be too worried.
However, it shouldn’t be ignored if your hedgehog is showing weakness out of the blue.
Weakness and lethargy in hedgehogs are often caused by old age or physical exhaustion after an activity.
But if your hedgehog is so tired that she can’t play, exercise, or even walk around, it’s definitely something to look into. This is especially true if this behavior is paired with too much sleep.
Wobbling or Falling Over When Walking
If your hedgehog has a wobbly walking pattern or is unable to walk in a straight line, it’s likely an indication of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) is a neurological disease that eventually leads to paralysis and death.
WHS affects roughly 10% of pet hedgehogs in the US and across North America.
Unfortunately, there’s still no treatment or cure for this disease due to the effects it has on the brain. Death is expected within 18 to 24 months after the hedgehog shows signs of the disease.
Early symptoms of WHS include:
- Difficulty walking
- Falling over
- Wobbling even when standing still
- Head tilt
- Sudden weight loss
- Urine retention
- Self-mutilation (repeatedly biting or scratching a part of their body)
Do Hedgehogs Die Easily?
Hedgehogs are low-maintenance pets. With the right care and attention, they’ll be happy and healthy.
But unfortunately, they’re not the hardiest creatures.
Even in captivity, hedgehogs lead a very short life. Most don’t live past the age of 10 years old.
Because here’s the thing: hedgehogs are extremely prone to illness and cancerous tumors. This is why most hedgehogs die due to physical and neurological diseases.
When a hedgehog turns three years old, the risk of death by disease shoots up considerably. The older the hedgehog gets, the bigger the risk of cancer, tumors, and heart disease.
And since hedgehogs hide their pain, their human companions can’t tell that they’re sick or almost dying until it’s too late.
Obesity is another leading cause of death for pet hedgehogs, which is why you should always regulate their food intake. Don’t give them too many insects or sweet treats because they can easily overfeed themselves.
What Can Cause a Hedgehog to Die?
Hedgehogs die for multiple reasons, including old age, injuries, infections and inflammations, tumors, cancer, and lack of food and water.
Hedgehogs aren’t officially classified as pets like cats and dogs. It’s still illegal to own a hedgehog in California, New York City, Washington, D.C., and other parts of North America because some species carry highly contagious diseases, such as foot and mouth disease.
As such, there isn’t any hedgehog health census that tracks the most common causes of death for pet hedgehogs. However, some diseases occur more often than others, including:
Female hedgehogs are extremely susceptible to reproductive diseases such as uterine cancers and mammary tumors.
For this reason, exotic vet specialists recommend spaying female hedgehogs to prevent these diseases. The same is said for male hedgehogs.
Neutering male hedgehogs is the key to preventing testicular cancer.
Sadly, most tumors—such as oral tumors—don’t often have a good prognosis. In most cases, hedgehog tumors are aggressive and can quickly spread to the bone even before detection.
Whilst especially common in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract, tumors can appear in almost all body organs in hedgehogs.
According to scientific reports, neoplasia is extremely common in African pygmy hedgehogs, the most popular species of domestic hedgehogs. In fact, up to 50% of middle-aged hedgehogs develop tumors.
Unfortunately, most of these tumors are malignant and thus shortens the life of the hedgehog significantly.
The most common neurological disease in hedgehogs is commonly referred to as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. It reportedly affects 1 in 10 hedgehogs, making it one of the leading causes of death in these quilled creatures.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, also known as demyelinating paralysis, is a painful neurologic condition that results in muscle atrophy due to the damage caused to the brain and spinal cord.
It mostly affects African pygmy hedgehogs but it also appears in European (Erinaceus europaeus) hedgehogs.
Why Did My Hedgehog Die Suddenly?
Sudden death in hedgehogs is mostly caused by heart disease, which is especially common among old and obese hedgehogs.
It can also be caused by the consumption of toxins or poisonous foods, such as grapes, garlic, potatoes, raisins, egg yolks, and the like.
Sudden death can likewise be attributed to accidentally asphyxiating herself or choking on kibble while you’re not around.
The only way to truly find out the cause of the sudden death of your hedgehog is through necropsy.
Finding out that your hedgehog is dying is a gutting revelation. Let yourself grieve, but at the same time, don’t waste the precious moments you have left with your hedgie. The above tips show you how to comfort a dying hedgehog so you can make her remaining days happy.