Diseases and treatment of pet hedgehogs (Proceedings)


Diseases and treatment of pet hedgehogs (Proceedings)

Apr 01, 2010

Hedgehogs are members of the family Erinaceidae in the order Insectivora. There are 16 species of hedgehogs; however, the most common pet species in North America is the African pygmy hedgehog (also referred to as the white-bellied, four-toed, or African hedgehog) (Atelerix albiventris). Average life expectancy in the wild is 1-1.5 years; in captivity, they generally live 3-5 years (but 6-10 years has been recorded).

Although hedgehogs are nocturnal, they will emerge from their nests during the day. Unfamiliar sounds or movements will often cause a hedgehog to assume its defensive posture. Contraction of longitudinal muscles along the thorax and abdomen act as a "purse string" and help the animal to roll into a tight ball. The snout and limbs are tucked close under the body and the spines are erected. Frightened hedgehogs may "puff up", spit, and/or emit high-pitched hissing sounds. An unusual behavior of the hedgehog is that of self-anointing (also called "anting"), an activity often elicited by the introduction of an unfamiliar object. They will lick the new object repeatedly, hypersalivate, create a frothy saliva, and then rub the saliva on to their skin and spines. Although African hedgehogs are bred commercially for the pet trade, their behavior remains that of non-domesticated animals. In addition to being nocturnal, many individuals do not interact with humans regardless of how much handling they received when they were young. However, they are cute, unique, and inquisitive pets, and generally do not bite. This presentation will review the captive management, common diseases, and medicine of the African hedgehog.


The degree of physical and chemical restraint necessary for adequate examination of hedgehogs is highly variable and often depends on the degree of handling that is performed by the owner. Although some hedgehogs do not resist physical manipulation and can be easily examined, thorough physical examination can be problematic. The use of light leather gloves is generally recommended because they help prevent injury from the sharp spines and allow for adequate control of the animal. If a gloved hand is slipped underneath the body, some hedgehogs will eventually relax and unroll enough to permit physical examination; similar results may sometimes be obtained by heavy backward stroking over the rump. Scruffing the animal before it rolls up may also allow for a brief examination. However, without sedation or anesthesia, adequate physical examination is often difficult to impossible as many hedgehogs either refuse to unroll, or once unrolled, are resistant to physical manipulation. Therefore, to facilitate examination, hedgehogs are frequently sedated or anesthetized using an induction chamber or small face mask using an inhalant anesthetic agent. Isoflurane is the inhalant agent of choice. Once induced, the hedgehog can be maintained via face mask or endotracheal intubation.


Venous blood is most easily collected from superficial veins: the lateral saphenous vein may be visualized below the stifle; and the cephalic vein can be found along the dorsum of the foreleg. If volumes greater than 0.5 ml are required, the jugular vein, while not readily visible or palpable, can be most easily accessed by lying an anesthetized animal on its back, gently holding the vessel off at the thoracic inlet, and inserting a needle at the same anatomic position that one would expect for a dog or cat. The cranial vena cava can also be used to collect a blood sample, but there is a greater risk of cardiac puncture due to the relatively cranial position of the hedgehog heart. Small length (0.5") and gauge (25 or 27 ga) needles should be used for hedgehog venipuncture, and sedation or anesthesia is almost always required for safe and reliable access.