How My Hedgehog Reacted to Our Tiny Human

During our little summer break, we welcomed a new addition to our household! And with a new addition, there was a little bit of a transition period for all members of our family. Including for our little fur-baby, Nestor.

Before our little one came, we had Nestor’s cage in our second bedroom turned office. He was in a nice and quiet place, away from the hustle and bustle of the household as he slept the day away.

We decided that the best place for Nestor would be the living area. It wouldn’t be as quiet for him, but he would get the privacy he was used to during his most active hours from 1am to 6am.

We knew the transition from essentially his own little hedgehog room to the living room was going to be a little stressful for him, so we made sure to do it months before the baby came. And to our surprise, it didn’s stress him out one bit.

He continued to sleep through the day and he wasn’t any more grumpy and hissy than his normal hedgehog self. Yay, we did it! We thought for sure we were in the clear!

You probably know where I’m going with this. We were definitely not in the clear! There was one thing my husband and I overlooked; baby smells.

All stress and adverse reactions came when the baby was brought back home. Of course it would, why didn’t we think of this before it happened?! A hedgehog’s primary sense is its smell, so of course he would notice a household full of different odours.

I felt so bad for not realizing this was going to happen. Actual crying may have been involved (hormones be crazy!).

Not only was Nestor reacting to the new household smells, but he also no longer recognized me! He was as hissy and poppy as when we first got him, and twice as bitey. If I attempted to get him out of his hide, he would actively try to poke me with his spines and nip at me until my hand was away.

Major “my hedgehog just broke up with me” crying may have been involved after this as well (did I mention hormones?).

As it turns out, I learned from talking with a friend from grad school that some anesthesia can actually temporarily change your body’s biochemistry. It seems like this is something that can be sensed by animals. She had noticed that when one of her dogs has surgery, the other doesn’t seem to recognize them for a few days after. So to Nestor, I was literally a whole different (and unknown) person!

In the coming weeks, it felt like Nestor was never going to get used to our new household. But we held on and did all we could to mitigate Nestor’s stress, and within 6 weeks Nestor was back to his normal grumpy hedgehog self (phew!).

Here are the steps we took to ease Nestor’s transition:

 

1. Layed off social media

We decided to give Nestor a little social media break during his adjustment period. Across all of our social media accounts, there was a fair amount of picture taking for Nestor. Although under normal circumstances photos during playtime or a short photo session never stressed him out, we thought taking something off his plate might help with dealing with all the new stimuli.

2. Employed bonding techniques

Even though they would never be in direct contact, the baby was still a new human Nestor had to get used to. So I employed the bonding techniques I used when he was just a small adolescent hog. Since baby scent would most likely be mixed with my own from time to time, I put the shirt I was wearing for the day in his cage each evening so that he would associate the new baby scent with comfort. This way Nestor could get used to the new baby scent, as he got used to the scents of my husband and me.

3. Gave Nestor his privacy

Now more than ever, it was vital that we take Nestor out every evening for cuddle time so that he continued to feel loved. Because it’s just his little hedgehog personality, sometimes he didn’t feel like socializing for a full hour (or even 5 minutes at times!). When this happened and he really just felt like chilling out in his hide, we respected his privacy and let him. This goes against the 1-hour of bonding time per day recommendation. But if you have longer bonding sessions most days, giving your hedgie a rest when he or she doesn’t feel like socializing won’t hurt your relationship. Animals have their different moods as well, after all!

4. Let caregiver #2 take the reins

This is where it really helps to have a friend or a second member of the family familiar with caring for your hedgehog! As mentioned before, I smelled a lot different to Nestor the first week or two I was back home. During this time I let my husband take over hedgehog care, including bonding time. This way we could let Nestor ease into the new smells, instead of bombarding him with new scents. After a couple of weeks, I was able to start handling him again without so much hissing.

 

In the end, I think that giving him his own space while still maintaining adequate bonding time was the right thing to do. 6 weeks later, Nestor is 100% back to his old (somewhat) grumpy self. He is still our happy, healthy little hog!

Having a hedgehog in a home with small children is usually discouraged due to the noise, so I was pretty worried about how Nestor would handle it. I now know that as long as extra steps are taken to ensure the animal is safe and comfortable, it can be done.

These little guys are a lot better at adapting to different surroundings than some people give them credit for!

However, it is a good idea to always strive to have your hedgehog’s home in a space with low foot traffic if space permits.

If you ever find yourself in a position where you need to change your hedgehog’s environment, remember to do it as slow as you can and ease them into it gently. Give them some extra checks to ensure that they aren’t exhibiting harmful behaviour such as self-mutilation, and ensure that their eating and drinking habits have not changed by very much. They should warm up to their new surroundings fairly quickly.

 

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Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) is a major cause of death in pet hedgehogs and is therefore very widely discussed amongst owners. Like many hedgehog owners, I first heard about WHS in forum discussions while researching hedgehogs before buying my first one.

While reviewing peer-reviewed papers one day, I wondered what the scientific community had to say about WHS. So one evening I searched for all the papers I could find on the subject.

As it turns out, there are very few papers on the subject! The different types of cancers that pet hedgehogs can develop are more widely researched than WHS. But the information that was available paints a near complete picture of the disease.

Here is everything you need to know, straight from the horse’s mouth:

What is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?

Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is a neurodegenerative disease that causes partial paralysis and slowly progresses to complete paralysis. About 70% of all cases start in the hind quarters and slowly moves up the body.

It is usually described as being similar to Parkinson’s disease in humans because that is a widely known disorder, but it actually more closely resembles Canavan disease in humans (yea, I haven’t heard of it before now either).

WHS affects 10% of pet African pygmy hedgehogs. Although the cause of the disease is unknown, it is widely believed to be genetic.

A reputable hedgehog breeder takes steps to ensure there is no WHS in their breeding lines, including only breeding hedgehogs with a documented breeding line and removing individuals from their breeding program whose offspring have developed WHS. For this reason, many breeders offer a lifetime WHS guarantee: if your hedgehog develops WHS (diagnosed by a vet) at any point in their lives, the breeder will replace your hedgehog for free.

 

Diagnosis

Since WHS shares common symptoms with other diseases, a necropsy after death is required for a definitive diagnosis.

To do this, the brain and/or spinal cord must be dissected from the animal, thinly sliced (sectioned) onto a glass slide, stained and observed under a microscope. The appearance of vacuoles (small sac-like organelles) in the white matter of the brain to give it a spongy appearance is a clear indication that the hedgehog had WHS.

A 2014 study reported WHS-like symptoms and vacuolization of the white matter to be caused by an infection of a mouse pneumonia virus. Cancerous tumors have also been shown to be the cause of WHS-like symptoms. The white matter of the brain should also be free of immune cells or large legions and tumors as well as be spongy in appearance to be classified as WHS.

 

Symptoms and Prognosis

The first onset of symptoms usually appears within the first 3 years of life. Some sources quote the first 2 years of life, but there have been some cases of WHS that have been diagnosed at a little over 2 years of age.

Common symptoms (from mild to severe) include:

  • Tremors
  • Tilting of the head
  • Inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements
  • Unsteady or “wobbly” walking (gait)
  • Partial paralysis
    • hindquarters only or all four limbs
  • Wasting away of muscle (muscle atrophy)
  • Falling to one side
  • Difficulty swallowing

Uncommon symptoms include:

  • Bulging of the eye
  • A sideways curvature of the spine
  • Self-mutilation
  • Seizures

There is no cure for WHS; aside from attempting to treat the symptoms and making sure the animal is comfortable there isn’t very much a vet can do, unfortunately.

The survival period after the onset of symptoms is 15 to 25 months. If your hedgie is tentatively diagnosed with WHS and crosses the rainbow bridge within a few weeks, that could be an indication that the symptoms were caused by another illness.

 

What Can I Do For My Hedgie?

Unfortunately, like the vet, there really isn’t a whole lot you can do for your hedgie besides loving them and making sure he or she is comfortable.

Boxer Wheelchair-min
A wheelchair-like assist device for a diplegic dog. Photo by Handicapped Pets.

Some owners fashion a little “wheel-chair” device similar to a wheel-chair for dogs. This can greatly extend the quality of life during the first few months when only the hindquarters are paralyzed!

More than likely, their quality of life will diminish to the point of having to help them over the rainbow bridge before they pass from the disease itself. As difficult as it may be, it is important to recognize when they are no longer enjoying their days so that they don’t suffer for too long.

Just know that your love and care enriched their lives and made the time that they did have that much more enjoyable.

 

Do you have first-hand experience with WHS? Let us know in the comments section!

Buggy Treats for Hedgehogs

There are many options available if you wish to feed your hedgehog yummy insect treats. Here’s what you need to know!

Disclaimer – This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a product through these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, this does not impact my reviews or comparisons.

 

Even though hedgehogs are opportunistic omnivores, as oppose to straight insectavores, insects are still a very important part of a hedgehog’s diet.

Because they have no cecum, a pouch in herbavores that breaks down cellulose for fibre, hedgehogs can’t directly digest plant-based foods for the fibre they need.

Instead, their digestive tracts contain chitinase to break down chitin for fibre, which is found in the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans (as well as some fungi).

Even though chitinase does breakdown cellulose to a certain extent, only 38% of cellulose is digested (as oppose to 64-68% of chitin).

So it seems that hedgehogs are built more towards the digestion of insects, but can digest plant-material if insects are unavailable. For this reason, it is important for us as hedgehog owners to try to provide as many insects as our hedgie’s health will allow.

 

Mealworms

Mealworms are the larvae of the darkling beetle (Tenebrio molitor) and one of the most common feeder insects, so it’s usually readily available locally as live food. They are also a favourite treat among hedgies!

When I first started buying mealworms for Nestor, they were pre-packaged in little containers and kept in the fridge to slow the life cycle. I was told that they would be fine at colder temperatures for a couple months. But over time, Nestor actually started to reject the mealworms he was offered!

So I made myself a little mini-farm to keep mealworms live at room temperature, and Nestor never rejected his mealworms after that.

Mealworm Farm-min
Keeping live mealworms is as simple as a small mason jar with a bit of cereal grains!

Keeping mealworms is very easy! My mini-farm consists of a 150mL mason jar with about 1/3 of the jar filled with a type of cereal grain for them to eat. I use rolled oats because that’s what I had laying around my pantry, but if you don’t already have anything on hand bran is a cheaper (and the most widely used) option.

That’s it! Put your mealworms in there, and add a small piece of nutritious fruit or vegetable such as carrot or apple as a water source and also to gut-load them, so that your hedgehog gets all the nutrients that their food is eating.

And no worries if you see them go through their life stages, your hedgie can chow down on all of them. The beetles actually have less fat and contain more chitin than their larval form, so don’t think all is lost if a lot of your mini-colony turns to their adult stage.

Some considerations: the lid should remain off and food should be removed after 12 hours to avoid mold appearing in the bedding. You don’t have to worry about them escaping, the beetles can’t fly and neither life stage can climb glass. This is also just to keep them alive, there are more things to consider if you actually want a mealworm farm for the purposes of propagation.

Because they are known to be a bit on the fattier side, it’s best to limit how often they are offered as treats. Exactly how much you should feed them is highly dependent on your hog.

I usually put 3 or 4 in Nestor’s treat dish at a time. Depending on your hog’s weight and health that could be a good number, or you may want to drop that number to 2 at a time.

 

Superworms

Superworms are the larvae of another species of darkling beetle (Zophobas morio). These guys are huge compared to regular mealworms! But they are considered a good treat from time to time because their hard exoskeletons also have a higher amount of chitin than the average mealworm.

Many hedgehog owners don’t feed superworms to their hogs very often, some may even avoid super worms all together. This is because superworms have large, strong mandibles that can hurt your hedgie if bitten.

Their head can also continue functioning after being severed from the rest of the body (scientific fun fact: this is true for snakes too!), so it is a good idea to either crush or cut the head off before offering it to your hedgie.

I’ve read a case where a hedgehog had actually died from the head of a superworm biting through their stomach! This is probably unlikely to happen, but the fact of the matter is it can happen. Best not to take chances.

Superworms and giant mealworms are often confused. Pet stores have been known to pass off mealworms that have been treated to keep them in their larval stage and grown to a larger size as superworms. To test if your store is selling you a mealworm or a superworm, put one in the fridge. A superworm will die at lower temperatures, whereas a mealworm will simply go into a dormant state and can be revived when brought back to room temperature.

They can be stored in a similar fashion as mealworms, with a cereal grain substrate and fruits or veggies for a water source.

 

Crickets

Crickets are probably the second most popular feeder insects next to mealworms. They aren’t as fatty as mealworms are, and they also have a higher chitin content as well.

Cricket Habitat-min
Large cricket terrarium with commercial cricket food. This $12 jar has lasted me 1 year and counting!

Cricket terrariums, as well as cricket food, are commercially available. I found that crickets were escaping fairly regularly when I kept them in a smaller terrarium with the plastic tubes for them to crawl into. A larger container without tubes seemed to mitigate the problem.

You just need to ensure you have some torn-up egg cartons for the crickets to crawl on, and some fresh food and a water source.

You can feed them with fruits and veggies with a higher water content just like with mealworms. I use store bought cricket food that contains food, water and vitamins so that those extra vitamins can be transferred to Nestor when he munches down on them!

 

Other Feeder Insects

Silkworms can be fed to hedgehogs for a nice treat from time to time, but nutritionally they come in the lowest for protein, fat and chitin content. They feed off of mulberry leaves, so they can’t really be gut-loaded either. These guys are probably best reserved for a special treat.

Waxworms have a similar protein and chitin content to mealworms, but their fat content is a lot higher. Like silkworms, they are probably best reserved for a special treat.

 

The Catch-22

Hedgehogs are made to digest insects, so it should be healthy for them to have a lot of bugs to eat, right?

The answer is yes and no. It is healthy for hedgehogs to eat a nice gut-loaded bug, but depending on the hedgehog too many buggy treats can have adverse affects on their health.

If too many fatty insects such as mealworms are fed, your hedgehog could get obese if they don’t run enough to burn off the calories.

But too many leaner insects such as crickets may cause constipation, or in some cases an impaction (blockage in the intestines). Feeding a little pumpkin is usually enough to remedy mild constipation.

So yes, they have the machinery to digest and obtain nutrients from insects. But because of the types of species available as feeder insects, the diet recommendation is still a dry cat food with bugs being used as treats.

There is no hard and fast rule about how much of each species you should be feeding. Every hedgehog is different.

If your hedgehog is a marathon runner and can handle more fat in their diet, then you could probably be a little more liberal with the mealworms.

If you find you need to watch your hedgehog’s fat intake, then you may want to feed more crickets or wait until the mealworms turn into darkling beetles (while keeping watch on their bathroom habits, just in case a little pumpkin is needed).

 

If you are squeamish around live insects, you can always buy dried or canned versions of many different feeder species. Dried insects may cause a little constipation and canned insects will have preservatives, but they are otherwise a nutritious option for your little hog.

Some younger hedgies may not eat insects right away. If your hedgehog is hesitant to try their first buggy treat, you could try cutting one in half.

Nestor didn’t even recognize mealworms as food until I cut one in half for him. They’ve been like hedgehog crack ever since!

It is also possible that your hedgehog may not even care for insects, and that’s ok too! In that case, I would bring it up with the vet to ensure that they are able to stay healthy on the fibre obtained by fruits and vegetables.

 

Does your hog like tasty insect treats? Let us know in the comments section!

Veterinary Care Your Hedgehog Needs

Hedgehogs are exotic animals that haven’t been domesticated for very long time relative to other popular pets. As much as we know about them, there is a lot we don’t know. This, coupled with the fact that hedgehogs do have more special needs than other small standard small animal pets, leaves a lot of room for our friends to become unhealthy without us even realizing it.

For this reason, veterinary care is very important in maintaining the health of our hedgies.

 

Regular Health Checks

Not every veterinarian cares for exotic pets, so it will take a little research on your part to find a suitable vet in your area. I recommend that while doing your research, you also take note of any 24-hour animal hospitals as well; just in case there is an emergency outside of office hours.

It is recommended that an introductory appointment be set up within the first 4 to 8 weeks of owning your hedgehog. After that, an annual check-up appointment is required.

This is so that the doctor can get to know the animal, what is normal and also so they can keep a baseline record in regards to health. If you just bring your hedgehog in to the vet’s office when something is wrong, it will take more time to diagnose an illness because there is no medical history.

During your general health checks, you will be asked to give information about:

  • Age (first appointment)
  • Habitat (first appointment)
  • Food Type
  • How much food is given
  • Activity Level

Since hedgehogs can be very defensive around people they don’t know very well, your vet may have to sedate them for a short time to perform a full physical examination.

 

Keeping Track of Health at Home

When I take Nestor to the vet when something is wrong, I am always asked if there is:

  • A decrease in food or water intake
  • A decrease in activity level
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Whether or not he could have gotten into anything

Animals will naturally hide symptoms of illness so that they don’t appear weak to predators. Weight loss and low food and water intake are often the first signs that something could be wrong.

It is a good idea to keep track of these values over your hedgehog’s life so you know what is normal and what is abnormal. Even if you don’t have an exact number for them, like if you just fill the water bowl every night without measurement for example. You can still check to see how much the levels have gone down by in the morning.

Over time, it is very noticeable if your hedgehog hasn’t drunk anything or ran on the wheel throughout the night.

I clean Nestor’s wheel every night, so if it’s in the same condition the following morning I know he didn’t run on his wheel.

I also use a small scale to measure out the amount of food Nestor gets during his nightly cage cleaning, and how much food is left in the morning. Again, over time you will come to know what is normal for your hedgehog and what is abnormally low.

 

Veterinary Costs

The cost to see an exotic vet is usually a little more per visit than a vet for standard pets such as a cat or dog.

On average, the base cost to even see a vet is usually around $60-70. Any treatments, including the anesthesia if your hedgie needs to be sedated for the examination, are added on top of that base cost.

I’ve found that generally the cost of treatments and medications are pretty reasonable, averaging about $30 per treatment. It can add up, but the real cost comes from any imaging services needed.

It is recommended that you slowly start saving an emergency fund for surprise vet visits. That way you have peace of mind that you will be able to provide the care your hedgie needs when they really need it.

Veterinary costs can vary depending on region, and may also vary from practice to practice. Remember to ask about the base costs for that practice when shopping for an exotic vet.

 

How did you decide which vet to take your hedgehog to? What was your experience dealing with exotic vets? Let us know in the comments section!