Quick Diagnosis

Hedgehogs get more things wrong with them than just about any other animal. It can often be difficult, especially for a new carer, to work out what the symptoms presenting themselves actually mean.

The table below gives a list of some of the more common issues and what the possible cause is, however, if in doubt always seek expert advice

Symptoms Possible causes Triage/Treatment

Adult crying, peeping, squealing

This is usually the sign of an animal in pain or terrified

Unless there is an obvious reason for the hog being frightened then seek help and medical attention immediately. Hedgehogs put up with a lot of pain before they start to scream.

Baby/juvenile crying, peeping, squealing

This usually means cold, hungry or scared but can mean injury

Make sure the little one has warmth and a shallow dish of water. Check it carefully for injury, a cat claw leaves a miniscule hole.

If you have never worked with hoglets before, seek expert advice immediately. Under NO circumstances give them milk.

Unless you are prepared for a lot of sleepless nights you may wish to pass these to an expert until they are big enough to fend for themselves

Wobbling or falling over 1

Dehydration or infection.

A healthy adult is round when curled into a ball
a malnourished hog is thin and tapering towards the rear end when curled.

All sick hogs arriving are likely to need fluids. Dehydrated hedgehogs absolutely need rehydration fluids 2 and need them immediately.

If the hog is cold it must be warmed up before these can be administered. If the hog is responsive you can give oral rehydration warmed to body temperature, otherwise it will need subcutaneous 3 fluids.

If you are unable to do this yourself then take the hog to a vet or carer who can. Dehydration is life threatening as the internal organs are shutting down.

For a good guide to determining whether a hedgehog is dehydrated or not, see Toni Bunnell's research page.

The images on the left show a healthy hog and a malnourished one.

Out and about during the day

Sick, starving or dehydrated, disturbed nest, nursing female

99% of the hedgehogs found out during the day, other than early morning or late evening, are in trouble.

It cannot hurt to check it over. If it's healthy you can return it to where you found it.

If possible, before you take it in, check to make sure it's not a lactating female who may be taking a food break from the babies

Hyperactive

Dehydrated, worms, fluke, pain, stress

First check the situation the hog is in. Noisy places, children running around, TV or radio blaring, are not suitable for a hedgehog. You may well be used to this but the hog will be terrified.

The first thing to do is make sure the hog is somewhere very quiet and covered so that it can feel secure. If it is still very active, running around the cage, scrabbling at the walls or floor, check faeces for worms and eggs, give fluids or take it to a vet.

Sunbathing

Hypothermia, dehydration

There is likely to be another underlying infection that's caused this.

Make sure the hog is warm and then give fluids. Usually it's impossible to give oral fluids to a collapsed hog so it will need to go to the vet if you cannot give subcutaneous fluids.

Diarrhoea - brown

Incorrect diet or milk

Fluids are important as the diarrhoea will start to dehydrate the hog. Feed only on very light easily digested food such as Esbilac, Hills A/D, Royal Canin Recovery or minced lightly boiled chicken with added vitamins and minerals.

If it doesn't clear up fairly quickly then a course of antibiotics may be needed. Consult your vet.

Pale green clear faeces with white 'eggs'

Feed

This is almost certainly down to feeding Esbilac or similar milk substitute and is nothing to worry about.

Deep green faeces, mucousy or jelly like

Infection, antibiotics, pre or post hibernation

Hedgehogs seem to do some sort of gut purge immediatley before and after hibernation, this is nothing to worry about unless it continues after a couple of days of solid food.

A hedgehog on antibiotics will often produce this as the natural gut bacteria are destroyed. You can help by giving probiotics but not at the same time as the antibiotics. Try to leave a good gap.

If neither of these is the case then there is a gut infection of some kind and antibiotics are likely to be required. See a vet

Coughing - smokers chesty cough

Lungworm or pneumonia

Wormers specifically for lungworm are likely to be needed and antibiotics should be given at the same time to help the hog fight off infection from the dying worms. There are a number of different medications available, if you are not sure what to use seek advice from an expert.

If the hedgehog is having breathing difficulties then a nebuliser or a drop of Olbas oil on a tissue can help

An expectorant may be given to help the hog cough up the worms

Coughing - dry hacking cough

Living conditions or something in the throat

Check the bedding to make sure it's clean. Hogs regularly foul their nests which can lead to coughing. If the hog is indoors it can also be caused by an atmosphere that's too dry. We have had some success using a steamer or a jar of water left to evaporate on a radiator.

In severe cases, spraying clean water onto the newspaper on the floor of the cage can help.

Spine Loss

Juvenile shed (quilling)

Juveniles shed their first lot of spines and newer, thicker ones replace them. You may see the hog scratching due to irritation in the same way a child will complain when teething.

If there are normal shaped spines on the floor of the cage but no other signs of skin problems such as fur loss or flaky skin then suspect quilling

If the hog is scratching itself raw then a light brushing with almond oil in the sore area may help.

Spine and fur loss

Fungal infection or Mites

Wear gloves! Hedgehogs don't pass much on to us but ringworm and mange are two things they can.

Treatments vary from carer to carer. There is a good regime on the First Aid pages of Epping Hedgehog Rescue.

Here we use a combination of Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Cream and Neem Oil which seems to do the trick without any harsh chemicals

Round white or grey blobs in amongst the spines or fur

Ticks

Ticks are blood suckers that attach themselves to hedgehogs, feed until they are full then drop off.

One or two on a healthy hog won't cause any issues but a large number can. All ticks need to be removed as soon as possible and destroyed to prevent them from breeding.

Removal should be done with a tool made for the job such as a hook, tick tweezers or a lasso to ensure the entire tick is removed and the mouth parts are not left in the skin.

It has been discovered recently that the old method of coating the tick in oil can distress it and cause it to regurgitate its stomach contents into the hog.

Sprays such as Frontline should not be used as the fumes can cause respiratory problems for the hog

Black or deep red jumping insects

Fleas

Not all hedgehogs have fleas but if yours has, don't worry. Hedgehog fleas are hedgehog specific, they won't live on anything else.

Do not use cat or dog fleas treatments, especially the sprays as these can kill the hedgehog as well as the fleas. Johnsons do a powder for small animals which contains pyrethrums that can be lightly sprinkled on, avoiding the face. It's remarkably efficient.

Tiny white 'grains of rice', individual or in clumps

Flystrike

These are fly eggs and can do enormous damage once they hatch into maggots. If the tiny specs are moving then they've already hatched. The eggs and any maggots need to be removed urgently.

It's a painstaking process as you need to get every one of them off and they can be very difficult to see. We have had success using a tick hook to comb through the fur and a bowl of dilute Savlon to dip the hook into. Johnson's do ear mite drops and these will get any out of the ears.

If the maggots are in the eyes or mouth then they will need to be flushed out with clean water, you may find it helpful to get your vet to do it for you.

Footnotes:

  1. Falling over - African Pygmy Hogs bred for the pet market in the USA have developed a syndrome called 'Wobbly Hog'. There is currently (2010) no cure for this. If you suspect that your animal is an APH please quarantine it and seek advice from the APH experts. Under no circumstances must it be allowed to breed as the UK population are currently free of this

  2. Rehydration Fluids - If you do not have ready prepared oral fluids such as Lectade, you can make your own using 1 level Tablespoon of sugar, 1 level teaspoon of salt and dissolve in a litre of warm water. This should be given by syringe very slowly. Do not have the hog on its back during this procedure or it may inhale the fluids and drown.

  3. Subcutaneous Fluids - Are injected under the skin. The fluids are dispensed from a sterile bag. Under no circumstances attempt to do this yourself until you have been shown how to do it properly.

The information above is based on the experience of Hedgehog Bottom and is current as at March 2010 but may be subject to change as new methods are discovered. Before performing any invasive treatments on a hedgehog you are strongly advised to seek expert advice and training. Vale Wildlife Rescue run various courses. Details available on their web site or by phone.


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