10 Common Diseases in Domestic Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs are animals as beautiful as they are captivating. Unfortunately, if they don't receive the conditions they need, they can easily die.
10 Common Diseases in Domestic Hedgehogs
Samuel Sanchez

Written and verified by the biologist Samuel Sanchez.

Last update: 18 November, 2023

African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris) are increasingly common in homes around the world, despite the fact that in some regions they’re prohibited due to their invasive potential. These animals are adorable and, with their small snouts and grumpy temperament, they soften even the most demanding owner. Unfortunately, there are common diseases in domestic hedgehogs that make it difficult to recommend them as a pet.

Indeed, before getting a specimen, you must bear in mind that it hasn’t been domesticated. No matter how much it has been raised in captivity, you’ll notice that your hedgehog demands care and requirements that are difficult to simulate in a home. This is even more the case if you live in a flat without a garden. Here are 10 common diseases in domestic hedgehogs and how to detect them.

1. Obesity

Domestic hedgehogs of the species Atelerix albiventris weigh approximately 400 grams to 1.1 kilograms (1 – 2.4 lbs). These animals are very prone to obesity, as they’ll eat their fill if allowed and, in addition, it’s very difficult to find the ideal food for them. If they eat only dog food, they will end up developing weight problems sooner or later.

To this must be added the fact that many hedgehogs don’t receive the exercise they need, because, in their natural environment, they move a lot at night, and replicating their conditions inside a house is complex. In general, a hedgehog is said to be obese when it cannot fully curl up into a ball, and has flaps of skin around its legs.

Taking your hedgehog out for a walk for about 2 hours a day will help it exercise and burn calories. It’s best to do it first thing in the morning or late at night, as this is when they’re most active.

Do you know how hedgehogs behave?

2. Gastrointestinal obstructions

Hedgehogs, in their natural environment, excavate galleries and are in continuous contact with the earth. They sniff and bite everything that catches their attention, even smearing the smells of the things that fascinate them on their quills, in a process known as anointing.

Unfortunately, this curiosity can take its toll on your pet. It’s common for domestic hedgehogs to suffer from gastrointestinal obstructions, as they tend to eat gums, hair and carpet fibers, among many other things. Anorexia, lethargy, poor appetite, and ultimately collapse are symptoms of this condition.

3. Enteritis

Enteritis is another of the common diseases in domestic hedgehogs, especially in those who consume raw meats or unprepared foods. This medical condition is usually caused by enteric infection by bacteria of the Salmonella genus and is accompanied by symptoms such as diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and signs of dehydration.

Treatment of this condition is based on antibiotics, but some affected hedgehogs are asymptomatic.

4. Acariasis

The term acariasis refers to the infestation of the animal’s skin by mites of the Caparinia tripilis species. This is accompanied by clinical signs such as loss of barbs, hyperkeratosis (epidermal thickening), whitish plaques on the skin and around the eyes of the hedgehog, chronic lethargy, and loss of appetite.

In general, affected hedgehogs will scratch and make the condition quite apparent. In the veterinary clinic, ivermectin is usually the treatment of choice in all cases, alone or in combination with other drugs. All the elements of the cage must be thoroughly cleaned to prevent the mites from reinfesting the animal once it’s cured.

5. Cancer and benign tumors

Unfortunately, benign cancers and neoplasms are extremely common in African hedgehogs. Some studies estimate that up to 50% of the specimens develop some type of tumor throughout their life and, in addition, most of the conditions are lethal and carry a fatal prognosis.

The most common cancers occur in the mammary glands, lymphatic tissue (lymphosarcomas), and in the mouth. More than 80% of the tumor processes in this species are carcinogenic and almost all of them result in death. When we say that hedgehogs aren’t good pets, this is one of the compelling causes that support the claim.

Breeding among relatives and the lack of control when selling them could lead to the appearance of these carcinogenic mutations in hedgehogs over time.

6. Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS)

Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is a serious and intractable neurological disorder that gradually breaks down the animal’s muscles, in a similar way to multiple sclerosis in humans. It affects an average of 1 in 10 specimens, making it another of the most common diseases in domestic hedgehogs.

The loss of motor coordination usually appears at 2-3 years of age of the animal, beginning in the hind legs. There’s no treatment and all specimens die 18-24 months after the first symptoms appear.

7. Eye diseases

Hedgehogs have bulging, unprotected eyes, and so it isn’t unusual for them to sometimes injure themselves by investigating a pointed surface or doing other activities. However, partial or total blindness doesn’t usually affect the animal’s general quality of life, as indicated by the MSD Veterinary Manuals portal.

8. Oral diseases

As we’ve already mentioned, oral cancer (specifically squamous cell) is very common in hedgehogs. In addition, they also tend to have periodontal diseases and gingivitis, as the diet that’s provided to them in captivity doesn’t usually resemble what they eat in nature. These types of oral infections are treated with antibiotics, although tooth extractions may be necessary.

Giving your hedgehog hard food that they can gnaw on is one way to prevent mouth infections.

9. Reproductive pathologies

Pathological blood discharge from the vulva is common in female hedgehogs, above all because of uterine tumors and endometrial polyps. Both conditions are difficult to treat, and if these are cancerous, sadly, there is no cure.

10. Cystitis

The term “cystitis” refers to an inflammation of the bladder, usually due to a bacterial infection. This condition is accompanied by symptoms such as lethargy, changes in urine color, loss of appetite, and difficulty urinating, among many other clinical signs.

Besides cystitis, kidney diseases are also common in hedgehogs. These can appear due to localized pathologies in the kidneys or due to systemic conditions that have also affected them. Genetic and dietary factors can explain the high prevalence of kidney disease in these pets.

The differences between hedgehog and porcupine are multiple.

A final thought

After explaining all of the above, do you still want to have a hedgehog at home? It may sound harsh, but the sad reality is that the high prevalence of diseases in this species shows that we humans aren’t doing things right when it comes to looking after them.

It isn’t normal for the cancer rates to be so high, just as it doesn’t make evolutionary sense that 1 in 10 hedgehogs have fatal neurological diseases.

It’s clear that we need to understand more about the African pygmy hedgehog at a scientific level in order to avoid these problems. In addition, the breeding of hedgehogs needs to be regulated, in order to avoid inbreeding and the accumulation of mutations. While this isn’t possible, it’s very difficult to recommend this species as a pet.

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The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.