Health and Wellness
It’s important that you are capable and comfortable with trimming your hedgehog’s nails. When they get too long, they can easily snag on things, cause a hedgie to stop wheeling because of the discomfort, or even curl into the pads of the feet. You may have a hard time cutting nails because your hedgie does not cooperate. Having a friendly hedgie is very helpful, as well as having an extra hand. One person can hold hedgie and the other can trim. If you go to the vet and your hedgie is sedated, you can have the vet trim nails then as well. You won’t be able to go to the vet for every time your hedgie needs nails trimmed, though, which will be every few weeks. To get your hedgehog accustomed to you touching his feet, you can make it a habit to gently play with his feet when handling.
Knowing how far to cut can be difficult also. Hedgehog nails are similar to dog or cat nails, with a sensitive “quick” (shown in pink). This is a small blood vessel. It is painful to the hedgie if pressure is put on it, or if it is cut.
The best thing to use to trim nails is human baby nail clippers. Pet clippers are often too big and make it hard to see where you a cutting. Cuticle clippers also work, but there is a greater chance that you could snag a bit of toe or foot while using them. You don’t need to trim every nail in one sitting. You’re doing well if you get one or two feet done!
If you cut the quick, use quickstop, cornstarch, or flour to stop the bleeding. Flour stings the cut the least, but quick-stop works the most quickly. Sometimes you nick the toe only barely and it does not need anything on it. Don’t feel bad if you cut the quick once or twice. Almost every owner has done it at one time or another.
If you are having difficulty with a squirmy or scared hedgie, there are a few things you can try. The most recommended is to do them while hedgie is in the bath. That way the hedgehog cannot ball up, and you can try to get them done quickly. It can be stressful, but gets the job done. You can also put your hedgie on a sort of grid (like one side of a wire storage cube) and grab a foot as one falls through.
Hedgehogs do not require full baths very often. Try to bathe your hedgie only when necessary, since it’s stressful and can dry out the skin. However, it is understandable if you want to give your hedgehog a bath after he has anointed with something gross, been outside in the dirt, or is starting to develop yellow fur on the belly. Once every two months is an acceptable frequency, though twice a year may be better. It is perfectly acceptable not to fully bathe your hedgehog at all, unless he’s very grimy or it’s causing him health issues (urine burns, for example) or a health issue requires it (you would want to wash off crusty mite gunk, or excessive skin flakes). If your hedgie is quilling, you can get away with a bath once or twice a week. If you use oatmeal wash and/or flax oil, it can help relieve his skin from the quills growing in.
Giving your hedgehog a bath
- Make sure tub/sink area is clean and the room is warm, with no drafts.
- Have everything you will need right there - towel, wash, oil, clippers, etc.
- Fill the tub with 2-3 inches of warm water.
- Gently place hedgie in the most shallow section of the tub or sink.
- Using a cup or your hands, scoop some water up onto his back, not on his face or ears.
- Once hedgie is sufficiently wet, get a small dollop of soap in your hand.
- Before hedgie can squirm away, massage the soap mainly into his belly fur, and into his quills if necessary.
- Use the cup or your hands again to rinse hedgie off.
- If needed, you can quickly remove hedgie, drain the dirty soapy water, and refill.
- After hedgie is rinsed off, you can drizzle a bit of oil onto his skin between his quills to moisturize the skin.
- Another quick rinse to spread the oil around, and you’re done!
- Collect hedgie in his blanket or towel, and keep him warm until he is dry.
What soap to use
A lot of people are unsure as to what they should use to wash their hedgie. Baby shampoo should be avoided because it can be harsh and drying on the skin. Moisturizing cat or kitten shampoos are usually safe because they are made for animals that groom themselves. Dog and other larger animal shampoos are usually scented and may have strange chemicals in them, so they should be avoided. Soap like Aveeno Soothing Relief creamy wash for babies (or the generic brand of that) are usually gentle and moisturizing. You can also get plain packets of colloidal oatmeal, which is a powder and can be mixed into the water. This works well as a skin moisturizer. Regardless of what you choose, make sure to rinse your hedgie well at the end of the bath. Lingering residue can be itchy and attract dirt.
At the end of the bath, you can use a bit of oil in the final rinse. Just drizzle a bit of your choice of oil onto his back between the quills flax seed, olive, vitamin E, and jojoba are all fine to use. Fish or cod liver oil is safe, though is much more stinky to use topically.
Notes: If your hedgie likes to relieve himself in the bath, it might help to let him poop first in a litter box. Remember to watch the water temperature! It is easy to overlook how warm the water is. Some hedgies like a rubber mat or some other form of traction so the sink or tub is not so slippery. Many are also scared or stressed by the running water, so keep that in mind and try to have the sink or tub filled prior to putting your hedgie in.
A foot bath is a shorter, easier way to get rid of “poopy-boots”. Usually just a walk around a wet towel or paper towel will do the trick, or a half inch of water in the sink. No soap, less stress, and much less drying on the skin. Some people have had success using unscented baby wipes for this as well. Your choice will probably depend on how bad your hedgie’s feet are – wipes for quick jobs, and walking around in the sink for heavy duty poop boot removal.
The Importance of Keeping Frequent Records
Some people might wonder what the big deal is about keeping records. If you don’t write down how much your hedgie weighs, what’s the big deal? While yes, your hedgie himself won’t suffer if you just toss his food in his bowl each night and don’t count it out, it can still be very beneficial to know these things. Why? It’s not for your hedgie day-to-day, but it’s for you to get to know your hedgie and be able to pick up on little changes, so you can act on them quickly before anything goes wrong.
Simply writing down when something seems off can be very helpful when down the road your hedgie develops some kind of problem, and you need to look back and see nights when, for example, he didn’t run on his wheel. Even if you don’t keep daily records, it’d be good to have a small notebook on hand for occurrences like these. Jotting down the date and a note like “ate less than normal” or “seemed to be walking funny” can be the difference between being able to quickly identify and treat a problem at the vet, or having trouble diagnosing the problem, or worse, not noticing it exists. If something happens and your hedgie has a problem that got progressively worse, it’d be important to be able to look back and see when those symptoms started occurring.
Keeping daily or weekly records helps you get a good feel for what’s normal for your hedgie and what isn’t, and can encourage you to be more attentive when feeding, cleaning, handling, etc. Some things that are recommended to keep track of are weight, food intake (by weight or by number of food pieces each night), and wheeling activity. Some other things you should always keep note of are that the temperature stays constant (and you may want to note if your hedgie is exposed to the cold), and that your hedgie is free from any physical health problems. A quick check each day to make sure there’s no hair caught around a limb, or a lump forming, or gross gunk building up anywhere will give you peace of mind and ensure you keep your hedgie in great shape. Catching problems quickly is absolutely imperative if you want to have the best chance of treating them and getting your hedgehog back to normal. Noticing a drop of a few grams in weight or a few pieces less of food eaten each night, for example, are important health alerts to keep on top of.
When to See a Vet
The first thing you should do if you notice your hedgehog acting funny is bump up the heat, find out what the problem is, and then get to a vet ASAP if the situation is serious. If the situation is not as dire, your best bet is to try to schedule a vet visit within the next few days, sooner rather than later. If something just seems amiss and needs checked out, you don’t need to get in immediately. If your hedgie is lethargic and won’t “wake up”, though, that’s an emergency, and should be treated as such. Most vets can get you in immediately as an emergency, and if not, there are emergency clinics that you can try as well.
Major red flags:
- Blood. If isn’t coming from a minor cut or from a bloody toenail, it’s serious. Female hedgehogs do not menstruate, and blood in the stools, urine, or from the mouth/nose/ears/eyes need immediate vet attention.
- Lethargy. If your hedgie has been unresponsive for over an hour, and has not improved from added heat, something is wrong. Do not put your hedgie in water to “wake him up”.
- Diarrhea or green stools. Not as serious, but if these don’t go away in a few days, you should have your vet examine your hedgie and do a fecal exam.
- Vomiting for no obvious reason. If it isn’t caused by food or water that didn’t agree with him, motion sickness, or choking, it could be very serious.
- Runny nose, excessive sneezing. Signs of an upper respiratory infection. These will only get worse with each day they are left untreated and can become fatal.
- Obviously critical things. Paralysis, twitching, gasping, strange breathing. Unfortunately some of these things are often seen when a hedgie is at his end. Sometimes they are caused by other things though, and can be helped if they get vet treatment quickly.
The key is to get vet help FAST! Don’t wait around to “see if he’ll get better”. The faster you get him to a vet when something goes wrong, the better chance he has of making it.
First Aid Kit
There are times when your pet gets a minor injury, the power goes out, or you are just not able to get to the vet in an emergency. These situations can be remedied (if only temporarily) with some simple planning ahead. A first aid kit for your hedgie can have many of the things you keep in a human first aid kit. Make sure you know how to use everything in the kit before you are in a situation where your pet’s health counts on it! Also make sure to keep an eye on expiration dates and replace things as needed. Talk to your vet if you need to know what different things are for and how to use them properly.
Some of the things on this list aren’t emergency related, like acidophilus or canned pumpkin. They’re still useful to have on hand when you need them, though, such as if your hedgie gets an upset stomach. Or like lanolin, if your hedgie gets dry ears. Or Rescue Remedy for relieving stress, etc.
Some good things to have in your first aid kit include:
- Card with vet information and contacts
- Emergency cash
- Hand warmers
- Bottled water
- Extra stash of food to last a few days
- Small flash light
- Kitchen or postal scale
- White blankets/liners
- Paper towels
- Roll of toilet paper
- Small scissors
- Human nail clippers
- Cotton swabs/Q-Tips
- Saline rinse (contact lens solution)
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Chlorhexidine solution (safe topical disinfectant)
- Neosporin/Polysporin/triple antibiotic ointment
- Water-based lubricant
- Vitamin A/D cream
- Rescue Remedy
- Acidophilus, bene-bac supplement, or plain yogurt
- Lanolin (bag balm/human nipple cream)
- Hill’s A/D canned food
- Pedialyte or generic electrolyte solution
- Boost, Ensure, Pediasurevanilla or strawberry flavor
- Canned pumpkin
- Human first aid kits also work well for many objects, such as bandages and small packets of Neosporin
In our pet hedgies, hibernation can be fatal. Hibernation is when a hedgehog gets too cold or senses shortening daylight hours and shuts down their body for winter. For European hedgies, this is normal. For our desert hedgies, it doesn’t work the same – they don’t hibernate naturally. Being hedgehogs, they technically have the capability of hibernating, though they are not physically built to withstand cold temperatures. After being bred in captivity for many years, our pets have become even more dependent on consistent, high temperatures and steady light cycles to balance their own circadian rhythm. Cold temperatures, sudden drops in temperature, and short or random light cycles can cause a hedgie to attempt hibernation. Once they have entered hibernation there is a period of time where if they are caught and warmed up, they can be saved. Otherwise they are incapable of coming out of the slumber and will die.
To prevent hibernation, make sure you have a way to keep your hedgehog’s cage a consistent temperature and provide a consistent light cycle. Details on heating and light cycles were discussed in the Housing and Husbandry chapter.
A hedgie that is attempting hibernation will have a cool belly and act lethargic. They may wobble if they walk, or not come out at all from their sleeping area. Unusual behavior should be taken very seriously and be remedied as soon as possible. If you are not sure why your hedgehog is acting strange, please keep him warm and contact your vet.
If you ever find your hedgie hibernating, he needs to be warmed up immediately, but in a gradual manner. Body heat is the best way to do this. Lightly wrap your hedgie in a small blanket or towel and rest him on your belly. You can also use a human heating pad, but they can get very warm so supervision the entire time is necessary. The key here is to start warming him up as soon as possible after realizing he is too cold, but not shock him with sudden hot temperatures. If after 45 minutes or so your hedgie has not responded to warming, something is wrong. Get to your vet immediately.
The after effects of hibernation attempts are bad as well. A hedgehog that has attempted hibernation is likely to try again within a week or two. Make sure the temperature is kept a few degrees over what he is typically fine at just to be safe, and make sure to check on him often. His immune system will be more weak, so take care not to expose him to anything that might make him sick. Be sure to give him lots of love and be thankful you caught him in time!
Scruffing a hedgie is similar to scruffing other small animals, only you have to be careful of the quills. When your hedgehog is relaxed with his quills down, gently grab the skin on his neck, over the shoulders. Hold the skin as loose as you can. If you pinch hard or squeeze the skin, it can be very painful to him and he will remember it. The next time you try to scruff him it will be that much harder! Remember to always support the lower body, whether it is with your other hand or resting him on your knee or another surface. Your hedgie may try to ball up, and if he is very scared you might want to find a different way of doing whatever it was that needed done. Scruffing can be useful when you need to get a good look at your hedgehogs underside, for syringe feeding (only small doses, not whole meals – your hedgie would not be comfortable being scruffed for an extended amount of time), or for nail trimming if you have another person to trim while you hold him.
Sometimes it’s necessary to syringe feed your hedgie, whether he is on medication, can’t or won’t eat on his own, or just needs to be given water or electrolytes. If possible, it’s best to get your hedgie used to syringe feeding before it’s required. Many hedgehogs find the process less than fun, so anything that will make them cooperate later on will help!
You will need
- Paper towels or absorbent blankets – this can get messy
- Food or meds – make sure it’s smooth to avoid clogging the syringe
- Syringe – these are oral (needle-less) syringes, it’s best to use one 1-5 mL in size
- Start by warming up the food if needed. Fill the syringe and test the food for temperature if you do heat it up.
- Lay some blankets or paper towels in your lap, and get your hedgie ready.
- The best way to hold your hedgie for this is a natural, upright position. You do NOT want your hedgie on his back on a ball, where he could choke. You might be able to hold him with his back up against you, with your hand on his belly. This works well with squirmy hedgies. Scruffing (see opposite page) also works well with hedgehogs that aren’t stressed too badly by it.
- Begin feeding. Squirt a small amount of the food into the side of his mouth (not straight back - you could easily choke him). Wait for him to swallow, smack his lips, possibly anoint. It might take some time for him to swallow, but just be patient. Rubbing the underside of his mouth and throat might help in convincing him to swallow.
- Be careful not to squirt too much in at once: if he can’t swallow it all or catch his breath, he’ll inhale the food, which is called aspirating. A hedgie technically won’t choke on syringed food, he will aspirate, which is almost more dangerous. If your hedgie does aspirate, immediately lower his head and allow him to cough and sneeze the liquid out. Wipe his nose if you can as he sneezes, to be sure he doesn’t inhale it back in. Imagine how painful it is when you accidentally inhale food or water, and understand that it can be hard to recover and breathe. Give your hedgie a break if possible.
- Repeat step 4 until finished.
- When you are done, clean up any mess you may have made, and give your hedgie some love for his cooperation! Mealies are a good reward.
You might find it a good idea to run the food through the syringe a few times before actually feeding. This can help break up some of the chunks that might block up the syringe. Remember if it does get clogged, to dislodge that piece of food somewhere other than your hedgie’s mouth. You don’t want all the pressure to build up and shoot the food into the back of his throat.
If your hedgie stops eating, you will need to feed him yourself. Fatty Liver Disease can set in quickly after a few days of not eating and can kill your hedgie. It’s best to crush his regular food to a powder and soften it to feed in these cases. This way you can avoid too much of a stomach upset by feeding something he’s used to.
Common Health Issues
Description: Generally includes dry, flaky skin and scratching. Is sometimes mistaken for mites, but is usually caused by too many baths, poor diet, particulate bedding like shavings or paper products, or a very dry environment.
Treatment: You can buy flax seed, vitamin E, or olive oil capsules at grocery or health stores. Flax seed oil is highly recommended because it still allows the skin to breathe, and can be washed off. You can drip this directly on your hedgie’s skin in the bath, or add it to their food. Drizzling a few drops on the food once or twice a week, or even every night will help with the skin health and should show improvement in a few weeks. If the humidity in the room he’s in is very low, you might consider investing in a warm mist humidifier to keep the humidity up. And lastly, you can give your hedgie a bath and gently scrub some of the skin flakes off with a toothbrush. If your hedgie’s skin doesn’t clear up, you may want to go to your vet for a skin scrape to see if there isn’t an underlying problem.
Description: Hedgehogs are very prone to getting sarcoptic mites, especially when kept on shavings. Many hedgehogs from pet stores come home with mites, and mites can be introduced through bags of shavings as well. Excessive scratching, large skin flakes, and orange crust around the base of the quills are all indicators of mites.
Treatment: You will have to go to your vet to get treatment for these parasites. Revolution is recommended as it is topical and is not too harmful if overdosed. Ivermectin is one medicine that many vets try to use, but try to avoid it if at all possible. It is a series of injections and is very easy to overdose. There have been many hedgehog deaths due to the use of Ivermectin. You may want to preventatively treat your other pets as well, in case the type of mite your hedgehog has can be passed on to their species.
Description: Sometimes hedgehogs will get a crusty buildup on the edges of their ears, or they can be tattered from mites, other parasites, or fungus.
Treatment: You can purchase lanolin (human nipple cream) or vitamin E cream to rub on your hedgie’s ears. If you do this every night or every other night, within a week or so, most of the unhealthy skin should come off. If the problem persists, you may want to consult your vet to see if your hedgie needs treated for a fungus or other problem.
Description: Hedgehogs are prone to becoming overweight if they are unable to get enough exercise. Some are genetically prone to obesity and retain weight despite the best attempts to keep healthy. A hedgie is overweight if there are apparent fat bulges in the armpit/thigh areas, over the shoulders, or cannot roll up into a complete ball. Be careful following the advice of misinformed veterinarians, there is no “ideal” weight for all hedgehogs. One hedgehog’s ideal weight may be 250 grams and one may be 600. Just because your hedgehog weighs a lot does not necessarily mean he’s overweight. If he seems well-proportioned, can roll into a ball, has a good diet and exercises regularly, you shouldn’t try to force him to lose weight.
Treatment: There are several ways to help a hedgie lose weight. They are discussed in the Activities section.
Description: Sometimes hedgies love their wheels so much that they run their feet raw. This is especially common with wheels that have raised grooves on them. Hedgies can also accidentally catch a toenail on a loop or string on a towel or something else and tear it off. If your hedgie gets bad “poop boots” and you don’t wash them off, the caked on feces can cause the skin to crack and bleed, and possibly become infected.
Treatment: Fortunately, hedgie feet heal quickly. If you notice your hedgie’s feet are/were bleeding or raw, give him a warm foot bath and let him walk on a paper towel to dry them off. You will probably want to remove the wheel for one night, as well as make sure the rest of the cage is clean (so he doesn’t get anything dirty on his feet). It shouldn’t take more than a night or two for your hedgie’s feet or nails to be all healed up.
Please make sure that the blood is indeed coming from the hedgie’s feet and not anywhere else. If it looks like it could be urinary, uterine, or anything similar, please get to your vet as soon as possible.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
Description: Hedgehogs naturally have a wet nose (like a dog), but a dripping nose is not normal. If your hedgie is sneezing, has cloudy or green mucous, or licking their nose excessively, it’s likely he has a URI.
Treatment: It is important to get URIs treated quickly, as they can progress into life-threatening pneumonia. Get to your vet quickly, and they should prescribe antibiotics to help your hedgie recover.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Description: Urinary tract infections in hedgies are basically the same as humans. If your hedgie seems to have trouble urinating or looks like he or she is in pain, or has blood in the urine, he may have a UTI.
Treatment: You will need to go to the vet for diagnosis and medicine. If you have a female hedgie, you should have a fine-needle aspiration done (this draws urine directly out of the bladder) to make sure the problem is urinary and not uterine.
Tumors, Abscesses, and Cysts
Description: Sometimes hedgehogs will get lumps and bumps on their bodies. These, if caught early, can often be removed before they get too bad. Some tumors are cancerous (and unfortunately many are). Oral, uterine, mammary, and intestinal cancers seem most common. Abscesses and cysts still require veterinary care but are less life-threatening.
Treatment: If you notice anything unusual on your hedgie, get to your vet as soon as possible. Tumors can grow exponentially overnight, and oral cancers are particularly aggressive. Immediate treatment is necessary. With abscesses and cysts, they get worse with time and can be very painful. Any lumps on your hedgie should be removed or drained.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS) is a devastating, fatal neurological disease. In some ways similar to Multiple Sclerosis in humans, WHS gradually deteriorates a hedgehog’s ability to function and leads to paralysis. Usually the back legs are affected first, becoming weak and unresponsive. This causes the legs to be dragged, or the hedgehog being unsteady and having difficulty moving around, hence the “wobbly” name. It then spreads to the front legs and spine. Usually the onset of WHS is gradual and suddenly seeing these symptoms would point to a different problem, often temperature related. On occasion rapid deterioration may indicate a brain tumor or other serious condition. There is no known cure for WHS, but there are things you can do to improve the quality of life for your pet.
WHS usually starts with leg dragging, inability to stand up straight or walk in a straight line. With time it progresses to the front legs and spine, causing the hedgie’s muscles to be stiff and contract. This makes movement difficult and painful. Hedgehogs with late stages of WHS are feeble and barely moving. Decreased activity and weight loss are often seen because of the limitations from the disease. WHS symptoms usually begin to occur by the time the hedgie reaches two years old.
Cause and Cure
There are no known cures for WHS, nor are we exactly sure what causes it. According to current research, it is a hereditary disease. The only way to prevent passing it on to future generations is for breeders to stop breeding hedgehogs with WHS in their background (or hedgehogs with unknown backgrounds that could have WHS) and hope to prevent the propagation of the gene.
If your hedgie comes down with WHS, don’t give up, and don’t let your pet give up. There’s a lot you can do to improve quality of life and even prolong it. Try to make everything easier on him. Using shallow dishes or putting kibble on the ground near them helps with eating. If they are still able to wheel, make sure it is low to the ground or has a gradual, safe ramp up to it. The surface should not be slippery when wet. No lofts or second floors for climbing. If you use a bottle, try to lower it or use a shallow dish for water. Keep everything nearby so he doesn’t have to walk a long distance to get to any of his necessities.
Massage can help increase mobility and reduce contractions and painful spasms when your hedgie tries to move. There are a lot of things you can do right when massaging your hedgehog, but it’s easy to overdo it or injure him too. A basic massage would start with warming up your hedgie’s belly in general by lightly stroking the abdomen in a clockwise motion - the digestive tract moves in this direction and it helps it along. Gently rubbing the base of the legs, lightly pinching and rubbing your hedgie’s back, shoulders, and spine helps warm up the muscles and make them more comfortable. You can rub the legs and slowly move the joints in a walking motion. One of the most important muscles is the orbicularis - this is the muscle that allows a hedgehog to roll up in a ball, and erect its quills. Gently kneading this muscle can help relieve spasms greatly. If your hedgie does not seem like he’s enjoying his massage, stop and give him a break. Coping with WHS is hard and it’s very easy to wear him out. Next time, try a slower, shorter routine.
To keep your hedgie enjoying life, try to support independence and give them a sense of still being able to do things for themselves. You can stimulate senses by offering favorite treats, or letting them go outside and sniff around in the grass. Giving them things to lean against helps them to walk. Make sure you spend time just giving them love. Letting them sleep on your chest while reading, for example, keeps them warm and close to their best friend.
As the paralysis gets worse, you may need to syringe food and water. Soft food smoothies can be made of multiple ingredients, or you can buy the canned version of the food they were originally eating. Get some oral syringes of different sizes, try them out and use one that works well and gives just the right amount of food. You don’t want a huge one or a super small one. Your hedgie should take several syringes of water a day, perhaps less if the food is very watery. Hedgies need about 5-10 mLs of water daily. How much food they will take depends on the individual, but if they are hungry give them as much as they like. During your daily care, make sure to weigh and record your hedgie’s weight. Try to maintain weight if possible. This can be hard, however, because of the muscle mass lost.
Lastly, you should get in contact with other hedgehog owners through the mailing lists and forums in the Resources chapter, and do research to see if anything new has been discovered, treatments that have worked, etc. If you find you are unable to continue to care for your sick hedgehog, this community can help get him to someone who can. Getting support from people who have gone through this before you can be invaluable.
The Elderly Hog
As much as we all wish it wouldn’t happen, our pets eventually grow old. As your hedgehog ages, there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure he stays healthy and comfortable. Most hedgehogs are considered seniors by 4-5 years old.
The first thing is to know and accept that changes occur. Older hogs might not run as much, eat as much, or poop as much. Their eyesight and hearing may decline, and they might start coming out at odd hours of the day without regard to their light schedule. Sometimes to avoid walking too far or leaving the warmth of their bed they’ll start to potty in their sleeping area. Their teeth are eventually lost or wear down, and they might have a hard time eating foods that need a lot of chewing. They may spend more time sleeping and be less energetic than in their younger years. Just like elderly people, they are more easily exhausted and stressed, and care should be taken not to expect them to act younger than they are. A hedgie at two years old might love to take trips with you, but at six years old, maybe he’d rather stay home and rest. Older hedgies may also have a lower immune system, and care should be taken to especially ensure they aren’t exposed to anything that could make them sick.
As long as your hedgie is still healthy, there aren’t too many changes you need to make. He may want a bit more warmth to keep his old joints comfortable, so extra thick blankets or a heating pad set on low under his bed may help. If he loses teeth or has a hard time with hard food, you might try softening his kibble with water, or switching to a canned or pouched food that’s easier to eat. If your hedgie has a hard time maintaining a healthy weight, you can feed high fat treats or switch to a higher fat food. Shallow food and water dishes also help so it doesn’t take as much effort to eat and drink. Lowering the wheel if you can may help him get onto it easier and encourage him to stay active.
If your hedgie seems in pain, be sure you talk to your vet about what you can do to keep him comfortable. There may be medications you can add to his food to help relieve pain.
It’s even more important to keep good records of your hedgie’s weight, activity, and eating habits as he gets older. This is when most problems start occurring, so picking up on weight loss or appetite decrease is important. You will probably want to take your hedgie in to the vet more frequently as well, if you were going in for annual visits it’s recommended to increase visits to twice a year. The better you and your vet know your hedgehog, the easier it will be to detect and treat problems as they arrive.
When it’s time to say goodbye...
Even worse than talking about pets growing old, is pets passing on. Sometimes hedgies will pass at home, and sometimes the best thing is to help them cross over. Just keep him comfortable until the time comes, and you’ve done the best you can. If your hedgie’s quality of life declines, please do what’s best for him and try not to hold onto him for too long. If he’s in pain, can’t eat or drink on his own, can’t control his elimination or struggles to move around, chances are if he’s not recovering, his time has probably come. But if he is still fighting, help him fight! If he doesn’t seem happy, though, the most humane thing is to help end his suffering.
Taking care of an older animal to the very end is one of the most kind, compassionate things you can do. It’s hard and heartbreaking, but just think of how happy you kept them and that you helped give them a great life. Every animal dies eventually, but they deserve to be comfortable, cared for and loved until that point – and if you provided that, they had everything they could have wanted.