Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

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Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is a progressive, idiopathic, neurodegenerative disease. It affects African and European hedgehog species. Wobbly hedgehog syndrome usually strikes around 1 1/2 years of age; affected hedgehogs usually die within 1 1/2 to 2 years of symptom onset. While the cause is unknown, veterinarians widely consider WBS genetic.

Idiopathic

"Idiopathic" means no one yet knows what causes WHS. It seems to be inherited. Some hedgehog owners and veterinarians speculate that nutritional deficiencies, infection, or environment play roles in development of the disease in hedgehogs, but no scientific confirmation for these speculations existed at the time of publication.

Neurodegenerative

"Neurodegenerative" is the term for nerves that are gradually being destroyed. Vets don't know why this occurs, but they know what it looks like. Demyelination happens, which means the protective insulation around the nerves breaks down. Gradually, portions of many different parts of the brain and spinal cord become spongy. This damage interferes with nerves' ability to send signals, so the hedgehog loses the ability to control her muscles.

Symptoms

Onset of WHS is gradual. The first symptom is usually difficulty standing and walking, or listing to one side. Your sick hedgehog may experience tremors or seizures. Affected animals often refuse to eat and waste away. The eyes may bulge and the spine may twist. Paralysis begins in the rear end and gradually moves forward, eventually affecting all four limbs.

Treatment

No cure exists for WHS. Treatment involves monitoring or changing your hog's environment so she's always comfortable, warm, clean and able to reach her food and water. Some hedgehog experts and veterinarians suggest a diet high in vitamin E, which reportedly slows the disease's progress. Consult a veterinary nutritionist or exotic animal veterinarian for further information about this option. Most veterinarians will recommend euthanasia at some point in your pet's degeneration, but the course and speed of the disease varies between individual animals, so the animal may have some time left after diagnosis.

Same Symptoms, Different Causes

There is no test for WHS in living hedgehogs: Diagnosis is based on symptoms alone; a necropsy (animal autopsy) will determine if WHS was the cause of your hedgehog's illness. In lieu of proof, rule out normal behavior and treatable problems that cause similar symptoms. European hedgehogs hibernate, for instance. A hedgehog entering hibernation can seem wobbly and ill. African hedgehogs can't safely hibernate but will try if they get too cold or hungry. Meanwhile, some spinal and limb injuries or tumors cause shakiness, paralysis and seizure; so do nutritional problems like hypercalcemia or metabolic bone disease. Dehydration also causes ataxia -- inability to stand upright -- and seizure. Hedgehog ear and skin infections can have symptoms like those of WHS. If your pet presents troublesome symptoms or engages in odd behavior, take her to an exotic animal vet immediately -- don't risk her life by self-diagnosing.

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Author

Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.