Hedgehogs are adorable animals and are often adopted by people as pets. However, as small as they may look, taking care of them is equally difficult. When one decides to get a hedgehog for a pet, one must be aware of health issues that they would have to deal with. Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is a nerve disorder, which is very common in hedgehogs.
This disease has no cure yet. European hedgehogs are also affected by a similar disease. As per reports, about 10% of pet hedgehogs are affected by this disease.
What is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS) is a nerve disorder, occurring in African pygmy hedgehogs Atelerix albiventris.
The area that is mostly affected by these lesions is the brain while the least affected areas are the eyes. This disease is extremely fatal for them and can kill the hedgehog too. Hence it must be dealt with, very carefully.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is caused by lesions.
- The myelin sheath of the nerve splits due to these lesions, leading to swelling.
- Lesions in the body of the hedgehogs, lead to myelin degeneration along with neuronal degeneration, reactive microgliosis, and mild, focal astrocytosis and astrogliosis. This kind of behavior is usually shown by pathogens.
- Though this disease is majorly genetic, there have been many cases where hedgehogs, with no clinical history of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome in the ancestors, have been affected by the disease.
- As per experts, the diet has been held responsible for causing this disease.
- Obesity can cause this disease in hedgehogs.
- Kidney diseases and liver diseases may also, possibly, cause this syndrome in hedgehogs.
However, there has been no concrete evidence to back up these statements and research is still being conducted to confirm the same.
The signs of wobbly hedgehog syndrome start showing in the hedgehog by the time it reaches two years of age.
- Ataxia and paresis are the clinical signs, causing paraplegia, tetraplegia, and death. Ataxia is the loss of control over muscles.
- Parrhesia affects the hind legs due to damage caused in the muscles of the hind legs and nerves.
- The other signs include dysphagia, self-mutilation, aggression, intestinal stasis, urine retention, and scoliosis.
- The most visible and earliest sign is when the hedgehog fails to stand properly. It usually tends to fall when it tries to stand still.
- There will be a significant loss in weight of the hedgehog, and it will feel weak. The hedgehog may display aggression during this period.
- There might be difficulty in swallowing food too.
If any of the symptoms are noticed, a doctor must be consulted immediately.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome has major effects on hedgehogs.
- It leads to frequent seizures and curvature in the spinal cord, a permanent tilt in the head, and other muscle disorders.
- It may also cause partial or complete paralysis in the hedgehog.
- It will not be able to move, eat or do anything on its own. If the condition is critical it may lead to death too.
- The hedgehog should be taken to a doctor for regular health check-ups and any sign of illness should be reported to the doctor immediately, before taking any actions. The doctor needs to be sure what has affected the hedgehog.
- The symptoms are very similar to those of spinal cord diseases, stroke, trauma, vestibular diseases, tumors, malnutrition, and more.
- The hedgehog will be tested for all these to verify the cause of the illness. Once, it is made sure, that the hedgehog is not suffering from any of these diseases, it can be confirmed, the hedgehog has been affected by Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.
- The tests are done via examination of the blood and x-ray reports.
The symptoms of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome are also very similar to those of Myelinopathy, however, both are very different and one must not confuse between the two.
- In the case of myelinopathy, there is no degeneration of myelin sheath in the nerves.
- A necropsy report of the hedgehog can also be performed to affirm the disease in the hedgehog.
- A biopsy of the hedgehog’s brain can also be done. It can be examined to determine the presence of lesions and hence confirm that the hedgehog is suffering from Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.
Affected areas of the body
- The parts of the body, which are severely affected, are the cerebellum, medulla oblongata, optic chiasma, olfactory tract, and lateral lemniscus, cervical, and thoracic spinal cord.
- The impact on corona radiata, corpus callosum, corpus striatum, internal capsule, and the mesencephalon, is much milder.
- Physically, limbs and the torso get severely affected. The hind legs are affected first and slowly the forelegs also lose their ability to move properly.
- Since this disease is genetic, it must be kept in mind, that hedgehogs diagnosed with Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome should not be bred. There is no cure for this disease yet.
- Temporary care may be given to the hedgehogs.
- It must be ensured that it is fed and given water since it would be unable to eat or drink on its own.
- It should be given utmost comfort and care during this time. Most of the time, all care fails.
- This disease results in the death of hedgehogs within eighteen to twenty months of its diagnosis.
- Euthanasia is highly recommended so that the creature doesn’t suffer much pain. Euthanasia is tough and it is hard for the owner to let go of the pet, the pain the hedgehogs suffer due to this disease, is worse. In most cases, euthanasia is suggested.
Hedgehogs are wonderful pets however many a time their life span is restricted by the Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. The disorder is very common in hedgehogs but there has been no medication or cure for it, yet.
Until in recent years, this subject had not been studied much and still needs to be explored to find medication for it.
However, research and studies are being conducted extensively to learn more about this disease and find cures to the Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.