Hedgehogs - Problems

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

Hedgehogs can have several unique problems and understanding them will allow you to better care for your pet.


Cancer is very prevalent in hedgehogs, especially those over three years old. It has been reported in all body organs but is especially common in the mouth, female reproductive tract, and gastrointestinal tract. Signs of disease are often non-specific and include weight loss, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Oral squamous cell carcinoma is relatively common in adult hedgehogs. A common complaint is a foul smell in the mouth and weight loss.Treatment, such as surgical removal of cancerous conditions, can be attempted but is not usually curative, as the cancer is often very advanced by the time of diagnosis. Female hedgehogs with uterine cancer may present with a bloody discharge from the urogenital region. An ovariohysterectomy (spay) will be advised if this condition is diagnosed.


Your hedgehog’s food needs to be rationed to prevent obesity. Inappropriate or imbalanced diets may lead to obesity and malnutrition. If your hedgehog tries to ball up and you can still see the face, ears, or feet, it is too fat! Normally, a balled-up hedgehog can completely enclose its face and feet with his/her spines.

"If your hedgehog tries to ball up and you can still see the face, ears, or feet, it is too fat!"

Eye problems

Hedgehogs are particularly prone to eye injuries and corneal ulcers. Diagnosis is the same as in any animal, but effective treatment is compromised because hedgehogs ball up and hide their faces. Due to their heightened sense of hearing and smell, blind hedgehogs seem to get along relatively well.

Dental disease

Tartar, gingivitis, periodontal disease, and oral tumors are common in hedgehogs. Signs of dental problems include anorexia (not eating), halitosis (bad breath), visible blood around the mouth, or pawing at the mouth. The use of general anesthesia or injectable sedation will allow your veterinarian to perform a thorough oral examination, radiographs (X-rays), and/or dental cleaning. In advanced cases, dental extractions may be necessary.

Skin disease

Quill mites and fungal skin infections can cause a loss of quills. Both conditions require proper veterinary attention and prescription medication.

Foot necrosis

Hedgehogs sometimes present with human hair wrapped around one or more feet, particularly when one of the owners has long hair. Our hairs fall out periodically and end up on the floor where they can easily get wrapped around the foot of a roaming hedgehog. The hair may constrict the foot or restrict circulation so much that the foot becomes swollen and infected. In advanced cases, the foot may become necrotic (dead). This problem is easily missed as the feet are often tucked under the body or hidden in the cloak of the spiny body covering. If caught in time, removal of the constrictive material and treatment with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications will resolve the problem. Surgical amputation of the foot may be necessary if severe necrosis occurs, especially if the problem is not detected early on.

"The hair may constrict the foot or restrict circulation so much that the foot becomes swollen and infected."

Oral foreign objects

Hard food, like carrot pieces or peanut halves, can get lodged in the roof of your hedgehog’s mouth. Signs of this problem include anorexia (not eating), decreased appetite, and pawing at the mouth. General anesthesia or injectable sedation is needed to diagnose the problem and dislodge the foreign object.

Examination difficulties

Hedgehogs commonly ball up when handled. This is a normal defensive reaction and makes examination by your veterinarian difficult if not impossible. Most hedgehogs will require anesthesia or injectable sedation for even a basic examination. While there is always a small risk with anesthesia, the risk of death is greater if a thorough examination and needed tests, such as blood tests or radiographs, are not performed to properly diagnose and treat your hedgehog. Using a gas anesthetic, such as isoflurane, is reasonably safe and allows the examination and any necessary diagnostic testing to proceed safely for both your pet and the veterinarian! There are also newer injectable sedatives many knowledgeable veterinarians are using to perform examinations and non-invasive procedures.

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