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PostSubject: Interesting Read    Fri Apr 19, 2013 3:33 pm

CARE OF THE PET HEDGEHOG



INTRODUCTION

The African hedgehog has become increasingly popular as a pet during this decade. Unfortunately, their popularity has increased ahead of our knowledge of their proper needs in a captive environment. As you begin to see these pets in your practice, keep in mind that many of their problems may be related to diet and environment.

To understand how captivity affects hedgehogs, it is helpful to know a little about their natural environment. Atelerix albiventris is a member of the order Insectivora, and is known alternately as the African hedgehog, African pygmy hedgehog, four-toed hedgehog and white bellied hedgehog. It is found throughout Central Africa and is not currently an endangered animal. The hedgehogs seen in captivity are almost entirely domestically bred. There are other genus of hedgehogs found in Europe and Asia, but they are not readily imported and thus are not seen in the US pet trade.

African hedgehogs are small, primitive mammals varying in weight from 250 to 600 grams. Although their bellies are covered with soft, usually white, fur, their entire dorsal surface is covered with short spines. These are not barbed as in the unrelated porcupine. Typically, the spines or quills are white or ivory with a center band of dark brown, dark gray or black. One of the unique features of the animal is it's ability to roll up tightly into a ball, entirely covering its face and feet. In this position, few predators, and few veterinarians, are able to successfully unroll the animal. The spines feel quite sharp when crisscrossed and upright in this defensive posture. When the animal relaxes, the quills lie flat on the body and feel like bristles rather than needles.

In the wild, the hedgehog lives in a warm, dry environment. The daily range for foraging may encompass a territory of 650 to 1000 feet in diameter. The animal spends the hours from dusk until dawn foraging within its territory, eating snails, slugs, small snakes, assorted insects, baby mice, eggs and some vegetation and roots. When temperatures drop below 45° F, the hedgehog may go into a period of dormancy or hibernation. Temperatures below 65°F or a cage placed against an outside wall, may cause a pet to go into an inactive state with a corresponding drop in body temperature. Their normal rectal temperature is a cool 93-98°F and during hibernation body temperatures as low as 40°F have been reported. They tolerate a relative humidity of 40-70%. Hedgehogs are nocturnal, and normally sleep soundly all day and spend the nights madly rearranging their cages or running laps or on an exercise wheel.

Domestically raised hedgehogs are generally docile pets that bite infrequently. The bite is more of a pinch, due to the short teeth. Salt, food smells and cologne seem to be powerful attractions and almost any hedgehog will chew on leather. For this reason, l do not recommend leather gloves for handling. In the rare case of a confirmed biter, neutering has been reported to help when the cause is hormone related. Some males experience a period of temperament change as they reach adulthood -- often at about three months of age. There is no known solution for hedgehogs that bite due to handling problems.

One of the most unusual hedgehog behaviors is called self-anointing. Incited by the presence of a new food, unusual scent or salt, they salivate excessively. They then turn their heads to the rear, twist into an S shape, and proceed to spread the foamy saliva on their quills. No one is sure about the purpose of this, but it may be a way of making the quills more effective weapons by coating them with irritating substances. In fact, when you first begin handling hedgehogs, you may experience a slight itching or burning sensation and this may be due to the saliva coating the quills.

HOUSING

Typically, hedgehogs will be housed in cages that are much too small for their free roaming, nocturnal habits. Pet stores will keep them in cages as small as a 5 gallon aquarium, and owners typically follow the pet store's advice in setting up their own cages. The 20 gallon long aquarium seems to be the preferred cage. Remember that their normal territory is 650 to 1000 feet in diameter. I recommend cages of at least 4 square feet in size. Over the years I have gradually increased the size of my cages from a medium size pet taxi, the favorite cage at the time I purchased my first hedgehog, to cages that are 20" X 30- or 249, by 24". I prefer cages with solid plastic or metal pans about 6 inches deep, topped with vinyl coated wire. Wire flooring should not be used as it is damaging to their small feet.

In addition, all hedgehogs get periodic access to larger playpens. The plastic tubs sold by home improvement stores for mixing concrete make excellent play areas and can even be used as a cage with the addition of a screen or wire top. A bathtub can also serve as a handy playpen for the pet hedgehogs. Several exercise wheels designed or adapted for hedgehogs are now on the market and help channel the nocturnal runs. Hedgehogs are excellent climbers and care must be taken to insure that they cannot escape their quarters.

For the veterinary hospital, I would recommend a 20 gallon long aquarium or incubator as open pet cages will get too cold for debilitated animals. Recuperating animals often benefit from supplemental heat and may recover quicker in a temperature range of 75-85°F.

Hedgehogs are generally solitary animals and it is unwise to keep two males in the same cage once they reach 10-12 weeks of age. Fights will invariably ensue. Pairs or small groups of females may be housed in community cages if multiple nest boxes and food bowls are provided.

Bedding can be almost any absorbent material. I personally prefer pelleted or processed beddings as they are less likely to contribute to dermatitis and generate less dust than shavings. Pine shavings are frequently used by breeders and pet owners due to both availability and price. Cedar shavings should not be used due to the high concentration of aromatic oils that may be irritating to the hedgehog's respiratory tract. Bedding should be 2 to 3" deep to allow the hedgehog to exhibit its normal digging behavior.

A hiding or nest box of some type is important to the mental well being of the pet hedgehog. Very few pets wili chose to sleep in the open. Nest areas may be lengths of 4" diameter PVC pipe, wooden or plastic boxes, flower pots or other objects that afford the animal a cozy sleeping area. Hedgehogs will rarely soil their sleeping area unless it is too big.

Most hedgehogs can be trained to use a litter pan in a designated area of a cage. Few animals can be trained to return to a litter pan if given the run of the house. Clay litter is the most readily accepted by hedgehogs, but will stick to damp areas on the skin and create dust problems in your home as well as in the cage. Pelleted cat litters are preferable, but not as readily accepted by the hedgehog. Drawer dividers 6" x 9" X 2" deep make good litter pans for hedgehogs.

As mentioned, the temperature should not be allowed to drop below 65°F and temperatures of 70-80°F are preferable for healthy animals. Temperatures above 85°F can result in rapid heat prostration, particularly in juvenile or elderly hedgehogs.

DIET

We know that hedgehogs are omnivores, but primarily insectivores. They eat a wide variety of meat, including insects, slugs, snails, carrion, mice, as well as some roots and plant material. This is much discussion and much disagreement about what is the proper diet in captivity. We do know that obesity and its related problems occurs at an alarming rate in these small pets. The following diet is recommended by Dr. A.J. Smith of the El Paso Zoo. It was published in a Client Information Series publication on Care of Pet Hedgehogs produced by Veterinary Practice Publishing Company. 25 grams dry light cat food or mixture of dry and canned food ,10 grams of mixed fresh or frozen vegetables, 55 grams live crickets or mealworms (3-4 times a week).

Please be aware that the average pet owner is not good at translating grams into any realistic unit of measure. Nor will they want to weigh food. I prefer to use teaspoons and tablespoons for measuring food -- and have had far better luck explaining a diet in those terms. My basic daily hedgehog diet is one to two tablespoons of good quality, dry cat food, preferably the light formula. The amount is adjusted to the size and activity level of the hedgehogs. Pregnant and nursing females will receive double or triple servings with regular or kitten formula substituted for the light formula. All hedgehogs get less food in the winter when they are less active. Separately, I will feed one teaspoon of moist food every day or every other day. I vary the moist food and in a single week might include canned dog food, cottage cheese, cooked egg, chicken or chicken broth and fruits and vegetables. I recommend that pet owners feed a tiny amount of what they eat to the hedgehog. Two kernels of corn, two peas, a small piece of fruit, half a grape, one raisin or peanut -- and recommend that not more than one tablespoon of fruit and vegetables per half-cup of cat food be offered. I have found apples, grapes and yams to be especially palatable to my hedgehogs.

The feeding of live food is a matter of personal preference. Anyone who has watched a hedgehog attack meal worms will understand that live food provides important mental stimulation as well as nutrition for the pet. Typical live foods include crickets, meal worms and waxworms. No single live food fills all the dietary needs and I reserve these as a treat food and not as part of the main diet.

Water should be available in a bottle or bowl at all times. Hedgehogs generally fill their bowls with bedding, so I prefer to use water bottles for most hedgehogs. For those that refuse to use a water tube or bottle, I use heavy crock bowls that are not easily overturned.

EXERCISE

Exercise is a frequently overlooked component of hedgehog health. Over the years I have learned that the more exercise a hedgehog is allowed, the better their health and the better their temperament. To help maintain good health, my hedgehogs are also weighed on a regular basis and the rates recorded on a record card. I recommend that pet owners use a postal scale or kitchen scale to weigh their pets on a regular basis. It does not matter that they use ounces instead of grams, as long as they are consistent. The amount of food and access to extra exercise is based on the needs of the individual animals. In breeding or pet situations where floor exercise is not possible on a regular basis, I recommend that hedgehogs be given access to an appropriate exercise wheel. Regular weigh-ins also help in early identification of health problems. A healthy hedgehog should feel flat on the palm of your hand, neither bony nor flabby.

BASIC HANDLING AND RESTRAINT

The most important thing to remember when beginning an examination on an African hedgehog is that if the hedgehog rolls up it will be nearly impossible to examine him or her. The more you fight with the pet, the less your chances of getting it unrolled. However, most pets are fairly docile and can be handled with latex exam gloves with relative ease and a minimum of discomfort.

If possible, have the owner restrain the hedgehog for the initial exam. An open hedgehog should be scooped up from underneath and lifted off the table. Supported on two hands off the table, they will seldom attempt to roil up. This affords an opportunity to examine the eyes, nose, rectal area, to determine the sex of the animal, to palpate the abdomen and to use a stethoscope with a minimum of movement on the part of the hedgehog.

Less cooperative hedgehogs may be scruffed by grasping the skin between the ears and lifting the hedgehog off the table. A latex glove will add a greater measure of control than a bare hand. This is also a useful technique to use when administering oral medication.

A third technique is a leg hold. Have the owner or handler slide his/her hands under the hedgehog from front to back. As they reach the rear legs, have them grasp the legs firmly and gently lift the rear end of the hedgehog slightly off the table. Some animals will squirm and try to pull away from the hold, but many pets will simply remain still when held in this manner.

Another method of unrolling a hedgehog is to wait a few minutes for him to uncurl on the examination table. Place the animal abdomen side down. Heavy stroking of the spines towards the rump may speed up the process with some hedgehogs - but infuriate others.

If you encounter a hedgehog that refuses to uncurl, the best examination technique becomes the use of isoflurane. A large cone may be placed over the entire animal until it starts to relax, then a small cone may be placed over the face. This saves a lot of time for the practitioner and a lot of anxiety for the hedgehog and his/her owner.

I do not recommend the use of water for uncurling hedgehogs. It is common in some practices to place hedgehogs in clear glass containers in water in order to get them to uncurl. This places additional stress on already debilitated or terrified animals, and may cause the hedgehog to get water in its sinuses as it thrashes about.

COMMON PROBLEMS

The most common problems seen in African hedgehogs are probably skin problems. The most prevalent are skin mites. Scrapings should be taken from the base of the quills at two or three places on the body. Ivomec given in a series of three doses at two week intervals will generally afford effective treatment.

A Wood's lamp may be used to check for ringworm, an infrequent but potential ailment.

If the hedgehog has heavy dandruff but no mites are present in the scraping, it may have contact dermatitis, bacterial dermatitis from contact with wet shavings or simply dry skin. Question the owner about the type of bedding in use and the humidity level in the home. If the owner also has dry skin, the hedgehog may be suffering from inadequate winter humidity levels. Some hedgehogs have skin reactions to the use of certain bedding. One bloodline in my colony is particularly sensitive. Persistent skin problems with animals bedded on pine shavings and Celludri cleared up rapidly when the animals were switched to chopped newsprint bedding or Care Fresh. Humilac is an effective soother for dry skin or skin damaged by mites until the animal heals.

Endoparasites are a less common problem than ectoparasites. However, if internal parasites are suspected, encourage the hedgehog owner to bring in a FRESH sample of fecal material for testing. The literature suggests that hedgehogs can harbor lung worms, Coccidia, stomach worms, esophageal worms, tapeworms and intestinal flukes. I have never encountered intestinal parasites in fecal flotations done on my stock, although I continue to test animals if they are to be examined for any other health problem. In some parts of the US, breeders have had a problem with Coccidia, and this should not be overlooked as a possible problem in debilitated animals.

Every exam should also include taking the hedgehog's weight. A sudden change in weight can be indicative of more serious problems. Liver and kidney disease as well as neoplasia have been linked to diet related problems, and the incidence of this will be likely to increase as more hedgehogs are kept as pets and as the pet population ages. Most animals that arrive at our facility for rehabilitation for a local animal shelter are grossly overweight.

One caution on diets. Owners should not make sudden, drastic cuts in hedgehog diets. One shelter resident that we were unable to save was on a severely reduced diet. The second or third person to own the animal had put it on a severe diet to try to get it down to a breedable weight. The necropsy indicated that in addition to pneumonia, the hedgehog had a huge hairball containing a combination of hair and shavings. I personally suspect that it was eating the bedding to attempt to satisfy its hunger.

While handling the hedgehog and checking its weight, check the body for external neoplasia and any signs of abscess. Animals from breeding colonies are more likely to arrive with undiscovered problems than are pets handled on a regular basis.

ADVANCED EXAMINATIONS

Advanced examinations of the hedgehog will almost certainly require the use of isoflurane. Once anesthetized, the animal's teeth and gums may be examined, the animal may be checked for additional external injuries or lesions and blood collection accomplished.

For blood collection, some veterinarians prefer cleaning the leg, then lancing the vein with a 22 gauge needle. Generally, this provides sufficient blood flow to fill a couple of microtainer tubes. When a larger sample is necessary, the jugular vein or cranial vena cave can also be used. The jugular vein is very short and under a heavy layer of fat. Up to 1 CC of blood per 100 grams of body weight may be removed from a healthy, adult hedgehog, although this amount is not generally required for routine procedures. In fact, it is quite difficult to obtain this quantity from most hedgehogs.

Facial abscesses and eye injuries are the two problems requiring surgery that I have encountered. These are particularly troublesome due to the problem of keeping isoflurane on the hedgehog while performing surgery on the nose or removing an injured eye. The use of a large syringe taped to the end of the delivery hose will usually work better than a small mask.

Eye injuries seem to result from young hedgehogs walking and piling on top of each other in the nest box and from the rooting behavior of most hedgehogs as they forage in their cages. Hedgehogs do not seem to rely to any significant extent on eyesight, and I have now had three that have done well with only one eye or with the loss of vision in one eye.

ADMINISTERING MEDICATION

Injectable medications can most easily be given in the back if they are to be given subcutaneously. The hedgehog can be encouraged to roll into a ball or to erect the quills by covering its head with a towel. The injection may then be given between the quills. Alternately, a skin fold may be raised by pulling upwards on a spine or a small fold of skin grasped with a forceps. The injection is then given in the base of the pleat with the needle parallel to the hedgehog's body.

Intramuscular injections will most likely require anesthesia, and are most frequently given in the thigh.

Reeve describes a head down technique used by Gregory in which the hedgehog is held by the hind legs and suspended head-down for both examination and injections. This is a difficult position to hold without a competent handler and anesthesia may be a preferred mode of restraint for difficult cases.

Oral medications are generally given by first scruffing the animal and holding it so that the rump is just touching a supporting surface. I administer medications with an eye dropper or tuberculin syringe with the needle removed. Most pet owners can be taught to successfully administer medication in this manner. The only problem I have encountered is that some hedgehogs will self-anoint with the medication, particularly with the oral administration of Ivermectin. If an animal has a hearty appetite that includes a variety of foods, Amoxidrops or Baytril suspended in a liquid vitamin may be added to the food as an alternative to direct oral administration. I have found this particularly helpful for post-surgical patients that have retained their appetites.

GROOMING ISSUES

Hedgehogs may be groomed with a toothbrush and warm water to remove light surface dirt and dried saliva from self-anointing. More serious grooming is best accomplished by spraying the animal with lukewarm water, taking care that the water level in the basin does not rise above about one inch deep. Animals should be towel dried and placed in a warm location until completely dry. An aquarium or incubator is preferable to open metal dog or cat cages.

If the hedgehog will remain still when held by the owner, nails may be clipped and filed by holding the foot firmly while the owner restrains the hedgehog. A rough aquarium rock or landscaping brick in the hedgehog's play area will assist in wearing the nails naturally, eliminating the need for frequent clipping.

ADDITIONAL TREATMENT NOTES

. Diarrhea in hedgehogs is most often a symptom rather than the actual problem. Any client whose hedgehog has soft or liquid forest green stool should be encouraged to bring in their pet for an immediate examination. A culture and sensitivity should be performed for any animal that does not improve after 24 hours on dry cat food and water only. Diarrhea can be a symptom of Salmonella, respiratory infection, neoplasia, a rapid change in diet, the feeding of milk or other dairy products as a treat, or numerous other problems.

Salmonella is of particular concern since it is transmissible to humans. I have had one hedgehog develop Arizona sp., a species that has been found in Algerian hedgehogs from northern Africa. This hedgehog was immediately quarantined away from the remainder of the colony and after her recovery was placed in a foster home. This hedgehog was a first generation domestically raised animal. Her parents were imported in the 1980's. Since researchers have found a variety of Salmonella species in wild hedgehogs, l have theorized that she acquired the disease from her mother. It has been over two years since her bout with the disease and she has never again shown symptoms of the disease nor had it appear in a culture and sensitivity. This hedgehog is also quick to become dormant when the temperature changes outside, and is much more sensitive to weather conditions than are any of my other hedgehogs. Her first two "hi ~ernations~ were alarming, then when we began to see a pattern emerge we were able to partially eliminate the frequent periods of dormancy through the use of supplemental heat and light.

Although I have never experienced a respiratory problem with my hedgehogs, pneumonia seems to be a relatively common problem. I view prevention of pneumonia as a management issue. Properly housed hedgehogs should not be easily susceptible to this problem.

Hedgehogs on antibiotics following surgery sometimes experience life-threatening illness 1014 days after surgery. Typically, recovery goes smoothly while the animal is on antibiotics. Then, without warning, the animal will quit eating and his/her condition will deteriorate rapidly. In my own experience, this has happened shortly after completing the first course of antibiotics. In other reports from hedgehog owners and breeders, this has occurred while the hedgehog is still on antibiotics. Generally, fluids injected subcutaneously or delivered by feeding tube, supplemental heat under 1/3 of the cage and a change in antibiotics have been effective in countering post surgery set-backs.
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PostSubject: Re: Interesting Read    Fri Apr 19, 2013 10:29 pm

really interesting .... thanks for posting .x

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