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Quite a bit of attention has been given to Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome (WHS). WHS is a chronic, progressive paralysis that typically starts with the hindquarters and progresses until the hedgehog is completely paralyzed. WHS has been observed to occur in hedgehogs of all ages. The disease is caused by a condition called progressive mutlifocal leukencephalopathy, which is similar to the brain lesions seen in human AIDS patients whose brains have been affected by the HIV virus.
With all the talk about WHS,
it is easy to jump to the conclusion that a hedgehog
must be afflicted with WHS if it has a hard time walking,
particularly if this is progressive. There are, however, other conditions that can
mimic the symptoms of WHS so it is important to consult with a
veterinarian immediately, to avoid losing precious time for
Originally it was believed that biggest thing that distinguishes WHS from other disorder is family history. There are at least two families that I am aware of that had confirmed cases in all the members of two generations. The mothers and babies all began to show symptoms within a relatively short time span. While the pathologist working with these animals stated that this is proof that it's a genetic condition, other pathologists and veterinarians with whom I have spoken indicate that this would suggest an infection and not a genetic condition.
If you do suspect WHS, let the breeder know immediately and let them know the veterinary findings. Typically, other ailments, such as cancer and fatty liver disease are also found in hedgehogs who have WHS and breeders need this information. Please read the article on what is WHS for more information about this.
Hibernation is probably the most frequent cause of
wobbliness in hedgehogs. There may be mild wobbliness or the hedgehog
might not be moving at all. Hibernation is not safe for hedgehogs of African
origins and they should not be allowed to hibernate. A hedgehog that is
trying to hibernate is often cool to the touch. Onset is often rapid,
although symptoms of mild wobbliness and lack of appetite can drag on
for quite some time if a hedgehog is kept on the brink of hibernation. Hibernation can
generally be reversed within half an hour to an hour by warming up the
hedgehog. Holding the hedgehog under your shirt, using a heat lamp, or providing a heat pad on low
will work. Do not use heat rocks as they often have hot spots
that can cause burns and do not raise the ambient temperature.
Injury is another frequent cause of wobbliness.
Hedgehogs can break legs or even slip disks. X-ray or ultrasound can be
used to quickly determine whether an internal injury appears to
contribute to the symptoms. Hedgehogs can
develop problems with excessive bone calcification, leading to
progressive wobbliness. This can also be diagnosed with ultrasound or
x-ray. External injury, such as overgrown nails that have curved into
the pad of the foot or hairs wrapped around a leg, can also cause a
hedgehog to look wobbly so you should visually inspect for these types
Tumors can create problems with balance and
locomotion. These can very strongly mimic WHS. Tumors of the abdomen or
brain can create progressive difficulty with movement. These kinds of
problems can sometimes be diagnosed by ultrasound or exploratory surgery
and can sometimes be treated successfully by early detection and removal
of the tumor.
Bacterial and fungal problems of the skin have been reported to cause a wobbly appearance in afflicted hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs with these types of problems have a noxious
odor in addition to seeming wobbly. At least one case of a hedgehog
with allergic dermatitis that gave the appearance of wobbliness has been
Strokes do occur in hedgehogs and can give the
appearance of WHS. However, onset is rapid and not progressive. Early
treatment of a mild stroke can help to reverse some of the damage in many cases, or there
may be slow, spontaneous recovery over time.
Nutritional deficiencies can create a symptom
picture that looks like WHS. If you are concerned about dietary issues,
consult a knowledgeable veterinarian about how diet can be improved. If
nutrition is the issue, you will see improvement with a
Dehydration can also cause wobbliness so make sure your hedgehog has
access to fresh water and is drinking regularly.
Dehydration can also cause wobbliness so make sure your hedgehog has access to fresh water and is drinking regularly.
Definitive diagnosis of WHS is only possible with a necropsy because it is diagnosed by the presence of lesions on the brain. There are many other things that can contribute to a similar symptom picture so it should not be assumed that all wobbly hedgehogs have WHS, even if it "looks just like WHS."
Please take this
article to your
veterinarian if you are concerned about a differential diagnosis for a
"wobbly" hedgehog, to make sure other potential causes are
ruled in or ruled out.
We have had several hedgehogs who were suspected of having WHS, but were able to
receive appropriate treatment for some of the other ailments noted in
this article. We have had two confirmed cases of hedgehogs who were
diagnosed with WHS lesions after they had passed on. Both also had
cancer and examination of the pedigrees allowed us to calculate that
they shared approximately 2% of the same genes. The other 200+ animals
in their line that we were able to trace did not have any evidence of
neurological problems and do not buy the assumption that WHS is genetic
until theories that better fit the data have been investigated. Always
consult with a vet when you are unsure about your hedgehog's health.
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