As hedgehogs age, they’re prone to developing more health issues, the most serious of which is cancer. This can affect every organ of the body, and can be treated with chemotherapy or surgery. Signs of cancer include unusual lumps under the skin, or the other signs of illness like sluggishness and appetite loss.
Older hedgehogs also frequently suffer kidney issues. This can be identified by sudden weight loss, lethargy, anemia, and changes in the waste. Oral diseases are also more common in older hedgehogs. There’s no surefire way to prevent any of these illnesses, but keeping the cage a little warmer for a hedgehog over the age of five—around 80°F—can help keep them healthier longer.
Hedgehogs kept in an environment that’s too cool or too moist are prone to developing respiratory diseases. Signs of this are similar to a human’s common cold—sneezing, nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, or wheezing sounds while breathing. Give the enclosure a good thorough cleaning and raise the temperature a few degrees. If the symptoms don’t improve within a week, call your vet.
Hedgehogs carry salmonella but very rarely will contract it. If they do, you’ll notice flu-like symptoms and will need to call your vet. Similarly rare conditions include urinary tract infections, eye infections, and shock from an invisible injury. The best bet in all of these cases is to get medical help rather than trying to treat the issue yourself.
Finally, the hedgehog’s quills can make it difficult to properly cover small wounds to keep them from getting infected. If your hedgehog gets small cuts that don’t bleed too much you can affix a piece of gauze over the wound and hold it in place with a solid strip of sock material. Slide it over the front of the hedgehog; it should hold the gauze tight to the body. If there’s profuse bleeding—or if the hedgehog is bleeding from the nose or mouth after a fall or injury—you should seek medical attention.
Since your hedgehog is already sick, you should try to make the administration of medications as low-stress as possible. If you’re putting topical medication on a wound or skin infection, don’t apply too much. If the hedgehog thinks it smells or tastes good it can re-open the wound by repeatedly licking or chewing on the area. You may need to get a plastic shield of the same style given to dogs and cats post-surgery from your vet if they refuse to stop licking the area.
When you’re administering medicine orally, try to make it part of a treat as often as possible. Hedgehogs have a sweet tooth so mix it with some mushed-up fruit or use some natural flavoring from the baking section to give it a pleasant odor and flavor. You can also mix the medication with human baby foods based on strained meats, like chicken and turkey, or with their wet dog or cat food. Don’t mix the medication into an entire bowl of dry food as you won’t be sure that the hedgehog will eat the whole dose.
Hedgehogs are fairly tolerant of injectable medications, though they may pop and jump the first time you try it. You can give an injectable medication even if the hedgehog’s in a ball; have your vet show you the ideal way to administer that particular injection.
The hardest medications to give to a hedgehog are those that have to go directly into the ears or eye. Your best bet for getting these into your hedgehog is to use a scruff hold. This is the way mother hedgehogs carry their young in the wild, so while it might look painful a scruff hold will actually help relax them. Put on a pair of latex gloves to get better traction on the quills and gently grab the hedgehog slightly behind his ears, lifting him until his rear legs are suspended. Once he’s relaxed his mouth should be slack and his eyes almost closed. At this point, you can use an eye dropper to administer the medication. Make sure the medication is at room temperature to limit discomfort, and try not to touch his sensitive face hairs or it may cause him to break out of his relaxed trance.