Death is inevitable at some point in the life of a hedgehog but it can be a devastating time for owners especially after building a strong bond. Knowing the main causes of fatalities in hedgehogs could ensure owners follow the best practices to prolong their lifespan.
This article answers the question “Do Hedgehogs Die Easily?” by revealing the main causes of death in pet hedgehogs. We also discuss the major signs that a sick hedgehog is on the verge of crossing the rainbow bridge and the next line of action for owners.
Do Hedgehogs Die Easily?
Sudden deaths from diseases, malnutrition and other conditions are common since they are masters of hiding illness, unlike many popular pets. First-time hedgehog owners experience more pet deaths due to their inability to identify and treat illnesses.
Learning how to spot sickness in pet hedgehogs and getting the needed help from an exotics vet is the best way to prolong the lifespan of these beloved pets. Conducting thorough research every time the spiky mammals begin displaying signs of abnormalities or having the original breeder’s number on speed dial may also come in handy for novices.
What Is The Average Lifespan of Pet Hedgehogs?
Domesticated hedgehogs typically live for 5 years thanks to the absence of predators unlike their cousins in the wild that are often allowed to exist for only 2-3 years. However, the pet hedgehog’s life could be considerably shorter when exposed to a few failures on the owner’s part.
The 3 Main Causes of Death In Domesticated Hedgehogs
Pet hedgehogs are exposed to three main causes of death. Shall we delve into each to determine how to minimize the risks of your hedgehog losing their lives to it?
Diet is probably the number one determinant of a pet hedgehog’s longevity. Unlike their wild cousins that forage for a wide range of nutritious diets including insects and slugs, domesticated breeds are at the mercy of whatever lands in their food bowls.
Asking for diet recommendations from the breeder during pickup can be a great start. Any dietary changes should be held off for at least 30 days as the hoglet adapts to the new environment.
Consultation with a vet may be in the right direction if the hedgehog seems to be suffering stunted growth. However, changes should be conducted gradually by feeding tiny amounts of the new diet in conjunction with the old.
Over time, the hedgehog should become familiar with the new diet to be able to ditch the old one without notice. Whatever the vet’s recommendations, make sure the hedgehog enjoys a varying diet comprising of:
- 70 percent staples like cat food or commercial hedgehog food
- 10 percent insects like dried crickets, Dubya roaches, and live/processed mealies
- 10 percent fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, and kale
- 10 percent proteins like meat and hardboiled eggs
Commercial hedgehog diets or premium cat food contain up to 35 percent proteins and 5 to 15 percent fats which could make them suitable for essential growth and minimal diseases in pet hedgehogs. Experts recommend feeding 2-3 staple diets of similar nutritional makeup simultaneously to prevent unhealthy attachments to a particular brand.
It is not uncommon to walk to a local pet store or head to Amazon.com to discover that a particular food brand has been discontinued by the manufacturer overnight. Feeding multiple diet brands eliminate problems when a particular one is no longer available.
As previously stated, experts recommend that insects make up no more than 10 percent of the hedgehog’s overall diet. Avoid overfeeding insects offering unbalanced phosphorus: calcium ratios as that could force calcium to leach into the hedgehog’s blood stream leading to metabolic bone disease.
Besides, it is always a good idea to avoid offering potentially harmful fruits, vegetables, and snacks to hedgehogs because it can trigger negative consequences. Chocolates, avocado, raisins, oranges, rhubarb, and onions are a few that should never be ingested by pet hedgehogs.
Unfortunately, hedgehogs are susceptible to numerous diseases and infections that can potentially turn fatal. Obesity is a leading cause of death which explains why experts recommend that hedgehogs eat no more than 3 tablespoons of food within 24 hours regardless of how much they clamor for it.
Obesity may also arise from feeding excessive calories to domesticated hedgehogs, especially in the absence of running wheels and other avenues for expending the ingested calories. Hedgehogs are avid foragers that travel 2 to 3 km per night to find food, water, and mating partners.
Their confined environment makes foraging impossible but running wheels could come in handy. Studies have shown that the average hedgehog runs 10km per night on the right wheel. Even in the temporary absence of wheels, allowing them to come out of their cages to play with their owners may help in energy expenditure.
Hedgehogs can also be taken outdoors in the summer to enjoy a change of scenery and interact with their owners on a deeper level. This aids in the bonding process which lowers stress levels and minimizes immune system deficiencies triggered by anxiety.
Cancers are another common cause of death in hedgehogs especially when they reach the 3-year mark. Most cancers are detected when the condition has already advanced to critical organs. Terminal cancers eventually lead to death and owners may have no option but to get a vet to put the ailing hedgehog down at some point.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, a degenerative disease characterized by wobbliness is also a leading cause of hedgehog fatalities. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for the genetic issue, and affected hedgehogs eventually die in pain unless euthanized early enough to spare the excessive discomfort.
Hedgehogs are masters of hiding illness but owners should be able to identify the signs of health problems in hedgehogs such as:
- Lack of appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Changes in fecal appearance
- Bloody feces or urine
- Ear or nasal discharges
- Breathing difficulties
Hedgehogs thrive in temperatures between 72F to 80F and every owner is responsible for ensuring that the cage environment stays within the stipulated temperature ranges. Hedgehogs instinctively attempt to hibernate when exposed to extremely low temperatures thanks to their time in the wild when energy and food conservation during cold periods were critical.
Unfortunately, the domesticated hedgehog’s diet does not allow enough fat stores to enable survival through hibernation. The majority of hibernating pet hedgehogs die after unsuccessful attempts to come out of the torpor state.
Extremely high cage temperatures may also stimulate estivation, a form of hibernation during hot weather which is another leading cause of death in domesticated hedgehogs.
What Are The Signs Of A Dying Hedgehog?
Signs of cancer or other terminal diseases include the appearance of lumps or tumors in one or multiple areas of the hedgehog’s skin as well as the excessive need for hydration to keep core organs like the livers functional.
Excessive wobbling during movements and sometimes the inability to even stand up can indicate that the hedgehog is close to death. Dying hedgehogs could suddenly lose their appetite or eat significantly low quantities of food if any.
Diarrhea can be constant after every meal while other hedgehogs may experience constipation and related side effects. Dying hedgehogs could also display severe signs of discomfort like screaming in pain or even constant coughing.
Labored breathing is a common sign in dying hedgehogs and the breathing rate gets progressively slow as the condition advances. Excessive weight loss may also indicate that the hedgehog is on the verge of dying.
Routine veterinary checkups are recommended for hedgehogs to enable early detection of existing illnesses for the right treatments to be prescribed. Do not hesitate to book an appointment if any sign of abnormality or illness becomes apparent.
How To Help A Dying Hedgehog
Urgent medical attention is required for dying hedgehogs even if the condition is terminal. Vets usually prescribe pain medications that ensure their final days are comfortable despite the seriousness of the disease.
This is common in late-stage cancer when tumors have spread to various core organs with no chance of survival in the affected pet. Caring for a once energetic pet hedgehog in its final days could be psychologically draining for many folks.
Sometimes, hedgehogs lose interest in eating as the condition advances, and chewing regular cat food becomes difficult. Dry cat food may need to be ground and mushed up with water to enable easy ingestion and digestion via a feeding syringe.
Water intake can also be another problem as the majority of dying hedgehogs lose interest in staying hydrated. Again, water could be forced into their mouths using syringes to enable ingestion of the recommended 40ml daily.
Dying hedgehogs appreciate warm environments and taking active steps to increase the temperatures in certain areas of their cage may offer more comfort.
What is Hedgehog Splatting?
Splatting is the default position when sick hedgehogs lose control over the use of their limbs after suffering serious health problems like cancers. These signs become apparent as the disease progresses resulting in total loss of control over their bodies.
Splatting may also occur when severe organ weaknesses lead to discomfort each time the hedgehog attempts to move. Lying down on the side or flat on their tummies becomes more comfortable when other forms of movement result in increased pain.
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is another condition that could force hedgehogs into the default splatting condition. This may can during the latter stages of the disease when they lose the ability to move their limbs.
Hedgehogs also splat as a consequence of heat strokes when curling up becomes impossible due to low energy levels.
Hedgehogs should never be exposed to over 80 F as that may increase the risks of suffering heat strokes and related side effects. Continuous exposure could also force hedgehogs into estivation, a potentially deadly situation.
Thermostats that connect to heating and cooling sources guarantee comfortable temperatures for hedgehogs year-round. This can eliminate the risks of heat strokes and estivation as well as hibernation and related problems.
Sometimes, lying down flat also occurs when hedgehogs are exhausted after running continuously for several hours on their wheels.
How Do You Dispose Of Dead Hedgehogs?
Dead hedgehogs may be buried or cremated depending on the owner’s preferences. Backyard burials are popular with owners living in houses with spare land behind their properties while cremation is often preferred by apartment residents.
What Is The Difference Between Hibernating and Dead Hedgehogs?
Many novice hedgehog owners consistently mistake hibernating hedgehogs for the dead which is why knowing the differences between the 2 states could come in handy. The last thing anyone wants is to bury their beloved pets alive.
Here are the differences between a hibernating and a dead hedgehog.
Curled Up vs Lying Flat
Hibernating hedgehogs typically curl up in a tight ball until they come out of the state. During extremely hot temperatures, hedgehogs may estivate to conserve energy by lying down with their tummies in direct physical contact with the floor.
The relatively cool floor surface provides more comfort and increases the chances of lowering the hedgehog’s internal body temperature. However, hedgehogs lying down flat in normal or cool temperatures are likely dead. (Source)
Conclusion: Do Hedgehogs Die Easily?
Hedgehogs may die easily when exposed to poor nutrition, unhealthy cage temperatures, or lack of proper veterinary care. As previously stated, they hide illness well and the majority of owners only spring into action when it is too late.
Routine veterinary checkups preferably a few times a year could uncover existing health conditions for thorough treatment. Access to well-balanced nutrition can also keep up their immune systems to fight against numerous diseases and infections that may lead to death.
The presence of a functional running wheel and other toys enables consistent physical activity to eliminate obesity and related side effects. Watch out for weird signs like wobbling or shivering because they could indicate serious problems.