Posted: August 4, 2014, 2:40 p.m. EDT
Hedgehogs are a unique, exotic pet. They tend to be solitary in nature, are nocturnal and require special housing to meet their temperature needs. The two most familiar species are the African hedgehog and the European hedgehog. In North America, captive-bred African hedgehogs are most commonly kept as pets. One important consideration when it comes to keeping hedgehogs as pets is the fact that they can transmit disease to people.
In an earlier blog entry, I touched on the topic of zoonotic diseases, which are illness that can pass from animals to humans. Like other animals, hedgehogs also have the potential to carry diseases that are transmissible to humans. One such disease is Salmonella.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause serious disease in humans. To date, more than 2,300 different strains of Salmonella have been identified. Regardless of type, all Salmonella bacteria have the potential to induce illness in people and animals. While most people are aware of the risk of Salmonella in pet reptiles, fewer are aware that hedgehogs can also carry this pathogen.
Salmonella can live within the intestinal tract of a hedgehog and be spread to the environment through feces. Thus any object contaminated with droppings, such as the bedding or exercise wheel, can spread disease. Even the hedgehog himself can have Salmonella-contaminated feet or quills after walking through the droppings.
© Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
It's good practice to wash your hands immediately after touching your hedgehog or items he uses.
While not all hedgehogs carry this bacterium, most of the ones that do are asymptomatic thus making identification of infected individuals very difficult. Even doing testing of stool sample poses challenges, as Salmonella is often shed intermittently, which makes for a high rate of falsely negative test results. In humans, Salmonella infections can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, blood in the stool and even death. Children, the elderly and those that are immunosuppressed are most at risk.
In general, it is probably best to treat any hedgehog as though he may be transmitting Salmonella. To reduce the chance of infection, practice good hygiene. Some good guidelines include:
-Wash hands well with hot, soapy water after handling
-Minimize contact with at-risk individuals
-Do not allow hedgehogs to walk on food preparation areas, such as kitchen counters or sinks
-Do not kiss your hedgehog
-Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling your pet or while cleaning his cage
-Disinfect cages and cage furniture often
To date, treatments to eliminate Salmonella from asymptomatic carrier hedgehogs are not pursued given the risk of developing Salmonella strains that are resistant to antibiotics. Proper precautions will ensure that you can enjoy your pet hedgehog safely.
Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.
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