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Male Hedgehog Dies Suddenly

Why would a male hedgehog die suddenly?

By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, DABVP
Posted: June 27, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Q: I have two hedgehogs. Every night I feed them, pet them a bit or bathe them. Up until last night everything was normal. I went to feed them at the usual time, and my male hedgie (Sid) was lying in his cage breathing very shallowly. He didn't reacting to me touching his face (he hates his face touched normally), so I got concerned and picked him up. His heartbeat was slow, and I could hear him breathing kind of quickly. I wrapped him in a T-shirt and woke up my husband.

A little while later Sid started throwing up/spitting blood that was clear/light pink. I wiped it off his face and took him downstairs. We were looking for the phone number to an emergency vet in our city, but before we could even figure out what to do he passed away as I held him.
He was eating earlier in the evening and even playing in his wheel. It was so sudden, I don't even have a clue what could have happened. I'd just cleaned out their cages completely and put in new bedding two days before, and he was eating/pooping as normal. Nothing was different. He's been eating a commercial food and one or two mealworm treats every couple of nights.
The only time he was out of his cage was when I bathed him a couple nights before, and he didn't get into anything because they have their own bedroom that I keep hedgie-proofed (laminate floor). He was almost 5 years old. I don't think it was old age. I had a hedgehog that lived to be 11 years old previously. Has something like this ever happened to you? I would really like to know if it was something I did.
A: I am very sorry for the loss of Sid. It sounds like you did everything you could to provide a great life for your hedgehog. Unfortunately, nothing you mention gives a clue about what could have happened to Sid.

Hedgehogs, like many nontraditional pets, can hide their illness, even serious illness, to the point that you do not know they are sick until it is too late. So, he could have been suffering from a short- or long-term disease and you would not have seen signs of this until he was close to death.

Very few diseases cause an otherwise healthy hedgehog to die suddenly. Toxins can cause this, but it sounds like you were meticulous with the environment that Sid lived in and he was not exposed to toxins. Heart disease can cause sudden death, but he was not an old hedgehog and usually there are other signs if heart disease is present.

What you describe is not that uncommon — a pet dying unexpectedly and both the owner and the veterinarian being at a loss to understand why the pet has died. What we recommend to end the mystery is a necropsy (an animal autopsy). At necropsy, the vet can examine the tissues under a microscope and give the owner a cause of death. When there are other animals in the home, we highly recommend this. Losing one animal to a disease is very sad, but losing a second or third pet because the reason for the first pet’s death was not determined is a preventable tragedy.

See all of Dr. Rosenthal's Critter Q&A articles>>

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Male Hedgehog Dies Suddenly

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Reader Comments
My hedgehog Buddy died on October 28, 2015 right when I came home from school yesterday. He was curled up with his legs and arms stiff and his mouth open, not reacting to me touching his eyeballs or checking for pulse. I buried him in our backyard along with his blanket (which he chewed or tore up) and two rocks which I gave him 5 years ago. Worst day for me. It was especially sad because I had a really close bond with him and was one of very few "friends" that I had.

I know Buddy is was a pet hedgehog but god. I know what people go through at funerals losing someone they lived with for 50 years...
Matthew, London
Posted: 10/29/2015 2:33:50 PM
I am very sorry for your loss. It has been one of the worst days ever. Me and my partner bought his sister a pet African pygmy hedgehog for her birthday in December 2013 and on the 1st June 2014 our little pet hedgehog passed away, Keeping in mind he was a baby, He was well looked after and got fed and fresh bedding regularly. My partners sister came to me very concerned that their was something wrong with the hedgehog so I asked her to bring him so I could take a look. He was falling to the side every time he tries to take a step, and being a timid little thing he would always jump at even sound when you try to pick him up he would roll in to a ball and panic. I went to pick him up and he hardly flinched which was completely out of character. I picked him up and his feet and face were rather cold. He had flaky ears and face. We cleaned out his bedding and gave him fresh food and water. after getting the man who sold us the hedgehog to come and take a look at him he said it could have possibly been Wobbly hedgehog syndrome but by this point he was trying to sleep and roll into a ball so he suggested that It may even be trying to hibernate. so we put a heater next to his cage to see if it would help. he made more movements than he had done before hand but ended up climbing into his water bowl which made him cold again, So I wrapped him up in a blanket and held him to my chest to warm him up off my body heat. he started to rest on me and after a while began to do heaving motions as if he was being sick. I moved him closer to keep him warm to notice a pinkish like blood that he had brought up. he started to take strange breaths almost like hiccups as the gradually got slower he passed away. we have no Idea what had caused this as he was fine before hand.
Lucy, Manchester
Posted: 7/1/2014 7:48:17 PM
I am very sorry for your loss. I'm a small hedgehog breeder who has owned hedgehogs for the past 15 years and I've been a USDA licensed breeder for the past 6 years.

About 20 years ago when hedgehogs were first imported, we were cross breeding two sub-species of the African pygmy hedgehog; the white belly hedgehog and the Algerian hedgehog. This created a 'hybrid longevity', which basically means the babies were living an unusually long life. For several generations, it wasn't uncommon to have a hedgehog live between 8 and 15 years.

Since it is illegal to import new hedgehogs we are unable to cross out and get the lengthened life span, so we are back to seeing the normal expected life span which is 3-5 years. While we do occasionally see a hedgehog that lives a bit longer, it is the exception rather then the norm.

So I believe that Sid died of old age. It sounds to me like he was well loved and had everything a hedgehog could possibly want for.



It sounds to me
Kelly, Pelham, NH
Posted: 6/29/2010 3:22:27 PM
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