What is wobbly hedgehog syndrome?
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS), sometimes referred to as progressive paresis/paralysis, is a progressive degenerative neurological disease of African and European hedgehogs. It has been noted with increasing frequency since the mid-1990s. It slowly degrades the hedgehog’s muscle control, perhaps similar to muscular sclerosis in humans.
The cause of WHS is currently unknown although it is believed to be genetic. A possible dietary role has been suggested in the research.
What are the clinical signs of wobbly hedgehog syndrome?
WHS often starts with ataxia (loss of full control) or paresis (muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease) in the hind legs and can progress to full paralysis of the front and rear legs. It is initially most evident by the "wobble" the hedgehog has when it tries to stand still. It gradually progresses from the hind end and starts to affect the front of the body leading to tetraplegia or quadriplegia (partial or total loss of use of all limbs and torso). The muscles will atrophy or lose mass and strength, leading to progressive weakness. Most affected hedgehogs will slowly lose weight. Sometimes, the progression of clinical signs takes only a few days.
"WHS most often occurs in hedgehogs between two and three years of age..."
WHS most often occurs in hedgehogs between two and three years of age, though younger and older animals have also been affected.
How is wobbly hedgehog syndrome diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will begin with a comprehensive physical examination. Other conditions such as other primary brain or spinal cord diseases, vestibular (inner ear) problems, strokes, trauma, malnutrition, tumors, toxins, or will be investigated. X-rays and blood testing may be performed to rule out these other conditions. The clinical signs alone lead to the tentative diagnosis but the only definitive diagnosis for WHS is after the hedgehog passes, allowing for tissue samples of the spinal cord and brain to be submitted to a laboratory for histopathology. Microscopic sections of the tissues reveal nerve sheath damage.
"The clinical signs alone lead to the tentative diagnosis but the only definitive diagnosis for WHS is after the hedgehog passes..."
How is wobbly hedgehog syndrome treated or managed?
There is no treatment or cure for WHS. An affected hedgehog is expected to pass away within 18-24 months after the onset of clinical signs. During that time, supportive care can help to minimize the challenges the hedgehog is experiencing, including using towels to help keep your hedgehog upright, making food and water dishes more accessible, and washing your hedgehog if he/she becomes soiled. As the disease progresses, the hedgehog’s quality of life needs to be considered and euthanasia may be the only humane option.
Breeding hedgehogs suspected to have WHS is never recommended.