What is wobbly hedgehog syndrome?
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS) is a progressive degenerative neurological disease of African and European hedgehogs sometimes referred to as progressive paresis/paralysis. It has been noted with increasing frequency since the mid 1990's. It slowly degrades the animal's muscle control perhaps similar to that of MS in humans. The cause at this time is unknown although it is believed to be genetic. A possible dietary role has been suggested.
What are the signs of WHS?
WHS most commonly shows up between 2 and 3 years of age but younger and older animals have also become affected. Males and females are equally affected. It often starts with ataxia (loss of full control) or paresis (muscular weakness caused by nerve damage or disease) in the hind legs.
This is most evident initially by the "wobble" the hedgehog has when it is trying 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. Occasionally the progression will be as quick as a few days.
How is wobbly hedgehog syndrome diagnosed?
Have your hedgehog examined by a veterinarian familiar with this species. Other problems such as other primary brain or spinal cord diseases, vestibular (inner ear) problems, strokes, trauma, malnutrition, tumors, toxins or other conditions will be investigated, explored and discussed. X-rays and blood tests may be performed to rule out other issues. The clinical signs lead to the tentative diagnosis but the only definitive diagnosis is after death and the histological (microscopic) examination of spinal cord and brain tissues.
What can be done?
There is no treatment or cure and death within 18-24 months is the usual course after the onset of clinical signs. Supportive care may include catering to the challenges the animal is experiencing such as: using towels to help keep your hedgehog upright, increasing accessibility to food and water dishes, cleaning him if he becomes soiled.
Clearly as the disease progresses, thought must be given as to the quality of life of the animal. Often a family discussion, perhaps with your veterinarian, regarding euthanasia may be the next humane consideration.