WHS: Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
Copyright © 1999 - Laura Mowrey - All Rights Reserved
Before (or after) you read this website, please be sure to also read the following:
ARE YOU SURE THIS IS WHS?
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This website is dedicated to hedgehogs afflicted with WHS (AKA: Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome). I will be adding updates whenever new information comes to light about this disease and or it's treatment. At the end of this site you will find links to all my other webpages as well as many links to other hedgehog-related sites. Thanks so much for dropping in, please be sure to send me a letter by clicking on the e-mail icon under my name and let me know how you liked this site, to ask questions or to share any information you might have.
In Memory of my prescious Tommy, who lost his valiant battle with WHS in October 1999. Till we're together again.....
WHAT IS WHS?
In short, WHS (wobbly hedgehog syndrome)is a progressive, degenerative, neurological disease, the cause of which is still uncertain. There are no known cures, but there are treatments and supportive care you can give that may extend their life and certainly add quality to it. This disease acts much like Multiple Sclerosis does in humans, and may have a rapid onset, though more often the onset is gradual. The hind legs are often affected first, and then the paralysis spreads to the front legs and other parts of the body. Sometimes the paralysis affects one side of the body, and your hedgehog will begin tipping over and unable to stay upright. A series of case studies was done and they revealed that the onset of symptoms in most cases occurs between the ages of 18 and 24 months, although this disease has also been known to strike both younger and older hedgehogs. Hedgehogs with WHS will often experience weight loss, due in part to their inability to get to their food dishes (much can be done to help this) and in the advance stages of this disease, they become completely immobilized. In the cases that were studied, death occurred between 6 weeks and 19 months after the onset of symptoms. The following article is dedicated to the care of your WHS hedgehog.
X-Rays of a hedgehog who has WHS. You can see how retracted/bent the limbs and spinal column can become. Daily physical therapy may help prevent some of this from happening.
CARING FOR YOUR WHS HEDGEHOG:
Presently, there is no known cure for WHS, however, with careful supervision and supportive care, you can give your beloved pet a much longer life, and one with quality, which after all, is the most important factor of all. My Tommy was stricken with WHS in Dec 1998. For him it was not a gradual onset. He went from a robust, healthy hedgehog to one who could not maintain any balance at all, making walking and even standing upright impossible for him in just a matter of days. Of course at that time, I had no idea what was wrong, had never heard of WHS, and was grief stricken with the fear that my boy was dying right then and there. Shortly thereafter I located two e-mail lists where I was able to ascertain that what was happening to Tommy had a name and had also happened to other hedgehogs. It was there that I began my quest for as much knowledge as I could get my hands on, and developed a mountain of determination to save my hedgehog at all costs.
Typical look of a hedgehog with WHS, who can no longer keep his balance. Here we have my prescious Tommy on the left and our sweet Lily on the right.
One of the most important things that you can do for your hedgehog, afflicted with WHS or not, is to give him or her a diet of the highest quality. This would seem to be even more important as some have "speculated" that WHS may be diet-related. I however believe that this is a genetic disease. My personal opinion is to feed fresh, unprocessed foods daily in the form of insects (store bought only), small amounts of fruits and vegetables if they are tolerated, baked-unseasoned, skinless chicken breast or turkey, along with a premium commercial food that is void of chemical preservatives, by-products, artificial flavors and colors, or any subquality ingredients whatsoever. To this I would add a very small pinch of Missing Link or a drop of Spectrum Essential Omega Oil, both of which are excellant sources of Omega fatty acids, a tiny amount of phosphorous-free calcium supplement to balance the calcium/phos ratio of this particular diet, pro-biotic and digestive enzymes whose job is to assist the body absorb the nutrients from the food it takes in, and a vitamin/mineral supplement INCLUSIVE of vitamins E, B complex; (especially B-12) amino acids; particulary Choline, Zinc and Selenium, all of which benefit the nervous system, to be used in very small amounts twice a week. Always remember that too much supplementation can do more harm then good. If you notice your hedgehog getting jittery or his/her ears are twitching excessively, you are over-dosing them!!
Several quality cat foods I would highly recommend are: Eagle Holistic, Innova, Pinnacle, Life's Abundance, and Wellness. All are rated at the top of their class in the United States for quality, using all natural, human-grade ingredients. Do your research on the hedgehog foods as well. Personally, I have not yet found a single food manufactured for hedgehogs that I would consider to be high quality, although some are better then others. Read labels and know what your paying for!
Due to the eventual immobility of WHS hedgies, they will not be able to get to, or stand at their food dishes. As long as your hedgehog can still eat regular foods, you can easily prop him up to eat and drink by rolling a couple of hand towels and situating him in the center. Use shallow dishes to allow further ease of accessing the food and water. **Keeping a close record of your hedgehogs weight is crucial. You'll want to make sure there are no drastic gains or loses. I use a scale manufactured by Terraillon that is both accurate and affordable, the entire cost, including shipping was less then $50.00.
Ms Spicket shown here in my Terraillon Scale
To inquire about these scales, contact Standing Bear at:
MGSpikers@aol.com or call 1-800-735-3160.
You can also buy similar digital scales at places like Target and Walmart and kitchen supply outlets.
LENDING A HELPING HAND:
If your hedgie can no longer maintain his balance to walk, you can easily make a maze to help them along. It needn't cost much. For Tommy's I used a piece of plywood, covered it with rubber runner matting for traction and easy clean-ups, then made walls out of bendable styrofoam fit closely enough so that they would support and hold his body upright as he'd walk through them. On his more sluggish days, I'd set treats in front of him to encourage him to walk. Prior to the making of his maze, I would hold him upright with my hand and "walk" him this way, but that method was alot more difficult for both him and myself.
Tommy walking in his maze. His body supported upright by the walls
Before I built Tommy's maze, this is how I'd help him walk.
Tommy happily propped up onto his belly.
Here we have Miss Lily being propped up with rolled towels so she can be positioned
upright for awhile.
Here we have Miss Lily propped up so she can eat on her own. I believe it is very important to help them maintain as much independence as possible while they still can. At this point in time, Lily can eat many of her meals like this, but at times she tires easily and must get the rest of her meal via a pipette feeding.
At the time of this writing (Aug 1, 2006) Libby can still sometimes eat part of her
dinner with assistance, but usually takes the 2nd half of it with a pipette.
It is important to allow them to use whatever abilities they still have,
even if it requires a lot of patience on your part.
Daily massaging is "very" important. Like any person with is partially paralyzed, they still need their muscles moved. A body that doesn't move loses muscle tone and the internal organs will cease to function well, which in turn can bring on a whole other set of health problems. You can massage your hedgie by laying him on his back in your lap and rubbing your fingers in a clockwise circular motion on the abdomen (NEVER MASSAGE THE ABDOMEN COUNTER-CLOCKWISE). This will help the digestive system and keep things moving well. Take the legs and feet, messaging each one and then moving them in a simulated walking motion, then turn him on his belly and gently message the back, beginning at the top of his head and working your way down to his tail in small circular motions. Many hedgies love their faces rubbed as well.
Here we have Miss Lily getting belly rubs (clock-wise motion only) and foot massages/leg stretches to help maintain muscle tone and increase circulation. Plus it just feels darn good too! :)
When this disease process advanced to the point where Tommy could no longer even scoot around on his side, I had to take a look at how he was being kept when not being held. I was concerned that being unable to turn over could result in bedsores, or at the very least, a sore body, and that the shavings he laid on could irritate his eyes. After much trial and error, I began using a wicker basket with a large fluffy pillow underneath him that was cased in a plastic cover and pillowcase. I put soft fleece blankets under and over him for warmth and would cut disposable diapers in half and tuck them under the lower half of his body to catch his potties. It was easy to move him around the house with me that way, as well as taking him on errands, and at night he'd sleep in it next to my bed. Tommy would get turned over several times throughout the day and night, from side to side or propped upright on his belly to maintain his comfort level, when someone wasn't holding him.....which was most of the time!!:)
Tommy laying in his bassinet :)
There came a point when Tommy could no longer eat solid foods and it became obvious that the best way to get the food into him would be via a syringe. It turned out to be a very easy procedure; I simply pureed most of the foods he normally ate anyways, along with all the usual supplements. Adding Ensure or Boost for additional nutrients and pureed everything up to the consistency of applesauce. Since insects are such a crucial part of a hedgies diet, I bought dehydrated bugs, ground both them and his dry pelted food into a fine powder in a coffee bean grinder and added this to the pureed mixture as well. You can also use baby foods, just make sure that are no onions in them. If you want the chicken baby food, buy just plain chicken, not the chicken/veggie combos as most have onion and even those that don't contain a questionable amount of meat in them. Draw a mixture you've made up into the syringe or pipette, position it into the side of your hedgies mouth and slowly inject the food into him. Most hedgies will lap it up easily, but if your doesn't, just be patient and keep trying! If your hedgie is or has lost alot of weight, you can purchase a canned food from your vet made by Hills Called A/D. It is made for animals that need a quick boost of calories. Do not use this for more then a week or two, as it is high in fat and hard on your hedgie's liver. I gave Tommy Appox 8cc's of food three times a day, though this amount will vary from hedgehog to hedgehog depending on their size. In his case, syringe feeding was exceptionally easy and involved only propping him up, putting the syringe to his mouth and slowly injecting the food. If your hedgie tends to fight this by balling up, you can "scruff" them by the back of the neck as you would a kitten and carefully wedge the syringe tip into the side of their mouth. It is wise to keep numerous syringes on hand, they tend to wear out quickly and the "suction" ceases to flow smoothly. Luckily they are very inexpensive (under $2.00) at drugstores and cheaper still if bought at a medical supply outfit. Your Vet may offer these to you free of charge as well. By far I recommend useing the larger pipettes to feed and give water to my hedgehogs, rather then syringes. They flow much smoother and last a lot longer. They are inexpensive as well. Many craft stores sell them, and some Vets will carry them in the larger sizes. You can also purchase them online.
LAURA'S HOMEMADE MASH:
(You will need a coffee bean grinder for this).
You can purchase one at Walmart for about $10.00.
1 jar plain baby food chicken
1 cup low fat Eagle Holistic cat food kibble
2 level tbsp of dehydrated insects
1 TBSP Noni juice
2 TBSP steamed, unseasoned salmon
1/8 tsp spirulina powder
Grind up cat kibble and dehydrated insects to a fine powder in a clean coffee
Add other ingredients, and then enough warm water to make this mash easy to pull up
into a syringe or pipette. If your hedgehog is still eating on his/her own,
you can make it slightly thicker.
***HELPFUL HINT: If you are feeding your hedgehog with a syringe or pipette, it would be
to your advantage to run the final mix through a blender as this step will make it
much smoother and easier to work with.
****Once a day add just a pinch (less then 1/8 tsp) of a probiotic powder, and 1 tiny drop
of a good Omega 3-6-and 9 complex (found in health food stores).
****If you find your hedgehog develops runny stools, add the omega oils just a
couple times a week and work up to a daily dose.
Probiotics will increase the absorption of nutrients from the food your
Omega 3-6 and 9 oils help to keep the nervous system intact and "might" slow the
progression of this disease (although this has not been proven).
****Twice a week I add just the smallest, tinniest sprinkle of ground up Vitamin B-12
and Vitamin C to a days meal. You do not want to mix these into the main batch
as the Vitamin C especially will lose it's potency before you feed it
to your hedgehog.
Vitamin C boosts the immune system and B-12 helps support the nervous system,
both of which are compromised in WHS.
****Once a month I add 1 capsule of powdered echinacea/goldenseal to a batch of food.
This is thought to be good for the immune system.
Miss Lily getting some extra nutrition by way of pureeing her food and serving it through a pipette. At some point your hedgehog may not be able to eat enough on her own, or perhaps not at all. It then becomes crucial to feed him/her with a pipette. This is used to administer water as well.
Administering medication. When feeding foods, you'd do so in this same manner, useing a larger syringe. **Photo compliments of Spicket :)
A photo of a pipette. I find these to work much better then syringes actually. You can cut back the tip to allow food to pass through, or leave it as is for giving water to your hedgehog. The pipettes I use are appx 6 inches in length.
Photo compliments of Shoda Statini
An example of how to "scruff" a hedgehog.
Photo compliments of Shonda Statini.