WHS: Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
Copyright © 1999 - Laura Mowrey - All Rights Reserved
It is "vitally" important to make sure your hedgehog is taking in enough water so as not to get dehydrated.
Frequent drinks from a water bottle works as long as he is taking in enough, which is hard to gauge. An
excellent method is by using pipettes, which you should be able to get from your Vet or local medical supply
business and even most craft shops carry them. They are long tubular-like devices with a bulb on the end to
control the suction. You should get a large pipette full of water down your hedgie SEVERAL times a day. If for
some reason your hedgehog refuses to take water at all, dehydration will occur rapidly and it will be
necessary to get him to your Vet ASAP for an injection of saline solution subcutaneously (under the skin). This
procedure is simple and life-saving, and can be done at home. Most Vets will be happy to show you how
to perform this procedure if this turns out to be an on-going problem. Be sure to ask your Vet questions
about your hedgies blood pressure as Sub-q'ing can raise the BP.
This type of syringe and pipette can be obtained at your local Vet or Dental office.
Craft stores carry them as well.
Photo Compliments of Shonda Statini.
If you cannot locate pipettes or monoject syringes in your area, try these websites for supplies:
Rachel's Plastic Transfer Pipettes
(Click on their "re-start" button if the photos of their syringes does not immediately come up)
I tried numerous alternative treatments with Tommy. He saw a total of 2 regular Vets and 2 holistic Vets,
underwent chiropractic treatment for a few months as well. I also consulted an Animal Communicator by the name
of Elizabeth Severino via the Internet (a wonderful woman by the way). Tommy was on a number of
homeopathic remedies, and though these didn't cure him, they very well may have extended and given a higher
quality to his life. The following shows the regimen he was on:
DAY ONE: Bellis Perennis 30c; one tab dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water, 4 drops given orally via eye dropper.
Repeat dose 3 times; morning, noon and night.
DAY TWO: Arnica Montana 30C; one tab dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water, given orally via eye dropper. 15 minutes
later massage Star of Bethlehem Flower Essence down entire spinal column and on top of the head. One hour later,
give one tab Hypericum Perforatum 30X dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water orally via eye dropper.
DAY THREE: Hypericum Perforatum 30X; one tab dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water. Repeat this dosage 4 times throughout
the day. Star of Bethlehem; 2 drops in drinking water.
DAY FOUR: Star of Bethlehem; message onto head and down entire spinal column.
DAY FIVE: Hypericum Perforatum 30C; one tab dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water, taken orally, repeating this dose 4
times throughout the day. One tab Mag/Phos 6X; dissolved in 1/2 tsp. water administered 1/2 hour after the
hypericum. Star of Bethlehem; message onto head and down entire spinal column.
DAY SIX: Hypericum Perforatum; one tab, 1 dose, as prepared above. Mag/Phos 6X; one tab, 1 dose as above. Star
of Bethlehem; message on top of head and down spinal column.
DAY SEVEN: Mag/Phos 6X; one tab, 1 dose, prepared as above. Star of Bethlehem; message on top of head and down
*Check with your local health food stores for homeopathic supplies.
Tommy was also on a regimen of daily B-complex injections for 10 days, shortly after he became ill, and was given
mega-C vitamin drops daily thereafter.
It is VERY important to keep your hedgie warm enough, but not too warm. I know people who use anything from
electric heating pads, reptile heating devices, over head lamps, to hot water bottles. I cannot express enough
time to use EXTREME caution with any electrical heating devices. They have been known to short out
and cause burns and even fires. I use a product called a "Micro-Heat Disc" that you microwave for 4
minutes and it stays warm for approx. 14 hours. These discs are about the size of a frisbee, only thicker
and work really well. They can be purchased through Foster and Smith for $19.95. Their phone number
is: 1-800-826-7206. I have also seen these PetSmart marketed under a different name. Make sure to
generously pad the heat disc before putting your hedgehog on it, especially if he or she cannot easily
move themselves away from it, to prevent them from over heating.
These are the Micro-Heat Discs I purchased from Foster and Smith.
Foster and Smith's Online Catalog
Tommy wrapped in heated towels after his bath :)
CONSTIPATION / INFREQUENT URINATION:
Often I will get e-mails from folks who are anxious because their hedgehogs are not urinating much or they are
not having bowel movements. Again, I need to remind you that these hedgehogs need to be kept hydrated
with plenty of water! If they are not urinating, or their urine appears to be dark and very
concentrated, they are not getting enough fluids. Tommy took in anywhere from 5 to 8 large pipettes of water
If your hedgehog seems constipated, first determine if he/she is eating enough (or at all?). If they are, then
some of the following techniques will often serve to make the bowels move:
1. Try feeding a bit of unsweetened canned pumkin. This works well for constipation.
2. Take your hedgehog and place him in a sink of warm water....move his body around and give him a nice long
soak. This will often make the bowels move as well...just make certain to not let any water get into the nose,
ears or mouth! And NEVER leave your hedgehog unattended in the water!
3. As a last resort, take a regular thermometer, lube the end with a bit of mineral oil, and gently insert the
tip into your hedgehogs rectum about 1/4 to 1/2 inch, and just barely move it around a bit....this usually
will result in a bowel movement. Be certain to use extreme caution doing this!
If all this has failed, either your hedgehog isn't eating and therefore not producing any bowel movements (or
) there could be a blockage of some sort and you need to take him/her to a Vet!
The important thing to do from this point on is to take steps to make sure your hedgie doesn't keep getting
constipated. Plenty of daily water will help this from happening, along with tummy massages, physical therapy
and a good quality diet.
RE-CAP OF DAILY ROUTINE:
The following is just an example of what a typical day was like caring for Tommy:
6am - long drink of water, bath time and then wrapped in warm towels till dry. Be careful no to let your hedgie get chilled!!!
7am - While he still could, he'd exercise in his maze for about 1/2 hour. When he could not longer do that, I
would exercise his body for him by moving his legs around and massaging him from head to toe.
7:30am - Breakfast and more water given, followed by a nap.
Noon - Lunch and water given followed by lots of cuddle time and a nice long nap.
7pm - Dinner and water, followed by more cuddle time, full body massage and lots of attention from everyone until
it was time to go to bed.
11pm - One last drink of water and tucked warmly into his nice soft bed.
*It is important to note that while Tommy slept, I turned him hourly to prevent him form getting sore (except at
night) when I would maybe wake up once or twice to do this and change the diaper under him if necessary.
Use extra caution with your other pets and children around your WHS hedgie. Some hedgies loose their ability
to quill up and curl into a ball and therefore, are left extremely vulnerable.
Tommy looking very cute amongst all the teddy bears :)
Tommy loved to be taken outdoors and placed in different areas to soak in the
sights and smells. WHS hedgehogs should be allowed to stimulate their senses,
and get out and
Lily enjoying some time in the sun. It is important to keep their senses alive. One way to do this is by
aromatherapy (lavendar and chamomile is especially effective). Here she gets a triple dose
sun, and the lovely smell and feel of grass and flower petals.
My favorite time of all with Tommy was when we'd just sit and
together....which was a lot of the time!
UPON THE NATURAL DEATH OF YOUR HEDGEHOG AND EUTHANASIA (WHAT TO DO):
I would like to inject my own personal thoughts about euthanasia. I truly believe it is the most loving final
gift you can give your pet if he or she is obviously suffering and has no quality of life left to
live. WHS is a fatal disease, and I have seen hedgehogs who were paralyzed still live quality lives because
their owners were able to provide that for them. Some are not that fortunate. People working long hours may
feel it is unfair to leave their pet laying helpless every day, unattended. The decision is definately an
individual one. However, please let me urge all of you to consider two things:
1. Please make sure your Vet gasses your hedgehog BEFORE injecting the euthanasia drug
This way, your little one will be peacefully sleeping when the needle is inserted into his heart
or abdomen. No Vet will ever convince me that it is anything less then cruel to give this injection
to a animal who is awake and able to feel pain of that needle.
2. Lastly, I always hold my animals as they leave this world. Do not let your Vet tell you that you cannot go
back with them to put your pet to sleep. If they will not allow this, go elsewhere if at all possible. I
would strongly urge you to find out what your Vets policies are regarding this BEFORE anything happens. To
speak softly to my animals during their last moments on this earth is my last gift to them. No one should
have to die in the hands of strangers. By saying this you might be thinking that I find euthanasia an
easy experience to get through. Trust me, it isn't.....but it is what I feel I owe the animal companions
who have shared my life, and my love. The tears always come later, and it never gets any easier
to say goodbye.
IF YOUR HEDGEHOG DIES AT HOME:
One way to gain something positive from the experience of caring for a hedgehog with WHS is to schedule a
necropsy (autopsy) to determine if he or she did indeed have WHS. There is a strong genetic component to this
disease, and any data we can collect to track it may someday help to stop it. At the very least, if you have
access to your hedgehog’s breeder, you can inform the breeder of the necropsy results and hopefully encourage the
cessation of further breeding from that hedgehog’s bloodlines. The breeder can then notify the owners of
any other offspring from that line.
If you simply want an answer to the question, “Did my hedgehog have WHS?”, any veterinary pathologist can answer
that question for you. Please discuss this in advance with your veterinarian; your veterinarian should
ask a pathologist to examine the histopathology of the brain and spinal cord for lesions, as well as
any other organs that might have contributed to the pathology of this animal.
This means brain and spinal cord tissue will be dissected, fixed in formalin, and stained to examine the tissue
microscopically. The pathologist will report a general description of the tissues. Most pathologists
are not yet familiar with the term "WHS" and may not give a diagnosis of Wobbly Hedgehog
Syndrome. WHS is caused by damage to the fatty myelin sheath that insulates nerve fibers in the brain and spinal
cord. In addition, WHS involves degeneration of the axons of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
The WHS lesions may be described by the pathologist as:
"Leukoencephalopathy": Damage to the myelin that forms the white matter in the brain.
"Spongiform Changes": Changes that make the nervous tissue look like a holey sponge.
"Demyelination": Loss of myelin, which is the covering of the nerves that allows for smooth and
rapid transmission of impulses.
"Axonal Degeneration": Evidence that axons of nerve cells have been damaged or destroyed.
"Neuronopathy": Disease that affects the nerves.
It is imperative that the tissues be fresh. This is why your veterinarian should know that you plan to have a
necropsy done, and should prepare the tissues for the pathologist as soon as possible after your hedgehog
IMPORTANT NOTE: If your hedgehog should die at home, do NOT put the body in the freezer! Ice
crystals will form inside the cells and interfere with the histopathology results. Wrap the body in paper towels,
place in a loosely closed plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator until you can take the body to
your veterinarian or pack it for immediate shipping.
You may wish to have your hedgehog sent to a WHS researcher. Dr. Terry Spraker, DVM, Ph.D., at the Colorado State
University School of Veterinary Medicine is the neuropathologist involved with the WHS Research
Project. This MUST be arranged well in advance of your hedgehog’s crossing, as Dr. Spraker is not always
available and requires notification.
Three to four “blue” ice packs or one ice blanket. These are available at grocery stores, drug stores, camping
stores, gas stations, etc. Store them in your freezer as soon as you get them.
Paper towels. Alternatively, you may wish to use a favorite blanket, bag, cloth towel, etc.
A large "ziplock" plastic bag.
A large insulated lunch bag or small styrofoam cooler. It must be large enough to hold your hedgehog, the
ice packs, and some padding.
A cardboard shipping box large enough to contain the lunch bag or cooler.
Quick access to a Post Office (preferably), FedEx, or UPS office with guaranteed overnight delivery.
Contact information for Dr. Spraker, which we will provide for you.
If you have arranged for your hedgehog to be necropsied by Dr. Spraker, as soon as your hedgehog dies or is
euthanized you must let him know that your hedgehog will be arriving the following day. If you cannot ship him or
her out until morning, remember:
If your hedgehog should die at home, do NOT put the body in the freezer! Ice crystals will form inside the cells
and interfere with the histopathology results. Wrap the body in paper towels, place in a loosely closed
plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator until you can take the body to your veterinarian or pack it
for immediate shipping.
Wrap your hedgehog loosely in paper towels, to absorb any fluids, and tuck him or her into the blanket, bag or
towel if desired. Then place in the plastic bag. Place two ice packs on the bottom of the lunch bag or cooler
and place your wrapped hedgehog on top of the ice packs. Your hedgehog should not be resting directly
on the ice packs. Place the remaining ice packs on top and fill any empty areas with additional
paper towels to prevent shifting. Seal the lunch bag or cooler, place in the shipping box, and ship as soon as
possible. Simply write “Medical Research” for contents. Be sure to request tracking or delivery confirmation.
Also be sure that YOUR contact information is provided, to ensure that you receive the results.
We know how painfully difficult dealing with this disease is, and how much more difficult it may be to consider a
necropsy on your beloved friend. However, the only way we know of to “treat” this disease is to stop
creating it. And the only way to do that is to know which hedgehogs have it or carry it, so we can stop breeding
more of it. Your contribution to this effort is greatly appreciated and very generous!
As heartbreaking as this disease is, and as difficult as it was to say good-bye to my Tommy when he lost his
battle with WHS in Oct. 1999, I'd have to say that I do not regret one second of the time and effort it
took to care for him. WHS hedgehogs are very special indeed, ironically it is this same disease that
takes them from us, that ultimately gives us the gift of a bond so incredible that might otherwise not have
been. WHS hedgehogs are, in my experiences with them, exceptionally sweet and loving. They truly seem to know
your trying to help them and show their love and appreciation ten-fold in the love they give back. WHS
does not have to be an instant death sentence, nor should it be a long and painful process. I honestly
believe my Tommy was in no physical pain until the very end, where it became clear to me that the
most loving gift I could give my sweet boy, was an easy transition across that Rainbow Bridge. Of course
that is a moral choice we all must make on our own. The important thing to realize is there is
support available for you as caretakers, from other pet owners who have traveled this road already.
And should you find yourself unable to properly care for your little one once their
condition has progressed
to the point where they need a lot of constant care, I am available to take your hedgehog in and
care for him or her, at no charge (I am located in Washington State) and I know others throughout the US who
are also experienced in this type of care. Even a immobile hedgehog may have months of QUALITY life
left to live.
In Loving Memory of My Beautiful Tommy, Ian, Shonda's Trooper and Charlotte Mae, Pat Storm's Katiya, Heather
and Mary's Baxter, Michael and Anita's Munchkin, Standing Bear's Melanie and Pokie, Jennifer's Norma,
Theresa's Thistle and all the others who are struggling with WHS or who have been taken from us.
WHS research continues thanks to the funding from the Munchkin Memorial Fund, administered by Z.G. Standing Bear
at the Flash and Thelma Memorial Hedgehog Rescue in Colorado. To find out more about donations and
tax-free contributions to this worthy fund, please contact Standing Bear at:
Information table at our Northwest Hedgehog Show.
Copyright 2000 Laura Mowrey. All rights reserved.
To email me:
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