Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome
Wobbly hedgehog syndrome, also referred to as WHS, is a neurological disease that creates a progressive paralaysis in about 10% of all pet African Pygmy Hedgehogs and European Hedgehogs. It is normally seen in hogs under two years of age but can affect older hedgehogs as well.
What Symptoms Do Hedgehogs with Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome Exhibit?
At first a hedgehog with Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome will show some mild ataxia. This means he will just appear wobbly, possibly appearing to trip over his own feet, stumble, or fall to one side while walking. This ataxia progresses to complete paralysis, usually over the course of about 15 months, but the severity and progression rate can vary from hedgehog to hedgehog. Some people note incredibly quick progression within only a few days. Weight loss will occur due to the muscles decreasing in size from the disease and if your hedgehog is unable to eat due to being so wobbly. The name for the disease comes from the wobble that owners note when their hedgehog is trying to hold still.
How is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome Diagnosed?
Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is usually diagnosed by observing symptoms and ruling out other possible causes for ataxia. There is no test you can have done on your hedgehog to diagnose WHS since the changes the disease makes to the central nervous system can only be visualized in the brain. The changes are called multifocal leukoencephalopathy and can be seen microscopically. A part of the brain called the white matter becomes vacuolized (water filled compartments or "bubbles") and affects the spinal cord and causes muscles to atrophy (shrink). Instead of testing your hedgehog your exotics vet (find one near you) will probably rule out other causes of ataxia including ear mites, inner ear infections, orthopedic conditions, and causes of pain inhibiting normal ambulation.
What Causes Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?
The definitive cause (etiology) of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome is unknown but research has shown that if there is a hedgehog family member who had WHS then your hedgehog is more likely to get it. This makes one think that it could be a genetically inherited disease or it could be infectious, passed down to offspring from the mother, and progress slowly so that we are unaware of symptoms until the ataxia is noted. Regardless of what your breeder, pet store, or friend tells you, the definitive cause of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome has not been found as of the date of this article.
How Is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome Treated?
There is no successful treatment protocol for Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. Some exotics vets will treat symptomatically prescribing steroids but there is unfortunately no treatment that has been seen to delay the effects of this terrible disease.
How Can I Prevent My Hedgehog From Getting Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?
Unfortunately there isn't much of anything you can do to prevent your hedgehog from getting this debilitating disease. At this point the only thing you can do is to choose a hedgehog from a family line that has no history of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. This will hopefully lessen the likelihood that your hedgehog will come down with symptoms but there is no guarantee. No one know if the disease is due to diet, a bacterial or fungal infection, a virus, or something else. Hopefully research will continue and one day soon we will find out a cause and treatment for Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.