Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

Hedgehog rolling in grass.

Getty Images / praisaeng

Hedgehogs are unique animals and caring for one as a pet includes being familiar with not only their common behaviors but also illnesses that can affect them. Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is one unique illness that can be seen in pet hedgehogs. Hedgehog owners can benefit from knowing what symptoms this disease causes and understanding what it means for their hedgehog long-term.

What Is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome?

Also known as demyelinating paralysis, wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS) is a progressive disease that affects about one out of ten hedgehogs. It unfortunately leads to eventual paralysis and death due to the effects it has on the brain. It is classified as a neurological disease and affects the cerebrum, cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal cord of a hedgehog.

Symptoms of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

  • Falling over
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty walking
  • Wobbling when standing still
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Head tilt
  • Circling
  • Weight loss
  • Self-mutilation
  • Aggression
  • Urine retention
  • Intestinal stasis
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Spinal curvature
  • Death

Wobbly hedgehog syndrome is named for the wobble that hedgehogs often display with this disease. When they are standing still, the muscle weakness and changes in the brain and spinal cord cause this classic symptom, but there are other signs you may also notice in your pet. Seizures, head tilt, circling, self-mutilation, weight loss due to a decrease in appetite, muscle loss, difficulty walking, falling over when standing or walking, and eventually paralysis is also seen in hedgehogs as WHS progresses. In some cases, aggression, difficulty swallowing food and water, a lack of stool and urine passing, and a curve in the spine have also been noted. Death is tragically the end result of this awful disease.

Causes of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

Unfortunately, no one really knows what causes wobbly hedgehog syndrome, but there are some speculations. A genetic component is the strongest assumption for the cause of this disease but diet has also been discussed as playing a role in the disease process. One study consisting of twelve African pygmy hedgehogs with wobbly hedgehog syndrome found that they all had changes in the white matter of their brains and classified the disease as a myelinopathy with central nervous system involvement. This study noted that genetics were the most likely cause of WHS, but more research is needed to confirm this suspicion. Kidney disease, liver disease, and obesity have also been discussed as possible contributing causes of WHS since many hedgehogs with WHS also have one or more of these other diseases, but this has yet to be proven.

Diagnosing Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

Most hedgehogs with wobbly hedgehog syndrome are diagnosed based on their symptoms while they are alive. Blood tests to look at the kidney, liver, and bladder health along with X-rays are commonly performed to see if other diseases are also present, but there is no test for WHS. Hedgehogs diagnosed with WHS typically live less than two years after the first signs of the disease are noted and are usually less than two years of age when the symptoms begin.

Once a hedgehog passes away, a necropsy can be performed to know for sure whether it had WHS. A biopsy of the brain tissue can be analyzed and special stains can be used to look for the lesions that wobbly hedgehog syndrome causes. This testing may not be something you want to think about with your hedgehog but it is unfortunately the only way to get a definitive diagnosis of the disease.

Treatment

Wobbly hedgehog syndrome has no effective treatment options so supportive care is all that can be offered to a hedgehog with this awful disease. Ensuring the hedgehog can access its food and water and stays clean is of utmost importance. Once a hedgehog's quality of life has decreased enough, euthanasia will be recommended. As more is learned about this disease, the hope is that a treatment option will also be discovered.

How to Prevent Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome

If a hedgehog is showing signs of WHS, it should not be bred. Since the most likely cause of this fatal disease is genetics, ensuring a hedgehog with WHS does not pass on these genes is the best way to prevent the disease from occurring in its offspring.

Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Oliveira LB de, Moreira MVL, Santos WH de M, et al. Wobbly syndrome in an Africa pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris): neuropathological and immunohistochemical studies. Cienc Rural. 2019;49(1):e20180742.

  3. Díaz-Delgado J, Whitley DB, Storts RW, Heatley JJ, Hoppes S, Porter BF. The Pathology of Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome. Veterinary Pathology. 2018;55(5):711-718. doi:10.1177/0300985818768033

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