There are two commonly seen hedgehog species: the African and the European hedgehog. Pet hedgehogs are the African species and are commonly called African pygmy hedgehogs. In 1991, it became illegal to import hedgehogs from Africa due to fear of importing a cattle disease (foot and mouth disease) into the United States. Since then, pet hedgehogs have been bred in captivity. In the wild, hedgehogs hunt for food at night and eat mostly insects, worms, centipedes and snails. As hedgehogs forage, they often make a piglike grunt, which is why they are called hedgehogs.
African pygmy hedgehogs are small, have a spiny coat similar to a porcupine and make a good pet. In the spring of 2011, one of my clients brought her 3-year-old, female hedgehog in for an exam. The owner had noticed blood in the hedgehog’s urine. When handled, hedgehogs typically curl up into a tight ball, and their several thousand spines cover their entire body. This makes it hard to examine a hedgehog while they are awake. With a little gas anesthesia, a hedgehog usually uncurls.
The abdomen and bladder area felt normal in this hedgehog, so it was hoped that it was simply a bladder infection causing the bloody urine. The hedgehog was started on an antibiotic. The urine cleared up, and she appeared to be back to normal. Unfortunately the owner noticed blood in her urine again this winter. The hedgehog was started back on an antibiotic, and her urine did improve some. Yet she was getting thinner, was not eating as much as normal and was becoming lethargic.
Cancer is very common in hedgehogs more than 3 years of age. Cancer of the mammary glands (mammary adenocarcinoma), oral cavity (squamous cell carcinoma) and lymphoma are especially common. Cancer of the reproductive tract is also common in intact female hedgehogs and was suspected in this case. The owner made the tough decision to put her down and have a necropsy (animal autopsy) done. In the hedgehog’s uterus a very large malignant tumor was found (uterine adenocarcinoma).