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Old 07-03-2011, 06:39 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

My hedgehog Shakespeare was diagnosed with oral cancer half a week ago. I was absolutely crushed and heartbroken. My vet said that the cancer had severely loosened 3 teeth on that side of the mouth, so she had to pull those teeth. So far the tumor isn't extremely huge. It looks fairly big when you look at the inside of the mouth, but when you look at his cheek, you can barely tell that it looks a bit swollen. In fact, my husband couldn't even tell what part looked swollen until I pointed it out to him.

The vet gave me some amoxicillin to give him twice a day to fight any infection he might develop from the pulled teeth or the cancer. She also gave me some pain medicine to give him daily. Because of the cancer, he has lost a lot of weight. He is a 4.25 year old, but he now weighs only 11 grams more than he did when I got him at 3 months old. This is very concerning to me. The vet told me that I should give him Boost nutrition drink (1/12 of an 8 oz bottle a day) as well as chicken flavored baby food. She also said that I could continue giving him kibble as long as I grind/moisten it up. I am supposed to crush up his mealworms so that he can eat them (I feed him the freeze-dried kind).

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get Shakespeare to eat very much since we got home from the vet. The only thing I can get him to willingly eat is the Boost. I have been syringe feeding him the baby food as much as he will allow, but I am still not able to get him to eat very much before he starts putting up a good fight. Should I be really worried that he isn't willingly eating much, or do you think it's just because his teeth and mouth are still tender? It has been 4 days since the vet visit. Shakespeare has been drinking, but he hasn't been drinking nearly as much as he used to. I would say he is drinking half of what he normally does. Should I be concerned about this as well?

I know that oral cancer can progress extremely fast in hedgehogs, so I've been keeping a good eye on the tumor. It doesn't seem to have grown much, if any, in the half week since we saw the vet. When I get Shakespeare out for snuggle/play time, he acts like his spunky self. However, I have noticed one thing which is concerning me. He hadn't had a single accident outside of his cage since he was a baby, but the past half week he has been having a lot of accidents. He has both pottied and done his *ahem* other business outside of the cage multiple times now. Could this be linked to the cancer, or do you think he is just getting incontinent with old age? He hadn't had a single accident until a day after we brought him home from the vet. I also noticed that he has been having really soft, green, slimey stools. I am assuming this is a side effect of his dietary change, but could it be indicative of something else by any chance?

Basically, I want to make sure that I take the best care of him that I can and ensure that he has a good quality of life for the rest of the time he has with us. If anyone has any experience with oral cancer and has some advice for me, I would be extremely grateful.

For those of you who have had experience with oral cancer in your hedgies, how did you know when it was time to take them to the vet to be humanely euthanized? I have been struggling with this ever since the diagnosis. I don't want to have him euthanized prematurely, but I certainly don't want him to be suffering either. I just don't know how I'm supposed to tell. I love my little Shakespeare so much, and I want to ensure that I'm doing the best thing for him.
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Old 07-03-2011, 07:11 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

Poor Shakespeare. My experience with oral tumours, which unfortunately has been considerable, rarely have they lost their appetite providing the food they have is easy to eat. Do you leave him the boost and baby food in his cage near his bed and does he eat any on his own. Some of them are very resistant to being syringe fed and I've had a couple over the years that would rather starve than be syringed.

I assume the pain meds is Metacam, and if so loss of appetite is one of the side effects of metacam so that could be the reason.

Is this tumour lower or upper? If upper, combined with the loss of appetite and the different potty habits, it is possible the tumour is more extensive than it appears. The change in potty habits may also be because of the medication.

It is really difficult to know when it's time to let go. They can have a massive oral tumour and still be acting normal and still eating well and wheeling. Our first oral tumour was old Pagen and his tumour seemed to appear from one day to the next. It was 2 days before we could get a vet appointment and I swear the thing tripled in size in that time. Pagen still acted like Pagen and was bright eyed and seemed happy and not in pain. My daughter and I wanted to hold off on euthanasia but my vet said that with the speed it was growing, at any time it could reach an area where things would not be good and what if this happened after hours or on a weekend when no vet was available. We decided to let him go and most of the oral tumours since then, we have said goodbye the day of the initial visit. Upper tumours in particular can go bad very quickly because they can invade their eye, sinus and brain. Sometimes the tumour is in the head and spreads down into the mouth.

It is really hard to let them go when they still seem so bright eyed and normal acting. There is a saying, "better a day to early, than an minute to late." I think of this saying every time we help someone cross.

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Old 07-03-2011, 07:32 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

I leave the Boost as well as the baby food in his food dish next to his bed at night. When I check in the morning, the Boost has been eaten, but none of the baby food has. I clean his bowl and put fresh food in for the daytime just in case he'll eat then, but even when he was healthy he was never a daytime eater so I'm not surprised that he hasn't touched what I leave out during the day. I feel so bad having to syringe feed him because it really stresses him out, but he has gotten so sickly thin already that he can't really afford to lose any more weight.

The pain medication is Metacam.

Unfortunately, the tumor is upper. I worry a lot about the possibility of it invading his eye, sinus, or brain. I was worried that the loss of appetite and different potty habits might be a sign that it has spread elsewhere. I will call my vet as soon as possible to discuss these new symptoms. Unfortunately they're not open on Sundays or tomorrow since it's the 4th of July so I'll have to wait till Tuesday morning.

Do you know if there are any symptoms/signs that the tumor has invaded the sinus? Can it cause sneezing? I've been keeping Shakespeare's room warm and have plenty of fleeces for him to snuggle into, but he has been sneezing a lot the past couple of days. He doesn't have a runny nose, fortunately. Since he is on amoxicillin, I wouldn't think the sneezing would be because he has since developed a URI. Of course, I will discuss this with my vet as well, but I wanted to get some input in the meantime.

Nancy, I'm so sorry to hear about Pagen and the other hedgies you've had to say goodbye to along the way. I'm already so heartbroken at this point that I can't imagine how hard it will be when I have to say my goodbyes.
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Old 07-05-2011, 12:11 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

Sorry, I missed your reply.

If the tumour has gone into his sinuses or is invading too far upwards, it could cause sneezing, runny nose, difficulty eating, noisey breathing, snoring, watery eyes, open mouth breathing etc.

Perhaps he has difficulty eating anything but the liquid which if the tumour is in his sinuses it would make sense.

Poor little guy. These %&#* oral tumours take way to many of our little quilled sweethearts. Once the tumour starts, we don't usually get much more time with them.

Hugs to you both
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Old 07-06-2011, 06:41 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

I'm afraid I don't have anything helpful to ad, Nancy has given you fantastic advice, but I just wanted to say sorry to hear about your poor little Shakespeare. It looks like you're doing a fantastic job keeping him comfy for the remainder of his time with you. (hugs)



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Old 07-09-2011, 12:49 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

Thanks, Nancy and LizardGirl.

I wanted to give everyone a quick update on Shakespeare.

I have been checking in regularly with my vet to keep her updated on his condition. She is of the opinion that the sneezing is due to the tumor having spread into his sinus. Shakespeare has also developed a lack of balance. He falls over a lot. I've discussed this with my vet as well, and she is of the opinion that this, too, is due to the tumor spreading. I've also noticed that the tumor has gotten slightly more noticeable when I look at his cheek. I used to have to look really hard to notice it just by looking at the outside of his cheek, but there is definitely a bump there that anyone could notice now.

On the plus side, Shakespeare has eaten all of the boost and baby food I've left out for him the past few days, and he hasn't had any accidents the past few days either. I'm hoping that he keeps his appetite up, as I hate putting him through stressful syringe feedings.

Due to the new symptoms, my vet has had me inrease the dosage of the metacam. She says that, although we cannot predict how fast this will progress, as of now she thinks that Shakespeare is doing well considering his condition, and she doesn't think that I need to consider euthanasia just yet. If he starts showing more signs of pain or signs that the tumor is growing fast, then she wants me to bring him in again to discuss our options. In the meantime, she told me to just keep doing what I'm doing.
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Old 07-09-2011, 01:32 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

Glad to hear he's hanging on for now, and it sounds like you're in good hands with your vet for when the time comes. Sending more little hedgie hugs to you and Shakespeare!



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Old 07-09-2011, 03:50 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

I'm so sorry that you & Shakespeare are having to go through this. I hope that he can have as many days as possible with you. It's obvious that you love him so much. Hugs to you both.



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Old 07-09-2011, 07:51 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

aww i've just seen this. I lost my first hedgehog Momo to an oral cancer it was devestating so i now how you must be feeling. I took the decision to let her go when she stopped eating because my girl loved her food so i now it was time.
Good luck with your little one hugs for you both x
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Old 07-09-2011, 03:52 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Default Re: Hedgehog Diagnosed with Oral Cancer - Questions

My husband and I checked on Shakespeare this morning; When my husband first picked Shakespeare up to give him his medicine, Shakespeare looked stiff and unmoving, almost like he was paralyzed. This lasted for about 10 seconds before Shakespeare was able to move. His head was stuck to the side, and his mouth was open a little. His front feet were stuck rigidly out in midair. We can't be sure, but it almost looked like he wasn't breathing while he wasn't able to move.

Once he was able to move and he started breathing "regularly" again, we noticed his nose made a high pitched whistling noise every time he breathed, which stopped after about 30-40 seconds. We then set him down to see how well he was able to walk, etc. He was able to walk, but it definitely wasn't a normal gait. The movement of his legs, particularly his back legs, seemed very unnatural. As he walked, he was lurching. He was also shaking a lot. Unlike the other symptoms we noticed, the shaking and lurching gait did not stop.

My husband and I are extremely shaken up over all of this, and we are concerned that these symptoms might be indications that the tumor has grown into his brain and sinus cavity. We have put Shakespeare back into his cage for the meantime so that he can stay cozy and warm, but we are constantly checking on him and will be keeping a very close eye on him.

We are going back and forth about whether or not Shakespeare still has quality of life, and we are wondering when is the right time to let him go. Should we be considering euthanasia at this point? My vet is closed on Saturdays, but they do have an after hours emergency number, and I know my exotics vet would be willing to come in to help with Shakespeare.

Does anyone have any advice?
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