Why is hibernation so deadly? - Hedgehog Central Hedgehog pet care & owner forum
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Old 01-11-2014, 08:34 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Why is hibernation so deadly?

As I understand it (not being a biologist), hibernation is generally a survival trait, allowing animals in the wild to "ride out" winters where food is unavailable. Hedgehogs obviously have that tendency still in them or they wouldn't tend to hibernate in the first place.

So why is attempted or real hibernation so very threatening to pet hedgehogs?
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Old 01-11-2014, 09:16 PM   #2 (permalink)
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The way it's been explained to me is that our little domesticated hedgehogs are cross-bred with a few species of wild hedgehogs, and hibernation has "broken" with them. The ones that are closer to their wild heritage might handle hibernation better, but the ones who are a few generations from wild have gotten all mixed up where they still have the instinct but not the ability to survive.

Like you, not a biologist, but we do have at least one current active user who does something with the biological sciences, so maybe they'll drop in with a better explanation.
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Old 01-11-2014, 11:57 PM   #3 (permalink)
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I've read that it's because the ones we keep as pets are descended from African hedgehogs, which don't hibernate- they estivate. But because they came from the same ancestor as the Euro hogs (which do hibernate), that programming is still in there, but their hardware can't run it.
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Old 01-12-2014, 05:54 AM   #4 (permalink)
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The wild ancestors of the APH do hibernate (and aestivate).

I know people who let their APH hibernate every year without trouble. I've been to a vet who was actually surprised that I didn't let mine hibernate (I came there during the winter and his were still in hibernation). The reason why it's most likely deadly to a normal pet hedgehog is because they're not prepared for it. When they hibernate, they need a lot of extra fat to survive. Unprepared hibernation can be dangerous since the hedgehog doesn't have this extra fat stored and isn't ready for hibernation. I think it should go gradually, and it's not like the hedgehog is asleep all the time - they come out to eat a little once every few weeks from what I've been told but the majority of the time they're just asleep.

I would never try it though, I would be too afraid something would go wrong but it's not like they can't hibernate anymore.
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Old 01-12-2014, 11:20 PM   #5 (permalink)
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The reason they can't hibernate safely is that they don't have the instinct to prepare their bodies for it. In the wild they would eat enough to gain enough weight to survive hibernation. But you have to remember that even in the wild a lot of hedgehogs don't survive hibernation because they don't find enough food to build up the proper reserves. It is very very dangerous and almost always fatal for our domestic hedgehogs to attempt to hibernate. Please please don't ever allow this to happen.
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Old 01-13-2014, 09:35 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nikki View Post
Please please don't ever allow this to happen.
Unfortunately, I learned that lesson the hard way. The reason for this post was more one of seeking to understand why it's do dangerous.
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Old 01-13-2014, 02:38 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Got the following reply from my boss's wife, who is a Professor of Biology over at IUPUI:

David,
I did a little reading. Entering hibernation involves hormonal changes that can deeply depress heart rate and breathing. If the conditions are not natural for hibernation this can result in too high a metabolic rate combined with too little oxygen getting to the brain. Once the heart rate is too low, the brain is damaged but the heart beats on for some time. They cannot pull out of this condition.
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Old 01-13-2014, 06:46 PM   #8 (permalink)
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dburkhead, I'm sorry if my comment sounded like it was directed to you, it wasn't. I didn't mean to imply that you had allowed this to happen. I was directing it more towards other members that read the thread.
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Old 01-13-2014, 07:07 PM   #9 (permalink)
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NP. My original post could be read as implying something like "why not just let them go ahead and hibernate" and it's a good idea to make it unequivocally clear that that is a really bad idea.
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