Vet care can be expensive and many hedgehog owners I have talked to are reluctant to take their hedgie to the vet for fear of running up high bills when there really isn't a problem. The list below is by no means exhaustive, but includes some common situations where people often have to decide whether or not to take the hedgie to the vet. The rule of thumb I use is: when in doubt, go! Hedgehogs often don't show signs of illness until they are quite sick, so fast action can often make quite a difference. Here are some situations people frequently ask me about, and the decision process I go through:
1. My hedgie is acting funny. Behavioral changes are often an important clue. If an ordinarily friendly hedgie suddenly becomes a grouch, or a hedgie who is ordinarily quite huffy suddenly becomes passive, this is a sign to me that perhaps something major is going on. I schedule a vet appointment within 24 hours.
2. My hedgie collapsed and is limp: This, obviously, is never a good sign. Get the hedgie to the vet as soon as possible. Make sure to keep him or her comfortable and sufficiently warm, but not overheated.
3. My hedgie hasn't eaten for 24 hours: This isn't necessarily a problem. Sometimes hedgies go on a hunger strike for as much as a day to three, then resume their business normally. If it persists longer than that or if there is notable weight loss, then you will want to schedule a vet visit right away. Also, if the hedgie has not consumer water for 24 hours, you should schedule a vet visit, as water is quite critical.
4. My hedgie has ingested household cleaner or other potentially toxic items: Get to the vet right away. Some substances that are potentially toxic can be counteracted if treated right away, but are fatal if you wait. Better safe than sorry.
5. My hedgie is having seizures: Get to the vet right away. You may want to have the vet check the blood glucose level to rule in our out diabetes.
6. My hedgie is unresponsive and cool to the touch: The first thing I do is try to warm up the hedgie, either by placing it under my shirt or placing it on a heating pad set on low, with a blanket between it and the hedgie. The hedgie may be trying to hibernate. If this doesn't help within an hour, get to the vet right away.
7. My hedgie is walking stiffly: This could be due to a wide variety of things- arthritis, injury, Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, etc... It's good to get a vet's opinion right away so you know how to treat it.
8. My hedgehog has dry, flaky skin and/or is losing a lot of quills: Most likely, your hedgie has mites or perhaps a fungal infection. A vet can easily diagnose and treat this, and it's usually quite inexpensive. Home remedies are not uniformly effective and can wind up being more expensive, so seeing a vet right away is a much better strategy.
9. My hedgie has ruffled ears: Try putting a little lotion on the ears at least once a day for several days. If it doesn't clear up, you may want to have a vet check to rule out fungal infection rather than just dryness.
10. My hedgie appears to have a broken limb: Take the hedgie to the vet right away. An unset limb may heal incorrectly, causing discomfort later.
11. My hedgie has a runny nose and/or discharge from the eyes: Your hedgie may have an upper respiratory infection. These are quite easily treated by a vet, but may prove fatal if untreated.
12. My hedgie has an ingrown quill that looks infected: If it's gotten infected, it may need to be lanced and cleaned by a vet, and antibiotics may or may not be indicated. Better to get a vet's opinion.
13. My hedgie has an unusual lump or bump: Hedgies are prone to cancer. We have also had some who developed cysts. The sooner a vet can diagnose and treat, the better off your hedgehog will be.
14. My hedgie has green poop: If it is sticky in consistency, get to the vet right away. This can often be a sign of serious internal problems. If it's loose, think about what the hedgie has eaten in the last 24 hours. If they've had some new food, it may just be mild gastrointestinal distress. But if it persists for more than a day or two, then you will definitely want to have a vet check a stool sample. Green stool is a general symptom of a very wide variety of things, some quite benign and some very serious.