Cancer in Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs unfortunately are highly prone to cancer, especially as they age, with one study reporting over two-thirds of hedgehogs over the age of 3 having cancer. Cancer has been reported in many areas of the body, but is commonly found in the mouth, skin, and female reproductive system. Tumors are often malignant and can carry a poor prognosis, especially without treatment. Early identification will allow for optimal treatments to be implemented and improve long-term prognosis. We recommend yearly exams for all hedgehogs, and as they age it can be helpful to have them seen more frequently to identify any issues early on. Due to their personalities, hedgehogs may require sedation in order to facilitate a complete physical exam. This allows better evaluation of the face, mouth, and palpation of the belly, as well as allowing for blood draws or radiographs to be obtained if needed. It is important to monitor your hedgehog closely for any changes in attitude, appetite, or activity levels, as any small changes can indicate underlying problems.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a common cancer found in the mouth in hedgehogs. Symptoms include swelling of the mouth or jaw, tooth loss, decreased appetite, bleeding, and a bad smell or discharge from the mouth. These tumors can be challenging to remove fully due to their location, but other treatments can be implemented to help with discomfort and help slow growth of the tumor. Because hedgehogs are prone to dental disease, they can also have excessive growth and inflammation of the gums that look similar to tumors, so it is important to take biopsy samples of the tissue to identify what is going on. These tumors will continue to grow so careful monitoring of quality of life is imperative.
Tumors on the skin are frequently seen on the soft haired belly area, but can be seen anywhere on the body including under the quills, on the limbs, or around the face. These tumors often grow rapidly and can break open causing bleeding as well as become infected. Most tumors are easily removed from the skin when they are small in size. Unfortunately many of these tumors are aggressive and can spread to other areas of the body. If you see a bump on your hedgehog, don't wait until it gets big to get it checked! Surgical removal generally has a good outcome.
REPRODUCTIVE ORGAN TUMORS
A recent study of hedgehog diseases noted that uterine tumors were the most common lesion found. Female hedgehogs affected by reproductive cancers (in the uterus or ovaries) can show non-specific signs initially of weight loss or decreased appetite and activity. Many present with bloody discharge from the urogenital region, which often looks like blood in the urine. Prolapse of the tissue out of the vulva is a serious complication of advanced disease. Treatment requires spaying to resolve the primary issue, and some patients need other supportive care treatments prior to pursuing surgery to make sure they are good anesthetic candidates. Most of the time, spaying is curative for this disease.