Heart disease, particularly cardiomyopathy, is common in African pygmy hedgehogs. It is often undetected simply because it is not diagnosed until it’s too late.
While there are different types of cardiomyopathy, the most common form in hedgehogs is dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle stretches and becomes weak, lowering the ability of the heart to pump blood. This can lead to congestive heart failure.
Here are some symptoms to help you identify heart problems in your pet.
Just as with cats, hedgehogs require L-carnitine in their diet to maintain a healthy heart. Symptoms of dilated cardiomyopathy may be difficult to detect without an echocardiogram, but include shortness of breath, collapse, increased respiratory rate, cyanotic (blue) gums. The lungs can fill with fluid making breathing difficult. Some hedgehogs will just suddenly collapse without showing any previous symptoms.
Diagnosis is made using echocardiogram, x-rays, checking the heart with a stethoscope and other tests.
Treatment consists of using heart medications and including L-carnitine in the diet. The hedgehog should be monitored regularly using the same tools as for diagnosis.
Although at present little is known about prevention, make sure your hedgehog’s diet includes L-carnitine. Take your pet for regular checkups at the vet. It appears that males are more prone to dilated cardiomyopathy than females.