Hedgehog Diabetes

This information is not meant to be a substitute for veterinary care. Always follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian.

Although hedgehogs are not the same as humans, diabetes occuring in animal species is quite similar although treatments might sometimes be a little different. The past few years, diabetes in captive hedgehogs has been increasing and it’s important to know the sign and the treatment options in hedgehogs. Still, there is no research in this particular area done in hedgehogs, despite the increasing number of hedgehogs with diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is when the body can’t balance the bloodsugar levels due to a low amount of insulin. Often the body doesn’t properly react to insulin or doesn’t produce the hormone. There are different types of diabetes, of which diabetes type 1 and 2 are the most common worldwide. This counts for animals as well as humans.

Type 1 diabetes is more rare, but also more severe. It usually developes in children and teenagers, but can also develope as an adult. In this type, the body attacks the insulin-producing cells and the cells are damaged and destroyed as a result. Eventually, a person or an animal with diabetes type 1 can’t product their own insulin and needs daily treatment in order to prevent major health issues like damaged organs, coma and early death.

Type 2 diabetes is much more common. It usually developes in adults and humans and animals with this type can produce insulin, but it often isn’t enough or the cells are insulin-resistent. The type also is found mainly in overweight humans and animals.

Symptoms

The symptoms between type 1 and type 2 diabetes are very smilar, although type 2 developes slower and symptoms are easy to overlook because they are less noticable. Symptoms are including, but not limited to:

  • Thirst increase
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Rapid weightloss
  • Increasing appetite
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Easily irritated
  • Blurred vision
  • Abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Feeling itchy


If you experience these symptoms in your hedgehog, you can do a simple testing on the glucose level in your hedgehogs urine. This is a simple, non-invasive test that might help determine if your hedgehog might have diabetes.

Glocuse levels

Animals that have diabetes will have a higher glucose level than ones who don’t, due to insulin balancing and decreasing the bloodsugarlevels by turning glucose into usable energy for the body. In healthy hedgehogs, a glucose test will show a glucose level between 0-100 mg/dL. Everything higher than that result could very well be diabetes and would need to be checked by a vet to determine the diagnosis and help with establishing a treatment plan.

Table of tested hedgehogs

WeightAgeGlocuseDiagnosis
356 grams1,5 years0-20 mg/dLHealthy
562 grams3 years150-170 mg/dLDiabetes type 2, stable with holistic insulin
478 grams6 months110-130 mg/dLDiabetes type 2, reversed with holistic insulin & raw diet.
435 grams1 year50 mg/dLHealthy
376 grams2 years100 mg/dLHealthy
365 grams6 months100 mg/dLWorrysome outcome, switched to raw diet and stabilised.

Treatment

Depending on the type of diabetes, the treatment your vet recommends might vary as well. For type 1, a daily regime of testing and medication would apply. As where type 2 would focus on losing weight and changing the lifestyle.

(Holistic) insulin

With using insulin as a treatment option, as an owner of the animal, you need to inject insuline once or twice a day. When starting out with treatment you might need to do this more often to determine which insulin type to use, how much insuline to give, how often to give insulin, and the best feeding times for the animal. The vet will teach you how to draw insulin into a needle and how to inject it, if this treatment option it chosen.

Dietary changes

If your animal has diabetes type 2 and is overweight, the treatment might focus on dietary changes and excersize. In this case, cahnging to a raw diet might help you a lot. By using non-processed food with very limited amounts of sugar, you can eliminate excess sugar intake and that helps a lot in losing weight. Cat food contains a lot of excess sugar as well as other nutrients that are added but not really neccesary. It’s not made for hedgehogs and a lot of them do struggle to stay healthy due to this. Hedgehog food is also not good for feeding pet hedgehogs as there’s often a lot of sugar in them as well as undigestable plant material or foods that are toxic to hedgehogs. Some times food for diabetic cats or dogs might help as well as weight controlling foods. A high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet might also be useful to treat diabetes type 2. It’s best to discuss this with your vet, to determine what is the right path for your hedgehog.

Prognosis

A hedgehog with type 1 diabetes will be diabetic for the rest of its life and will be in need of daily treatment in order to have a somewhat normal life. However, type 2 diabetic hedgehogs have a very good prognosis if the hedgehog loses weight and maintains a healthy lifestyle afterwards. Some severe cases of type 2 might never become stable however, which points out the importance of regular testing, being able to catch it in time and start treatment rightaway to prevent triggering permanent diabetes.

Stories of hedgehogs with diabetes

There aren’t a lot of known stories about hedgehogs with diabetes, but there is one that is very well known from Shonda Statini and her hedgehog Tatter that has gone from being a pretty severe case of daibetes type 2 to a stable, happy and healthy hedgehog.

References

1] Diabetes Research Institute. What is diabetes? Viewed on november 25, 2019. URL|https://www.diabetesresearch.org/what-is-diabetes

2] Diabetes Digital Media Ltd. Blood Sugar Level Ranges. Viewed on november 25, 2019. URL|https://www.diabetes.co.uk/diabetes_care/blood-sugar-level-ranges.html

3] Washington State University. Diabetes mellitus. Viewed on november 25, 2019. URL|https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/diseases/diabetes-mellitus

4] American Veterinary Medical Association. Diabetes in pets. Viewed on november 25, 2019. URL|https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Diabetes-in-Pets.aspx

5] Niaz K, Maqbool F, Khan F, Hassan FI, Momtaz S, Abdollahi M. Comparative occurrence of diabetes in canine, feline, and few wild animals and their association with pancreatic diseases and ketoacidosis with therapeutic approach. Vet World. 2018;11(4):410–422. doi:10.14202/vetworld.2018.410-422

6] Net Vet. Diabetes in Guinea Pigs. Viewed on november 25, 2019. URL|http://www.netvet.co.uk/guinea%20pigs/diabetes.htm

7] Podell BK, Ackart DF, Richardson MA, DiLisio JE, Pulford B, Basaraba RJ. A model of type 2 diabetes in the guinea pig using sequential diet-induced glucose intolerance and streptozotocin treatment. Dis Model Mech. 2017;10(2):151–162. doi:10.1242/dmm.025593

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