A hedgehog may develop certain environmental allergies, including sensitivities to chemicals or even food allergies. Shown at left is Knarla Pog, a hedgehog with possible food allergies.
Symptoms of food allergies include:
- Red, puffy, flaky, and/or scabby patches on the face and/or feet
- Excessive itching
- Patches appear and disappear frequently
Your vet can tell you if the symptoms are consistent with food allergies. Diagnosis is done by feeding the hedgehog a veterinary exclusion diet, which either contains hypoallergenic foodstuffs or an entirely novel protein and carbohydrate source. Knarla's vet prescribed EXclude veterinary diet for dogs, which comes in powder form and is made from pinto beans and oat groats, but other exclusion diets are available.
The exclusion diet is fed exclusively for a period of time determined by the vet until symptoms improve or go away completely. Then a new food or treat item is reintroduced every 2-3 weeks until the symptoms recur. At this time, the suspected allergen is removed from the diet, and if the pet's condition again improves, another food or treat item is introduced. Gradually, all food and treats but the suspect(s) are returned to the hedgehog's diet, and a food allergy is confirmed.
Knarla began having red, puffy spots on her face and near her ears around the first of November. These became more persistent and inflamed-looking, so our vet aspirated one of them to determine the contents. The spots contained nearly all eosinophils (a form of white blood cell) full of histamine, consistent with an allergic reaction.
Knarla's condition has improved considerably since starting on the EXclude diet. Her scabs, which were really not caused by the allergies but rather by her scratching the red, puffy spots, have healed, and no new puffy places have appeared. Once these entirely healed, we began the process of reintroducing her normal food and treats, which will gradually continue until we identify the culprit, which will be permanently removed from her diet.
What is the prognosis for hedgehogs with food allergies? Excellent. While the initial cost of the veterinary exclusion diet is somewhat steep (I paid $49 for a 6 pound bag of EXclude), no invasive techniques are necessary, and once the allergen can be identified, eliminating it from the diet should be fairly straightforward. The EXclude comes in a powder form and will keep for several months, and 6 pounds is a large amount for a hedgehog.
A note about feeding EXclude to your pet: it comes in a powder form and the directions are to mix it with water until it is roughly oatmeal consistency. Knarla refused to eat this, so at my vet's suggestion, I crumbled the wet mixture on a cookie sheet and baked it for 14-15 minutes at 350 degrees. She has readily eaten this baked food, which I prepare about every 7-10 days and keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Additionally, I recommend adding acidophilus (the active culture in yogurt) to your hedgehog's diet to help with digestion. Since allergies are in play, Allerdophilus brand acidophilus, which is suitable for humans with food allergies, is a good option. Sprinkle 1/3 - 1/2 of the powder-filled capsule over the kibble daily. Allerdophilus is available in many health food, organic grocery stores, and drug stores.