4 Things Hedgehog Owners Need To Know About Dilated Cardiomyopathy

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body. The disease weakens the walls of the heart's chambers. People can develop this disease, but surprisingly, so can hedgehogs. Here are four things hedgehog owners need to know about dilated cardiomyopathy.

What are the signs of dilated cardiomyopathy?

Dyspnea (difficulty breathing) is a sign of dilated cardiomyopathy. If your hedgehog is breathing loudly, making rasping or wheezing noises, or breathing with their mouth open, they are having trouble breathing.

Dilated cardiomyopathy can also lead to ascites. Ascites refers to a buildup of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, which manifests as swelling of the abdomen.

Weight loss is another sign of this disease. It's hard to identify changes in your pet's weight with your eyes alone, so make sure to weigh them regularly. Weighing your pet on a daily or weekly schedule will allow you to identify downward trends in their weight.

Hedgehogs can develop dilated cardiomyopathy when they're as young as one year old, so don't ignore these symptoms just because your hedgehog is young. If you notice any of these signs, take your hedgehog to a vet for an examination.

Why does it occur?

Veterinarians don't know why hedgehogs get dilated cardiomyopathy, though they are susceptible to the disease. One post-mortem study of hedgehogs reported that 38% of the animals had cardiomyopathies. There haven't been many other studies or case reports published about this disease in hedgehogs, according to Current Therapy in Exotic Pet Practice, so it's still poorly understood.

How serious is it?

Dilated cardiomyopathy can lead to congestive heart failure. When the walls of the heart become weakened, fluids can build up around the heart, including within the lungs; this condition is known as pulmonary oedema. These fluids make it even harder for the heart to pump blood. Congestive heart failure is a life-threatening condition, so seek treatment for your hedgehog as soon as possible. 

How do vets treat dilated cardiomyopathy?

Treatment for this condition is still in its infancy due to the poorly-understood nature of dilated cardiomyopathy. According to NIH, one hedgehog was successfully treated with a combination of furosemide, enalapril, and pimobendan. The first two drugs are human heart drugs while the latter is meant for use in dogs. Your veterinarian may repeat this treatment or attempt to use other drugs off-label.

If your hedgehog is losing weight and having trouble breathing, they may have a heart condition like dilated cardiomyopathy and need to see a vet from a place like Oakton Animal Hospital right away.