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AEMV Forum

Intervertebral Disc Disease in African

Hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris):
Four Cases
James T. Raymond, MS, DVM, Dip. ACVP,
Roberto Aguilar, DVM,
Freeland Dunker, DVM,
John Ochsenreiter, DVM,
Sally Nofs, DVM,
Wynona Shellabarger, DVM,
and Michael M. Garner, DVM, Dip. ACVP

Four, adult, captive, African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris) were diagnosed with inter-
vertebral disc disease. Clinical signs associated with intervertebral disc disease were
progressive hindlimb ataxia, urinary stasis, loss of proprioception, and lameness.
Radiographs on 2 of the cases revealed narrowing of the cervical intervertebral spaces
and spondylosis. Histologically, all hedgehogs had several intervertebral discs that were
degenerative and protruded dorsally into the vertebral canal, which, in some cases, caused
compressive damage to the spinal cord. The clinical signs exhibited by the animals de-
scribed in this report were similar to the signs of wobbly hedgehog syndrome. Based on this
case series, clinical evaluation for disc disease is recommended in hedgehogs with signs of
ambulatory dysfunction. Copyright 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Key words: ataxia; Atelerix albiventris; degenerative; hedgehog; intervertebral disc disease

frican hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris) are a pop- oped peripheral vestibular disease characterized by
ular exotic pet, as well as a small mammal com- ataxia that initially responded to supportive care and
monly exhibited by many zoological parks. Dis- corticosteroids for several months after presentation
eases such as neoplasia, chronic interstitial nephritis, of the problem. Radiographs revealed narrowing of
and cardiomyopathy are commonly diagnosed in cap- C2-C3 and C3-C4 intervertebral spaces and spondy-
tive, adult hedgehogs.1-3 Recently, a neurologic condi-
tion of unknown cause referred to as wobbly hedgehog
syndrome (WHS) has been noted in captive hedge- From the Northwest ZooPath, Snohomish, WA USA; the Audubon
hogs.4,5 We report herein the first cases of interverte- Zoo, The Audubon Nature Institute, New Orleans, LA USA; the San
bral disc disease (IVD) in hedgehogs, which, in some Francisco Zoo, San Francisco, CA USA; and The Toledo Zoo, Toledo,
instances, clinically resembles WHS. OH USA.
Address correspondence to: Michael M. Garner, DVM, Dip.
ACVP, Northwest ZooPath, 654 West Main, Monroe, WA 98296.
Case Reports E-mail: zoopath@aol.com.
© 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Case 1 involved a 6.5-year-old male hedgehog housed 1557-5063/09/1803-$30.00
at a Northern Californian zoological park that devel- doi:10.1053/j.jepm.2009.06.007

220 Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, Vol 18, No 3 ( July), 2009: pp 220-223
Intervertebral Disc Disease in African Hedgehogs 221

discoloration of the intervertebral discs. Affected

discs were partially prolapsed into the spinal canal,
and the adjacent spinal cord was dorsally displaced
and slightly compressed (Fig 2).
Case 4 was an approximately 6-year-old male
hedgehog from a zoological park in the Midwestern
United States that was humanely euthanized because
of infiltrative, oral squamous cell carcinoma. At nec-
ropsy, there was a segment of cervical spine that had
two small, hard, 0.5-mm ventral protrusions inter-
preted as spondylosis.
Tissues from the 4 hedgehogs were submitted to
Northwest ZooPath fixed in 10% neutral buffered
formalin. Northwest ZooPath subsequently decalci-
fied the bone, which, along with other tissue samples,
were embedded in paraffin, sectioned the tissues at 5.0
␮m, and then stained them with hematoxylin and eo-
sin. Histologically, all hedgehogs described in this re-
Figure 1. Hedgehog, case 1. Radiographic image showing focus of port had multiple intervertebral disc degeneration of
intervertebral disc disease in cervical vertebral column. Note nar-
rowing of disc spaces at C2 to C3 and C3 to C4 (arrows) and the nucleus pulposus and annulus fibrosus, fissures
spondylosis. and neovascularization in the annulus fibrosus, and
mild to moderate, dorsal extrusion of the annulus
fibrosus and nucleus pulposus into the spinal canal.
Some of the intervertebral discs were incompletely
losis between C2 and C3 (Fig 1). In April 2001, the protruded and still covered by thin layers of annulus
hedgehog had another episode of neurologic dis- fibrosus. Some of the completely protruding inter-
ease that was unresponsive to treatment and 2 vertebral discs had replacement of the mucinous
months later was humanely euthanized. At necropsy, nucleus pulposus by irregularly mineralized and
the lungs were congested and the liver was pale with fragmented cartilaginous tissue. In cases 1 to 3, the
increased firmness. The kidneys had cortical in- cervical vertebrae were primarily affected. In addi-
farcts, and the hedgehog’s adrenal glands were en- tion, case 4 had similar degenerative disc lesions in
larged. the lumbar vertebral column (Fig 3). Three hedge-
Case 2 was a 4-year-old female hedgehog from the hogs had ventral bridging osteophytes (spondylosis)
same Northern Californian zoological park that de- between cervical vertebrae with degenerate interver-
veloped lameness in the left front limb. Radiographs tebral discs. In all cases, there was mild to moderate
revealed spondylosis between C2 and C3 and C4 and multifocal compression of the spinal cord by the
C5 and narrowing of C4-C5 intervertebral space with dorsally protruding disc material. The compressed
increased radiodensity (mineralization) of the inter-
vertebral disc. For humane reasons, the hedgehog
was euthanized. At necropsy, the hedgehog was in
good body condition, had slightly enlarged kidneys,
pinpoint consolidation of the left caudal lung, and a
3-cm mass infiltrating the dorsocervical and ret-
roscapular soft tissues.
Case 3 was a male, approximately 4-year-old hedge-
hog from a zoological park in the southeastern United
States that had a prolonged history of urinary blad-
der atony with urinary stasis and progressive bilateral
hindlimb ataxia with loss of proprioception. Eutha-
nasia was performed for humane and diagnostic pur-
poses. At necropsy, there was severe distention of the
urinary bladder and a 1-cm area of dark discolora-
Figure 2. Hedgehog, case 3. Note thickening and calcification of
tion on the spleen. Longitudinal sections of the intervertebral discs in the lumbar spinal column (arrows), with partial
lumbar spine revealed expansion of adjacent inter- disc proptosis and associated compression of the spinal cord
vertebral joints associated with thickening and white (arrowhead).
222 Raymond et al

ited by these hedgehogs with IVD were directly re-

lated to the compressive damage to the spinal cord
and spinal nerve roots by the herniated disc mate-
Although myelography is the diagnostic tech-
nique of choice for IVD, standard radiographs of the
vertebral column helped make a clinical diagnosis of
IVD in cases 1 and 2. Spinal radiographs made for
evaluation of IVD in hedgehogs should include lateral
views of the cervical and lumbar regions. Fortunately,
hedgehogs are small enough that the entire spine can
be visualized on one lateral radiographic view. Radio-
graphs were not available for cases 3 and 4.
Intervertebral disc disease in the hedgehogs de-
scribed in this report had histologic features of chon-
Figure 3. Hedgehog, case 4. Tangentially sectioned lumbar spinal
drodystrophic breed–associated disc disease in canids.
column. Note complete degeneration of lumbar intervertebral disc,
thickening of the joint space (j), and nodular cartilaginous material In all of the hedgehogs, there was replacement of the
above the joint (arrows) that extends into the vertebral canal. The mucinous component of the nucleus pulposus with
spinal cord (c) has some vacuolar change corresponding to axonal cartilage-like tissue that eventually became mineral-
degeneration. The adjacent intervertebral disc (d) is normal. Hema- ized. This is a characteristic lesion described in chon-
toxylin and eosin (bar) ⫽ 300 ␮m.
drodystrophic dogs with IVD.7 Spondylosis, as noted
in 3 hedgehogs, develops in ongoing cases of IVD
because of the creation of abnormal movement be-
spinal cord had multifocal axonal swelling, edema, tween vertebrae from degeneration of the annulus
and digestion chambers (Fig 4), and these lesions fibrosis and from inflammation with bone prolifera-
were more severe in the lateral and ventral funiculi. tion elicited by ventrally protruding disc material.
Case 2 had several spinal nerve roots that had de- Case 1 had fibrocartilaginous embolus, which has
generate and swollen axons. Case 1 also had a fibro- been noted in large-breed dogs with herniated frag-
cartilaginous embolus within a longitudinal venous ments of nucleus pulposus.
sinus. Recently, there has been an emergence of a con-
dition in captive African hedgehogs referred to as
wobbly hedgehog syndrome (WHS).4,5 This condi-
Discussion tion mainly affects hedgehogs ⬍2 years of age. The
main clinical sign of WHS is progressive ataxia orig-
Intervertebral disc disease is a progressive debilitat-
ing condition that involves the degeneration of one
or more intervertebral discs. Ultimately, there is dor-
sal protrusion of the damaged discs that results in
compressive damage to the spinal cord. The disease
usually manifests by progressive neurologic signs in-
cluding loss of proprioception, ataxia, paresis, and,
in some cases, paralysis. Hindlimb ataxia with pro-
gression to paresis and paralysis, as noted in case 3,
is a common clinical sign in dogs with IVD.6 Also, the
urinary bladder atony in case 3 was likely due to
compressive damage to spinal nerve roots from her-
niated disc material in the lumbosacral region. Neu-
rogenic distension of the urinary bladder is a com-
mon sequela to lumbar disc herniation in dogs. The
forelimb lameness in hedgehog 2 was from compres-
sion of cervical spinal nerve roots by the prolapsed
intervertebral disc. The vestibular signs (e.g., ataxia)
Figure 4. Hedgehog, case 4. Higher magnification of spinal cord in
in case 1 can be attributed in part to the spinal cord Figure 3. Note vacuolar change likely reflecting axonal edema
damage from the histologically observed protruding (arrows), and a vacuole containing cellular debris (arrowhead). He-
cervical intervertebral discs. The clinical signs exhib- matoxylin and eosin (bar) ⫽ 120 ␮m.
Intervertebral Disc Disease in African Hedgehogs 223

inating in the rear limbs. Histologically, there is Acknowledgments

demyelination primarily within the spinal cord. The
underlying etiology for WHS is still unknown at the We thank R. Brown at Histology Consulting Service
present time. Early clinical signs of hedgehogs with for expertise in slide preparation, Jamie Kinion of
WHS are very similar to the clinical signs exhibited Northwest ZooPath for data retrieval, and Christie
by the hedgehogs with IVD. It may be difficult to Buie of Northwest ZooPath for photo editing and
clinically differentiate IVD from early stages of WHS
manuscript submission.
without the aid of radiographs or postmortem exam-
ination of the spinal column. One difference in the
clinical presentation between hedgehogs with IVD
and hedgehogs with WHS is that hedgehogs with References
IVD were typically older at the time of presentation
than hedgehogs with WHS. 1. Raymond JT, White MR: Necropsy and histopatho-
A paralytic condition associated with demyelina- logic findings in 14 African hedgehogs (Atelerix albi-
tion in the central nervous system has also been ventris): a retrospective study. J Zoo Wildl Med 30:273-
reported in European hedgehogs (Erinaceus euro- 277, 1999
2. Raymond JT, Garner MM: Cardiomyopathy in captive
paeus).8 The cause for this neurologic disease has not African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris). J Vet Diagn
been determined at this time. The clinical signs of Invest 12:468-472, 2000
this disease are very similar to those noted in the 3. Raymond JT, Garner MM: Spontaneous tumours in
hedgehogs with IVD and those described for hedge- captive African hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris): a
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ropean hedgehog demyelinating disease is the histo- 2001
logic presence of inflammation within the central 4. Graesser D, Spraker TR, Dressen P, et al: Wobbly
hedgehog syndrome in African pygmy hedgehogs
nervous system, a feature neither noted in our (Atelerix sp.). J Exotic Pet Med 15:59-65, 2006
hedgehogs with IVD nor in African hedgehogs with 5. Garner MM, Graesser D: Wobbly hedgehog syndrome.
WHS. Exotic DVM 8:27-29, 2006
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of IVD in hedgehogs. Given the close similarities of North Am Small Anim Pract 22:889-897, 1992
the clinical signs of IVD and WHS in African hedge- 7. Palmer N: Bones and joints, in Jubb KV F, Kennedy
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screen for evidence of IVD. Histologic examination 8. Palmer AC, Blakemore WF, Franklin RJM, et al: Paral-
of the spinal column is helpful for detection of IVD ysis in hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) associated with
and associated lesions in the spinal cord. demyelination. Vet Rec 143:550-552, 1998