as silly as hedgehogs are in general, spiny is rather a bit more special. he manages to combine albinism, blindness, and a serious ornery streak with the usual moist pink nosicle, unreasonably dainty feet, stout round scrub brush body, and nocturnal mannerisms.
he's named in full, Spiny the Elder, after Pliny the Elder whose histories tell of the importance of hedgehogs to the roman world.
he's quite a funny little creature.
i spent a few days spent puzzling over why he wasn't running in his wheel. was it the smell of the soap i used last time i washed it? wasn't it back in the right spot? did i move something else in his bin making him suspicious? was it too cold on that side of the bin? did the window have a draft? was it too clean, could he not smell his way up into it?
then he decreased his food consumption, then friday started making a strange snuffly quacking noise. he sneezed, refused to eat even cheese, and then i decided it was vet time.
after calling all over town, i ended up referred to the Veterinary Office With the Receptionist I Hate. having previous experience there, when i took Alpha and Bravo in, i found the vets themselves quite nice. the receptionist is intolerable. snarkily telling me that even though the two degus, identical in age, brothers from the same litter, suffering from identical symptoms and exhibiting identical behaviour, both seen by the same single (only one) vet, in the same single allotment of time (only 20 mins), for one (only one) appointment, warranted me being charged double for everything. 2 vet fees, 2 booking charges, 2 physical assessments and 2 full medical histories, etc etc. by bringing them in i had agreed to their terms of service. AND, she took great pleasure in reminding me, THEY WERE THE ONLY VET IN TORONTO WHO SAW DEGUS so it's not like i had any choice.
alas, they were also the only vet in the GTA who treats hedgehogs.
she completely unsympathetically told me that since hedgehogs were such rare, prickly customers the base fee was higher than their usual extortionate rates. and she warned me that unless my hedgehog was exceptionally tame, they usually needed to sedate them in order to get them to unroll enough to actually examine. and hedgehog sedation is not included in their high hedgehog base fee.
i laughed. (one laughs so as not to cry)
she hummed along politely and i apologized and said that it was pretty funny imagining spiny too doped up to ball.
"Yes" she said, "we have experience here with hedgehogs, as you can tell by our policies. we are," she said with relish, "The only vet in toronto who sees hedgehogs." her helpful estimate was 300$ just to get him seen. (by the only vet in town.) they did accept cheques, and i would have to pay the full total of my bill before leaving. (no exceptions, she said)
luckily, there was a vet tech at the counter when i came in late on monday afternoon, as i would have had to destroy the receptionist.
the vet was painfully adorable, and i wanted to squeeze her inappropriately even before i caught a glimpse of her signature and saw that her first name was "Ginger."
when she had spiny under, she saw he was dehydrated and heard a lot of wheezing in his little lungs. his tummy was full of "lumpy-bumps" Dr. Ginger TooCute informed me, and i held onto the arms of my chair to restrain myself from rubbing her nose with mine.
there were x-rays, the bad news about his lung condition being pneumonia was coupled with the surprising news that he was quite aged, with arthritis even i could make out on the screen and as a bonus, his abdomnial cavity was full of white masses and few of his organs were visible as a result.
"i am worried about neoplasia, that the white masses are tumours. he might have cancer." she told me gently. she asked if i could afford to have him spend the night and the next day in hospital. his blood sugar was low. he'd need plenty of fluids, he'd need antibiotics, he'd need to be force fed if he wasn't taking foods, his temperature was low and he'd go into torpor if he didn't warm up and stay warm. he might not wake back up out of torpor if he was too sick. he needed to be closely watched to make sure there weren't any bad side effects from the anesthesia. we checked my bill.
it was horrible, sitting there in the waiting room, looking at the costs and risks involved with him staying there and him coming home. i can't imagine making the same sort of decisions when faced with medical bills for myself or for my family. i wonder what paying for medical care in the USA is like, if it's like sitting the vet office weighing my steady hand and determination to get medicine and food down the throat of my sick pet or paying the extra $$$$ to have the vets take care of it overnight. the point was moot in the end, my credit card only had 800$ on it. after the sedation, x-rays, the blood work, the urine and fecal assays, i had enough for injections of antibiotics, pain meds, and some fluid, with only enough left to cover his take home prescriptions so spiny was consigned to my care.
she was sending the x-rays to all her vet collegues, and going to check her books in the morning, she'd call me the next day. it might be non cancerous neoplasia. it might not be affecting his blood or organs.
the vet techs (why aren't they called veterinary nurses? they are clearly nurses) gave him a few ccs fluid IV, then another cc under the skin on his back. they gave me extra syringes in case i had to force a slurry of applesauce and fancy feast down him. they were all enamored with his beady pink eyes and soft snow white underbelly. one held his head and another swabbed his tongue with corn syrup to boost his blood sugar.
the next morning i woke up extra early. spiny had been up! he had wandered around his cage, eaten his applesauce and fancy feast on his own, made poops and curled up under his heat lamp. there was hope yet. i fed him antibiotics in some peanut butter. he ate every bit, and took some cat kibble in warm water.
later on, the vet called, and we discussed spiny's fate. his urine and bloodwork were good. if it was cancer, it wasn't immediately terminal or affecting his kidney function or organs. everyone had agreed, he was an old boy, the lung infection and arthritis was obvious, though both treatable. everyone felt that the lumps were neoplasia, and not some sort of something else. there was an option of biopsy of the lumps, to really diagnose what sort of growth they were, ultrasounds and more x-rays. but putting him under again carried risks and the tests cost a lot. any sort of surgery, even just a biopsy would be stressful for him. if they found he had a treatable cancer, there was a chance that he would be too old and that he might not have enough time or vigor to endure treatments and become well again. his skin was in perfect condition, unusual for hedgehogs who are prone to quill mite outbreaks and skin infections whenever they are ill. i decided to not pursue the cancer diagnosis or treatment, but continue him on the course of antibiotics, and add daily NSAIDs for his arthritis, and hopefully to help any discomfort he might be feeling.
he's feeling better. he will no longer take his meds hidden in fancy feast or peanut butter, his wheezing and siffling have improved enough that he has his keen sense of smell restored. spiny merely sniffs suspiciously at any foods laced with drugs before turning his nose up at them. shoving pink antibiotic syrup down his throat twice daily isn't enjoyable for me or him, but it does seem to be working. he won't touch applesauce anymore, but we now have found he'll drink the fancy brand of pure organic grape juice for the extra fruit he needs while convalescing. i've got my electric blanket folded up on the bottom of his bin for extra cozy warmth, and we sealed the window with shrink wrap to keep the room warmer.
he's back to hissing and quilling ni. he crawled into his tube last night and overturned his dishes. he is on the mend.
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