If you notice your hedgehog scratching abnormally or excessively, resulting in bare patches of skin, it may be due to mites. Mites are tiny creepy, crawly bugs that can be very challenging to deal with, bothersome and can result in significant complications.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have a lot of experience in dealing with mites. In this article, I will briefly discuss what they are, how to determine if your hedgehog has them and appropriate treatment options.
If you suspect your hedgehog has mites, I recommend having him checked out as soon as possible. In my experience, getting a veterinarian that is knowledgeable in treating small mammals with mites is the best option for resolving the problem. Luckily, the outcome is almost always favorable for all those involved.
What Are Hedgehog Mites?
Hedgehog mites are in the arachnid family. Not to be confused with insects, arachnids have eight legs (whereas insects have six) and include spiders and ticks. Mites will bite your hedgehog’s skin resulting in irritation/inflammation and subsequently spine (quill) and hair loss.
Hedgehog mites appear like tiny white specks at the base of the quills and on the skin. You may also see the bugs in your pet’s enclosure or bedding.
There are several species of mites, and at least three are known to infest hedgehogs. The Caparinia, Chorioptes and Notoedres species of mites found on hedgies are not the same mites seen on by cats or dogs.
Acariasis is another name for mite infestation. I, unfortunately for the poor hedgies, see this condition quite frequently in domestic pygmy hedgehogs.
How To Tell If Your Hedgehog Has Mites
Hedgehogs usually pick up mites from other infested hedgehogs. This contact can occur at the breeders, in pet stores or shelters. However, they can also get mites from previously contaminated bedding.
It is thought by some that hedgehogs can and do carry very small numbers of mites with no sign of problems. The mites become a problem only when the hedgehog is under some form of stress, be it a temperature/environmental change or illness. This serves to suppresses the hedgie’s immune system and the mites take advantage of the weakened state as an opportunity for infestation.
When the infection is early, you may not notice any signs or symptoms, but as the infestation continues — and it will progress — then you will observe your hedgie becoming increasingly itchier. The rate at which symptoms manifest themselves depends on the sensitivity of your hedgie to the bites of the mites.
As the infestation progresses you will observe quill and hair loss, and an increased frequency of your hedgie biting, licking, chewing or scratching himself. The skin will become more and more irritated and flaky. Ultimately your hedgehog’s physical condition will begin to deteriorate, and he will become less active, eat less, lose body condition, and I have observed what appeared to be like seizure-type activity because of the severe itching.
A quick way to check for mites is to place your hedgehog on a sheet of black paper. As he moves around, skin and potentially mites will fall off, especially if he itches and scratches. The mites will be easier to see against this dark surface rather than trying to inspect the hedgehog’s skin. Any movement of the white specks is almost guaranteed to be mites.
How To Treat Hedgehog Mites
Thankfully, most mites are species-specific, which means they do not like living on different animals other than their species-specific host. If your hedgehog has been diagnosed with mites, I would recommend having any and all other small mammals — rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. — examined for mites. To be careful, you should have your dogs and cats checked as well.
As there are no hedgehog-specific medications for treating hedgehog mites, any treatment would be considered “off-label” and should ideally be used under the guidance of a veterinarian experienced in hedgehog medicine.
In the past, one of the most common treatments for mites was ivermectin. This medication should be correctly dosed based on the hedgehog’s exact weight and taking into consideration his physical well being. Therefore, I would always recommend that this be done by a veterinarian experienced in treating small mammals. The administration of the drug may be oral, topical or injectable. Often it requires repeated treatments to be determined on the status of the mite infestation at the scheduled recheck visits.
However, as ivermectin has not been completely effective in all cases, we are now having greater success using a newer medication called selemectin (Revolution). A single topical treatment of Revolution will last approximately 30 days. Here again, we schedule rechecks to assess the recovery from the infestation and potential need for additional treatments. Also it is very important that all animals being treated are dosed at the same time to prevent the repeated cycle the infestation.
Along with treating your hedgehog for mites, it is critical to also clean and treat their environment. The entire cage, hide box, water bottle, any blankets or towels, toys and the wheel in the cage must be thoroughly sanitized. Things that are not washable should not be reused and may need to be thrown out. Freezing items, including the hedgehog food, for at least 24 hours will hopefully kill any mites that may be in them and prevent reinfestation.
In addition to treating the pet and cleaning his enclosure, it is also very important to clean and treat your home and any other areas where the hedgehog may have resided, played and/or visited, as adult mites and eggs may fall off the hedgehog and infest these areas, remaining infective for a period of time.
I would recommend you discuss your situation with a veterinarian who has experience caring for hedgehogs, so that you are certain to get proper advice regarding safe topical and environmental treatments. Knowledgeable veterinarians may also recommend premise sprays or even professional pest exterminators that would be safe for you and your pet(s).
You have to make sure when treating the pet as well as the environment that you treat long enough to get the mite that hatches from the last mite egg present to stop the lifecycle.
A word of caution concerning certain products that I would not recommend using on hedgehogs. I do not recommend using any type of collar, any organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays or permethrin spot-ons on your pet hedgehog. When in doubt, please do not jeopardize the safety of your pet and consult a veterinarian experienced in working with these animals.
Depending on the severity of the infestation and the sensitivity of the hedgehog, hedgies can develop secondary bacterial infections due to the mite trauma to the skin. The lesions may therefore not appear to be recovering following the mite treatment(s) requiring the use of additional medications. If the treatments for the mites and possible secondary infection do not work then further testing, such as skin biopsies, may be warranted to check for other diseases or allergies.
Fortunately, I have been very successful in treating hedgehogs for mites, but it is a team effort in that we have to treat the pet, its cage and the home environment to achieve victory over the creepy crawly little mites.