Mites are a type of small red or black arachnid, like spiders and ticks. They bite and cause irritation to your hedgehog's skin as well as its spines (quills) and hair. Mites can spread from one hedgehog to another quite easily; fortunately, they're easy to prevent and treat.
Unlike some other external parasites such as ticks and fleas, mites will not bother human beings.
Symptoms of Mites in Hedgehogs
You may or may not be able to see the actual mites on your pet hedgehog but you probably will see the damage the mites cause to your pet. Mites cause irritation hair and spine loss; while hedgehogs will normally shed some of their spines, areas of apparent spine loss or hair loss are abnormal and should be indicators that your hedgehog may have mites. Other symptoms may include:
- Biting, licking, chewing or scratching itself
- Weight loss
- Low energy
- Dandruff and very flaky skin.
Your exotics vet will do a skin scrape to obtain a sample of skin and hair and look under a microscope for the mites. A skin scrape is not a 100% accurate test but if there is a heavy burden of mites it will usually be able to detect their presence.
Causes of Mites in Hedgehogs
Mites can be contracted a variety of ways. New hedgehogs, bedding, and food are the usual culprits of a mite infestation. It's not unusual for hedgehogs to be infested with mites if, for example, it has lived in a pet store near rodents or birds. If you haven't exposed your hedgehog to another hedgehog (and haven't handled another hedgehog and then handled your own) the mite infestation may originate in his kibble or his bedding. Natural items like food and substrate often carry small mites that are then are introduced to your hedgehog's enclosure and cause an infestation.
There are no anti-mite treatments specifically made for hedgehogs, but treatments made for cats are generally safe. Tour exotics vet will probably use a drug such as ivermectin or selamectin, under the brand names Revolution or Advantage. Avoid using any medication without vet approval, as hedgehogs respond badly to some treatments intended for cats and dogs. In particular avoid mite collars, permethrin sprays or permethrin spot-ons, as these can be lethal to your pet.
Even if the skin scrape is negative your vet may still treat for mites based on symptoms since mites are fairly common in hedgehogs. If these mite treatments do not work and the skin scrape was negative, further testing such as skin biopsies may be warranted to check for other diseases or allergies.
Aside from treating your hedgehog for mites, you'll need to treat their environment as well. Clean and wash the entire cage, hide box, water bottle, any blankets or towels, toys, and the wheel in the cage with a mild dish detergent and rinse well. Throw out any bedding that isn't washable, along with all the kibble that is already in the cage. Freeze the remaining bedding and kibble that you have for 24 hours to kill any mites that may be in them and to prevent reinfestation. You'll also want to keep the affected hedgehog separate from other pets for a week or so until you're sure the infestation has been eradicated.
Preventing Mites in Hedgehogs
Thankfully it's easy to prevent mites. Always wash your hands after handling any other hedgehog at a show, pet store, or friend's house. If you bring home a new hedgehog be sure to quarantine them for one week to watch for signs of mites or other illnesses before introducing them to your other hedgehogs. Also, make sure you are washing your hands after handling your new hedgehog and before touching your other ones. Freeze all bedding and packaged food after you purchase it (not the crickets or mealworms though) for 24 hours before putting it in the cage with your hedgehog. These items are the usual suspects for mite infestations in pet hedgehogs when there has been no other hedgehog exposure. For an extra layer of protection, consider bathing your pet monthly in warm water with a few drops of olive oil; this can help keep mites at bay while also keeping the hedgehog's skin from becoming too dry.