Mites are annoying and common parasites that bite and cause irritation to your hedgehog's skin, spines (quills), and hair. They 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 typically bother human beings.
What Are Mites?
Mites are a type of small red or black arachnid, like spiders and ticks. 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.
Symptoms of Mites in Hedgehogs
You may not notice any signs of mites in your hedgehog when the problem is in the early stages and especially since your pet is covered in quills that can hide any trouble. However mites may be running around all over your hedgehog's face and ears, and may be visible. Regardless, as the irritation worsens, you will likely see symptoms that may include the following:
The presence of mites can lead to hair and spine loss in your hedgehog. 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.
Excessive Gnawing and Scratching
Mites cause an itchy irritation and will cause your hedgehog to constantly and aggressively gnaw, scratch, and even lick or chew itself to rid itself of the discomfort. This type of activity can lead to hair and spine loss. Your pet may even frequently rub up against its cage or object in the cage to scratch the itch.
Weight Loss and Low Energy
As with any animal that has any type of irritation or disease, your hedgehog may be uninterested in food and it will begin to lose weight and act lethargic.
Dandruff and Red, Flaky Skin
The frequency of biting and scratching at its skin to relieve the itch will cause your hedgehog to develop injured skin that can be tender and red. The skin will also become very flaky.
Causes of Mites
Hedgehogs can fall victim to mites in many ways. New hedgehogs brought into the home, 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 its kibble or 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.
Diagnosing Mites in Hedgehogs
Your veterinarian will diagnose mites by conducting 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 perfectly accurate test, but if there is a heavy burden of mites it will usually be able to detect their presence.
Even if the skin scrape used for diagnosis is negative your vet may still treat for mites based on symptoms since mites are fairly common in hedgehogs. There are no anti-mite treatments specifically made for hedgehogs, but certain treatments made for cats are generally safe. Your vet will probably use a drug such as ivermectin.
Avoid using any medication without your vet's approval, as hedgehogs respond badly to some treatments intended for cats and dogs. In particular, avoid mite collars, permethrin sprays, or other permethrin products, as these can be lethal to your pet.
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 take these steps to treat its environment as well.
- Clean and wash your hedgehog's 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.
- Toss all the kibble that is already in the cage.
- Freeze the remaining bedding and kibble that is in its packaging for 24 hours to kill any mites that may be in them and to prevent reinfestation.
- Keep the affected hedgehog separate from other pets for a week or so until you're sure the infestation has been eradicated.
Prognosis for Hedgehogs With Mites
If given the correct medical treatment by a vet, your hedgehog should respond to the medicine very well. Environmental treatment for mites is usually successful if it's done long enough. However, recurrent bouts of mites can occur if the last adults from the breakout were not caught and they begin to lay eggs.
How to Prevent Mites
There are many ways to prevent mites, and it almost always has to do with cleaning and maintaining your pet's environment. Take these hygienic measures to prevent mites:
- Hand-washing: Always wash your hands after handling any other hedgehog at a show, pet store, or friend's house. Also, make sure you are washing your hands after handling your new hedgehog and before touching your other ones.
- Quarantining: If you bring home an additional hedgehog be sure to quarantine it for one week to watch for signs of mites or other illnesses before introducing it to your other hedgehog.
- Prepping bedding and food: Freeze all bedding and packaged food after you purchase it (excluding the crickets or mealworms) 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.
- Bathing: 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.
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Hedgehog Care. Lake Howell Animal Clinic, 2020
Mite infestation in Hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) in Israel – Characterization and Response to Treatment. Israel Journal of Veterinary Medicine
Caring for Your Hedgehog. Mountain View Vet