Hedgehog ringworm and mange

Ringworm and mange hedgehog
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Ringworm and mange are two of the commonest ailments that I have to treat in the hedgehog hospital. They can make the poor hedgehogs look super ugly and can take weeks, if not months, to cure.

Ringworm and mange hedgehog

Hedgehog with severe ringworm and mange. Ringworm often starts on the nose area and can be the most persistent in this area. He has also lost fur.

Ringworm is caused by a fungal infection. Many hedgehogs will carry this fungus without showing any symptoms. Other illnesses and the stress of captivity can often cause it to develop and it is vital to be constantly vigilant for the signs. A hedgehog that has been doing fine in captivity may suddenly develop ringworm later on.

Ringworm varies in severity from a mild crusting around the nose to large scabbed areas and complete fur and spine loss.

Mange is caused by mange mites which burrow into the skin. It causes a white powder on the skin, often accompanied by fur loss.

Mange mite under microscope

Mange mite under magnification

Ringworm and mange often appear together and I always treat for both simultaneously.

If caught early, the spread of both ringworm and mange can sometimes be stopped. If not, it can take many weeks or months of treatments to clear.

Spine loss ringworm

Spine loss due to ringworm

 

Hedgehog with ringworm and mange

Fur and spine loss due to ringworm and mange. The fur has also been lost from the feet, which would normally be brown.

Identification

Mange mites can sometimes be seen by the naked eye. A skin sample tested under the microscope may also show mange mites. See pic above.

A skin culture may be sent for testing via a vet. This is often required in severe cases, where there may also be other potential skin conditions.

Treatment

There are lots of different treatments available for ringworm and many rescues will select their personally preferred option.

I use an anti-fungal treatment for cattle to bathe the hedgehog, with the frequency varying according to the severity of the condition. Alongside this, I use human athlete’s foot creams, brushed onto the skin gently with a toothbrush. Tea tree cream can also be used effectively in mild cases.

Ringworm treatment video

Mange mites are treated by topical or injected ivermectin, available from a vet.

The treatment can take a long time and it is vital to continually remove crusty flakes to ensure that the treatments can get right down into the deeper layers of the skin. Ringworm can become resistant over time and so I alternate between a number of different treatments.

Eventually, the fur and spines will regrow. I find that they often grow back even thicker than before, leaving a very beautiful hedgehog! You can read Octavia’s story, a hedgehog who recovered from ringworm and mange, here.

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Hedgehog following completion of treatment for ringworm and mange with fur and spines regrown

Ringworm in particular can be very debilitating for a hedgehog, especially if they are also suffering from other illnesses. I add a vitamin supplement with zinc to their diet to assist with the growth of new fur and spines.

It is vital to maintain the highest standards of hygiene throughout treatment. Ringworm and mange can both spread to humans and between hedgehogs in the rescue. Gloves must be worn and washed between hedgehogs. All bedding must be washed separately and any chance of cross-contamination between hedgehogs eliminated. Hutches used for infected hedgehogs must be thoroughly cleaned out following treatment.

I run a hedgehog hospital in York. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about how to support my work here.

 

Hedgehog internal parasites

Studying poo under the microscope
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A majority of hedgehogs admitted into my hospital will have a high burden of internal parasites.

Although it is normal for hedgehogs to have a few worms, a healthy hedgehog will develop a natural immunity to them. If a hedgehog is sick, however, it tips this careful balance tips in favour of the parasites, sending the hedgehog on a downward spiral. A high parasite burden will stop the hedgehog getting enough nutrients from their food and they will slowly starve. A poorly hedgehog is less able to cope with internal parasites and so the downward decline is exascerbated.

Once they are critically sick, a hedgehog will display the unnatural behaviour (for a nocturnal creature) of coming out in the day – often due to starvation.

So how do hedgehogs get internal parasites and why are sick hedgehogs coming in with so many more types of parasite?

We think of hedgehogs as voracious slug munchers. It is true, of course, that hedgehogs do eat slugs, but they are not high up on the menu. I mean, would you choose to eat slugs if crunchy beetles were also available? Looking at the chart below, you can see that slugs, snails and even earthworms are lower down the hedgehog menu.

Slugs, snails and earthworms are also the intermediate host to three of the key internal parasites that affect hedgehogs.

wild hedgehog diet

wild hedgehog diet

The internal parasites seen by hedgehog rescues vary across the country. I don’t find the dreaded Thorny Headed Worm here in York. I do find lots of roundworm and fluke though and a few cases of lungworm. Here’s which parasite is carried by which host.

Roundworm = earthworms

Fluke = slugs and snails

Lungworm – slugs and snails

These internal parasites can only be correctly identified by looking at the hedgehog’s poo under a microscope. There are some other signs that can indicate a particular parasite but checking poo is still essential. Fluke can cause excessive hyperactivity and the poo to smell particularly horrid. I can smell fluke before I see it under the microscope. Hedgehogs with lungworm can have a terrible deep cough like a smoker’s cough.

So why are hedgehogs coming in with a greater range of internal parasites than I have seen previously? Well, I’m not a scientist so I will leave that to the experts but I note several things. As a gardener, I’ve seen fewer beetles in recent years, even though I am an organic gardener and I create habitats for beetles. Habitat loss will affect hedgehog’s access to beetles. Concrete gardens with a square of grass and nothing else are not attractive to beetles. Pesticides sprayed on crops target beetles and may explain why there are fewer hedgehogs around farmland. If a hedgehog cannot find enough food, they start to starve, reducing their immunity to internal parasites.

Milder winters are not killing off slugs and snails. There are more of them around. In the absence of other foods, hedgehogs will munch on them. They don’t know they carry parasites!

The time of year also affects what parasites hedgehogs come into rescue with. In Winter there are few beetles around. Late born babies often have a high burden of roundworm, picked up from eating earthworms – one of the few food sources still around.

You can read more here about the causes of the decline in hedgehog numbers.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

Hedgehog roundworm

Roundworm egg. Credit: Whitby Wildlife

Hedgehog lungworm

Adult lungworm. Credit: Whitby Wildlife

But before you go reaching for the slug pellets to eradicate the hosts, don’t forget that slug pellets kill hedgehogs. Try organic methods of controlling slugs. I use nematodes, such as Nemaslug.

The best thing you can do to help is to create a healthy habitat for hedgehogs through wildlife friendly gardening and helping to prevent hazards that can cause injury. A healthy environment should mean healthy uninjured hedgehogs that are able to tolerate and self-manage their worm burdens.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York, England. Like all wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self funded and you can find out how to support my work here.

Octavia’s story – a hedgehog miracle!

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I wanted to share this video with you all – Octavia’s story. She came into my hedgehog hospital as a tiny hoglet only 153g. She had a terrible infected bite wound. It has been a long journey to recovery but she is now over 650g and ready for hibernation.

 

You can read more about Octavia’s injury was treated here.

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can find out more about how to support my work here.

Hedgehog wound treatment

Hoglet with facial injury
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Octavia is being treated for a nasty facial wound that has sadly become infected. I’m sorry for the graphic nature of these pictures but this is the kind of reality that wildlife rescues face on a daily basis.

I wish hedgehogs could talk and that I knew the cause of the wound. This one is possibly a strimmer or bite wound. Sadly, the wound has got infected and the skin underneath is dying (necrotic). She has an abscess in the neck area on the same side that you can’t see in this picture.

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Octavia when she arrived and prior to any treatment

Upon arrival, hedgehogs are checked to assess the nature of their wounds. They will also go through a range of other checks to assess their size, weight, general health and whether they have internal or external parasites.

Some hedgehogs will immediately be taken to a vet for treatment if the wound is very severe. Many will require x-ray to ascertain the extent of any damage and infection. With any wound, it is possible that an impact may have caused bones to break. Abscesses can also track deep into the bone. Many of these things are beyond the skills of a hedgehog rescue, who must always work closely with a vet.

Depending on the nature of the wound, it may also require draining. This is done by a vet using a syringe/scalpel to draw out the infected pus. The hedgehog is usually ‘gassed down’ for this procedure.

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Octavia after 5 days of treatment

I clean wounds using a mix of hibiscrub (an antibacterial fluid used in surgery) in a warm saline solution. This softens the scabs and aids their removal. It also cleans and sterilises the wound. Hedgehogs are obviously wild creatures and wounds may have picked up all kinds of dirt and debris.

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Some of the wound treatments I use

The treatment for wounds like this takes a long time. This wound is being cleaned regularly to soften the scabs and to keep it sterile. I alternate the application of various different topical treatments to the area beneath the scabs. In this case, I am alternating between a wound gel and veterinary grade manuka honey. These help to clear the infection and to promote healing.

Depending on the nature of the injury, pain relief may also be required as well as antibiotics. Octavia is receiving a special antibiotic that is very good at treating open wounds and abscesses. She will receive this for at least 7 days.

I run a hedgehog rescue in York. My work is entirely self funded. You can find out more about how to support my work here.

 

My hedgehog rescue story

European hedgehog hoglet
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I’m frequently asked how I started rescuing hedgehogs and became a crazy hedgehog lady…. so here goes!

The inspiration started way way way back. Here is my mum as a girl with a hedgehog in her garden. So it must always have been in my genes!

Mum with hedgehog as young girl

My mum as a young girl with a hedgehog

I remember camping trips with my parents where we would hear hedgehogs snuffling around outside the tent. We even fed them hedgehog flavour crisps – well it was the 1980s! I now know better and would never feed crisps or bread.

One of my first dates with my now husband was to a hedgehog sanctuary in Devon. I got to hold a baby hedgehog and was smitten.

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Me in 2002 with a young hoglet at a Devon hedgehog sanctuary

When we relocated to York, I never expected to find hedgehogs in a city but I hoped and hoped. Then, one night, we came home to a hedgehog on the doorstep. I started feeding and watering them and more came. We soon had 7+ visiting every night.

It turns out that suburbia is one of the last and best refuges for hedgehogs.

After a few months, I spotted a hedgehog with a leaf on its back. I thought it was so cute that it had got a leaf stuck on its prickles. But I was wrong. Closer inspection revealed that the ‘leaf’ was green plastic netting from one of those fat balls that you feed to birds. The plastic was entangled all round the hedgehog.

I googled ‘hedgehog rescue york’ and found an amazing lady who has been rescuing hedgehogs for many years and it all started from there. I never knew until then about the plight of the hedgehog, how numbers were rapidly dwindling and how lucky I was to have them visiting my garden.

I have taken in more and more hedgehogs over the years as my skills and knowledge have grown. I started off looking after hedgehogs that had been treated for ailments but just needed fattening up for release. Then I started taking on poorly ones. I bought a microscope and joined lots of forums where hedgehog rescuers share knowledge and advice.

Studying poo under the microscope

Studying poo under the microscope

This is now my 6th year of hedgehog rescue and my success rate is around 80%. There are always hedgehogs that are found too late and are beyond help but I try my best with every hedgehog that arrives.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the story of how it all started. Like all other wildlife rescues, my work is entirely self-funded. Many people are surprised to hear that rescues receive no money from the Government or larger charities. We all fund our work ourselves and could not do it without your help. You can find out more about supporting my work here.

Squashing the myth – hedgehogs are full of fleas….

Hedgehog flea
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The phone rings. “Help, I have found a baby hedgehog but I can’t pick it up to put it in a box because it is full of fleas. The fleas will get onto my dog and I have a baby and the baby will catch fleas.”

It’s a myth that all hedgehogs are covered in fleas. I’ve been running a hedgehog rescue for over 5 years and I have seen around 6 hedgehogs in that time that have had fleas. That is out of over 350 hedgehogs admitted. Yet, you’d be surprised how many people say that they cannot help rescue a hedgehog due to the risk of fleas.

The very few hedgehogs that have had fleas have either been incredibly poorly or have been young hoglets that were orphaned some time ago and have been struggling on their own.

In the very rare instance that a hedgehog has fleas, the fleas will not infest your dog, your cat, your house, your baby….. The hedgehog flea (scientific name: Archaeopsylla erinacei) is host specific. That means that it can only live on hedgehogs. It cannot live on anything else.

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The hedgehog flea

“But” I hear you say, “I’ve got a resident hedgehog who visits every night and I often see it scratching….” Well, itches can be caused by many things, just like they can in humans. It is nothing to worry about unless the hedgehog is found out in the day, which is a sign that is is unwell. If it is only seen at night, leave it alone.

What you are more likely to see on a hedgehog, are ticks. These blood-sucking critters also affect other animals and there are many species of them. Hedgehogs are affected by the hedgehog tick (scientific name: Ixodes Heagonus).

Increasingly mild winters mean that ticks are not being killed off and it is quite common and normal to see a hedgehog with a few ticks. One or two will not cause any harm and will drop off naturally once they’ve had their feast.

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Ticks removed from a hedgehog. Notice the variety of sizes and colours – they are all the same species.

Sometimes a hedgehog is found that is absolutely covered in ticks. The ticks can cause anaemia and pass on other infections. Sometimes this is an indication that the hedgehog is sick, likely to be the case if the hedgehog is found out in the day. But lots of ticks don’t necessarily mean that the hedgehog is sick because milder winters mean that fewer ticks are being killed off. The unlucky hedgehog may just have slept in a tick nest and been targeted. But, the ticks will need to be removed to prevent anaemia.

The treatment of fleas and ticks is a specialist job and you can do more harm than good if you try to treat them yourselves. Flea treatments for cats and dogs will kill hedgehogs. If you remove ticks the wrong way, it can lead to infection and disease.

if you find a hedgehog that you suspect to be ill, follow the advice here and remember that a few ticks are absolutely normal and fine…..

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can help me continue my work by supporting me here.

 

 

Dogs attacking hedgehogs

Wild hedgehog abscess
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I love dogs and I love hedgehogs but sadly I am seeing an increasing number of hedgehogs coming into rescue after being attacked by dogs.

Many hedgehogs are injured by dogs in private gardens and in parks and countryside when out on walks. A number of hedgehogs I have admitted with bite wounds have been from gardens on the edge of city parks. Hedgehogs love to live in the piles of leaves that dogs love sniffing through.

The problem is that dog canines bite deep into the hedgehog. The wound then quickly seals over and can then be hard to spot. Many people let the hedgehog go again thinking that it is okay. Then, up to several weeks later, abscesses appear when the deep wounds get infected.

A hedgehog with an abscess will struggle due to the infection and then often succumb to other problems, such as an increased parasite burden and it is a downward spiral, ending up with the hedgehog struggling and then being seen in daylight (when they are nocturnal).

There is also usually more than one infected wound – all four canines will normally puncture the hedgehog.

Abscess

Hedgehog with an infected abscess on its face caused by a bite wound

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Hedgehog with a burst abscess. This hedgehog had 8 abscesses caused by individual puncture wounds from teeth.

Treating abscesses requires a lot of TLC. The abscesses will have to be cleaned daily. Deep abscesses may also have to be drained by a vet. The hedgehog will have to be put on a strong antibiotic.

Although dogs are a major cause of bite wounds, there are also other animals that can attack them, including foxes and rats, although rat attacks are rare. Cats don’t tend to cause problems for hedgehogs.

The best way to prevent dog attacks and dog bite wounds in your garden is to ideally keep the dog out of the garden at night. If you do need to let it out, then keep it on a lead. Always check for hedgehogs first. Turn an outside light on before you go out, which will also help to encourage any hedgehogs to move away.

You need to be particularly vigilant if your dog has attacked a hedgehog before. It will likely do so again.

If your dog does pick up a hedgehog when you are out on a walk, it is always best to get the hedgehog checked over by a rescue, particularly if you see any blood on the dog or hedgehog.

As well as attacking adult hedgehogs, dogs can also disturb hedgehog nests so it is particularly important to be vigilant around the breeding season from May to September. You may have a hedgehog nest in the garden that may be disturbed by a dog even during the daytime….

If you have an injured hedgehog, there is information about what to do here

I run a hedgehog hospital in York, England. My work is entirely self-funded. You can support my work by making a donation or purchasing my handmade silver jewellery that raises funds for my hedgehog work.

I am pleased to say that both the hedgehogs featured in these images have made a good recovery.