What are fleas and how can my hedgehog get them?
Fleas are a small insect parasite that may take up residence on your pet hedgehog’s skin. Fleas can and will infest hedgehogs if there is a heavy infestation in the home, but they generally do not like the African pygmy hedgehog, presumably because of its low body temperature and the presence of quills covering most of its body. Fleas are acquired from other infested animals or environments (e.g., visiting a home with a flea infestation).
How can I tell if my hedgehog has fleas?
Your hedgehog may or may not be itchy depending on the hypersensitivity of the individual animal to flea bites. You may see that your hedgehog is losing quills and biting, licking, chewing, or scratching itself. Small red bite marks or sores may be found on the skin, and these will occasionally develop into a secondary bacterial skin infection. Each flea takes a small blood meal, so young hedgehogs with heavy infestations may develop anemia as the fleas feed frequently over time.
"You may see that your hedgehog is losing quills and biting, licking, chewing, or scratching itself."
Fleas leave their feces on a hedgehog’s skin, amongst its hair, and in between its quills. This is often called flea dirt. Flea dirt is small, comma-shaped black debris the size of ground pepper. When the debris particles are placed on a wet paper towel, the paper towel will turn red if fleas are the source (flea fecal matter is digested blood from the pet).
A flea infestation may look like another condition called quill mites (see handout “Mites in Hedgehogs" for more information). Regular check-ups with your veterinarian can help to identify and treat these problems early on.
How are hedgehogs with fleas treated?
There is no hedgehog-specific drug for controlling fleas. Flea control dugs are made for dogs and cats and their use in hedgehogs is described as “off-label” and should ONLY be used under the guidance of a veterinarian familiar with hedgehogs. If fleas are present on other pets in the house, all pets in the household should be treated as per your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Topical flea powders, premise sprays, or even professional pest exterminators may be effective but consult your veterinarian first. Since flea eggs may hatch in carpet or on furniture, away from your hedgehog, it is very important to treat the environment thoroughly. Electrostatically charged boric acid has been used successfully for decades as a safe product for use on carpets, rugs, and furniture to kill fleas, cockroaches, and ants. Depending on environmental humidity and temperature, flea eggs may hatch in as little as 14 – 28 days, producing the next crop of adult fleas looking for a blood meal. Treatment must be long enough to get the last egg.
"DO NOT use flea collars on hedgehogs."
DO NOT use flea collars on hedgehogs. DO NOT use insecticides such as organophosphates, straight permethrin sprays, or permethrin spot-on treatments on your pet hedgehog.
Do I have to worry about being affected by fleas myself?
In heavy infestations, fleas may bite humans and may cause problems in those people especially sensitive to insect bites. Bite marks may be noticed around the ankles. Generally, the problem is self-limiting following the elimination of the parasite from the home.