problems are some of the more common cases we deal with
as veterinarians. Regardless of the species, skin
diseases crop up regularly in our patients and can be
challenging at times to diagnose.
has a skin problem. It seems that over the past two
months or so, what started as an occasional bout of
scratching has progressed to almost constant irritation.
Spike, according to caretaker Andrea, spends most of his
waking hours scratching himself. Early on, Andrea
noticed nothing on his skin — although she admits that
it is hard to see his skin — but reports lately that
she has started to see scabs with evidence of small
amounts of blood and lots of what appear to be flakes of
says she feels bad for Spike and wants to do whatever it
takes to bring him some relief, but has been afraid to
take him to a veterinarian because he is a fugitive from
the law. More precisely, Andrea is the one breaking the
law because Spike is an illegal companion — a
are small mammals native to Europe and Africa that have
been introduced into the pet trade and are legal pets in
many states in the U.S. Not, however, in California,
where they are illegal. Nevertheless, veterinarians are
able to treat these companions legally as patients.
can be quite intriguing companions and there is a lot of
available information on caring for them properly in
captivity. They do have one characteristic that
precludes them from being one of those cute cuddly
little furball companions, however, and that would be
the fact that they are covered in spines. These spines
are modified hairs similar to those found in porcupines,
except that they do not easily come out of the skin as
they do in porcupines. They are, however, every bit as
sharp. The presence of these spines is likely why Andrea
did not notice a problem with Spike’s skin early on
when he started to scratch. It is simply too hard to see
his skin through the spines.
now-intense pruritis does have an underlying cause.
Andrea needs to find a veterinarian comfortable with
working with hedgehogs and take him to be examined.
distinct problem arises when we try to examine a
hedgehog. They are not usually very cooperative and will
ball up during an attempted exam, exposing nothing but
needle-sharp spines. It is for this reason I like to
give them a bit of gas anesthetic to breathe, which
allows them to take a short nap while I complete an
examination. In Spike’s case, this would be done with
magnification to get a close look at the skin and most
likely a skin scraping to examine some of the cells and
debris under the microscope.
is my guess that Spike has mange. In hedgehogs, mange is
usually caused by a sarcoptic mange mite. These mites
burrow into the skin, and as the population grows and
the burrowing becomes extensive, intense itching
results, which then leads to intense scratching. This
condition is relatively easily diagnosed through the
above-mentioned skin-scraping procedure and, once
diagnosed, it is straightforward to treat.
for Spike, this problem will require very little
conscious involvement on his part and his skin condition
can be resolved.