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.

 

 

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Helping sick or injured hedgehogs

Hedgehogs out in daylight need rescue
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Hedgehogs out in the day are in need of help

Hedgehogs are nocturnal and should not be out in the day. A hedgehog out in the day is in urgent need of rescue. Hedgehogs never sunbathe.

Don’t delay, the faster you act, the greater the chance of saving the hedgehog. Speed in getting help is particularly important if the hedgehog is collapsed/not moving or is shaking/wobbling when walking.

What to do.

  1. Pick it up with thick gloves on.
  2. Contain the hedgehog in something with very high sides. Plastic recycling boxes from the Council are excellent. It may climb out of anything with lower sides.
  3. Place it somewhere warm. This is vital if the hedgehog feels cold to the touch or is shaking/wobbling.
  4. Fill a hot water bottle or a leak-proof drinks bottle with hot water.

Don’t use boiling water. Wrap the bottle in an old towel and place it at the bottom of the box. Then place the hedgehog onto the heat and cover it with an old towel or fleece. It is vital to make sure that there is room for the hedgehog to move away from the heat source. Keep checking on the bottle to make sure it is warm – if it gets too cold it will take heat away from the hedgehog.

5. Offer a shallow dish of water. Don’t offer food. I know it is tempting but this can kill a starving dehydrated hedgehog.

You can make a basic rehydration fluid to offer instead of water:

1 litre warm water with 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. Then offer in a shallow dish.

6. Get some help. Caring for poorly hedgehogs is a specialist task. Don’t be tempted to try and care for it yourself without seeking advice.

If you have found a baby hedgehog/nest of baby hedgehogs do not touch them with bare hands. Always wear gloves. Seek urgent advice before picking up the babies – a hedgehog rescue can advise whether they are likely to have been abandoned or whether mum may come back.

Finding a hedgehog rescue

You can find details of hedgehog/wildlife rescues from the following:

www.helpwildlife.co.uk – the site also has more useful advice on what to do if you find sick/injured wildlife.

For hedgehogs in York, you can get in touch with me via my contact page. The RSPCA in York is also great with hedgehogs. Call their 24 hour national line on 0300 1234 999 when the Landing Lane branch is closed for help with a sick or injured hedgehog.

A specialist hedgehog rescue is the best option but if you cannot find anyone else and especially if the hedgehog looks to be in pain/injured or is shaking/wobbling, take it to a vet. Most vets will treat wildlife for free.

Hedgehogs feeding in garden

Healthy hedgehogs will only be seen at night

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

I also make silver jewellery inspired by nature and wildlife to raise funds to support the hedgehog hospital. You can visit my online jewellery shop here.

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