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Letting hedgehogs and dogs commingle as pets may seem strange to some of us, but in fact more people are bringing the small spiky mammal home to coexist with dogs or cats. While these animals can get along, questions do arise, particularly about fleas, pests, and the potential spread of disease.
For dog owners, let’s get to the point: can dogs get fleas from hedgehogs? The answer is yes, but … it depends on the kind of flea. There are types of fleas that will only thrive on a certain species of animal; and the hedgehog is a mammal with its very own flea.
What is commonly called the hedgehog flea is officially listed as Archaeopsylla erinacei. These fleas can infest a hedgehog — but of little concern to your dog. It is rare for hedgehog fleas to remain on dogs or cats, for several reasons.
However, hedgehogs can be carriers of other types of fleas, some of which could indeed turn into an infestation for other pets. It’s not that non-hedgehog fleas will remain on the hedgehog for long. And that in a nutshell is the concern if you are researching pairing dogs and hedgehogs at home.
What are Hedgehogs?
A hedgehog is one of several types of the spiny mammals that make up 17 hedgehog species, found today in the United States and New Zealand, and the continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are related distantly to shews, and have remained hardly changed as animals for about 15 million years.
Hedgehogs are well known to curl and roll into a tight ball when it feels threatened. (Think the Sonic the Hedgehog video game, where the blue hero speeds and curls into a ball to attack enemies). This is to take advantage of the before-mentioned spines, which are hollow yet stiff hairs.
These spines are not barbed or poisonous (like those on porcupines, which are rodents and unrelated to hedgehogs), and they also do not fall from their bodies easily (opposite of porcupines). For self-defense, this small animal curls up to force all the spines to point out and toward another, threatening animal.
Hedgehogs are relatively small and nocturnal, and they are known to hibernate. The most common kept as pets are hybrids of the white-belly hedgehog (also called the four-toed hedgehog) and the North African hedgehog. These hybrids are smaller than the species found in Europe. Other species housed as pets are two versions of the long-eared hedgehog.
It is illegal to own a hedgehog as a pet in some U.S. states, including California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii; and some Canadian municipalities. There are no such laws in most of Europe, except in Scandinavia and Italy.
What are Hedgehog Fleas?
As mentioned above, the hedgehog flea is of the species Archaeopsylla erinacei. Over time it has developed to survive only on hedgehogs and, sometimes, on foxes. These types of fleas very, very rarely transfer to dogs (or humans). Even when they do, generally they do not remain long, nor cause harm to any of those three animals, hedgehogs included.
Basically, hedgehogs can live normally with their own type of fleas. However, the typical fleas infesting dogs are another matter for both the dog and the hedgehog. Those fleas cause significant skin irritation and itching, which means constant scratching by the host animal.
Common dog fleas bite their host to eat, which can cause redness, and an itching sensation, and potentially swelling and ongoing discomfort. However, none of these symptoms are typical with the presence of hedgehog fleas, which just are not as troublesome as the most common dog fleas.
How to Tell if Your Dog is Bothered by Presence of a Hedgehog
Aside from the ability to carry fleas and mites to your dog, other troubles can surface if you bring a hedgehog into your home. If you choose to house both types of animals in close quarters, keep an eye out for strange or changed behavior in both of them. Particularly in the dogs, since most of the time we put more care and attention to bringing up the canines.
- Scratching. If your dog seems to be scratching more often than usual, it could be a sign of a new problem, e.g. fleas or other tiny pests.
- Hair loss or mange. Same as above, it might be time to visit a veterinarian or talk to vets online.
- Body language. Dogs are much like us; they can slump in posture or walk slower or differently when they don’t feel good, or if something just doesn’t “feel right.” This could come naturally, or the dog might be trying to purposely tell you something with its physical actions.
- Sores or ulcers. This goes without saying that medical attention may be warranted.
- Other unusualness. Too much cowering, scratching, chewing, or pacing could be indicators that a vet visit is necessary. Also watch for vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy, and fatigue in your dog.
Final Words on Dogs, Hedgehogs, and Fleas
In summary, fleas transferring from hedgehog-to-dog is very rare; but from a dog to a hedgehog can occur easily. Hedgehogs have fleas, but those insects have developed to thrive only on the little spiny mammals, and not long-term on dogs or other types of animals. However, hedgehogs can indeed carry non-hedgehog fleas (or mites or other tiny pests) to other animals.
If kept as pets, it is advised to keep hedgehogs separate from other pets, to limit exposure to them of pests from the other domesticated animals. Hedgehogs are very susceptible to a number of diseases, among them pneumonia, cancer, fatty liver disease, and even cardiovascular disease. If you choose to house a hedgehog, know going in that they are not the most resilient of animals health-wise.
A pet hedgehog definitely could spread unhealthy things to your dog, and vice-versa. More worrisome for your dog could be the hedgehog as a carrier of other types of fleas, which might not survive on the hedgehog, but in a short time could jump to settle into the canine’s fur.