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Spike needs care for itchy skin, but he is a fugitive

Skin 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 to diagnose.

Spike has one of these ailments. Over the past two months or so, what started as an occasional bought of scratching has progressed to almost constant irritation.

Spike, according to 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 actually see Spike's skin. Lately, she has started to see scabs with evidence of small amounts of blood and lots of what appear to be flakes of skin.

Andrea wants to do whatever it takes to bring Spike some relief, but she has been afraid to take him to a veterinarian. Spike, a hedgehog,

though a legal pet in some states, is illegal in California. That said, veterinarians can treat hedgehogs.

These small mammals, native to Europe and Africa, can be intriguing pets. There is much information on caring for them in captivity.

They have one characteristic that precludes them from being cuddly pets and that is that they are covered in spines. These spines are actually modified hairs similar to those found in porcupines, except they do not easily come out of the skin as they do in porcupines. They are every bit as sharp!

The presence of these spines is likely why Andrea did not notice a problem with Spike's skin when he first started to scratch. It is simply hard to see his skin through the spines.

Spike's pruritus has an underlying cause. Andrea needs to find a veterinarian comfortable with working with hedgehogs so the cause can be diagnosed.

Hedgehogs will ball up during an exam, exposing nothing but needle-sharp spines, so a gas anesthetic will be required before the examination.

In Spike's case, the examination will be done with magnification to get a close look at the skin. Most likely, a skin scraping will be required so that skin cells and debris can be examined under a microscope.

It 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. This then leads to intense scratching. This condition is relatively easily diagnosed and straightforward to treat.

I hope this problem will require very little conscious involvement on Spike's part and his skin condition can be resolved.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.