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Tea Tree antiseptic cream: A new treatment for ringworm and sarcoptic mange in the hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus)

by Toni Bunnell MSc, PhD, Faculty of Health, University of Hull, UK

This paper was originally published in the Journal of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, July 2000,Vol.19,No.2,pp 29-31


Ringworm

Introduction

Ringworm, a fungal infection, is fairly common in the British Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) in cases where the animal's immune system is compromised. Hedgehog ringworm (Trichophyton erinacei) generally forms part of a complex of several specific forms called T. mentagrophytes (Keymer et al 1991, Reeve 1994, Routh & Robinson 1999). The disease often presents as crusting of the skin layer immediately at the junction of the spines and soft hairs, that is, on the rim of the circular orbicularis muscle, the 'ring' of muscle which contracts enabling the hedgehog to curl up into a ball. Crusting is also often found on the face.

Successful treatment for ringworm in large adult animals can often take the form of simply restoring optimal living conditions, i.e. ideal ambient temperature and adequate food and water supplies. In small, juvenile or sick individuals, however, treatment is not so simple and, in severely affected juveniles, the ability to assimilate food can be so severely compromised as to restrict growth rate. Treatment typically consists of oral administration of grisovin (25-30mg/kg p.o. every 24 hours) which can be sprinkled onto food. The growth of new skin is a slow process, inevitably predisposing the animal to pathogen invasion during this time.

Method and materials

Tea Tree oil is effective against methycillin -resistant Staphylococcos aureus (MRSA), is used to treat scabies in Australia, and has anti-fungal properties. As a result I considered that a cream containing the oil might be effective in treating ringworm and sarcoptic mange in hedgehogs. I obtained a bottle of Thursday Plantation Tea Tree antiseptic cream, with the following ingredients: Water denim, Melaleuca Oil (Tea Tree Oil), Stearic Acid, Glycerol, Isopropyl Myristate, Dimethicone, Cetostearyl Alcohol, Carbomer, Propylene Glycol (and) Diazolidinyl Urea (and) Methylparaben (and) Propylparaben.

The product is described as a "germicidal and anti-septic cream" and is produced on the Thursday Plantation in Australia. The fact that it is produced on the Thursday Plantation is important as production of the Tea Tree plant in other areas of the world results in different relative composition of the ingredients due to different mineral content in the soil, climatic conditions etc.

I dripped the cream onto the rim of the circular orbicularis muscle of a juvenile hedgehog (approximately 6 weeks old) in my care. This area was heavily crusted with broken skin and evidently infected with ringworm. The procedure was repeated with another juvenile hedgehog similarly infected with ringworm.

Results

In both cases the affected crusted skin had all dropped off within twenty-four hours, revealing new tissue underneath already undergoing healing. Over the following days the healing process continued with no recurrence of ringworm in the intervening period.

It should be noted that these particular animals had only just arrived and had not received any treatment for ringworm. They both gained weight rapidly and were over-wintered in a warm protected environment, as they did not possess the minimal weight necessary to survive the coming winter. They were returned to the wild the following spring.

Conclusion

It is obviously important that the procedure described here is repeated with many different hedgehogs before hard and fast conclusions can be drawn regarding the efficacy of Tea Tree antiseptic cream as a treatment for ringworm in the hedgehog. However, this preliminary study seems to suggest that it would be appropriate to use, at least as an initial treatment.


Sarcoptic mange

Introduction

The most serious mites affecting hedgehogs are of the sub-order Sarcoptoidea (Reeve, 1994). This sub-order includes both the sarcoptid mites which tunnel right into the skin and the psoroptid mites which cause crusting and surface skin lesions. Adult mites can be seen by examining skin scrapings under the microscope. Some of the symptoms of infestation are similar to those of ringworm. These include white flaky dry skin which sloughs off, encrusted skin lesions, 'cauliflower ' ears (whereby the ears have a uneven edge due to tissue damage which is not repaired], hair loss (resulting in a gradual balding of the affected area) and often considerable spine loss. A displaced juvenile brought to me for care and attention, already displaying signs of ringworm, often goes on to develop extensive signs of sarcoptic mange with heavy spine loss.

Brockie (1974b) found that debilitating infestations could develop in three months, and that infestation could reduce the chances of winter survival by as much as 50%. The mites were also suspected of helping to spread ringworm as the fungus has been isolated from their droppings. Brockie (1974b), also suggested that sarcoptic mange may limit hedgehog populations at high densities in New Zealand, where he postulated that high density of hedgehogs could be a factor in explaining the high incidence of mange mite infestations.

In addition, my data suggests that juvenile animals infested with sarcoptic mange are slow to gain weight, and more susceptible to invasion by other pathogens such as the potentially fatal bacteria Clostridium perfringens.

Method and materials

Treatment typically consists of weekly subcutaneous injections of Ivermectin (0.4mg/kg) over a period of three weeks, in an attempt to eliminate all stage of the life cycle (mites, larvae and eggs). However, in heavily infested very young animals (four to eight weeks), it has always been necessary to repeat the injections, often for another three to four weeks, before the disease displayed signs of receding and new spine growth was apparent. In several cases, initial spine loss was such that the animal became almost completely bald, giving virtually no chance of defence against predators had the animal not been protected in temporary captivity. Predators include the badger, large birds of prey, foxes (young individuals only) and, in this case, domestic dogs and cats.

The juvenile referred to initially in the section on ringworm, later started to develop sarcoptic mange with associated spine loss and bald patches. Treatment typically consists of weekly injections of Ivermectin over a period of three weeks, in an attempt to eliminate all stage of the life cycle. However, in heavily infested very young animals (four to eight weeks), it has always been necessary to repeat the injections, often for another three to four weeks, before the disease displayed signs of receding and new spine growth was apparent. In several cases, initial spine loss was such that the animal became almost completely bald, giving virtually no chance of defence against predators had the animal not been protected in temporary captivity.

As for ringworm, Tea Tree Antiseptic cream was dripped onto the area of the back where white flaky skin was present and spine loss beginning to occur. A second animal infested with sarcoptic mange had already received two injections of ivermectin, the second injection one week previously, but had shown no improvement. Instead, deterioration was evident with increased spine loss and flaking of skin. The procedure was repeated with this animal.

Results

With the first animal, within twenty - four hours following administration of Tea Tree antiseptic cream, the bald areas on the back were largely covered with new spines starting to grow. With the second animal, new spines could also be seen covering all previously bald areas. The appointment for administering a third Ivermectin injection for this animal was cancelled and the animal continued to make good progress. The emergence of new spines was accompanied in both instances by a more rapid weight gain, providing further support for the idea that infestation with sarcoptic mange has an inhibitory effect on weight gain.

Conclusion

As for ringworm, it is important that this procedure is repeated many times before hard and fast conclusions can be drawn regarding the efficacy of Tea Tree cream. However, as time is normally of the essence when treating wild animals such as the hedgehog, which often arrive in a rather poor state, any new treatment which appears to work is surely worth a try. In particular, Tea Tree antiseptic cream is harmless, relatively cheap, and easily obtainable from most health food shops.

The continued collaboration between hedgehog carers and veterinary practices is of great benefit to the hedgehog. The animal has been native to Britain for millions of years, but is now declining in number as revealed recently by figures released by the British Mammal Society (1999).


Acknowledgements

I would like to express thanks to Keith Warner (MRCVS) a veterinary surgeon at the Minster Veterinary Practice in York, England, for invaluable help and discussion regarding treatment of hedgehogs.


References

Brockie R.E. The hedgehog mange mite Caparinia tripilis, in New Zealand. N.Z..Vet.J. 22: 243-247, 1974b.

Keymer I.F., Gibson E.A. & Reynolds D.J., Zoonoses and other findings in hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus): a survey of mortality and review of the literature, The Veterinary Record, March 16: 245-249,1991.

The Mammal Society, The state of British mammals, The Mammal Society: 1-4, 1999.

Reeve, N., Hedgehogs, T. & A. D. Poyser Limited, London: 1-313, 1994.

Robinson I. & Routh A., Veterinary care of the hedgehog. In Practice, (March):128-137, 1999.

Smith, J.M.B., Diseases of hedgehogs, Vet. Bull. 38: 425-430, 1968.

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Dr. Bunnell received her PhD in 1982. She lectures in biological sciences at the University of Hull, UK, and also teaches for the Open University. She is a member of the Scientific and Medical Network.

She worked for many years as a music therapist with people with learning disabilities and published a book entitled Music Makes A Difference. As a folk musician who writes her own songs and plays the guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, hurdy gurdy and Appalachian dulcimer, she has travelled Britain and Central Europe performing in concerts in a semi-professional capacity.

She has trained as a healer and published scientific papers on the effects of healing on enzyme activity. Current research involves investigating the effects of 'healing with intent' on breathing efficiency in asthmatics, and the alteration in brainwave patterns during compassionate thought processes in healers and non-healers.

In her spare time she runs a sanctuary for hedgehogs, taking as many displaced animals from York RSPCA Animal Home as time and space permits (about 45 a year). The hedgehogs are rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

Toni Bunnell can be contacted by email at: T.Bunnell@hull.ac.uk

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