Owning a pet hedgehog can be fun and unique. Hedgehogs are certainly more exotic pets than cats and dogs. They have different needs and act differently for good reason.
These little animals can seem intimidating to handle if you aren’t familiar with their nature, but with a little understanding, you’ll find a good friend in your hedgehog.
Many questions come into play when deciding to purchase a hedgehog as a pet, but one of the topmost questions is whether the spikes on their backs are painful. If you’re looking at a hedgehog with little understanding, you may take one look at them and decide never to pick one up.
While this may be a good idea when it comes to porcupines or other prickly creatures, hedgehog spikes, or quills, are slightly different and shouldn’t be as frightening.
What Are Quills?
It’s easy to be afraid of something if you don’t know what it is. The quills on the back of hedgehogs can be prickly and sharp, but they’re not always that way.
All 5,000 to 7,000 quills on your hedgehog are there to protect them and protect them they do! A hedgehog needs its quills to keep its little body safe from any potential predators.
A hedgehog’s quills are not barbed like a porcupine’s. In fact, they’re not even quite as sharp. The quills on a hedgehog are controlled by their muscles so when a hedgehog tenses or feels threatened, the quills are raised and feel sharp.
When your hedgehog is relaxed, however, the quills lie flat and are only mildly pokey.
While the quills of your hedgehog may not look like it, they’re similar to the fur of dogs and cats. Hedgehogs naturally shed and regrow their quills so seeing a few quills lying around is no reason to panic.
It can seem more concerning because your hedgehog’s quills are its first and only line of defense, but it’s a completely natural and normal part of hedgehog life.
Generally, a hedgehog will shed its quills only when it is growing. After reaching 10 or 11 months of age, a hedgehog will stop shedding its quills. A few quills here or there may be lost, but it should not be as much as when quilling as a young hedgehog.
Between the age of six weeks and 10 months, though, your hedgehog may shed most of its quills several times.
Just like teething is for human babies, shedding can be painful for young hedgehogs. If you notice your hedgehog beginning to shed its quills, consider giving it some extra space and refraining from handling it.
Your hedgehog’s skin may be extra sensitive and because it’s a long and uncomfortable process, your hedgehog may be more grumpy than usual. Don’t be put off if your hedgehog is a bit more skittish or grouchier than usual.
Do Hedgehog Quills Hurt?
As mentioned before, when a hedgehog feels like it is being threatened or needs to protect its soft undersides, it tenses up and raises its quills. If it is feeling threatened, it will also roll into a tight ball so the only exposed part of its body is prickly and covered in quills.
The good news is that even when your hedgehog is rolled up tightly and raising its quills, you can still pick up or touch your hedgehog without damage or pain. Very few hedgehog owners ever prick themselves hard enough on their hedgehog’s quills to break the skin.
The quills are least prickly when your hedgehog is relaxed. Even though they still look a bit sharp and pointy, when you touch or hold a relaxed hedgehog, you’ll find the quills lie evenly across your hands and don’t poke into your skin. The feeling can often be described as touching a bunch of straws or a hairbrush.
A hedgehog in a defensive position is a prickly hedgehog. The quills are no longer relaxed and evenly distributed, but raised and sharp. Luckily for hedgehog owners, even when this is the case, the quills aren’t sharp enough to break through skin or draw blood.
It may feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful to touch your hedgehog. Many hedgehog owners equate the feeling of their quills to touching a bunch of toothpicks.
Not All Hedgehogs Have the Same Quills
Just like the fur on dogs and cats, the quills on hedgehogs vary from pet to pet. Younger hedgehogs will have sharper quills, but as they grow and develop, the quills will soften a bit and become easier to touch and hold.
Even once your hedgehog has matured fully, it’s possible its quills may be a bit more prickly than other hedgehogs and never smooth out fully. Don’t expect two hedgehogs to feel the same just because they are around the same age or are even siblings.
The number of quills your hedgehog has also directly affects how prickly it is. Most pet hedgehogs have between 5,000 and 6,500 quills, though some may have up to 7,000!
Ironically, hedgehogs that have more quills will feel softer to the touch as the weight of your hedgehog is distributed evenly over more contact points.
How to Handle Your Hedgehog
Just because hedgehog spines aren’t particularly painful doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do a few extra things to ensure your hedgehog is handled properly and feeling safe. After all, the safer your pet hedgehog feels, the friendlier it will be.
No one likes pets that aren’t friendly or are easily riled up. As the owner of a hedgehog, it’s up to you to keep your hedgehog feeling secure and happy.
It goes without being said that the more comfortable your hedgehog is with you, the more it will stay relaxed and less prickly. How do you keep your hedgehog comfortable though? How do you know how to do such a thing?
The very first thing you should do when you bring your pet hedgehog home is to get it socialized. A good breeder will have started this process with your hedgehog so that by the time you pick up your pet, it is used to being carried, touched, and handled.
Don’t let this process stop you, though. It’s important you regularly pick up, pet, and socialize with your new pet to get it used to you and your scent.
Get your hedgehog used to your scent as soon as possible These adorable creatures don’t have very good eyesight so they rely heavily on smells to determine friend from foe.
It’s expected that at first, your hedgehog won’t recognize your scent and may consider you a threat. If this is the case, be sure to show your hedgehog you don’t mean any harm.
This can be done by scooping it up as gently as possible and talking to it when you feed it. This can help your hedgehog quickly realize you are acting in its best interest and are a friendly, if not large, presence.
Because hedgehogs especially need familiar smells to feel safe, avoid changing shampoos, soaps, or perfumes constantly. Maintain a similar scent and if you have to change something, do so slowly.
Instead of switching out your entire supply of shampoo and perfume at once, choose one to switch first and wait for your hedgehog to adjust to the new scent before switching out the other.
If you want to pet your hedgehog, move your hand from its head to its tail as this is the way the quills grow. Avoid tapping or patting its quills as much as possible as hedgehogs hate this.
Even regular petting can stress them out. Instead, the best way to bond with your hedgehog is to let it sniff your hand before you very carefully scoop it up, set it in your lap, and let it sit there.
Your hedgehog may grow to trust you enough and be okay with you gently petting it, but it’s important you don’t rush this or the trust may be broken and your hedgehog may start to feel panicked when it knows you are nearby.
Do Hedgehogs Like Being Touched and Cuddled?
The amount of touching and cuddling your hedgehog likes will vary depending on its personality. Some have been known to snuggle up with their owners and enjoy playing. Others may be shyer and prefer exploring their surroundings alone.
Your hedgehog could be anywhere on the spectrum. It depends on how much handling your hedgehog experienced as a baby and how it was treated in the past.
If you are patient and respect your hedgehog’s boundaries, it is possible to get any hedgehog to allow you to handle it. Don’t feel bad if your hedgehog doesn’t get particularly excited about cuddling though. Just like all animals and even humans, hedgehogs have unique personalities and some just don’t like it.
Every hedgehog is different and therefore has different preferences for bonding. If your hedgehog doesn’t seem to enjoy being cuddled or carried around, see if it is interested in playing with you. Perhaps get your hedgehog a playset to explore or give it new treats to try now and then.
There are many ways to bond with your hedgehog and just because it may have prickly spikes or be put off by cuddling doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy time with it.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.