Hedgehogs are great low-maintenance, hypoallergenic, fun, cute pets to add to your home. A hedgehog can be a great addition to your household for a variety of reasons, from its lack of odor (no smelly hamster cages here!) to the minimal space requirements for housing to the quirky personalities that these little balls of fun can have, and so much more.
Are you thinking of adding a hedgehog to your pet family? Do you have a few questions about hedgies and their spiky exteriors? If bringing a hedgehog into your family is next up on your list of pet additions, this article has been written with you in mind.
Before we dive into all things quill, let’s start with a bit of basic information about these cute, not-so-cuddly, spiny, tiny mammals.
What Is a Hedgehog?
Hedgehogs are tiny warm-blooded mammals with short legs, pointy faces, and round quill-covered (just like un-related porcupine) bodies. According to the San Diego Zoo, hedgehogs can range in length from four to twelve inches and weigh anywhere from five to fifty-six ounces. Think tennis-ball-sized to half-gallon sized.
Hedgehogs are native to Europe, New Zealand, Africa, and Asia. Hedgies thrive in a variety of habitats from dense forests to deserts.
Hedgies are lazy little buggers. They can easily sleep over three-quarters of their day away and thoroughly enjoy the nightlife since they’re nocturnal.
In the wild — yes, there are wild hedgehogs — these little mammals root beneath vegetation in search of food, like insects, fungi, fruit, small snakes, frogs, eggs, and roots. According to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), hedgies can consume one-third of their body weight during these evening foraging sessions.
Hedgies give birth to litters of four to seven hoglets. These baby hedgehogs, also called piglets, can weigh less than one ounce (that’s less than a golf ball!) and will live under the protective hedge of their mother for about seven to eight weeks. After that, they’re off on their own.
There are seventeen different species of hedgehogs found around the world. The two most commonly found as pets are the African pygmy and European hedgehogs.
Hedgies are classified as exotic pets and cannot be purchased or owned in California, Alabama, Hawaii, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Maine, or Vermont. You also cannot take your pet hedgehog to pursue its political interests in Washington, D.C., or take in the Broadway lights in New York City.
Purchasing a hedgehog can be a bit of a whirlwind experience, so make certain to do your homework before you make your purchase.
Now that we’ve covered a bit of the history of the hedgehog and all it entails, let’s get to the point!
What Are Hedgehog Quills Made of?
All quills, sometimes called spikes or spines, are essentially modified hair. They are made of the same substance that comprises human hair and fingernails, which is keratin.
Hedgehog quills are extremely tough and not easily broken. Unlike porcupine quills, the quills of the hedgie are relatively all the same length (under one inch).
Are Hedgehogs Born with Their Quills?
Baby hedgehogs, called piglets or hoglets, resemble chubby white caterpillars when they are born. Hoglets DO have quills when they are born, but they don’t resemble the tough spikes of an adult hedgie.
Piglet quills are flexible and soft. When baby hedgehogs enter the world, their quills are covered by fluid-filled, puffy skin so as not to injure the mother. Could you imagine what birth would be like for a hedgehog if not?
Within 24 to 48 hours, the skin surrounding the piglet’s quills will shrink, revealing around 150 to 200 pliable white quills. Once a hoglet is about four weeks old, the flexible white quills will have given way to formidable, dark-colored quills.
How Many Quills Does a Hedgehog Have?
On average, a hedgehog will have anywhere from 3,000 to upwards of 5,000 quills carpeting its back. These spiky spots serve as the hedgie’s best form of defense against any predator that may think it would make for a tasty treat.
When a hedgehog feels threatened, it can raise its quills upright, creating a masterfully pointy suit of armor. The hedgie will tuck its legs, head, and tail using the muscles of its back and belly to create a solid, protective ball of spikes that predators find a bit too hard to open.
Do Hedgehogs Lose Their Quills?
Hedgehogs go through a kind of molting process called quilling where old quills are exchanged for new ones. This process is part of the hedgehog’s growing process, as the soft, pliable quills of a hoglet won’t quite fulfill the job of protection for the hedgie.
Hedgehogs will go through the quilling process no less than twice during their lifetimes. The first quilling will occur when hoglets are around six to eight weeks old, when the body replaces the soft baby quills with larger, more protective ones.
The second quilling process occurs when hedgehogs are around four to six months old. It is wholly possible for a hedgehog to experience quilling in later courses of life, but definitive timelines for those occurrences is harder to pinpoint than the first two.
If you notice that your hedgehog is losing large quantities of quills that aren’t being readily replaced within a week’s time, you likely need to take your poky little friend in for a visit to your veterinarian.
Do Hedgehog Quills Grow Back?
As previously mentioned, quilling (the loss of quills and their subsequent regrowth) is a normal process in the transition of your hedgehog from adolescence to adulthood. After your hedgehog’s two major quilling processes, you might notice a lone spine or two just lying about. This is wholly normal.
Just as humans and all hair-bearing animals are apt to do, hedgehogs will lose and regrow their quills (they’re essentially just modified hair, remember?). You’ll notice new quills growing in within a few days.
If you do notice an excess of lost quills from your hedgehog that aren’t being regrown in a normal time span, you definitely need to take your pet in for a checkup with your veterinarian. A host of issues can be at play, from skin disorders to fungal infections to mite infestations.
Can Hedgehogs Shoot Their Quills?
Can your dog shoot his hair? Silly question, eh? The quill of a hedgehog is equivalent to the hair in your dog’s coat and the hair on your head. We can’t just force hairs out on command, and the hedgehog cannot either.
Hedgie quills can fall out or break just the same as your hair can, but the hedgehog cannot “shoot” their quills as a form of defense. They can, however, raise their quills up in a criss-cross pattern to create a shield of protection when threatened.
Are Hedgehog Quills Poisonous?
Hedgie quills are not poisonous. However, there is a tricky little catch to this answer. Although hedgehogs have no poison glands or venom sacs, they can coat their spines with irritating or poisonous substances through a process referred to as “anointing.”
“Anointing” occurs when hedgies chew or lick irritating substances or toxins to create a frothy saliva mixture. Hedgehogs will coat their extremely absorbent spines and skin with this foamy mixture, creating an added barrier of protection for the wee little pincushion.
Do Hedgehogs Hurt to Hold?
If a hedgehog is calm, its spines will be in a relaxed position. You can easily hold a calm hedgie without worrying about its quills.
When a hedgehog’s quills are in a relaxed position, they lay flatly along the back and sides of the hedgie. The spines will be pointed toward the rear of the hedgehog. The spines pose no danger to you if you don’t push against the sharp spine tips.
A defensive hedgehog is an entirely different story. Whenever a hedgie feels threatened, its quills will point upward in a criss-crossing pattern, and the hedgehog will pull itself into its trademark ball of spikes. Handling an angry hedgehog can be quite the prickling experience!
Now that you’re more familiar with the ins and outs of hedgehog quills, let’s learn about what hedgehog ownership entails, where to find a hedgehog, and a few fun facts about the fantastic hedgie!
Owning a Hedgehog
Hedgehogs do not require any sort of specialized care. The basic requirements your hedgehog will have are a regularly cleaned cage, fresh water and food, and a bit of interaction from you.
Hedgehogs self-groom, so you won’t have to regularly bathe your pet. There may be times where your hedgie will need a bit of extra cleaning. Still, it isn’t as regular an occurrence as it is with many other pets, especially exotic ones.
Hedgies are normally clean animals and can even be trained to use a litter box within their cage. Some hedgehogs will be messy, but they are a bit rarer than their clean counterparts.
Feeding your new hedgie isn’t a complicated process, either. There are many commercially manufactured dry foods formulated explicitly for hedgehogs. You’ll want to be sure to check that the food you purchase is low in fat and high in protein.
Hedgies love fruits and veggies added to their regular meals. A few options that your hedgehog may enjoy are beans, apples, corn, carrots, or peas.
When establishing a home for your new hedgie, you’ll want a cage that will give your new pet the ability to roam and enjoy. Hedgehogs like to build nests for sleeping. Using quality bedding, such as pine or aspen shavings, will give your new addition a great home.
You will also want to have quality food and water bowls (or hanging bottles) for your new hedgehog. Hedgies need fresh food and water daily, so keep that in mind.
You will also want to provide some sort of activity for your hedgehog. Remember, wild hedgies forage and roam all night in search of dinner. Your hedgie won’t have that ability.
You can attach a wheel to the side of its cage to give your hedgehog something to keep it active. You can also purchase a gate system for your home that will allow for your hedgie to stretch its legs outside of its cage (supervised, of course!).
Hedgies can be an absolutely delightful addition to your household. They aren’t the most intelligent creatures on the planet, but their quirky behavior will provide you with endless entertainment.
Hedgehogs are curious, investigative little mammals. They enjoy exploration and will inspect every nook and cranny that you will allow.
Kind of like ferrets, some hedgies have been known to “steal” hair ties, socks, and other small items. If you don’t want your new hedgehog making off with your things, provide them with some small, hedgie-friendly toys, such as balls that they can tote and roll around.
Lastly, and importantly, hedgehogs are zoonoses, meaning that they can transmit infections, parasites, or viruses to their human companions. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a 2019 outbreak of salmonella that affected over fifty people in more than twenty states all originated with pet hedgehogs.
For this reason, amongst others, it is imperative to always wash your hands with soap and water after handling your pet hedgehog. Even though your pet may look clean and healthy, they could possibly carry something that can make you very ill.
Where Can You Find a Hedgehog?
It is important that you purchase your hedgehog from an ethical, reputable, and trustworthy seller. As more and more people are looking to cash in on the hedgie craze, many vendors are surfacing that only care about dollar signs and not the animals they are selling.
Places you can find hedgehogs are:
- Reputable, private breeders (ask around for references)
- Local pet stores
- Rescue services (adoptions)
- Exotic animal trade shows and exhibits
- Your hometown veterinarian
Regardless of where you choose to purchase your hedgehog from, be certain to do your homework to make sure that you are bringing home a healthy, happy pet.
Did You Know?
There are a ton of fun hedgehog facts that you can add to your memory bank. A few of these tidbits of wisdom include:
- Almost all hedgehogs have five toes except the African four-toed pygmy hedgehog.
- Hedgies can travel upwards of two miles a day.
- They can reach speeds over four miles per hour.
- Some species of hedgehogs can eat scorpions (they have to bite the stinger off first) and some venomous snakes.
- Hedgies can’t roll away when they are tucked in a defensive ball (Sonic really lied to us!).
- Wild hedgies eat a varied diet that includes many garden pests. For this reason, many Europeans welcome hedgehogs in their gardens and backyards.
- Hedgehogs are generally solitary animals, but when you do catch a group of them together, it is called an array.
- Hedgehogs were named for their method of collecting food. These little guys root through hedges in search of dinner with their pig-like noses.
- Hedgies can squeal, grunt, snort, and emit chirping sounds.
- Scientists recently discovered the remains of the hedgehog’s ancient, 125 million-year-old cousin!
- Hedgies are in no way related to porcupines.
- Hedgehogs, like mongooses, honey badgers, and opossums, have a specialized protein within their blood that can neutralize snake venom, thus providing a natural form of immunity. Though the hedgehog’s immunity to snake venom is not complete, the protective hedge provided by the blood proteins allows hedgies to feast upon venomous snakes.
- Hedgehogs are lactose-intolerant.
- Wild hedgies will eat frogs, rodents, bird eggs, baby birds, fruit, fungi, vegetation, carrion (dead animals), and a multitude of insects and invertebrates.
- European hedgehogs are the largest species and can weigh approximately five pounds at maturity.
- Hedgies have terrible eyesight but keen noses!
- Some cultures eat hedgehogs, while others use them in traditional medicine.
- Britain attempted to market hedgehog-flavored potato chips in the 1980s.
- Once, in New Zealand, a political party attempted to get a hedgie to Parliament but failed.
- Germans used hedgehogs to predict how long winter would last. When German settlers immigrated to the United States and couldn’t find a wild hedgie, they turned to a groundhog for their weather predictions — a tradition that still holds strong today.
- Hedgehogs can live almost a decade when cared for properly.
- The Brothers Grimm penned fairy tales about hedgehogs, Hans My Hedgehog and The Hare and the Hedgehog.
- Hedgehogs had IHOG, or the International Hedgehog Olympic Games, where players competed in races, obstacle courses, and other events.
- Hedgehogs can become depressed if they are unable to engage in activities.
We’ve covered a lot of ground today (kind of like the hedgehog), from everything about the hedgie, to just about every question imaginable about hedgehog quills, to proper care, to finding the perfect hedgehog, to fun facts that you can share with friends.
We hope this article has given you a bit more insight into hedgehog ownership and how with proper care and handling, it definitely won’t hurt you to hold a hedgehog!
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.