The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Compared to dogs or cats, keeping a hedgehog as a pet can be more challenging since information about its behaviors isn’t as readily available. Unlike these conventional pets that pretty much everyone knows shed hair/fur, most hedgehog owners wonder “do hedgehogs shed?”
Hedgehog shedding, better known as hedgehog quilling, is a normal process for these little animals to experience. However, many new hedgehog owners aren’t aware of its existence until their pet goes through it for the first time.
As a result, pet owners often get worried when they witness their hedgehog losing its spines/quills. In fact, the majority tend to panic and immediately assume the worst!
If you own a hedgie and want to educate yourself on quilling/shedding in these adorable animals, then you’ve come to the right place!
Today’s guide will help you understand how this process works, how long it lasts, and how you can help your hedgehog during this time. You’ll also learn the difference between normal and abnormal quilling.
Do Hedgehogs Shed?
Yes, much like dogs and cats, hedgehogs shed. But instead of losing hair or fur, hedgehogs lose their spines (those pointy/spiky structures covering their bodies) in a process known as quilling.
What is Hedgehog Quilling?
The term “quilling” can be a bit confusing and inaccurate when it comes to describing the shedding of prickles in hedgehogs as these animals technically have spines, not quills. We’ll explain the difference soon, but just keep this in mind because we’ll be referring to them as spines from now on.
As for quilling, this is a process that all hedgehogs go through where they simply shed their old spines to make room for new ones. It’s a natural part of a hedgie’s growth cycle because the protection needs of their adult bodies can’t be met by their delicate baby/juvenile quills.
When hedgehogs experience quilling, you’ll notice a considerable number of their spines start to fall out. Don’t worry though, larger and stronger spines will replace them.
Spines vs Quills
So what do you call the spiky things spreading all over the body of a hedgehog; spines or quills?
Well, this is one of the most confusing aspects of hedgehogs, and also one of the most common mistakes among people when talking about hedgies as many tend to use “spines” and “quills” interchangeably.
On that note, hedgehogs technically possess spines, not quills. Here are the differences:
- Spines are toughened hairs with a solid center and tapered ends.
They fall out and get replaced by new ones continuously over the course of a hedgehog’s life, similar to cats, dogs, and humans.
- Quills are hollow with barbs on the end. They can be released or detached at will.
Unlike a porcupine, hedgehogs can’t shoot or detach quills.
When Do Hedgehogs Quill?
A hedgehog will experience the quilling process at least two times during the span of its life.
The first episode is typically when the hedgie is around 4 to 6 weeks old. This quilling involves a great deal of change and discomfort and happens because the animal is replacing very small and soft immature quills with much bigger and harder ones.
During the first quill, you’ll be able to see adult quills starting to grow through when you examine your hedgie’s backs. Brace yourself though; it can be quite surprising when you first take a look there and notice the drastic difference in size.
As for the second quilling episode of a hedgehog, it usually occurs when the animal is about 16 weeks old. This time can get rather irritating, but it isn’t nearly as bad as the first episode.
Other than these two quilling episodes, your hedgehog may go through milder instances of quilling as it grows older, but these cases aren’t as defined or expected as the first two.
How Long Does Quilling Last?
Several factors can affect the duration of the hedgehog quilling process. The most common ones are genetics, age, and level of care.
As a result, this question doesn’t have one solid answer. While some hedgies finish their quilling in 2 or 3 weeks, others can take well over a month to get done with the process.
You can check if your pet hedgehog still has a lot longer to go by gently examining its back. You’ll often be able to spot new spines breaking through the skin, so use their progress as an approximate indicator.
Is Hedgehog Quilling Irritating?
It’s not hard to conclude that hedgehog quilling can get pretty uncomfortable. Just imagine having to push out large spikes through tiny holes in your skin — yeah, not exactly an enjoyable venture.
That said, some hedgehogs experience worse symptoms than others depending on how big and rigid the spines are.
As such, the level of irritation is totally situational. This means it can’t be anticipated to try and alleviate the discomfort.
In some cases, a spine won’t have a clean coming out, so it’ll cause the hedgie to hurt more. These spines will eventually sort themselves out, but they may take more time to develop cleanly compared to other spines that were growing clean from the start.
In even rarer instances, a new spine may not come out cleanly for a significantly long period, resulting in long-term distress and possible bleeding. If your hedgehog seems to experience this, medical intervention is typically required.
That said, even the smoothest quilling processes can still lead to irritation and discomfort solely based on how these animals naturally act. Hedgehogs are active little balls, so they tend to bump their spines into surfaces and objects around them as they move and play.
In normal circumstances, nothing is wrong with these actions. But during the quilling process, it can be very painful for a hedgie to rub or bump their sore spines.
Does Hedgehog Quilling Affect their Behavior?
As a result of all the discomfort and pain that your hedgehog may experience as we explained above, you’ll probably notice some behavioral changes during the quilling process.
For example, your hedgie may act less active and not play around as usual. Your pet may also seem resistant to your attempts of handling it, which you may perceive as the animal being grumpy or cooped.
A change in mood can be a symptom of quilling in hedgehogs, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for it. Additionally, you should be careful of hedgehog bites as these happen more frequently during quilling.
Although behavioral changes may be a sign of your little buddy just having a bad day, if you find fallen spines and new ones coming out in their place, you’ll know quilling is likely the culprit.
What are Normal Symptoms of Quill Loss and Growth?
With normal hedgehog quilling, symptoms include fallen spines that you’ll probably find lying around your pet’s space.
Quilling doesn’t necessarily happen just the two major episodes we discussed earlier, it can occur multiple times throughout your hedgie’s life where a few spines are shed here and there.
In normal quilling, the new spines should make their first appearance within a few days. There’s a chance that the growth of new spines is slowed down or inhibited due to certain conditions such as dry skin, stressful environments, or fungal infections.
Hedgehog owners should also watch out for in-grown spines, which serve as proof of the quilling process. In this case, a spine is having a hard time breaking out of the skin and ends up taking the shape of a red bump poking out of the skin.
In-grown spines often resolve themselves, but sometimes they’re too stubborn and may require your help to break out as follows:
- Use sterilized tweezers to carefully pull out the in-grown spine, which will most likely be curved.
- Once you’re done, apply some antibacterial cream over the spot using a clean cotton swab.
- If you’re not sure you can do this yourself, it’s best to leave it to your vet.
Keep in mind that the presence of a tiny ball on the end of a fallen spine is a sign of a healthy quilling process. The same goes if the skin looks generally healthy after the loss of spines (some minor dermatitis is fine).
Normal Causes of Spine Loss
So, what are the typical causes of spine loss?
Age: young hedgehogs go through quilling to replace their small soft spines with larger and harder spines to accommodate their protection needs as adults.
If you notice that the fallen spines are smaller than the rest of the intact spines and that they possess a bulb-shaped root on one end, then regular quilling is the case.
Another sign of normal quilling is the appearance of new spines coming out in place of shed quills spines.
On average, a hedgehog has around 5,000 spines covering its body and will shed/replace approximately 90% of them throughout its lifetime.
Abnormal Causes of Spine Loss
Other than the reasons we mentioned above, the only way to pinpoint the exact cause of spine loss is to ask a vet, especially if the quilling seems abnormal. Problematic quilling can be due to mites, ringworms, stress, poor diets, and hormonal imbalances.
In the case of ringworms or mites, not only will the skin be dry and flakey, but the fallen spines also won’t appear as they should. Instead of being whole with a bump on one tip, the lost spines will look broken or mushy at the end.
Additionally, your hedgie shouldn’t experience bald spots for a long time. You should see new spines poking out within a week of the old ones falling.
If the skin looks bumpy, red, or gooey, then it’s not normal hedgehog quilling you’re dealing with. If you can’t control these symptoms, you need to seek medical attention from your vet.
With normal quilling, the skin underneath will look healthy (even if a little dry or with some minor dermatitis) and the spines should start coming out nicely.
How to Care for Your Quilling Hedgehog
Quilling can be quite an uncomfortable, irritating, or even painful experience for your pet hedgehog. As the owner, it’s your responsibility to empathize and try to ease this sore phase.
Here are a few tips to help you care for your quilling hedgehog:
- Be patient when handling your hedgehog and still let them roam around but remove clatter to save them from painful bumps.
- Don’t touch the spines except for a soft brush. Try to keep the touching restricted to the belly button.
- Make sure the temperature inside your hedgie’s cage is comfortable enough for your pet. Keep it around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and, if possible, use a humidifier to reduce skin dryness.
- Give your pet new treats such as juicy Butterworms or a favorite one such as a Dubia roach.
- Provide your pet’s cage with a few new elements to encourage it to explore and keep it distracted from the discomfort.
- Give your hedgehog a warm bath as a form of relief. You can add oatmeal or olive oil to the bath for better soothing.
Even if your pet isn’t a big fan of baths, chances are it’ll like it during the quilling process.
So, do hedgehogs shed? The answer is yes.
Hedgehogs shed spines and replace them in a process called quilling, which happens in two major episodes early in the animal’s life. Quilling may also occur occasionally with less definition throughout the rest of the hedgie’s lifetime.
The hedgehog quilling process is completely normal and is often accompanied by some behavioral changes that go away once it’s over.
If you notice any abnormal signs accompanying the quilling process such as redness, excessive dryness, bumps, or stickiness, you should take your pet hedgie to the vet as soon as possible.
These aren’t normal symptoms and the vet will tell you what’s causing them. Possible culprits behind problematic quilling include mites, ringworms, stress, poor diets, and hormonal imbalances.