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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Determining an animal’s age can be tricky, and hedgehogs are prime examples of this problem. It is helpful to know your pet hedgehog’s age or the age of a rescued wild hedgehog so that you know the appropriate way to treat it and what to expect.
Hedgehogs do not give many clues to their age, but there are a few that may be helpful.
European hedgehogs have a spine color change as they age. An old hedgehog will have ginger spines. Wear and tear on the teeth and claws can give some indication of a hedgehog’s age. Pygmy hedgehogs show little spine color variation with age. Telling the age of a hedgehog is a difficult task.
Hedgehogs occur on many continents of the world. They can be found throughout Africa, Asia, New Zealand, and Europe. European hedgehogs and African pygmy hedgehogs are the types most commonly kept as pets.
Does a Hedgehogs Spines Change with Age?
European hedgehogs have a color change in the spines as they age, with the spines becoming gingery as the hedgehog gets older. The color changes usually start on the midline of the back and spread out from there. A hedgehog that is almost wholly ginger may definitely be considered a senior citizen in the hedgehog world.
Hedgehogs are individuals, and color changes will occur at different rates, just as people get grey hair at different ages. Changes in spine color can also indicate health problems, so it is essential to check with a veterinarian if your hedgehog’s spines change color.
African pygmy hedgehogs do not have much color change in their spines as they age. Both African pygmy and European hedgehogs are born a light color and darken with maturity.
Can You Tell a Hedgehog’s Age from Its Teeth?
Hedgehogs are insectivorous animals, and insects come with hard outer shells, which can be tough on the hedgehog’s teeth. Like many animals, they are also prone to dental disease and decay. Dental issues are more commonly seen in older hedgehogs.
An old hedgehog will be more likely to have worn teeth, missing teeth, or dental disease. A lot of these dental processes are reliant on the hedgehog’s diet and nutrient intake.
A hedgehog that lives in an area where it eats worms predominantly may not show as much wear in its teeth as one that eats insects with a hard carapace. Hedgehogs find their food in the ground, and hard stony or gritty ground will cause more wear on the hedgehog’s teeth than soft, moist soil.
Some nutrient deficiencies, such as calcium, or diseases may cause dental problems, so it is not always reliable to say a hedgehog is old because it has dental issues.
What Can the Claws Tell About a Hedgehog’s Age?
Just like the teeth, hedgehogs’ claws often wear down as they age. All that plodding and scurrying through undergrowth causes the nails to become slightly thickened and shorter. Once again, diseases or poor diet may contribute to a hedgehog’s claws wearing down earlier than expected.
Is It Possible to Accurately Determine a Hedgehog’s Age?
As we have seen so far, there are some clues to tell you if a hedgehog is an older individual. Another hint is that old hedgehogs undergo a skin color change. Usually, their skin is black, but as they age, their skin becomes pink. This color change is most easily seen on their snouts.
Although we can get some idea of how old a hedgehog is, it is difficult to determine the age accurately. Many habitat and genetic factors can influence the physical aging markers we look for when considering a hedgehog’s age.
There are some very accurate measures to determine a hedgehog’s age, but these can only be carried out on a dead hedgehog. The most reliable method involves counting the rings in the jawbone, much like counting the rings in a tree to determine the age. Obviously, this method is of little use when estimating the age of a live hedgehog.
What Age Is Considered Old for a Hedgehog?
Hedgehogs can have life spans that vary from three to five years in the wild to up to ten years in captivity. Some hedgehogs in captivity still only live to approximately three or four years of age.
There can be a great deal of age variation even in the wild. In a Danish study, researchers found one deceased wild hedgehog that was sixteen years old. One tame female European hedgehog was accurately recorded as fifteen years old.
A six-month-old hedgehog is considered to be equivalent in age to a twenty-year-old human. At three years old, a hedgehog is equal to a forty-year-old person. After three years, their aging speeds up, and at three years and eight months, the hedgehog is like a sixty-year-old person. A hedgehog that lives to seven years old can be considered the same as a human around one hundred years of age.
Determining the Age of a Baby Hedgehog
As with most animals, it is often easier to guess the age of a baby as there are specific developmental markers to give you clues. Hedgehogs are generally white when they are born, and their spines are enclosed in a water pocket covered by a membrane. The fluid dries up during the first day, and the membrane shrivels, revealing the hoglet’s spines.
Hedgehog babies are born blind with their eyes still closed, just like puppies and kittens. The eyes will open at about two weeks of age. In the first two weeks, the quills harden, and the hoglets grow a soft peach-colored fur on their abdomens.
The first teeth to appear in a hoglet are the lower jaw incisors at three weeks. The milk or baby teeth continue to appear until the hoglet is seven to nine weeks old. By this time, they should have a complete set of baby teeth.
During the third to fourth week, the baby quills begin to fall out, and the new adult quills grow. These are usually a darker color. This quill replacement will continue for three to four weeks until the hoglet has all its adult quills.
It is tricky to accurately tell how old a hedgehog is in years, but you can get an indication of age by the spine color and the state of the teeth and claws. Due to environmental and genetic factors, the aging process varies.
Baby hoglets have developmental milestones, which make them easier to age. The only accurate way to age a hedgehog is when it is deceased and special tests are completed.