All Your Questions Answered About Hedgehog Quills

What’s the defining physical trait of hedgehogs? Many people agree it’s their quills, or spikes, as some prefer to call them. Countless tales and drawings feature hedgehogs’ quills in action. Take the ubiquitous, yet false, children’s book illustrations of hedgehogs carrying apples or mushrooms on their back, for example. In this article, we’ll take an in-depth approach to all the questions you might have about hedgehog quills.

Quick Guide For Understanding Hedgehog Quills

  • Hedgehogs need quills. When they lack quills, it’s likely a genetic disorder or some other disease.
  • Hedgehogs have quills for survival. The sharp spikes allow them to detract their enemies.
  • You are able to pet a hedgehog despite them having quills. Relaxed hedgehogs pose a minimal danger.
  • When your hedgehog isn’t able to properly clean themselves, you need to wash the quills and remove the stuck debris.

Now, it’s time to go deeper into the different topics surrounding the hedgehogs’ legendary quills. Among other things, we’ll analyze the quill loss issue, sharpness of the spikes, and even the biological makeup of these stunning body parts. We are quite sure that no popular question is left unanswered after you read through this extensive blog post.

Do hedgehogs have quills or spines?

While we have already established that hedgehogs have quills, it’s a question that still often comes up for many people. How come? Well, there are people who disagree with naming these parts as quills. Rather, they’d see them called spines because these structures don’t detach as a strategy against predators. Also, the porcupine’s spikes are named quills as well, creating confusion over whether these are the same thing. Hint: they are not, but more on that later.

Why do they have quills?

The answer lies in ecology and biology: hedgehogs are prey animals. Many predators hunt them on a daily basis, which means that they have to constantly protect themselves. There are different ways for animals to defend themselves. Since hedgehogs are very small creatures, it’s not a good idea for them to rely on direct confrontation. Using sheer force isn’t going to save them from getting eaten. That’s why they have developed quills on their body. When they get attacked, hedgehogs use their quills to make them a more difficult target for the predators. As the spikes point upwards, the predators have a hard time killing and eating the hedgehog without seriously injuring themselves.

Do quills make it impossible to hold hedgehogs?

All the people who think about getting a hedgehog wonder about this at one point. It’s natural to think of hedgehogs as animals that just resist holding and petting. And if there’s no resistance, then handling a hedgehog seems like a dangerous deed. In reality, it’s not impossible to safely hold or pet your hedgehog. But there are a few things you have to keep in mind before doing that.

When your hedgehog is relaxed, then the quills aren’t ready for an attack. During this period, you’ll have absolutely no problem holding the hedgehog. All of the spikes are positioned towards the hedgehog’s rear. You’d have to push against the quills, essentially doing the petting in a backward fashion. By not doing this, you’ll minimize any chance of hurting yourself.

A hedgehog that has taken a defensive position is no fun to handle. Sometimes hedgehog owners need to handle their prickly buddies even when they are obviously stressed out. Usually, this means using safety gloves or a strong towel to protect the hands against the piercing quills. Still, this is only a necessity. You shouldn’t be petting your hedgehog when they are scared or seriously upset about something.

Could cuddling make them raise the quills?

Some people worry about hedgehogs suddenly getting stressed during a cuddle session. The risk of this happening greatly depends on the particular animal. Like humans, they have their own personalities and some need more personal space than others. The best thing is to watch the hedgehog’s reactions closely and avoid any sudden movements. If they are shy or get easily upset, then try to avoid doing any activities together that could contribute to their stress levels in a negative way.

How many quills do hedgehogs have?

Of course, the particular number depends on the individual. There are hedgehogs out there that are significantly larger or smaller than the others. Also, the particular species is another variable that must be accounted for. Still, many sources claim that an average hedgehog carries around 7000 individual quills on its body. In short, they do have an astounding number of spikes on their skin!

Why are hedgehogs losing quills?

When there’s no medical problem involved, hedgehogs will lose their spines because of a process called quilling. Basically, during the quilling phase, your hedgehog will get rid of many quills that will get replaced by new ones. Even humans tend to shed their hair during certain phases, but we tend to have so much hair, it’s barely noticeable.

Some people like to compare quilling to the process that snakes undergo when shedding their skin. This comparison is inadequate. In reality, the quilling process should be smooth and gradual over a longer time period. It’s definitely not something that happens overnight. A better comparison would be the teething period in human babies.

How does the quilling work?

When the quills shed with a natural cause, you’ll find the roots still attached to the end. You are able to detect the first changes when you notice that your hedgehog is losing small, fine quills. These will be gradually replaced by new ones. It’s not always easy to see the new ones appearing on your hedgehog’s body. The best way to see them is when your prickly friend is relaced. Look down the spine: when you concentrate, you’ll see that thick quills have started to pierce through the skin. It’s like flowers appearing in the spring gardens.

The quilling naturally takes place in a way that allows the new quills to appear quite soon after losing the old ones. In practical terms, this means that you shouldn’t be able to notice any bald spots. If you see any visibly bald patches on your hedgehog’s back, then you can be quite sure it isn’t caused by the quilling process. Also, there aren’t any universal timelines when it comes to mapping the quilling phases. Every hedgehog has an individual variety when it comes to losing quills and growing new strong ones.

What kind of issues can you expect during the quilling phases?

True, there are some potential problems that can arise when the hedgehog undergoes the quilling process. Basically, the main problem is about the size of the holes from where the quills start popping out. The first quills arise from the skin when the hedgehogs are just babies. That means the holes are quite small. The next quills need to widen the holes in order to accommodate the bigger adult spines. This isn’t always easy and may cause major discomfort to the hedgehog.

Some hedgehogs have naturally very strong and rough quills. They might experience an especially unnerving process. Also, some quills located in certain regions may be more coarse than others. These spines can cause more discomfort; usually, these quills grow around the ears. The best thing you can do during the quilling is to be as supportive as you can. You hedgehog might get grumpy and easily annoyed about anything that comes her way. Just be patient like with a child who’s in the teething phase.

Are there any patterns for quilling?

While there’s a lot of individuality, we can still see some patterns that hold true regardless of the particular hedgehog’s individual traits. Usually, the primary shedding takes place during the first three weeks, then lasting until the week twelve of their life. Then the quilling slows down, yet you can still see some of it taking place up to the first half year of the hedgehog’s life.

Most of the time, hedgehogs experience quilling many times in their life. The particular stages might only last for under a week. When we talk about average hedgehogs, then most probably the quilling stage in the later life lasts about 2-3 weeks. Although, it’s noted that the later quilling processes are definitely less stressful and demanding on the hedgehogs’ bodies.

How can you comfort you hedgehog?

Part of the quilling process response means just waiting it out. But there are quite a few practical steps you can take in order to minimize the negative emotions of your hedgehog. First of all, try to avoid any situations that might make your hedgehog curl up into a ball. All their muscles are already inflamed and irritated, there’s no reason to cause further discomfort. Further on, you could use a few drops of extra virgin olive oil on their skin. Just be careful not to apply too much oil. An excess amount of oil will cause other problems.

Many hedgehog care sites recommend using an oatmeal bath. This needs to be as pure as possible, though. When the oatmeal bath product contains too many chemicals, there’s a great chance that doing these baths will only make the skin drier. Usually, the quilling phase will cause dryness that creates a lot of discomfort to the hedgehog. Try to avoid cuddling and petting your hedgehog during the quilling phase. They might experience more discomfort when you physically touch them during this period. It’s much better to just let them walk around and explore the area.

How do I know it’s quilling, not mites?

True, mites may cause quill loss in hedgehogs. The best way is to consult a veterinarian because only they can accurately diagnose a problem with the mites. Still, there’s one way to determine between quilling and mites. You need to check the end of the quill. If it looks uneven and soft, then it’s a damaged quill. Quilling phase means shedding undamaged quills. These spines have a clear root bulb at the base. Also, you could look out for white flakes that are a characterizing part of the mites infestation.

Are there hedgehogs without quills?

Usually, all hedgehogs have quills. But there are genetic disorders that make some hedgehogs quill-free. In other words, baldness in hedgehogs is extremely rare, but wildlife rescue services take care of such individuals every now and then. There are diseases that come and go, which means that these hedgehogs might grow the quills back. Still, when there’s a serious disease, then the hedgehogs will never have quills.

Hedgehogs suffering from the complete lack of quill formation need a lot of care. They could never survive the harsh reality of the wilderness. All the quills are very important for them from the aspect of survival. Not having any spikes puts them at extreme risk of getting attacked and eaten by the natural predatory enemies. Another aspect concerns the warmth-giving properties of the quills. In a way, the quills work as special hair that gives the animal some additional warmth.

What is a malformed quill?

Malformed quills are spines that have problems growing as they should be. Since there are so many quills on each hedgehog, the chances are quite high that sooner or later your hedgie will get a malformed quill. These come in many forms, but mostly the malformations look red or pink and even resemble “quill Siamese twins”. If you can’t remove the quill with tweezers (while not applying much pressure), then a veterinarian needs to do the job. Most likely, this will be done under anesthesia in order to minimize the risk of hurting the hedgehog. After the procedure, your hedgehog will feel a bit grumpy. You need to apply antibacterial cream on the fresh wound. Otherwise, the area could get badly infected.

Can hedgehogs shoot their quills?

No, that’s entirely impossible! Some people believe that hedgehogs or porcupines are able to shoot their quills at their enemies. In reality, it’s something that no hedgehog can do. Even if the quills pierce the attacker’s skin, the individual spikes won’t fall off. They are firmly attached to the hedgehog’s skin. Something needs to go wrong in order for the quills to fall off. There’s only one natural reason for the quills to fall off. It’s because of the shedding and not anything to do with fighting the predators.

Do ingrown quills exist?

Ingrown hair is a familiar problem to a lot of people. Actually, hedgehogs can experience ingrown spines. Sometimes, during the quilling phase, spines won’t easily come out. When the quill doesn’t easily push through the skin, there will be swelling and other signs of inflammation around the spine’s base. Try to gently was the area surrounding the ingrown quill. That’s the best you can do, the hedgehog’s own body will do the rest that’s needed to take care of the uncomfortable problem.

When are the quills renewed?

There are quite many reasons for the renewal of quills. First, there’s the stepping stone from baby quills to the full-blown adult ones. This type of renewal is the same in all hedgehogs. The next quilling happens when the new quills arrive because the hedgehog is growing bigger. As its skin expands, new spines need to accommodate a larger area. Also, the quills may be renewed because of medical problems, such as mites and skin diseases.

And then there’s just a natural loss of quills. It’s a similar process to losing your hair. You are going to see the hair that has fallen out, but you aren’t conscious about the new hair forming and growing. Also, similarly to human hair, hedgehogs might lose their quills because of an intense period of heightened stress. All of these reasons include the process of the quills growing back sooner or later.

How to wash your hedgehog’s quills?

Similarly to cats or guinea pigs, hedgehogs are actually quite efficient at keeping their hygiene. Still, you might discover that your hedgehog’s quills look a bit dirty. Maybe some debris has become stuck between the individual spikes. When you clearly see that your hedgehog isn’t able to take care of this problem, it’s time to help your hedgie! We’ll go over the particular steps in the following paragraphs.

Organize everything beforehand

You don’t want to discover that you forgot about something important in the last minute. Your hedgehog might already be in the bath and then you find out you don’t have anything to scrub her clean with. Basically, you need at least the following essentials. Toothbrush or a nailbrush are needed to actually scrub the quills. The toothbrush should be soft, not medium or hard. The shampoo is a good thing to have, but it’s not absolutely essential. If you opt for a shampoo, then take a cat shampoo because it’s neutral to your hedgehog’s skin. It’s very important to avoid any shampoos that could cause the skin to dry out. Your hedgie has a naturally dry skin, which means that any drying products would result in big problems. Lastly, have some towels ready to dry your hedgehog after the washing.

Fill the sink with water

Fill your sink or tub with water around the height of 2-4 inches. The water should be room temperature; not too hot or cold. The best way to test this is just to get a feel yourself. If it feels comfortable on your hands, then it’s good for your hedgehog as well. Of course, you should clean the sink before filling it with water. Since hedgehogs tend to relieve themselves during the washing, don’t use a sink in which you’d prepare food. And the water level needs to be as shallow as possible. Rolling into a ball in deeper water could easily result in a drowned hedgehog.

Wash slowly without hurrying

All of this washing process should be calm and stress-free. In this way, you can be sure that your hedgie can low-key enjoy the wash. Also, it will significantly lower the risk of your prickly family member rolling up into a ball. When your hedgehog starts to struggle, act calm and try to put her in the water again. It might take a few test runs before they’ll feel completely comfortable in the lukewarm bath.

Before cleaning, let her get comfortable in the water for a few minutes. Then pour some water over the hedgehog to get her wet. Do it in an attentive way to prevent any water from getting into her ears or eyes. That would cause a lot of discomfort! Definitely steer away from putting your hedgehog under a running faucet. You can never know when the temperature might suddenly change to hot or cold. Better be safe than sorry.

Start brushing at the front of his body and move slowly to the back. If some spots look extra dirty, then take some time to get these places completely clean. It’s best to brush the quills in the growth direction. Doing the opposite would raise the risk of your hedgehog getting hurt or feeling painful sensations. After the cleaning, it’s very important to properly rinse off. Especially so, if you used any shampoo.

Dry the quills

Every wash must end with drying. Use a warm towel: you can warm it up in the dryer or by using a hairdryer. Just be sure not to get the towel hot or if it’s hot, then you should wait for a few minutes until it’s just warm. Probably, you’ll be using at least 2-3 towels. Because when the towel feels damp, it’s time to take another one. Repeat the process until you are sure the hedgehog is totally dried. This process could even take a few hours. In this case, wrap them in a blanket and do something together. For example, you could be chatting with someone or watching some TV-series on your computer.

What’s the bottom line for hedgehog quills?

All healthy hedgehogs have quills that help to protect them from predators. Quilling is the natural process of losing old spines and making new ones. During this process, hedgehogs might be grumpy because they experience discomfort and pain. The actual duration of the quilling is individual. When a hedgehog has no quills, then it’s a sign of a genetic disorder. Experiencing bald spots, patchy quill growth, or abnormal spine loss indicates a medical problem. In this case, you should contact the veterinarian. Ingrown or malformed quills are a more benign problem, but the latter might still need a veterinarian’s attention.