Owing to their ease of care and social nature, hedgehogs are fast becoming popular among pet owners. Even so, understanding a hedgehog needs patience and time.
As you spend more time with your pet, you will learn about its personality, preferences, and the processes that its body goes through in different seasons. Understanding this will, no doubt, make you a better hedgehog owner and maximize the lifespan as well as the life quality of your pet.
One of the defining characteristics of hedgehogs is their quills. There is, however, some disagreement in the naming of the pointy parts of a hedgehog as quills. Technically, the animals have spines and not quills.
Spines are hardened hairs with solid centers and tapered ends, while quills are modified hairs containing air chambers to lighten them. Despite the difference, the terms ‘quill’ and ‘spine’ are often used interchangeably when talking about hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs need quills for survival in their natural habitats where they are several predators. These quills allow them to distract the predators.
However, it is possible to hold a hedgehog without its quills hurting you. This is because when the animal is relaxed, the quills point towards its rear and will not hurt you. A hedgehog has over 7000 quills.
One of the things you will deal with at some point when keeping a hedgehog is quilling. The following is a complete guide to help you understand this process.
What Is Hedgehog Quilling?
In the quilling process, hedgehogs will essentially replace their old spines with new ones. This replacement is a part of their growing process, much like a human baby loses its milk teeth.
Adult hedgehogs cannot function with their baby quills, and in quilling, the small quills are replaced with large ones. When quills are shed because of the natural growth process, you will find their roots attached as tiny balls to their ends.
Quilling starts with the loss of small, fine quills that are slowly replaced by new ones. It is not easy to see the new quills appearing in the hedgehog’s body, but if you pay close attention to its spine, you will notice thick quills piercing through your pet’s skin, like flowers sprouting in gardens.
Quilling happens in a natural way that allows the appearance of new quills very soon after the loss of old ones. This means your hedgehog will not have bald spots.
Even so, there are slight variations in the quilling processes of different hedgehogs owing to genetics and other elements.
Hedgehog Quilling Symptoms
You might compare the quilling process in hedgehogs to teething in kids. While some hedgehogs have no signs of discomfort during the process, others are very grouchy.
Your once-friendly prickly friend might start hiding or become irritated and huff in your presence. This often signifies the start of the quilling process. The skin will be generally healthy other than some minor dermatitis in a few cases.
One of the definitive signs of quilling is that you will find spines lying around. This does not just happen once when your hedgehog is above a year old. You could find a spine or two here and there throughout your hedgehog’s lifetime.
There is a high physical and emotional stress associated with the quilling process. This might cause skin irritations in your hedgehog during the process.
Even a seemingly smooth quilling process will cause some level of discomfort to your pet hedgehog. The hedgehog is naturally active and loves jumping around or exercising.
During its movement, it might naturally bump its growing quills into objects. The bump will often cause significant discomfort.
As such, hedgehogs going through quilling might be less active and resist handling to avoid bumps. The discomfort might also cause an appetite decrease in your pet hedgehog.
Does Quilling Hurt Hedgehogs?
Yes, quilling in most cases will hurt your hedgehog though the degree of discomfort and pain varies among different animals. The new quills are meant to grow in place of the old ones.
This means that larger quills will try to push through tiny openings in the hedgehog’s skin. Moreover, some spines are more rigid than others, meaning they will cause a lot of discomfort to your pet when breaking through the skin.
At times, quills will not come out perfectly, and this will be a bit more painful than average for your hedgehog. Fortunately, this malformed quill often sorts itself out with time though it might take time to grow as perfectly as the others.
In rare instances, new spines are unable to break through the skin and grow perfectly for a prolonged time. This means long-term discomfort for your hedgehog and potential bleeding. In these cases, you will need a vet to intervene.
You can assess the quilling process by separating the quills on your pet’s back and inspecting the skin here. If you see a lot of new quills that are slightly thicker than the rest poking through the skin, this often translates to a lot of discomfort in your pet hedgehog.
When Does a Hedgehog’s Quilling Occur?
Hedgehogs go through the quilling process at least twice in their lifetimes. Most of them will first quill when they are 6-8 weeks old. This, to the small animal at this time, is quite a significant body change and thus very uncomfortable.
Baby hedgehogs are born with about 150 soft spines that are covered in a protective membrane so that they do not harm the mother during birth. The membrane shrinks away on the baby’s first day of life to reveal the soft spines.
During the first quilling process, the hedgehog will lose its soft baby quills for stronger fortified ones. These stronger quills make it possible for the baby hedgehog to defend itself. This explains why baby hedgehogs are ideally taken from their mother’s cage when they are about eight weeks old.
The second quilling process happens when your hedgehog is about sixteen weeks old. This will continue for a couple of weeks or may stop then start periodically. At this stage, the small baby quills are replaced by large adult ones.
This is more uncomfortable than the first quilling process because the large quills are breaking through the small holes that housed the initial quills. Quilling continues throughout a hedgehog’s life, but these two stages are the most defined.
How Long Does Hedgehog Quilling Last?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer as to how long the quilling process in your hedgehog will last. It takes more than a month for some animals, while some animals will be done with quilling after a few weeks.
The length of the process is dependent on several elements, including age, the animal’s care level, and genetics.
However, most hedgehog enthusiasts agree that the first quilling stage will last for about twelve weeks, then continue on and off for about four months. Some stages will last for 2-3 weeks.
How to Care For a Quilling Hedgehog?
You can take several steps to make your hedgehog as comfortable as possible during the quilling process. Here are some of these steps:
- Give them a nice bath. Most hedgehog experts recommend an oatmeal bath since this soothes the skin. This should be as pure as possible since too many chemicals in the oatmeal bath will dry the hedgehog’s skin and increase its discomfort.
- Consider adding a tablespoon of vitamin E, olive oil, or non-toxic, non-edible oils to the final rinse of a hedgehog’s bath. These oils will penetrate the skin and soothe the soreness associated with quilling.
- Limit baths to twice weekly because too many baths can dry the hedgehog’s skin.
- Moisturize the hedgehog’s skin with vitamin E, flaxseed, lavender, rosemary, pumpkin seed, calendula, olive or apricot kernel oils. These oils also soothe the skin. Even so, do not use too much oil because the hedgehog’s skin needs to breathe during quilling to remain healthy.
- Adjust the way you handle a quilling hedgehog rather than entirely avoiding the handling. Put off cuddles and snuggles until the quilling process is over. You should also watch the animal’s reactions when you hold it. For instance, if the hedgehog nips at you when you touch a specific area, avoid touching it until the quilling is over and the animal is fully healed.
From the above tidbits, you will no longer dread the quilting process in your pet hedgehog. However, there are a few hedgehogs that do not have quills, though this is extremely rare.
The lack of quills is often caused by a genetic disorder, but there are certain curable conditions that can also cause it. When the condition is cured, the hedgehog’s quills often grow, but with genetic conditions, the hedgehog is often bald for life.
When your hedgehog is bald, it will need a lot of care because it has no defense against predators. In a way, the quills also work as special hair keeping your hedgehog warm.
As such, the temperature within your bald hedgehog’s environment should be tightly controlled to ensure it does not freeze to death.