Hedgehog Quilling – What you need to know

Is your pet hedgehog quilling right now? Quilling is a natural phase all hedgehogs have to go through. In most cases, you have nothing to do but making little changes in care. After reading my article you will know how to handle it right.

Hedgehog quilling

It can be quite frightening in many ways when your hedgehog is losing quills. New pet owners who experience this for the first time might be over-challenged. In this article, I’m going to tell you what quilling in hedgehogs is about. Further down you will also find a section with some tips that make the process comfier for your pet. Let’s start!

What Are Quills?

In reality, most people mean spines when they talk about hedgehog quills and I will use both terms interchangeably as well. Basically, spines are a defense mechanism that protects the animal from predators and falls. Adult hedgehogs have between 3000 and 5000 quills. [1]

You can think of spines as very thick and strong hairs. The main component which gives them these characteristics is keratin. Quills in comparison are hollow. A good example of animals with quills are porcupines.

While porcupines can shoot or lose their quills at will, this is not possible for hedgehogs with their spines.

What Is Hedgehog Quilling?

As already stated quilling is very normal in hedgehogs, you don’t have to worry! Basically, you can compare it to teething in a human baby. However, as natural as the process is, as uncomfortable can it get.

Quilling is necessary because hedgehogs have to get rid of their baby quills. Only adult spines will protect them from all the dangers they are faced with within their natural habitat.

When Does Quilling Occur And How Long Does It Take?

The quilling events are often called the “Terrible Two” which indicates, that there are mainly two phases of quilling in the life of a hedgehog. Baby hedgehogs are born with around 150 quills. These are very soft and covered by a membrane to protect the mother from pain and injuries during birth.

At around 8 weeks after birth, the little hedgies experience the first quilling. Now the tiny baby spines are replaced by stronger and much thicker adult quills. This first quilling can take several weeks and is often more uncomfortable than the second quilling due to the larger quills.

At the age of around 6 months, the second quilling starts. But it can also start much later when the little hedgie is one year old. Sometimes both phases can merge into one another. This is especially the case when the first quilling is late or takes a long period of time.

Lost quills usually are starting to grow back within one week. If this is not the case there might be another issue. A vet can tell you if hedgehog mites or other parasites cause the quilling. 

It is possible that your hedgie loses a spike here and there. You can compare that to our hairs, it is nothing wrong with this as long as new quills growing to replace them. In his whole life, your hedgehog replaces around 90 % of his quills.

Quilling Behaviour

While quilling you might see a change in the behavior of your hedgie. The process is just so uncomfortable that he might be grunchy all day. Most hedgehog bites happen during quilling when the owner doesn’t take the situation into account while handling the pet.

Many hedgehogs are also not as active as normal. Perhaps you notice that he hasn’t so much interest in his toys and the running wheel stays silent at night. Some hedgies eat much less during this period but if yours stops eating at all you should be concerned. A trip to the vet might be the right decision.

How To Take Care Of A Quilling Hedgehog?

When your hedgie quills you have to adjust care. Too much stress is even more harmful in this situation and can lead to problems like increased skin irritations. If you observe red or extremely dry skin, dermatis or fungal infections you have to act.

These problems can stop new spines from growing and you want to avoid that under all circumstances. In many cases a air humidifier can do the job. Just make sure that the hygrometer is at around 40 % humidity level.

Sometimes it can be a good idea to slightly increase the temperature in the hedgehog habitat as well. 80° F should be ok in this case and helps your poor hedgehog recovering. 

Avoid touching the quills! But that doesn’t mean that you should stop handling your pet. Body contact is important to strengthen the bond to your pet. You can gently touch his belly or, if you want to stay on the safe side, let him roam over you and explore your clothes.

Offer new and more interesting toys if you have the gut feeling that your prickly friend isn’t active enough. Some of his favorite treats might be a good idea if isn’t eating too much of his hedgehog food. As you already know, mealworms are always a good choice.

Many hedgehogs like taking a bath. Bathing your hedgie can reduce its stress. Additionally, it serves the skin if done right and not too often. An oatmeal bath with the sock method is just right. You can also use a very mild baby wash or CBD oil. Some studies say, that latter also helps with anxiety and increased stress levels.

Problems With Quilling

Often quilling comes without problems, but sometimes there are some. A small ball attached to the end of the lost quill is always a good health indicator. If you can see mostly healthy skin with only minor irritations you don’t have to worry.

Albino hedgehogs are generally more prone to problems, but they can occur in every color. The most common are ingrown quills. Have you ever experience ingrown hair? That is exactly how it feels for your hedgie.

You can find them by looking for red bumps with underlying spines that try to poke out of the skin surface. If you want to help your little friend use a sterilized tweezer and pull it out. If everything is in order a curved quill should appear.

Apply an antibacterial ointment after your treatment. This is much easier when you use a cotton stick. Some hedgehog parents feel uncomfortable doing the procedure. If this is true for you, go to the vet. He will know what to do to help your pet. An oatmeal bath can help to heal the irritated skin after the quill is pulled out.

I mentioned above, that a skin infection, stressful environments and fungal infections can be a problem too. If you can’t solve the problem yourself go to the vet. Bald spots from quilling shouldn’t stay long. If no new spine is growing after a week you should be concerned.

Quilling or illness?

Sometimes it is not clear, if the quilling is normal or if a health issue is the cause. Stressful environments are a common trigger for health problems of all kinds. Stress also makes your pet more prone to mites and other parasites.

Mites and ringworms are often the cause for quill loss that is not connected to a normal quilling phase. It is difficult to determine if your hedgie suffers from parasites. I recommend searching for an expert if you are uncertain.

Medical attention is necessary if you can’t control the problem yourself. 

Wrapping Things Up

Quilling is a natural process that your little friend experiences two times in his lifetime. After he is one year old, both phases should be finished. But it may be that he loses one or another spine here and there. You have to adjust your care during quilling. Most likely your hedgie feels huge discomfort and you have to be careful when you handle him. Petting your friend or touching the quills is a nono.

A change in behavior shouldn’t concern you. Many hedgehogs are grumpy all the day when they quill and most bites happen during this time. Offer him a quiet place where he is on his own (a hiding house will do the job). On the other side, you shouldn’t stop interacting with your pet and handling him. Just take a step back.

Problems are rare but can occur. If you can’t solve them yourself go to a vet. A more serious issue is likely when no new spines are growing within one week.