There are several misconceptions about hedgehog quills. Why they are there, how many they are, and can they be dangerous. Several such questions often come to me as well. Hence, I decided to create a resource, and for doing so, I took my time to research all about it. This is what I found.
Do hedgehogs have quills?
Hedgehogs do have quills. They are just modified hairs. Hedgehogs can have from 5000 to 7000 quills at a time.
Hedgehogs are not the only animals to have spikes or quills, but as they are quite frequently adopted as pets, and hence several misconceptions and fears have grown fast.
My friend, who has just adopted an African pygmy hedgehog decided to trim all the quills as her mom was concerned about them. What he did was pure cruelty. A lot of people don’t understand why quills are there and therefore, often make mistakes. Read this article completely to avoid making such errors.
Why do hedgehogs have quills?
Hedgehogs are small animals and are threatened by different prey animals, including foxes. So, in order to protect themselves, they have transformed themselves into these spiky little creatures. The quills protect their soft underbelly, which is the prize predators are after.
Whenever hedgehogs see a threat, they become a ball, and all the spikes become super brittle and thorny. Thereby, the predator understands that they are dealing with someone difficult and leave them be.
How many quills are there?
Hedgehog quills are attached to the skin. Their range can be anywhere from 5000 to 7000 depending on the species and the age.
They grow and regrow over time and hence at a particular time, it is quite difficult to tell how many quills there are on a specific hedgehog. But are they sharp?
How sharp are they?
It depends actually. If the hedgehog sees you as someone threatening, he will straighten them up in spiky form, and therefore they will hurt you if you try to hold them by the quills. In that stage, they feel anywhere from a toothpick to a needle.
As they get familiar with you as you give them some time to settle in, they will rarely straighten them up. Their balling behavior will also go down, and in those stages, the quills will feel close to uncooked rice.
Are they poisonous?
Hedgehog quills do not contain any kind of poison. They are air-filled from inside and are made of cretin like our nails. Hedgehogs are not poisonous at all, and therefore they cannot make their quills toxic.
Can they hurt you?
Quills will only hurt you if you are trying to take them in the wrong way. Always, scoop up from the belly region, so you do not come directly in contact with the quills.
Quills become rather nasty when the hedgehog wants them to be so. They can damage the most when the hedgehog becomes a ball.
Baby/Higlet quills are much sharper than those of adults. As they grow older, their quills dampen a bit.
Also, there could be some pinches here and there, and that’s a part of owning a hedgehog, but you shouldn’t have a problem with them.
In case you’re too worried, you can use a fleece blanket or towel to pick them up. Do not use a glove as gloves can to block scents and they may never understand that it is you who’s trying to hold them.
Can they come out? Can they shoot them?
Hedgehogs are not porcupines. They are not even related. And, by the way, even porcupines do not shoot out their quills. So, no, hedgehogs do not shoot out their quills, and they do not come out.
The only way they come out is when they are quilling.
Can they lose their quills?
Hedgehogs can lose their quills due to several reasons, including the most obvious: quilling. Besides quilling, infections and mites are also common reasons for the loss.
Situations, where they are stressed a lot, can also be a reason why a hedgehog can lose its quills.
Hedgehogs can get stressed when they are in a new environment, have undergone treatment or surgery, or have suffered from an injury/illness.
When do they lose their quills?
Hedgehogs lose their quills when they are quilling. Quilling is the process through which hedgehogs gain and lose their quills.
Hedgehogs mostly lose their quills when they are young, and this process does not occur in stages for all hedgehogs. It starts when they are between 5 to 6 weeks. Some say that it occurs 3 to 4 times in defined intervals before they are one year old and stops after that. But, that is not true for all hedgehogs.
Hedgehogs can have their quilling time up to the age of 15 months. The period is also not adequately defined. But, in any case, it’s a tough time for them, and they feel quite grumpy and irritated. It’s similar to a baby gaining his teeth.
At that time, you should be careful with them. Do not try to pet them on their quills. Give them some time to go through the process and then slowly start petting or touching.
As for adult hedgehogs, they also lose quills often. The loss can range from 2 to 10 quills a day at quilling times but not much. Adults also suffer from quill loss during hot summer days.
Is excessive quill loss natural?
Excessive quill loss is only natural if the hedgehog is less than one year old. If even after that he is losing too many quills, there is a problem somewhere.
The most common reason for this is mites. Mites can severely damage the quills of hedgehogs and could result in a string of dead quills falling out during night time. Mites can also lead to severe baldness in hedgehogs.
In case you are sure that there are mites, contact your vet immediately. You can also use a product named revolution(or any other Selamectin product) to help you get rid of the mites. (see the source on selamectin efficiency)
Are there other complications with quill loss?
Besides the behavior, hedgehog skin can become dry and flakey. To treat that, you can use coconut oil or any other edible oil. But, in my experience coconut oil works the best.
You can also give them oatmeal baths to help with the skin. You should rinse and remove excess oil from them properly as the pours need air to breathe. In case you don’t know how to do it, we have a complete tutorial on bathing situated here.
If lost, can the quills regrow?
Yes, Hedgehog quills can definitely regrow, but the growth depends on their age as well. If they are young, and even if their quills have fallen due to mites, there is a very good possibility that they will begin to get all their quills back.
However, as hedgehogs grow older, their ability to regrow their quills gets less potent over time. So, bald patches are quite common in older hedgehogs.
Do they get softer?
The only time hedgehog quills get softer is when they put them down as they have no fear of you. Hedgehogs have different muscles on both sides to control, flaxen and turn down their quills. In that scenario, their quills may get a little softer but not that much.
If you are finding a lot of soft quills on your hedgehog, the cause could be a nutritional deficiency. You need to provide cretin to your hedgehog via things like boiled, scrambled eggs.
Do they change color?
Hedgehogs quills do change color in the quilling season but not as much as you think. Hedgehogs cannot change from dark brown to dark red. They just start to get lighter as they age. So, a dark grey hedgehog can become lite grey or snowflake grey.
To check all the color changes and color variations in hedgehog, check out this table.
Do they have nerves? Will trimming them hurt?
Hedgehog quills do not have nerves. They are connected directly to the skin like our hairs.
Trimming will not hurt the hedgehog, but it is not recommended. They will likely feel threatened on losing their only defence mechanism.
The only time you can trim the quills of a hedgehog is when they are broken or creating severe problems. Else, visit a vet, and he will suggest what should be done.
Q: How to identify if the quill-fall is due to mites or quilling?
There is not much to identify. But, there are some pointers. If the same amount of quills are coming back as the number of fallen quills, then it is natural. Also, if it continues for a long time, more than the natural quilling phase, then also it could be mites.
If there are balls at the end of quills, then also it is a sign that everything is fine.
Q: Can hedgehogs have ingrown quills?
Hedgehogs can have ingrown quills, but they are rare. In a lifetime, a hedgehog can have 2 to 4 ingrain quills. Encapsulated quills are slightly different though.
These are the quills where a cottage cheese type substance surrounds the quill. These un-matured quills are mostly re-absorbed by the body.
Q: Can Quills break when dropped?
Quills are quite flexible. They don’t break easily. Also, hedgehogs use them as a cushion when they fall. Hence, the likelihood of this happening is rare. In case this does happen, do not remove the damaged quills by yourself.
Q: My hedgehog flexes his quills often. What does that mean?
Nothing much. Flexing quills is normal behavior, and they do this before doing something they are curious about like going under the recliner or something like that.
Q: What do brittle quills signify?
Brittle quills signify nutritional deficiencies and sometimes even illness.