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New hedgehog owners are often worried when their pet starts to lose quills, with many fearing that this is a sign of illness or disease. In fact, hedgehogs losing their spines is actually quite common. Indeed, at certain times of the year they will lose more than usual during a process known as quilling.
Unlike porcupines, hedgehog spines do not detach very easily but when they are young, quilling occurs as their immature spines are replaced with adult ones.
What is Quilling?
As a hedgehog moves from adolescence to adulthood, it will lose a large number of spines. This is similar to cats and dogs when they change their coats at various times during the year. However, unlike cats and dogs that shed every year, hedgehogs will typically go through the process of quilling a few times over the course of their lives.
The first time a hedgehog quills will usually be at around four to six weeks old. This can be quite uncomfortable for the animal as it involves small spines being replaced by much larger ones. At around four months old, your hedgehog may quill again but while this time the change of quills is not so severe, it can still be uncomfortable for your pet.
Quilling may also occur in some hedgehogs as they get older but the process at this stage is far less noticeable and not as uncomfortable.
How do Hedgehogs Behave During Quilling?
Hedgehog behavior changes during quilling, as you might expect. Hedgehogs going through quilling might be less relaxed and become almost grumpy-like. They might resist being handled and may be less active than normal.
If your hedgehog appears to be resistant to handling, try to avoid handling or otherwise petting it for a little while. Instead, allow the hedgehog to crawl on you if it wants. It is important to not stop handling your pet altogether during quilling though as this can confuse the creature and break any bond you might have created with it.
To make the hedgehog more relaxed, try a warm bath. Some hedgehog owners believe that using olive oil and placing it directly on the skin after a bath will help to relieve any discomfort as this helps to keep the skin soft and supple during the quilling. If you do try this though, we recommend you do so in moderation.
Do Hedgehogs Lose Quills When Stressed?
Quilling is not the only reason for a loss of spines in hedgehogs. In fact, stress can be a factor for spine loss in a hedgehog, as can a poor diet and/or mites. If your hedgehog is losing spines and these are not being replaced by new ones, you can be fairly certain that the reason is not quilling.
In this case, it is probably best to call your local vet for advice. An experienced vet will be able to help you identify the cause of the spine loss and offer advice on how to deal with it. If the cause is mites, the vet will be able to treat the problem.
- Featured Image (Four-Toed Hedgehog): Pueri Michał Klimont – CC BY-SA 3.0
- Indian Long-Eared Hedgehog: Kamal Yadav – https://www.projectnoah.org/spottings/26706044
- Long-Eared Hedgehog: I.V. Korneev, Leningrad Zoo
- North African Hedgehog: Conselleria de Medi Ambient i Mobilitat, Govern des Illes Balears – CC BY-SA 3.0