What is quilling?

Hedgehog quills are modified hairs, much like the center part of a feather, minus the fluff. When a hedgehog baby is born, it has no quills. Within the first hour or so, soft, fine, white baby quills emerge. By two weeks old, babies have another set of soft quills, often with colored bands. When they get to about four to five weeks old, they begin to grow in a set of thicker, longer, tougher quills that can cause great discomfort when they start poking through. This is referred to as "quilling."


Quilling can be very uncomfortable. Imagine the pain human babies feel when they are teething, but all over your body! This really uncomfortable phase of quilling and crankiness generally lasts from when babies are about four weeks old until they are about eight weeks old, sometimes more or less. Some hedgies continue to gain and lose quills that can change their entire color pattern (from solid to snowflake or white) over the course of up to their first year!


The baby in the picture above is about a week old and very cranky about quilling! I used the yellow circle to highlight one of the large adult quills that is partially grown in. The red circle shows one of the small, fine, dark baby quills. Directly to the right of the red circle is one of the white baby quills- you can see how much fatter it is than the newly emerging quill circled in yellow!

The majority of hedgehog babies get cranky for at least a week or two while quilling, with most calming down by the time they are 8 to 12 weeks old. Adjustment to a new home generally seems to go smoother and bonding is easier if babies are past their quilling and already calmed down. Hedgehogs seem to be an exception to the generally tendency of animals to bond better when they are younger. They bond better when they feel better! For this reason, we generally wait to place babies in their new homes when they are 7 to 8 weeks old, even though they are typically weaned at 6 weeks. We want both you and your hedgehog to have a good experience together.

This does not mean that it is automatically going to be a disaster if you bring home a  weaned but quilling baby who is experiencing discomfort and crankiness. What it means is that you have no way of knowing whether baby is always going to be shy, or if it's only because of quilling. If you are patient and spend quiet lap time with your new companion, it will help baby to know that it is safe and will promote bonding with you.

My Hedgehog Has Mites- What Now?

Mites are a very pesky but treatable problem that sometimes happens with pet hedgehogs. I am not a veterinarian and this article is not a replacement for your veterinarian. You will want to consult with your vet before using any medical treatment for your hedgehog. This article is meant to give you some idea of what options have been evaluated for hedgehogs, as well as what things we have heard people say about their experiences. This will help you to work with your vet to make a decision about care that is based on as much available information as possible!

When I first started working with hedgehogs, in the mid 1990s, topical Ivermection was typically recommended as treatment for mites (reference: personal exeperience; https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4612-3626-9_19). Participating in the few hedgehog groups/mail lists that existed at that time, I heard people complain that Ivermectin made their hedgehog sick or that it wasn't very effective (reference: personal experience and https://www.jstor.org/stable/20094848?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents ).

When mites showed up in my herd in the early 2000s, I asked my vet if there were any other treatments available, since I didn't want to risk my hedgehogs getting sick or it not working very well. A study that compared injected Ivermectin to Amitraz as a dip showed that the Amitraz, used as in their study, was effective at eliminating the mites while the Ivernectin was not quite as effective (reference: https://www.jstor.org/stable/20094848?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents and https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism ). I used the Amitraz with good results, but eventually, my vet stopped carrying it and we had to look for something else.

Veterinary articles reported success with permethrins to treat mites (reference: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism and https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/ectoparasitism ) but word of mouth was that some people had hedgehogs with adverse reactions, so I did not want to try that.

The next reference we found that was promising was use of Selamectin (Revolution) as a topical treatment (reference: http://veterinarycalendar.dvm360.com/hedgehog-wellness-proceedings?id=&sk=&date=&pageID=5 ).  This worked extremely well, clearing mites within about 24 hours and keeping them gone.

Recently I had a hedgehog turn up with a case of mites and the vet indicated that he hasn't carried Selamectin for over 5 years so we looked at other options. Oral dosage of Fluralaner (Bravecta) was found to be effective in one dose (reference: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318318852_Fluralaner_as_a_single_dose_oral_treatment_for_Caparinia_tripilis_in_a_pygmy_African_hedgehog). I have had someone tell me, "Don't use that, people had problems!" but they did not provide any references or explain what those problems might have been. We chose to use Fipronil (reference: http://wildpro.twycrosszoo.org/S/00Chem/ChComplex/fipronil.htm and http://vri.cz/docs/vetmed/60-1-57.pdf ivermectin, selamectin, fipronil ) as a topical and it did clear the mites with no adverse effect on the hedgehog.

As you can see, there are a lot of different treatment options and there are different kinds of mites. If your vet is not familiar with the treatment of mites in hedgehogs, the references in this article will be helpful for you and your vet to determine what treatment would be likely to be most effective, and if there are several options, to help you determine which one you would prefer.

Skin Reactions to Hedgehog Prickles

Image may contain: textWhile it is not common, some people find that they get skin rashes or welts after handling their hedgehog. In general, hedgehogs are considered to be low dander and have been recommended as pets for people with allergies as they don't shed dander in a way that tends to trigger wheezing, sneezing, or watery eyes. Fairley, Suchniak, and Paller (1999) examined three case studies and reviewed literature, and came to a conclusion that there are several likely reasons for skin reactions to hedgehog handling:

1) When you get pricked by a hedgehog, dander can get under your skin. It has been found that people who have allergic reactions to cats are likely to have an allergic reaction to hedgehog dander. In this condition, there is generally no reaction to the hedgehog unless prickled. So, if you are allergic to cats, you will want a hedgehog that is calm and generally doesn't raise its prickles, and to be cautious if handling a hedgehog whose prickles are up.

2) Hedgehogs tend to self-anoint (lick on the smell, then spread it on themselves with their tongue) when they come across new smells in their environment. People have been allergic to things the hedgehog anointed with, but not to the hedgehog itself. A commonly reported reaction is to pine shavings. If you are allergic to pine, it's best to pick a different kind of bedding.

3) Some hedgehogs can carry fungal infections without showing any symptoms. In these cases, reactions are highly inflammatory, but resolve within 2 to 3 weeks of onset. I have never personally heard of anyone having this kind of reaction.

If you are having a reaction to handling your hedgehog, you will want to pay attention to what your hedgehog may have on its quills to see if you can make environmental changes. You may also need to use gloves or a hedgebag for handling. If reactions are severe or persistent, definitely talk with your doctor.

How Can I Keep My Hedgehog Warm?

     The hedgehogs that we keep as pets come from warm parts of Africa and need to be maintained at warm temperatures. You can tell that the temperature is good for them because they will eat, drink, stay active, and behave normally. A hedgehog that is too cold becomes sluggish and cranky, and it will ignore its food and water. Sometimes it will curl in a ball and not hardly respond to you at all, and it will seem cool to the touch.

     In general, a temperature 70 and up will keep your hedgehog happy and healthy. Hedgehogs are at risk during times of the year when we experience rapid temperature fluctuations, such as in the spring or fall, when we humans can adjust by throwing on an extra blanket or sweater, but hedgehogs are vulnerable. It can also be a problem for them if the overall temperature is warm, but their cage is in a draft or near a window or door where the cold seeps through. Hedgehogs who are very young, elderly, or ill are also more at risk because they can't thermoregulate as readily as healthy adult hedgehogs.

     If you find that your hedgehog needs an extra heat source, there are several options to choose from that have been shown to work well for hedgehogs. Here are some of your choices:
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Image result for snuggle safe disk
Snuggle Safe Disk

1) Snuggle Safe Disk: This is a microwaveable disk that is best used if you are nervous about anything that plugs in, and are able to check the temperature of the disk every 4 to 6 hours to make sure it's staying warm enough. You will want to follow the manufacturers recommendations for how long to place the disk in the microwave so that it does not become overheated and melt. The disks come with a cover, which should be used to provide a cushion between the hedgehog and the hot disk. These disks are especially awesome when travelling!

2) Ceramic Heat Emitter: Ceramic Heat Emitters (also called "CHE") are currently very popular among hedgehog enthusiasts. The Ceramic Heat Emitters are a ceramic bulb that looks a lot like a light bulb, but it only emits heat and not light. There are certain lamp fixtures that are made to work with CHEs, so make sure that when you purchase your equipment, you are purchasing a fixture that is made to work with a CHE. 
     Ceramic Heat Emitters get very hot and are an electrical system, so you will want to purchase a thermostat and thermometer. Testing before you put your hedgehog in the cage will let you make sure that the cage temperature does not get too hot for your hedgehog and that it maintains a constant temperature. I recommend plugging your heat emitter and thermostat into a power bar for an added layer of protection.

3) Reptile Heat Pads: Some people love these, while others very strongly express that they think they should never be used. Unlike human heat pads, reptile heat pads are designed to be kept on, using a thermostat to regulate temperature. For best protection, also plug your system into a power bar. When using a reptile heat pad, it needs to be able to go under the cage, with a layer of bedding and the cage surface between the hedgehog and the heat pad. It should be small enough that it only covers a portion of the cage (1/4 or less) so that the hedgehog can move further or closer away as it gets warm enough. 
     The problem that has caused people to hate reptile heat pads is that people have apparently placed them directly into the cage with no thermostat to regulate temperature and are reported to have burned their hedgehogs :( Definitely be smart about it and don't place your hedgehog at risk if using a reptile heat pad! It is also a good idea to research the brand and read reviews/look at ratings to make sure you are getting the quality you need.

4) Reptile Heat Tape or Reptile Heat Cord: This is much like the heat pads and should be used with a thermostat and plugged into a power bar. The heat tape/cord is made to go around the outside of the cage at the base, so that the cage will be warmer near the tape and cooler toward the middle. I have never used reptile heat tape/cord so I don't know how well it raises the ambient temperature or how hot it gets. Using a thermostat does help with preventing overheating,  but you will want to research to make sure that the brand you choose isn't going to melt your cage if you are using a plastic cage. Never place something like this inside the cage where it can burn your hedgehog with direct contact. I do know that many reptile owners do successfully use reptile heat tape/cord with their reptiles.
Thermostat


Reptile Heat Cord
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      I have been asked why I don't recommend reptile heat rocks or human heat pads for hedgehog heat sources. I don't recommend the heat rocks because I have not found that they raise the overall temperature in the cage and I have heard stories of animals being burned on them. They just don't make a reliable heat source so I would not use one. Human heat pads on low, underneath part of the cage and not in direct contact with your hedgehog, can be used as a short term warming solution. However, their manufacturer labeling tells you that they are not made for constant use and that it isn't safe to leave them on unattended.

     Hopefully this article will help you to come up with a heating solution that will work well for you and your hedgehog! Always be sure that any electrical system is checked regularly for problems and that you are using a thermostat and power bar fore safety. Also please be sure that if you are providing an extra heat source, that you provide your hedgehog with a temperature range. Allowing part of the cage being cooler than the rest lets your hedgehog decide where it feels most comfortable and prevents it from accidentally overheating!


How Much Space Does A Hedgehog Need?

Hedgehogs are busy little creatures who love to run! When hedgehogs first entered the pet trade, people often kept them in small kennel cabs or 10 gallon aquariums, or even hamster cages! This turned out to be disastrous for the hedgehogs because, without room to roam or explore, they tended to become bored, unhappy, unhealthy, and obese.

Fast forward to 2020 and there is a current trend toward enormous cages, which is awesome! If you have the space, by all means, go as big as you can! I have gotten emails from people who are worried about living in a small apartment and not being able to provide their hedgehog with a mega mansion.  They wonder what their options are for keeping a hedgehog happy and healthy.

Here are the guidelines I recommend for choosing a cage that is big enough keep your hedgehog happy and healthy:

1) The cage should have sides that are tall enough that the hedgehog can't just stretch and get up and out.

2) The cage should have enough floor space that you can place the hidey house, food dish, and water source and still have enough room for a wheel or other enrichment activities.

3) Once you put all of the cage furnishings in, the hedgehog should still have room to run freely around in the cage. In our experience, roughly 3 square feet of floor space or more has allowed our hedgehogs to run and stay happy and healthy. We have not had problems with our hedgehogs exhibiting obesity or other issues related to a sedentary lifestyle as they stay quite active!

4) Hedgehogs do not HAVE to have a wheel, after all, they don't have natural growing wheel bushes to run on in the wild. However, they DO need to be able to run and to explore, and a wheel or saucer is a great way to do that. If you do not have a wheel or saucer in your hedgehog's cage, be sure to take your hedgehog out daily for play time where hedgie can roam and explore. In addition, provide toys for enrichment.

5) I know this one doesn't have to do with size, but when talking about hedgehog cages, I always feel the need to include the public service announcement to remember that hedgehogs need a solid floor and not a wire floor. Guinea pig cages generally have solid flooring, while rabbit cages do not. Hedgehogs also tend to fall off of upper levels of cages until they have learned where everything is, so if your cage has multiple layers, make sure that you modify any ramps so hedgie can get a grip to climb it and modify ledges so that hedgie can't just walk right off!

If you select a cage for your hedgehog that follows these guidelines and provide the level of environmental stimulation that your hedgehog needs in the form of handling, supervised out of cage time, and toys, you will have a hedgehog that stays happy and healthy!

The cage above may look like a glorified bread box, but it has about 3 square feet of floor space, enough space to put a wheel or saucer in the middle, and room to roam. It also has a fixture for a heat emitter. This cage has the benefit of being escape proof for our hedgehogs who will not stay contained in any other cage I have ever tried for them!!

What Kind of Toys Do Hedgehogs Like?

Hedgehogs are very curious creatures who love to explore and stay active. Like most small animals, they do better when they live in an enriched environment with plenty of things to do and explore.

One of the things that hedgehogs really love to do is run around with toilet paper tubes on their head. Nobody really knows why they do this, but almost all hedgehogs will! You might think the hedgehog is stuck, but if you take the tube off of the hedgehog's head, it will give you a disgruntled look and go back into the tube! There have been hedgehogs who even learned to eat and drink through a tube. I had one who escaped and I found him because he was making a racket with a wrapping paper tube he was expertly winging around on his head!! We have used tubes made of craft foam with our hedgehogs, when there weren't enough TP tubes to  go around.


Hedgehogs also enjoy toys that they can crawl in, on, under, or through. In the pictures below, you can see quite a few different toys in this enrichment cage that we had set up at a pet expo.


When you are choosing toys to offer your hedgehog, think about the hedgehog's safety (no sharp edges, nothing they will get stuck in and unable to get back out) and what the hedgehog will do with the toy.

Hedgehogs may climb over, dig (or sleep) under, or push around a toy car. Small balls or Easter eggs can be pushed around. Some hedgehogs have figured out how to break open plastic Easter eggs to get to their favorite treats inside!



Hedgehogs also enjoy investigating things that smell interesting to them. Cinnamon sticks or catnip cat toys are popular. We do not know if catnip is dangerous for hedgehogs to ingest, so please make sure that if you offer catnip, you do not let your hedgehog eat any of the catnip.

If you set up your hedgehog's cage and play area with lots of toys that keep hedgehog busy and fulfill its curiosity, you will have happy hedgehog! You will also have hours and hours of fun watching what we call "hedgie TV." :) 

Do Hedgehogs Make Good Pets for Kids?

Hedgehogs can make good pets for kids. Here are four main points to help you decide if a hedgehog will be a good pet for your child:

1) The child is not afraid of the hedgehog. If the child is afraid, more than likely the hedgehog will sense the nervousness and will act nervous or aggressive, making the child more afraid. This isn't good for the child or the hedgehog. It's okay if your child needs canvas gloves or a hedgebag to have confidence to pick the hedgehog up because eventually, both hedgehog and child will get more comfortable and they will both relax.

 2) The child knows how to take care of the hedgehog and has adult backup support. If the child has not done their research, they won't know how to take good care of it. Hedgehogs are pretty easy to care for, but they do still have some specific needs that most other small animals do not have, like needing to stay warm. Hedgehogs are also not rodents and have very different care requirements that standard small animal pets like rats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. The adult backup support is needed because kids are kids and no matter how responsible they are, life happens. If your kid gets a pet,  you are getting a pet, because you as the adult are going to need to step in if your child is sick, goes on vacation, or forgets.

3) Your child has shown the maturity needed to respect and care for an animal. Kids will promise you the world because everything tends to be so right now to them. Kids may have the most absolute earnest intention of follow through. The important thing is that they have the track record for following through. I have had many children purchase hedgehogs from me whose parents made them earn some to all of the money to  buy the hedgehog. Those parents are  very wise because the same kind of stick-to-it skill that is needed to raise that large of a sum of money is the same kind of stick-to-it skill that will help the child to stick with caring for and respecting the hedgehog once it is home.




4) Your child has done their research about hedgehog care. This one is really important and might be harder than you think. There is a lot of information out there on the Internet and some of it is really bad! Once I saw a website where the writer recommended using lettuce for bedding "so your hedgehog can eat it, too!" Seriously not a good plan!!

Make sure your child has read multiple sources and has written down (with your help if they are very young) questions to ask the person that you are getting the hedgehog from. You can also have your child contact us with questions as we are really happy to help prospective hedgehog parents get good information. This can help clarify anything that might be confusing. 




What is quilling?

Hedgehog quills are modified hairs, much like the center part of a feather, minus the fluff. When a hedgehog baby is born, it has no quills....