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.

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....