Longevity | Hibernation & Estivation | Quilling | Signs of Good Health | Veterinary Care

Quilling Loss and Quilling

Spines Versus Quills

  • One of the most confusing and most common misnomers used when talking about hedgehogs is the exchange of the terms spines and quills.
  • Hedgehogs technically have spines and NOT quills.
  • Spines are hardened hairs that have a solid center and are tapered at both ends.
  • Spines fall out and are replaced over the entire course of a hedgehog’s life just like dog’s, cats, and humans.
  • Quills are hollow (like the shaft of a feather), have barbs on the end, and can be released at will.
  • Hedgehogs cannot shoot quills or detached quills like a porcupine.
  • Now that you know the difference between spines and quills, we’ll be sure to confuse you by continuing to use the terms interchangeably!
The Process of Quilling
  • There are times when a hedgehog will shed large numbers of spines which is a process called quilling. It is a natural process similar to other animals that change coats during different times of the year.
  • Spines shed out naturally during adolescence and several other times during the hedgehog’s life.
  • Spines that are shed naturally have a root or bulb at the end (like human hair) but spines that are shed due to a skin condition or mites tend to have a flaky or soft tip on the end of the spine.
  • Hedgehog resources report various ages when the quilling begins and how frequently it happens.
  • We have noticed that some colors of babies have much thinner spines at age six weeks than other babies of different colors. Not only are the spines themselves smaller and more delicate but they are fewer quills especially over the back and rump.
  • Most quilling typically occurs first at around six to eight weeks of age and again at around four months.
  • The first quilling is often distinguished by the loss of small fine quills and the growth of new quills. New quills can most easily be seen on a relaxed hedgehog looking down the spine and over the rump. They will be thicker new quills beginning to poke through the skin surface.
  • Quilling is often equated with the “Terrible Twos” or “Adolescents”.
Problems During the Quilling Process
  • A good comparison to quilling struggles is to think about threading shoelaces into a tiny hole in a new pair of shoes. You might first have to shove the tip of the shoelace into the new hole quite forcefully to get it to start to go through. Once the new hole is widened the lace fits through more smoothly.
  • Baby quills are much smaller and thinner than adult quills. The new quills must work their way up through holes left behind from former quills.
  • Hedgehogs with extremely coarse spines seem to have the toughest and longest adjustment to quilling.
  • The longer, thicker and bigger spines are found around the skirt (just above the fur line) and around the ears. White quills on snowflake patterns also tend to be bigger and thicker than other quills.
  • A spine that has trouble coming out is similar to an ingrown hair. You will be able to see redness, swelling, or scabbing at the base of the quill.
  • These spines may need to be gently pulled and the area washed with a gentle cleansing solution.
  • Quilling problems are more noticeable on albinos but all colors can have quilling problems.
  • The quilling process can be a painful for your pet and may be noticed in its behavior.
Behavior During Quilling
  • One might compare teething in human babies to quilling in hedgies.
  • Some hedgehogs show no discomfort during quilling while others might become very grouchy.
  • Hedgehogs that are uncomfortable might huff and puff more and relax less.
  • Instead of attempting to “pet” your hedgehog simply hold it or allow it to crawl over you and explore.
  • You don’t want to avoid handling your pet during the quilling process but you certainly don’t want to increase their agitation by petting them if their behavior indicates they are uncomfortable.
  • The good news is that with consistent handling the grouchiness will get better.
How to Comfort Hedgehogs During Quilling
  • We suggest an oatmeal bath using a homemade oatmeal soak, Aveeno baby shampoo, or other oatmeal based soaps found at any Health Food Store.
  • More bathing tips, suggestions, and instructions can be found in our Bathing and Nail Trimming guide.
  • Some hedgehog owners follow a bath with a Vitamin E in the rinse to assist in this uncomfortable process.
  • We have found that a couple small drops of olive oil directly on the skin (not spines) will help to soften the skin and make the process a little easier. One must be careful not to put too much oil on the skin because excess oil can cause problems as well.

Determining the Cause of Quill Loss

  • Young hedgehogs are at the prime age for quilling. Look at the spines that have fallen out to see if they are smaller than most of the remaining quills and to see if they have a bulb shaped root on one tip. Another sign of quilling is that you can see new quills growing in to replace shed quills.
  • The occasional loss of healthy quills is a normal part of the quilling process. The average hedgehog has approximately 5,000 spines and will replace about 90 percent of them during its lifetime. (Pet Product News).
  • A veterinarian should address quill loss other than what is associated with the natural shedding process. Mites are the most common cause of quill loss other than the quilling process. Quill loss as a result of mites can be any size quill and new quills will not be growing in. Refer to our Mighty Mite article for more information on this topic.
  • A visit to the veterinarian is the only way to determine if mites are the cause of the problem.
  • Insufficient diets, stress, and hormonal imbalances can also cause quill loss.