Is my hedgehog shedding??
Some may refer to them as spines (which is technically what they are) but they are more commonly known as quills and they cover a large portion of your pet hedgehog. When these quills fall out in large amounts it is referred to as quilling. During this shedding period you may start to wonder if losing all these spines is normal and you should know what signs to watch for that might indicate a problem.
The process of losing spines (or quills) is called quilling and normal hedgehogs will do this as babies and juveniles. The first time a hedgehog quills is at about two months of age (but it can vary). This first quill loss is when hedgehogs lose the finer baby quills and grow in their thicker and longer quills. The second quilling occurs at about four months of age (but again, it can vary) and many new hedgehog owners get alarmed at the amount of quills their pets lose if they don't know it is normal. This second quilling can be uncomfortable, much like it is for a human child that is teething.
The new quills have to push up through the old quills holes and some larger quills can be uncomfortable to pass, especially when a large number of them are pushing through at the same time. Throughout your hedgehog's life he will continue to lose quills (about 90% of them will be replaced at some point) but large amounts of quills should not be lost all at once as an adult.
Problems with Quilling
While a spine is attempting to push it's way through the skin it can sometimes have trouble coming out. This is just like an ingrown hair and may require some of your attention. If there is redness, swelling, discharge, or scabbing where a new spine is attempting to emerge you might have to gently clean the area or assist the spine in coming through the skin by pulling on it. Some ingrown spines can become infected if not cared for and your hedgehog may require antibiotics.
Behavior changes may be noted during the quilling time but it is important that you don't stophandling your young hedgehog just because he is a little grouchy. Don't stress him out with excessive handling (especially if he isn't used to it) but aim to be a comfort to him.
The spines that come out should all have a bulb shape on the end of them. If they are broken off it could be a sign of quill damage and the remaining quill piece may still be in your hedgehog and require manual extraction.
Other Reasons for Losing Quills
The most common reason for hedgehogs to lose excessive amounts of quills, aside from normal quilling, is because of mites. Mites can come into your hedgehog's home through bedding, food, or other sources and cause skin irritation and spine loss. Your exotics veterinarian can determine whether or not your hedgehog has mites by performing a skin scrape and examining it under the microscope. The mites won't be large enough for you to simply see without the use of a microscope.
Other reasons for excessive quill loss include feeding a poor diet (find out what your hedgehog should be eating), hormonal imbalances, stress (possibly due to cats taunting your hedgehog, a recent move, a new cage, etc.), allergies (make sure you are washing his bedding in fragrance and dye-free detergent and avoid using fabric softener), or from being in a very dry environment. Overall, if your hedgehog is an adult and is losing a large amount of spines (especially if he has bald spots) you need to have him examined by your exotics veterinarian (find a vet for your hedgehog) to determine the cause.