Simply put, the answer is no. It really depends on how you do it and what your pain tolerance is. When petting or holding a hedgehog, you can do it correctly or incorrectly. When you do it incorrectly, the post pain you will feel is similar to getting poked with a toothpick.
Hedgehogs are equipped with quills as their primary defense. But it is not as bad as you think. When calm, hedgehogs quills get pushed back. When petting them, pet the belly and the top quills. For the top quills, start from the head and end towards the lower back. It feels like the hard spokes of a hairbrush when they aren’t startled.
False Thoughts on Hedgehog Quills
- They can shoot their quills. This is false their quills can not be shot, only raised.
- The quills are always up. The quills are only up with they are startled or scared. So not all the time.
- The quills are very painful. The quills are not that sharp and you can only feel them when raised. If you do get poked, it feels like a bunch of toothpicks. The slight pain goes away almost immediately.
- The quills draw blood. The quills hardly ever puncture the skin. I have been poked thousands of times and have never bled.
How it Actually Feels
All in all, hedgehog quills aren’t that bad. When their quills are out, it is quick and doesn’t puncture the skin. It’s just a small discomfort. When they are retracted you will feel no discomfort at all. You do feel a small prick when they are startled or unhappy because the quills are up. It is their defense mechanism.
The quills can cause small red dots on the skin if you apply pressure to a pointed quill. But it will not draw blood or cause much discomfort. A similar feeling would be holding a bunch of toothpicks.
The good news is they are not like that all the time. When they are calm, the quill gets tucked down. It feels like thick wiry fur. The quills don’t hurt and feel pretty interesting. It feels like smooth spokes on a hairbrush or the tips of plucked feathers. Hedgehog’s bellies are very soft. It is basic fur, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to hold a hedgehog there. It is like the fur on a hamster or soft dog. But to further explain, you can read the paragraphs below
When hedgehogs are calm, their quills retract. It is almost as if they tuck them in. The quills feel like thick wiry fur or feather tips. In my opinion, they don’t hurt at all and feel pretty interesting. Most people report that there is not even a slight discomfort in holding a hedgehog with the quills retracted.
When hedgehogs are startled their quills will puff out causing them to look like a ball of needles. The extended quills feel like a small prick of a mostly dull needle or toothpick. Now some discomfort will occur but it is minor.
The quills can cause small red dots on the skin if you apply pressure to a pointed quill. But it will not draw blood or cause much discomfort. This only occurs when the hedgehog is startled or unhappy. If you want this to happen less check out our article on how to bond with your hedgehog. If your hedgehog is close with you then this will hardly ever happen.
How to Avoid Getting Poked by Quills
- Only pick your hedgehog up when they are calm (not hissing or quill raised).
- Pick up and hold the hedgehog in the basic hold explained in our article here.
- Don’t wake them up or they will be startled.
- Try not to use gloves. If using your hand is daunting, try a shirt with your scent on it.
- Bond with them. Check out our bonding guide.
- Make sure they see your hand so they won’t be surprised.
- Get deep bedding or flat bedding (easier to pick up). More info can be found in our bedding guide.
How Other Parts of a Hedgehog Feel
Their bellies are one of the softest parts of the hedgehog. There are no quills, just soft fur. The thin fluffy underside feels like a rabbit’s fur or other types of soft fur. So make sure you give them some belly rubs there!
Their claws are not sharp but can get very long. They require trimming. But even when the nails are long or cut, they only feel like the pointy part of pen caps. Also, poop and dirt will get stuck and need cleaning.
The feet are strangely soft like puppies’ paws. Especially if the hedgehog is kept on fleece bedding or other soft materials. Although wild hedgehogs will have a more callused foot.
When you hold a hedgehog, there is the unfortunate chance you could get bitten, but it is rare once the hedgehog is comfortable. A bit will hurt a little, just as any other animal bite would. It feels like a sharp pinch, that can sometimes puncture the skin. The bite will be smaller than the width of most fingers. To avoid this; understand what raised quills mean, don’t have strong smells on your hand, and try to bond with your pet.
Nose, Tung, Whiskers, and Tail
The nose and tongue are wet and feel a little callused. The whiskers are wiry and are hard to feel unless they are sniffing around. In which case, it gives you a slight tickle. The tail is absolutely adorable and soft. It has no quills and no rough parts. It is simply a small lump of furry cuteness by the rear.
How to Avoid Any Discomfort
- Understand your pet’s signals. Quills up and hissing means “please do not pick me up right now”. This avoids getting poked or bitten.
- Follow the rules above about how not to get poked.
- Do not hold their food or treats too close to your fingers (some people use tweezers).
- Give them enrichment and playtime in their cage
- Bond with them daily.
- Try to only get them out when they are awake.
- Keep claws trimmed.
- Check health (bad health could cause aggression so check out our health article).
If You’re Still Scared
If you’re still scared, you can always use a cloth shirt as you are getting used to handling a hedgehog. Just make sure your sent is on it, so the hedgie can get more used to you. You can also hold it in your lap with blankets and pillows. People do make hedgie sweaters but they should DEFINITELY not be worn for long periods of time. It is unsafe for the hedgehog. On this note, costumes should not be worn for long periods of time. Definitely not without supervision.
I hope you found this article useful and grow in your connection with your potential or current pet! You got this, so don’t be afraid!
Were you scared the first time you held a hedgehog? The first time I tried picking one up, it puffed out his quills and my hand jumped back scared.