Are Hedgehogs Hypoallergenic? What You Need to Know!

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an adorable hedgehog licking its nose while being held

The African pygmy hedgehog (Atelerix albiventris) is one of the most common hedgehog species kept as exotic pets in North America. It can turn out to be a very charming and not at all prickly pet if it is well tamed. But is it really a good choice for allergy sufferers who have given up on cats and dogs? The short and sweet answer is that hedgehogs do not trigger most allergies in the majority of humans. But theres a catch: even though these adorable little creatures arent known to cause allergies in most people, they can still carry diseases that may be harmful to their human caretakers.

Lets see the details of this thorny question.

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Can Hedgehogs Cause Allergic Reactions in Some People?

Unfortunately, yes. Although hedgehogs are generally considered good pets for people with allergies to cats, dogs, rabbits, and other furry companions, they can still cause allergic reactions in some people.

Indeed, a number of infections can be transmitted to humans from these tiny, quilled mammals, and they are possible hosts for parasites. Dermatological disorders can also be observed in handlers of hedgehogs.

What Allergic Reactions Can Hedgehogs Cause?

an african pygmy hedgehog on owner hand
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Contact and handling of hedgehogs can cause:

Cutaneous reactions:

  • Dermatophytosis (cutaneous inflammatory reaction)
  • Rash
  • Urticaria
  • Erythema
  • Redness
  • Itching
Respiratory problems and/or infections:

These allergic reactions can be caused by the hedgehogs quills, saliva, fungi, mites, or other parasites present on the animal:

  • Hedgehog quills: Quills are modified hairs that protect the hedgehogs body from external aggressions. They can penetrate human skin and cause skin allergies, such as hives. Interestingly, people who have this kind of cutaneous reaction when handling other small pets (hamster, ferret, mouse) seem to have a predisposition to this allergic reaction. In other words, if you get hives after handling a guinea pig, youre likely to have the same allergic skin reaction with a hedgehog.
  • Self-anointing: One of the special characteristics of the hedgehog is a behavior called anointing. When the animal finds something new, such as food or an object, it will chew it and produce a lot of saliva. This creates a foam that the hedgehog spreads on its quills, which apparently would make it less tasty for a potential predator. However, this foam builds up toxins and other organic material on its back and stings, which can irritate human skin as well.
  • Transmission of fungi: About 25% of hedgehogs carry a fungus called Trichophyton ericanei. This fungus can be transmitted to humans and causes skin disease in some people. The inflammatory reaction can be extreme and purulent, but it resolves spontaneously after two or three weeks.
  • Parasites: Hedgehogs can have external parasites, such as fleas, mites, or ticks, which can cause various problems in humans who handle them.

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