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Hedgehog FAQ [3/7] - Intro to Hedgehogs as pets
Section - <4.6> Hedgehog handling / socializing

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Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [3/7] - Intro to Hedgehogs as pets
Previous Document: <4.5> When Hedgie comes home
Next Document: <4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/ rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
There's an old joke that goes: 

       	Question: How do you pick up a hedgehog? 
       	Answer:   Carefully!

Actually the original tends to deal more with the mating habits of our little
friends, but I'm sure you get the point (or would that be points?).

One of the points I had missed in early versions of the FAQ was the need for
handling pet hedgehogs to socialize them with you.  Until recently, this
section has dealt primarily with the technical side of the rather thorny
question of how to handle a hedgehog, rather than why.

Hedgehogs tend to be very nervous by nature and do not enjoy nature's best
eyesight.  Hedgehogs rely primarily on sense of smell.  Their sense of
hearing is a distant second, and their vision is way down the list.  In fact,
vision is generally used mostly as a source of warnings of danger.  Hearing
serves both purposes -- tracking interesting sounds, or warning them of
dangers, and smell is usually used for finding things they are used to.  Keep
all of this in mind when trying to win the heart of a hedgehog.

When you first get a hedgehog as a pet, it is important that your new friend
come to identify your smell with that of a friend.  Because of this reliance
on sense of smell, if you are constantly changing perfumes, or sometimes use
strongly scented items, you are going to have much more difficulty than
normal, but by no means is it an impossible task.

The best way to socialize your hedgie is to spend as much time as you
reasonably can (without over-stressing the hedgehog) and gently hold or play
with him.  Hedgehogs that are thoroughly familiar with their human friends
tend to be a lot friendlier in most cases -- although it depends on the
hedgehog, as it does with any animal with a personality (or should that be

In simple terms, hedgehogs do best with (possibly short amounts of) regular
attention, rather than large periods of infrequent attention.  A few minutes
each day is far better than hours once a week.

It is also important to keep up the contact, to maintain the bond.  Spending
some time with your hedgehog(s) every couple of nights should do the job.
Clearly, doing so almost daily is better, but reality rarely lets you do

One point that I've missed here, until now (my thanks to Lisa Ladouceur for
pointing this out), is how to handle your hedgehog.  Most hedgehogs, at
least, at first, do not like to be patted on their quills.  Just try gently
holding your hedgie, and letting it uncurl in your hands.  Let it explore
around your hands and arms, and it will eventually start to become
comfortable around you as it realizes that you are safe.  Eventually, you can
get to the point of petting most hedgehogs along the back, and some even like
to be scratched in amongst their spines, but, this level of trust can take a
while to develop.

What do you do when you just won't have the chance to spend as much quality
time with the hedgekids as you want, or if you've just gotten a new hedgehog
and want to do everything possible to help get him used to you?  Here is a
tip from Dave Ehrnstein, who, as a fairly large breeder, doesn't have the
time to spend with each and every new hedgehog:

    Another way to acquaint them with your scent is to wear an old T-shirt
    for two days, then put it in their cage.  They will nest under it, and
    your scent will become ``homey'' to them, not threatening.

You should be careful that there are no loose loops of thread on the shirt
(or hairs) that hedgefeet can get caught in (see caution in sections [5.2]
and [9.1]) and you should also at least check on the hedgehog daily, but
otherwise this idea will help acquaint your new friend with your smell, and
settle him into his new home.

Now on to the ``how do I pick up a pincushion with the points all facing
out'' section.

Picking up a hedgehog, or otherwise handling him is difficult, at least until
he gets to know your smell.  Because of this, there is one cardinal rule
about hedgehog handling and that is ``never wear gloves.''  If you do, your
hedgehog will never become used to you, and your smell.  That said, there
are, indeed, times when you have to.  As with any so called rule, there
are exceptions, and using your common sense is the best thing.  Remember,
it's much better to use gloves and take your hedgie out to play, then not to
play at all.  

One thing you should do before trying to pick up any hedgehog, is to let your
little friend sniff your bare hand, before you pick him up, that way, he will
come to know the picking up is safe.

The recommended way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of
him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him.  Never grasp a
hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the
middle should he decide to roll into a ball.  Being in the middle of a
hedgehog ball is an extremely painful experience -- it's truly astounding
just how strong their muscles are [words of a single, never to be repeated,
unfortunate experience by the editor].

Most hedgehogs, unless really upset, will end up stepping up on your hands as
they come together.  Once on your hands, you can transfer your little friend
to your lap (a towel spread on your lap can help, here), or onto your chest.

Properly handled, from shortly after birth, pet hedgehogs are very friendly,
playful animals that will keep their quills smoothed down, and enjoy being
with people.  Once socialized with you, your hedgehog will be like this any
time you want to play (at least after it has had time to wake up, if you
decide to play during hedgie's naptime).

Are all hedgehogs like this?  No, of course not.  That's the ideal, and it is
something most people will only achieve if they get lucky, and kept up the
right attention, or if they are persistent at trying to win their little
friend over.  The one key thing to remember, above all else, is patience,
patience, patience, and patience!

So you say your hedgehog is a grump?  Fear not, that's not unusual.  I must
admit that Velcro, my first hedgehog was a thoroughly endearing little grump
who took me 4-5 months to win over.  Once I did win him over, though, he was
a real little sweetheart, and would often come to his cage door when he heard
me, to come out and play.

So why are some hedgies so grumpy or seem to be unfriendly, and what are the
reasons?  For the answer, we need to look at the making of our little grumps,
um, er, friends, and how they relate to you.

Keep the noise levels low around hedgies, and preferably the lighting not too
bright.  This will help avoid triggering nervousness.

Remember that, to a hedgehog, you are very large, and cast a huge shadow.
Think of yourself being picked up by something the size of a small
skyscraper!  Move slowly, and do your best not to suggest you might be a

If you are still at the glove stage, once you have your little friend out,
try to take off the glove and do without it as much as possible.

Remember too, that with hedgehogs, bribery IS considered appropriate.  Treats
are welcome.  Let's face it, your hedgehog is not going to turn you in for

So what about hardcore cases?  The I-wanna-snuffle-myself-into-a-fit-
and-you-can't-do-anything-about-it type grumps?

The first thing to do is to decide if something is bothering the grumphog.
Often, a problem, like being too cold or not feeling well can be the source
of the excess grumpyness.  Even something like toenails that have become
ingrown are frequent causes of grump syndrome in hedgehogs.

If you've made sure of the basics, here are a series of things (some of which
might be a bit redundant after all the discussions above), for dealing with
these spoil-sports:

    (1) Make sure that the lights are low, that there are not causes for 
    discomfort (cold, injuries, mites, etc.), and that there are no major
    disturbances like loud music, etc., nearby.

    (2) Does your hedgehog have a secure feeling den, and comfortable cage, 
    or enclosure?  Somewhere a hedgehog can curl up in and feel safe can help
    boost his sense of security.  This doesn't need to be too elaborate.

    (3) Play with him regularly, for 15-20 minutes each day, at around the 
    same time of day.  Some hedgies treat this as a battle of wills.  Once he
    knows he's going to come out and play, whether he snuffles his butt off,
    or not, he will knuckle under.  If you let him get the best of you, 
    you've lost, and he will know it.  After that, he can do whatever he
    wants, and you are at his mercy.

    (4) Think of your little friend's situation.  Most new hedgehogs are 
    still essentially babies.  Here you have a timid little animal which has
    just lost everything it ever knew.  It was recently separated from its 
    mother and then from any brothers or sisters that it might have been 
    with. Now everything smells different, tastes different, sounds 
    different, and this huge creature is grabbing for it.  Needless to say,
    this is a pretty nerve-wracking experience.  This is why patience is so 

    (5) Bribery works.  It can even be fun experimenting to find out what 
    treats your hedgie likes.

    (6) Hardcore snufflebutts can sometimes be won over, at least in part, 
    by a bath.  Almost every hedgehog will smooth their quills down when in
    water, and you can become the rescuer when extracting him from the 
    evil bath.  Some hedgies even actually enjoy baths!  See section [6.5]
    on how to bath your hedgie.

Remember, patience is the key.  It will often take time, sometimes weeks of
patient playing to win over a hedgie, but it is worth it, and it can be done.

Okay, so Spike is coming along fine, he's willing to come out and play, or
sometimes even snuggle, but there are some little habits that are leaving you
a bit unsure of things.  It seems a favorite trick of some hedgehogs to go to
the bathroom just after you pick them up and start to play.  Is this an
attempt on their part to be left alone?  You may be starting to think so, and
that it might work, if it keeps up.

Of course your hedgie is not mistaking you for a litter box, nor is he making
a social commentary on you -- basically, he just can't help himself.  This
particular `habit' is far more common in young hedgehogs who still don't have
as much control over their bodily functions as they will have later on.  It
also appears that in hedgehogs, there is usually a need to go to the bathroom
shortly after waking up, when you combine this with the fact that hedgies
like to go, when on the go, it pretty much covers the causes.

So what is the solution?  Obviously, one necessity is to just keep some
Kleenex or paper towel handy -- it's going to happen at times, no matter
what!  The other thing that can help is when you first wake up your little
friend, give him a minute or two back in his cage to try and do his business
before you really take him out to play.  Of course, there is the wait until
he grows up approach, but just try and resist wanting to play for that long!

For dealing with problem behavior, like biting, see section [6.6].

User Contributions:

Report this comment as inappropriate
Apr 26, 2012 @ 10:22 pm
Hi, my hedgehog started running around her cage squealing so I took her out to see what was wrong. Her genital area was inflamed and she had open sores all around that area. I gave her a bath, but I'm really worried about her. Do you have any idea what this could be?
Thank you!

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


Top Document: Hedgehog FAQ [3/7] - Intro to Hedgehogs as pets
Previous Document: <4.5> When Hedgie comes home
Next Document: <4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/ rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble?

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