Hedgehog Behavior

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I often get asked questions regarding hedgehog behavior. Owners often try to understand the reasons why their animals act the way they do.

Unfortunately there aren't  many formal studies involving the behavior of the African Pygmy Hedgehog. And even worse, none of those studies really go in depth regarding the behavior, they're more like general observations as to where hoggos live, eat, and breed in the wild. 

The formal scientific community still can not conclude why hedgehogs anoint themselves, so everything is pretty much up for interpenetration until more concrete studies are conducted. 

    On this page I will share my personal experience and observations regarding hedgehog behavior. 

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Hedgehogs, Working with prey animals

 

Hedgehogs, Working with prey animals

    The Hedgehogs that we love so much are what are referred to as prey animals. 

           " The term prey refers to an animal that is sought, captured, and eaten by a predator. A predator is an animal that hunts and kills other animals for food in an act called predation. Smaller predators, such as mice and lizards can be, and often are, prey for larger predators."- digital-desert.com

   As prey animals, hedgehogs have a biological hard wiring to be cautious. It's actually quite against the African Pygmy hedgehog's instincts to be open and outgoing with us. In the natural world hedgehogs would view us as predators and either try to flee from us , huff to intimidate and scare us away or stay balled up as protection from us. This behavior will prove a lifesaver to a wild hedgehog probably dozens of times within it's life. In captivity we find this behavior undesirable. 

    Through selective breeding within captivity we are essentially diluting their instincts to be fearful of us, but we do have a great  ways to go before hedgehogs are fully domesticated like cats,dogs, or even some livestock.

    Hedgehogs are stuck in the middle right now. They're no longer quite wild, but their not quite domesticated either. I like to say that our pet hedgehogs are "a watered down version of their wild counterpart". 

     As owners and hedgehog lovers it's very important to understand this and not set our expectations too high when becoming a hogparent. It is important to know how to work with a hedgehog to mold it into being as close to the pet we desire as possible. 

    Social media portrays hedgehogs to be spiky little puppies who want nothing more than to snuggle and watch net flicks with us. Yes, there are many  hedgehogs who seemingly enjoy the company of their owners, but there are also hedgehogs that react to our presence more like their prey animal ancestors would. Those reactive animals are the ones I'm mostly referring to here.

    Having a tame hedgehog takes work on the owner's part. Frequent handling And socialization is key.Exposing a young hedgehog to various sights, sounds, and smells will help it develop tolerance. 

   Every handling session will help override your hoggos natural instincts and help your hedgehog develop into tolerating and even seeking your presence. 

   Sometimes, even with the best methods, a hedgehog will still be shy. 

  We see this in the "more domesticated" species as well;

 Some cats are shyer than others, some dogs are fearful, some goats are aggressive. The domestication process doesn't guarantee that every animal will be friendly and outgoing.

     I have seen very friendly animals experience "personality changes" as well. This can happen around the time of sexual maturity in a small handful of animals. Both of these hedgehogs were extremely outgoing until around the point of sexual maturity. At that time they began exhibiting prey animal behavior. One of these hedgehogs dramatically calmed down at about 8 months old and is now handled fairly easily by it's owner (me) although she still has her moments in which she'll ball up or make huffing noises at me in effort to scare me away. 

  I've seen many of hedgehogs live their entire lives as outgoing curious little creatures. Most of the hedgehogs I have worked with have been curious and outgoing with a touch of occasional caution (especially during sudden noises). 

    As owners it's super important for us to acknowledge that hedgehogs are prey animals who are in the process of domestication. They are fascinating pets that we can observe and interact with in ways that are comfortable for our animals. 

   I have a few hedgehogs that are more reserved than the rest of my herd. I still hold these animals regularly. 

    With these reserved hedgehogs I try to look at their husbandry and care differently. I call them my "teaching hogs". They're the animals that teach me the most about hedgehog behavior and I find they are the ones who act most similarly to their wild cousins. I thoroughly enjoy working with these special hogs. I provide them with more natural Enrichment as opposed to my more sociable hoggos that I can interact with more and provide more "cutesy" enrichment to. 

      Summary: 

* There are all types of hedgehogs with all types of personalities.

*Handling your hedgehog often is important. Some hoggos still retain some prey animal behavior despite frequent handling. 

*Some hedgehogs, particularly females, may experience behavioral changes upon full sexual maturity.

*Some hedgehogs are Curious and outgoing their entire lives 

* When working with hedgehogs we are working with prey animals.

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Interacting with your hoglet

Due to the fact that hogs are prey animals and smooth brained (most of their impressions are made in the brain within the first several months of life) it is important to expose them to as much socialization as possible when young. Socialization is key 0-8 months of age.

    Owners who adopt a hoglet should take at least 1 hour out of their day everyday to make that lasting impression upon their hoglet. Yes, this can be 2 30minute bonding sessions instead of one. Two sessions may actually be more beneficial than just one. 

   During these sessions it is important to pet your hedgehog and move him/her around gently rather than just sitting in one position. It is important that your hedgehog becomes used to being held and moved without having an extreme fear of the movement. 

Talk sweetly to your hoglet during this time. You want your voice to be a normal part of the environment. and not a means of fear or threat.

      You Can also put a piece of clean clothing that you've worn for a short time in your hoglet's cage to help him/her get accustomed to your scent being present.

While you have your hoglet out you can offer tasty foods to make bonding time fun. Your hoggo will come to associate you with food, which is a very good thing. 

Hedgehogs learn through consistency The same event has to happen multiple times in a row over a length of time for your hedgehog to "learn" or accept it. .

 Most hoglets transition into new homes well when the above recommendations are followed. 

 if you've purchased a snuggle sack for your hoglet it is important to not become reliant on the barrier of the snuggle sack. You'll want your hoglet to get used to your touch as opposed to the snuggle sack. You can alternate between holding with your hands and holding in the snuggle sack, but be sure hand contact is done more often.

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Loving the older hoggo

If you've adopted or are considering adopting an older hedgehog you may be nervous in knowing that hedgehogs are smooth brained animals. You may be thinking the hedgehog your considering has already learned all it's going to and if it's skittish it always will be. This is not completely true. .

An older hedgehog will have previous impressions that will have formed it into the animal it is today, that doesn't mean an older animal cannot get accustomed to a new environment

The transition for an older animal is often not as smooth as that of a hoglet's. I recommend that adopters of older animals try to keep the hedgehog's new as similar to the previous environment as possible. Too many drastic changes at once can confused a hedgehog and cause a drastic fear response. 

If you are going to make big changes do them slowly. One small change at a time over the span of several weeks. 

For older hogs It may be a good idea to put a clean but lightly worn piece of your clothing into the cage. This will help the hog get used to your scent as part of the environment. 

 I do not use snuggle sacks often when handling young animals due to wanting them to get used to my touch, the opposite may be true for reserved older adoptees. 

A snuggle sack can be used to hold the hedgehog on your lap or next to you without over whelming the animal with your scent and touch. It is important though to not rely solely on using the snuggle sack. Alternate between direct touch and the barrier of the snuggle sack as needed. 

Go slow with your new addition and be sure all interactions are positive. Be understanding and accepting of your hedgehog for who he/she is. Some older hogs remain "stuck in their ways" for quite some time after entering their new homes, some never open up fully, while others adjust just fine and act as if nothing has ever changed.

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No matter the age of the hedgehog you adopt, patience and understanding is key.

Be sure to never raise your voice at your hedgehog,.

Never rough handle him/her and only offer a gentle presence. 

If your hedgehog is being fussy or difficult- Do not give up. Stay the course and keep persistent

If your hedgehog is huffing, popping, of trying to head but you REMEMBER he/she is trying to intimidate you so that you go away! It is important not to go away during this time. If your hedgehog's intimidation tactics work it will become a learned behavior that will be very hard to break. 


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Quilling Can play a role in hedgehog behavior


 Hedgehogs go through a process called quilling. 
   This is when new quills break through the skin and older quills fall out. 
   Hoglets can begin quilling anywhere between 5-10 weeks old. Quilling usually lasts a few weeks. Early life quillings tend to be more "heavy" than those that happen later in a hoggo's life. 
   A hedgehog may or may not (genetic and growth rate dependent) quill multiple times within the first year. Adult hogs typically quill once per year with periodic new quill growth/ loss in between. 
Some have a relatively easy time through the process while others seem to have more discomfort. 
The process can be very uncomfortable for hoggos, it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say it's even painful. I have seen hoglets bleed at the base of new quill growth. 
  Hoglets will often become "cranky" during this time and will huff And puff more  than normal. Its important to still handle your hoglet during this time. You want to work on the bonding process despite your hoglets protest. 
    There are things you can do to support your hedgehog during this time. Giving flax or fish oil in food will help skin stay hydrated from the inside, which can help ease the discomfort of new quills pushing through the skin.
     Keep the skin hydrated externally by offering a soothing bath of either oatmeal or a natural conditioner. 
    I've also seen success with temporarily boosting room humidity during a difficult quilling. Boosting humidity to about 50% is a good TEMPORARY support. You can boost humidity daily for a few hours. 
   It is always best to consult a veterinarian. The suggestions and information here is not considered medical treatment nor a substitute for vet care. 
  Look closely at the pictures here of a young hoglet's quills. You will see various sized quills crisscrossing and pushing through the skin. You can tell just by looking at these quills that the process is uncomfortable.