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.
SCROLL DOWN FOR A LIST OF HOGGO BEHAVIORS AND BODY LANGUAGE
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.
* 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.
Due to hedgehogs being prey animals, it is important to understand that when held "belly-up" hedgehogs may become very nervous. The belly up position is very unnatural for hedgehogs. In the wild a hoggo with it's belly exposed would be an easy meal for a predator. When working with your hedgehog, always start handling belly down until confidence and trust is achieved.
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 are 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.
Once you bring your hoglet home, you Can 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.
Baby hedgehogs have brains that are like putty to paper. What they're exposed to will "stick".They'll see and accept things that they are exposed to while young. Their experiences imprint on them. When you take a young hedgehog home from a breeder, the imprinting process starts all over again, almost "from scratch." The environment and experiences that have been imprinted on the animal's brain are no longer present. This can be rally scary for a little animal. It is super important to be patient with a young hedgehog and handle him/her often.
A baby hedgehog born in a breeder's care will grow used to the sound of the breeder's voice/touch/scent and the activities that happen while with the breeder. It becomes their "normal". When they go to their forever homes, they're essentially ripped from everything they have known and will need time and routine to become accustomed to their new owners.
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.
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.
Some Common Hedgehog behaviors and Body Language
Quills noticeably up or erect:
When a hedgehog raises it's quills from their normal position it is on guard. Some hedgehogs do have a quill structure in which their quills never fully rest along the body and always seem to be kind of standing up. If your hedgehog has a quill structure like this familiarize yourself with how the animal looks rested and how the quills changed when disturbed. This will help you easily identify changes in the animal's stress levels and reactions. A hedgehog with it's quills up is on guard and ready to protect it's self. The animal may or may not be defensive. Some hedgehogs seemingly always raise their quills when exploring, then lay them flat only to rest and sleep. A hedgehog who is nervous or stressed will usually exhibit one of the other below behaviors as well.
Quills placid, laying flat against the body:
When a hedgehog is relaxed and content, it's quills will lay "flat" or "stay down". The hedgehog is not under any stress so it is not flexing the muscle under it's skin to raise it's quills in defense or stress response. Some hedgehogs have heavy longer quill structure that may make their quills difficult to notice if raised. If this is the case with your hedgehog, familiarize yourself with your animal and it's relaxed state so you can easily identify any changes in it's quills. Hedgehogs I've seen, even those with long heavy quills have still been very effective at raising their quills.
The hedgehog will contort it's body and a frothy foamy spilt will come out of it's mouth. The hedgehog will lick this spit on to it's back. Sometimes the hedgehog will lick or bite an item (including your fingers) and then anoint.
The exact purpose of anointing is unknown, however hedgehogs seem to do this behavior most when they are given a new food or come across something that is a new smell. This may be a jacob's organ reaction, called a FLESHMEN RESPONSE, a reaction to pheromones or scent in the environment.
Anointing is NOT harmful and means the hedgehog is engaged in the environment and most likely enjoys what it is smelling or eating. This behavior is normal and acceptable. Some hedgehogs like to be a little extra when anointing. They'll lick and anoint and then bite and hold onto the object of interest. If a hedgehog is licking you a lot, there is a risk it'll take a little chomp, especially if it is anointing during the process. If your hedgehog is getting over zealous with licking you, it's best to move your fingers out of the way or place the hedgehog in an area away from the skin it's most likely going to take a chomp on. Sometimes while in this over stimulated state a hedgehog will chomp down and not let go easily. So it's best to prevent it from happening rather than to get bitten and the hedgehog getting scared due to any reaction to the pain you may have.
A wicked cute behavior hedgehog exhibit is nose twitching. Smell is the hedgehog's sharpest sense. A hedgehog explores it's world first by scent, second by hearing, third by sight and fourth by feeling. Hedgehogs have very strong senses of smell. A curious hedgehog will move about it's environment twitching it's nose. The hedgehog is just checking things out. If a hedgehog smells something interesting or new, but cannot see or feel where the new smell is coming from, it will often stretch its body almost as if to get it's nose higher into the air. It will then push its nose up and out while twitching it about. Some hedgehogs get so into smelling something that they almost look like elephant voles (look up elephant vole, you will not be disappointed) It's often surprising just how much control a hedgehog has over the degree in which it can move and twitch it's nose and snout.
Sometimes a hedgehog will be twitching and will suddenly drop it's self down into a spikes up or helmet position,. An animal who does this has usually just smelled or heard something that startled it. Usually if it has smelled something threatening, for example smoke (my hedgehogs have done this after I've blown out candles) the animal will most likely scoot away to cover.
If the hedgehog smells something absolutely fascinating or delicious, say a sardine (they tend to like sardines) it may sniff and sniff while exploring further until it discovers where the amazingly pleasant scent is coming from.
Hedgehogs will often lick their lips and nose when showing interest in something. Anointing may proceed lip/ nose licking if there is an interesting object around.
The hedgehog will lower it's head and lower the quills on it's forehead to shield the top of it's face. This behavior just screams "I'm cranky". The animal is being defensive due to nervousness or may just not want to be handled. The hedgehog will usually pop or charge the object it's not happy with. It's quills will remain raised. This is a hedgehog saying "go away or I'll ram into you and make you go away". If your hedgehog is doing this behavior, it is important to not give in and go away. Stay present in the hedgehog's environment anyway and talk in a soft voice while placing your hand down near the hedgehog so that it can both see and smell that you are still there. Sometimes during helmeting a hedgehog will push the side of it's body into you as an effort to make you go away. This is the hedgehog saying "shoo shoo".
Some people refer to popping as jumping. Technically hedgehogs cannot jump, but the full body contractions they do can certainly mimic jumping.
A hedgehog that is popping may or may not be in a ball.
When popping while balled up a hedgehog will be obviously in a ball. The animal will then contract it's muscles to make it's self pop and jolt quickly. Often times it will make a huff or pop like sound while doing this. If the animal is not balled up, it may lower it's self closer to the ground then push it's self up while making the huffing or popping sound. This is a defensive or nervous behavior, or the animal may just be avoiding being handled. Just like with the helmeting behavior, you do not want to give into the behavior, this will only reinforce the animal doing the behavior more often. Instead, stay present and allow the hedgehog to both see and smell you. If you are holding the hedgehog while it's popping, it may be a good idea to remove the hedgehog from your hands and place it on a flat safe surface. Allow the hedgehog to settle down and take it's time in unballing and becoming secure in it's surroundings.
popping may include a clicking sound as well.
A hedgehog who rolls it's self into a tight ball without showing any popping, huffing or clicking behaviors is an very scared hedgehog. The animal is scared and using it's last effort to preserve it's life. Even though you're certainly not going to severely harm your hedgehog, it doesn't know that. If your hedgehog is this level of scared, be extra gentle. You can place a soft blanket across your lap while sitting. Place the hedgehog securely on the blanket. Stay as still as you can and be sure to make no sudden noises. Once the hedgehog settles down, it will start to unball. Any sudden movement or sound will result in the hedgehog balling back up. Give the animal some time to settle and unball to explore. It may unball and try to zoom away to cover. Having a blanket present will provide the hedgehog with safe cover and can help build better feelings of security.
Sometimes a hedgehog will shake when balled up. If the hedgehog is shaking while balled up, and staying like this for long periods of time, it's best to take a much slower pace. In this situation you can place the hedgehog back into it's cage and simply be present until the animal calms down and is used to the sight and smell of you. Then you can pick up the animal again, possibly with a blanket to offer additional security and then try sitting with the hedgehog on your lap.
If a hedgehog screams it is either terrified or in extreme pain.
Hedgehogs who chirp are usually cleaning and stimulating their private parts or exhibiting courting behavior. Males chirp when trying to seduce females into mating.
Baby hoglets also chirp to communicate with their mothers, however their chirping is a little different than stimulation or courting chirping. Some young hoglets will still chirp even after removed from their mothers, most often when they're sleeping. Chirping behavior may or may not continue during the hedgehog's entire life time. Most young hoglets loose this behavior by the time they are six months old.
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.
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