The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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If you’re contemplating getting a pet hedgehog, you may be worried about the level of destruction they can cause. Chinchillas and rats are notorious destroyers of electrical cords, curtains, and wooden furniture when left to run loose.
Is the hedgehog a fellow agent of chaos, or is it a more innocuous pet, preferring to spend its time innocently snuffling for food?
Pet hedgehogs are not destructive. They nibble objects as a means of investigating, and they are unlikely to cause damage, but pet hedgehogs can bite. Wild hedgehogs will dig and eat garden pests. In New Zealand, invasive hedgehog species have caused significant damage to native animal species.
When tackling the topic of a hedgehog’s destructive tendencies, it is essential to consider the question from two perspectives. Pet hedgehogs and wild hedgehogs can wreak havoc in very different ways, and thus the answer to the question of how destructive a hedgehog is lies in which hedgehog you are thinking of.
Are Hedgehogs Destructive Chewers?
The first question that people ask when looking at a hedgehog is: does it chew?
The question comes from the mistaken belief that hedgehogs are rodents. The public often informally groups hedgehogs with rats, chinchillas, hamsters, and guinea pigs, all of which are definitely rodents!
Animals from the order Rodentia have easily identifiable teeth; all rodents sport distinctive pairs of oversized incisors. These incisors lack roots and continue to grow throughout the animal’s life.
Rodents have learned to control their perpetually growing teeth by gnawing on wood, plastic, and other solid surfaces.
Unlike these toothy animals, hedgehogs belong to the order Erinaceomorpha.
Hedgehogs have 44 teeth that first grow in at about 3 weeks. However, a hedgehog needs to take care of its teeth because, unlike rodents, they only receive one set of adult teeth that needs to last them their whole life!
Hedgehogs like to investigate their surroundings by sniffing, licking, and nibbling on objects. However, their jaws are not powerful enough to leave significant marks on furniture when the hedgehog has an exploratory nibble.
Unlike chinchillas and rats, your hedgehog won’t spend their time destroying chewable objects.
Do Hedgehogs Bite?
Although hedgehogs may learn self-control and refrain from chewing on everything they encounter, this does not mean that they don’t use their teeth to get their message across!
Hedgehogs bite for one of 4 reasons:
Young hedgehogs are curious about their environments and will often lick and nibble items as a means of exploring their surroundings.
Although hedgehogs have limited eyesight, they have an acute sense of smell. They will often be drawn to investigate the smell of food, soap, or tobacco that persists on people’s skin even after washing.
These exploratory nibbles are typically preceded by sniffing and licking followed by a quick nip. These tiny love bites are not dangerous and will rarely break the skin.
However, it is essential not to let your hedgehog get into the habit of nipping people.
Owners that hand-feed their hedgehogs may be in danger of receiving an accidental bite. Hedgehogs’ depth perception is not fine-tuned, and their enthusiasm may overrule their caution, causing them to literally bite the hand that is feeding them!
The most common reason for a hedgehog to bite a human is due to anxiety. While biting is considered a last resort for hedgehogs, they will make their feeling known if their earlier protests are ignored.
Signs of a stressed hedgehog include:
- Curling in a ball
- Trying to squirm out of the people’s hands
- Refusing to come out of their houses
A tired, stressed, or fearful hedgehog will be less amenable to being handled and may vigorously defend the right to be left alone. Anxiety-triggered hedgehog bite can occasionally break the skin, as the hedgehog feels it’s fighting for its safety.
Illness Can Cause a Hedgehog to Bite
Hedgehog illnesses are not always easy to spot. The first sign of poor health may be a noticeable change in the hedgehog’s behavior.
Like humans, hedgehogs don’t like being bothered when they’re feeling under the weather. A typically friendly, relaxed hedgehog that starts biting for no apparent reason may be trying to tell their owner that they’re not well.
Owners should always take these hedgehogs to the vet to rule out ill-health as a reason for their biting and change in behavior.
Does a Hedgehog’s Spines Damage Clothing?
Hedgehog quills are sharp enough to deter potential predators from eating the prickly hedgehogs. However, these spines are not sharp enough to penetrate human skin or most forms of clothing, e.g., cotton, denim, velvet, etc.
Woolly clothing may become entangled in the hedgehog’s spines; clothing such as silk, organza, and chiffon may have threads pulled loose if pricked by a hedgehog spine. However, most owners don’t handle their hedgehogs while wearing delicate silk clothing!
Do Hedgehogs Damage Gardens?
While most hedgehogs can and will dig when creating a burrow, they rarely damage a plant’s roots systems, and thus, gardeners do not become upset when they find a hedgehog nest or shallow burrow.
In fact, most gardeners welcome the presence of a hedgehog in their gardens. Hedgehogs happily eat most invertebrates, e.g., garden slugs, caterpillars, and beetles.
How Destructive Are Wild Hedgehogs in New Zealand?
The European hedgehog was introduced to New Zealand during the 19th century to remind the British emigrants of home and control garden pests, e.g., slugs.
Sadly, these well-intentioned efforts had disastrous consequences for the native animal species inhabiting New Zealand. There are very few natural predators in New Zealand, resulting in most resident species having little to no natural defences.
The invasive hedgehogs have developed a taste for the eggs and chicks of many birds who make their nests along the riverbeds or in burrows or protective ground cover. The two bird species which the hedgehogs’ predatory inclinations have hit the hardest are the banded dotterel and black-fronted tern.
It is not only birds who have found themselves an unwilling feature in the hedgehogs’ meal plan; many invertebrates are tasty morsels to the ever-hungry hedgehog.
Hedgehogs have severely impacted the following invertebrate populations:
- Rare giant native centipede, wētā, and other rare insects
- Powelliphanta snails, especially the Patarau and Otaki sub-species
- Lizards and skinks
- Endemic frog species
The New Zealand Government has legalized the use of kill traps to control the local hedgehog population.
Pet hedgehogs and native hedgehog species are rarely destructive. Invasive hedgehogs introduced to areas with no natural predators will negatively impact the area’s small animal population.