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 are considering getting a pet hedgehog, the chances are good that you have done some research about them. Hedgehogs are cute little critters, but they have special requirements if you choose to have one of them as a pet. One of the questions most people frequently ask about hedgehogs and their behavior is if hedgehogs are mean?
Hedgehogs are solitary animals that are quite shy and wary of most things. Hedgehogs aren’t mean; they just like to be left alone. They do need to be socialized, but if it is done correctly, with patience and persistence, you can get your hedgehog to let its guard down when you are around.
Hedgehogs are complicated critters, but they make great pets if their owner takes the time to understand their needs. Hedgehogs are one of my favorite mammals, so I thought I would share what I know from first-hand experience and through my research on hedgehog behavior.
Are Hedgehogs Mean?
The most common hedgehog kept as a pet is the African Pygmy hedgehog. These are considered the most domesticated of the 17 different hedgehog species worldwide. Most African Pygmy hedgehogs that you can buy as pets are bred in captivity.
When you find a wild hedgehog in your yard, it’s best to call a wildlife relocation specialist. They will catch the wild hedgehog and relocate it if they don’t find any injury. Wild hedgehogs will roll into a ball and not like being touched.
Several different factors will affect the behavior and temperament of a hedgehog.
Factors Affecting a Hedgehog’s Temperament
Like most animals, the behavior of a hedgehog will depend on certain factors. No one can say they are in a good mood every day, so, understandably, the same can be said for animals. When we are in a bad or grumpy mood, it might be because we didn’t get enough sleep or feel ill.
Below are some of the main factors that will influence a hedgehog’s temperament.
All animals have different personalities, and hedgehogs are the same. Some hedgehogs are couch potatoes and like to lounge around; others want to run around like crazy and explore everything.
The more you spend time with your hedgehog, the more you will learn to recognize its personality and different traits, what it likes and dislikes. When you first get your hedgehog, it might be wary and scared, but after a while you with patience, it will relax around you.
Hedgehogs like to follow a routine when it comes to when they are awake and asleep. If they are woken up before their usual time, they might be grumpy and unhappy. The best time to spend time with your hedgehog or clean its enclosure is around the time the sun goes down.
You can set a routine in motion by setting a timer when the sun goes down to spend about 15-30 minutes a day with your hedgehog. Your hedgehog will get used to it in no time, and you might find your hedgie waking up around that time on its own.
Hedgehogs go through a quilling stage when they are very young and get bigger quills. It is a very painful process for a hedgehog that lasts around a month. Most of the time, their normal personality will change when quilling.
They will be more irritable, grumpy, won’t want to eat a lot, and will be rolled in a ball for most of the day. After the quilling process is over, their personality will go back to normal. They will also eat more because they aren’t in pain anymore.
When they are quilling, you need to be patient with them and not rub or pick them up too often as it will cause pain and irritation. It might also make them less trusting of you.
The one big thing that will affect their behavior is their health. When a hedgehog feels sick or has a health issue, it will negatively affect its temperament and become a little more irritable.
It’s important to keep an eye on their health, and any serious personality changes might be a health problem. Look for signs of discomfort, bloating, nasal and eye discharge, flaky or inflamed skin, loss of quills, and loss of appetite. All these are indicators that your hedgehog might be sick.
Hedgehogs don’t have good eyesight, and they scare very easily, so be slow and deliberate with your actions. It’s important for your hedgehog to know your voice. Try speaking to your hedgehog in a soothing voice every time you take it out of its enclosure.
It will help your hedgehog get used to your voice, so if it hears it’s you before you pick it up, it might also calm your hedgie. Try to bribe it with treats; it will help it trust you easier.
Are Hedgehogs Aggressive?
Generally speaking, hedgehogs are not aggressive critters. They prefer to be left alone. In the wild, hedgehogs only socialize when it’s mating season. They don’t mate for life and are usually on their own.
There are instances where a hedgehog might look aggressive, but it is merely scared. Here are a few hedgehog behaviors that should not be mistaken for aggression.
Rolling into a Ball
Hedgehogs roll into a ball as a way to protect themselves. It’s an instinctual behavior that protects their face and vital organs in the wild. Because hedgehogs don’t see well, they get easily startled, so they will initially roll into a ball but uncurl when they sense no danger.
To a hedgehog, it’s not an act of aggression but rather an act of protection.
Quills Up and Shaking
A hedgehog will look down with its butt in the air and hop in the direction of the offending object. It’s a defensive posture meant to defend against an attack. My hedgehog used to do it when a fly would bother him.
A hedgehog won’t usually do this unless they are terrified of the person or object facing it. When a hedgehog is this scared, it’s best to talk in a soothing voice and try to calm it before picking it up.
If this behavior is unusual for your hedgehog, there might be another cause other than fear, and it would be a great idea to check its health.
Hissing and Puffing
Hedgehogs will hiss and puff when they feel threatened. They won’t usually attack people, but it is a clear warning that they are unhappy, uncomfortable, and want to be left alone. Hedgehogs are not aggressive toward humans, just shy and wary.
Are Hedgehogs Aggressive Towards Animals?
In the wild, hedgehogs will attack other males during mating season and mark their territory. So when you decide to have more than one hedgehog, they each must have an enclosure to themselves. They should never share a cage or enclosure as it will lead to fighting.
Female hedgehogs are much calmer and, if they are properly socialized from a young age, will be ok with another female in the same enclosure. It is still recommended to give each hedgehog its own cage.
Do Hedgehogs Bite People?
Hedgehogs can bite, but it’s usually more out of curiosity than aggression. They have very small mouths, and they typically nip when they smell food or a pleasant scent. They will usually nibble or lick the spot where they found the smell until it forms spittle and anoint themselves with it.
There isn’t much information about why they do it, but experts have suggested it might be because they want to mask their own smell from predators.
Is There a Way to Help Aggressive Hedgehogs?
If you find an aggressive hedgehog, there are ways to help get it settled and more used to you. It would help alleviate their stress and fear. Depending on how a hedgehog is handled from a young age, they might experience fear and anxiety around people.
So, by taking your time and being patient, you will find that the hedgehog will trust you, and you will be able to spend more quality time with your pet and less time worrying about its fear and subsequent aggression towards you.
You need to get a piece of old clothing that you won’t mind parting with. Put the piece of clothing on for a while; a few hours should do. Then put it inside the hedgehog’s enclosure. It will get the hedgehog used to your scent. It will remember your smell when you try to pick it up and calm down easier.
While helping your hedgehog get used to you and over its stress and aggressive tendencies, try not to change laundry soap or bathing and hand soap. It will confuse your hedgehog if you suddenly smell different before it gets used to being around you.
Wash your hands thoroughly with gentle soap before picking up your hedgehog. Talk to your hedgehog in a small soothing voice. Now lay your hands straight and flat next to your hedgehog. It’s very likely your hedgehog will roll into a ball.
Distribute its weight across both of your hands and put it on your lap on a blanket or towel. Have a snack or two ready and try to coax it from its balled-up state so it can get used to being in your lap and hands.
Even if it stays in the rolled-up position, try to be patient, and after a while, it will smell the treats and come around, wanting to explore. You should do this every day until your hedgehog is used to being handled by you.
You need to be consistent. If you find it difficult to spend time with your hedgehog and it has been a while, you might have to re-condition your hedgehog to get used to you again.
The best thing you can do in this case is to find a time that will suit you and work around your hedgehog’s sleep and wake cycles.
If you see a change in their behavior, try to figure out if your scent has changed, new laundry detergent, hand soap, shampoo or perfume, might throw your hedgehog scent off. If it is not the scent, then it might be the lighting that is throwing them off.
The other two reasons will be sickness or puberty. These are the only other reasons for a hedgehog to change its behavior drastically.
Tips for Dealing with Aggressive or Seemingly Mean Hedgehogs
When you are dealing with a hedgehog that seems mean and aggressive, then here are a few tips to help you calm it:
- Ensure that your hedgehog gets enough sleep. Situate its enclosure in a room with just enough light and not too much noise. Make sure it has a dark dome where it can feel safe and hidden when it’s asleep.
- Don’t be afraid to use treats to lure your hedgehog out of its ball form or to get more comfortable with you holding it. It’s important to get your hedgehog used to you for its own health and happiness. No one wants their pet to be unhappy and fearful of them.
- Keep a steady and consistent time set aside for interaction with your hedgehog. It needs to spend time learning that it can trust you.
- Check your hedgehog regularly for signs of sickness or pain, aggression, or change in behavior that can be one of the signs of an underlying health issue.
- You should research and find a reputable breeder to buy your hedgehog from. Breeders understand the necessity to socialize a hedgehog while it’s very young; it will be easier to get your hedgehog used to you if the breeders properly socialize it.
Hedgehogs are wonderful critters to have as pets. They are not aggressive by nature, just shy and wary of new situations, smells, and people. You will find that with a lot of patience and a bit of persistence, your hedgehog will get used to you, and all signs of meanness and aggression should pass.
If it doesn’t pass, there might be other reasons why your hedgehog is aggressive, like quilling, puberty, and sickness. These all play a major role in whether a hedgehog will be grumpy and aggressive or cute and accepting.