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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Hedgehogs are tiny creatures, and there is a lot that scares them. They are not like dogs and cats, that have lived alongside humans for centuries and are habituated to us. It is very common for hedgehogs to ball up and hiss at you when you approach them – do not take it personally!
Calming an anxious, scared, or grumpy hedgehog is a process that takes time and commitment. Get them used to your scent and the sound of your voice. Handle them daily with bare hands so that they get used to your smell. Stay calm, avoid sudden movements, and be very gentle and respectful.
We must remember that hedgehogs are wild animals. They are solitary by nature, meaning that they generally do not enjoy our company. To make good pets, we need to invest love and effort in nurturing a bond with them. They will only be calm around us when they know they can trust us not to harm them.
Things You Can Do to Calm a Hedgehog
It is easier to calm a hedgehog down when they have spent a lot of time bonding with you. It is more difficult to calm a new hedgehog pet down before they have built up some trust in you.
When your new pet gets a fright and curls into a ball, place them in a dark place where they will feel safe and wait for them to relax on their own. You can place them in a jacket pocket or hoodie, even a custom sewed fleece pouch, and just keep holding them in your lap or against your chest.
If you are holding your hedgehog and something gives them a fright, give them a hiding place where they can retreat and feel safe. A hoodie with a front pocket works well.
They will be soothed by the warmth from your body and the sound of your heartbeat.
If they are extremely frightened and are hissing, it may be better to put them back in the cage. Being in a familiar environment, away from any loud, erratic noises, will help to calm them.
When you and your hedgehog have developed a bond, you can give them a bath to calm them. Hedgehogs love slightly warm water and being stroked with a toothbrush.
How to Tell If a Hedgehog Is Scared
Hedgehogs make a hissing sound that can be accompanied by a clicking sound when they are really ticked off. They also puff up, and their spines stick out in every direction.
The main way to tell that a hedgehog is scared is when they curl up into a tight ball. This is the way they naturally defend themselves from predators.
What Does a Calm Hedgehog Look Like?
You will generally know when your hedgie is relaxed and happy – their spines are flattened against their body, and they freely walk around exploring.
Try to only pet your hedgehog when they are looking calm and are not curled up into a defensive ball.
It Takes Time to Earn a Hedgehog’s Trust
Hedgehogs from a pet shop or breeder are technically still wild animals. It is normal for them to get stressed and angry when we handle them at first.
Baby hedgehogs are generally easier to tame than older ones that did not get socialized from an early age. Some hedgehogs may never completely trust you.
Hedgehogs have different personalities. Some are naturally more curious, playful, and trusting, while others are more reserved and anxious. It takes longer to bond with hedgehogs when they are scared.
What to Do When a Hedgehog Is Irritated
If a hedgehog is puffed up, hissing and angry, the best thing to do is to back off and give it some time to calm down. You may have just disturbed it or woken it up from a nap (in which case it has good reason to be irritated).
Be respectful of their natural rhythms. Hedgehogs are nocturnal – they sleep during the day and are active at night. The best time to handle your hedgie and bond with them is, therefore, in the evening.
Bringing a New Hedgehog Home
When you bring your hedgie home, they will naturally be terrified. Throughout the process of taming a hedgehog, remind yourself that the hedgehog is not grumpy or mean because they hate you. They are just responding naturally to what they perceive as a threat.
Put yourself in their shoes for a second: a strange giant has just taken you from your home, moved you to an unfamiliar place with different sounds, smells and sights, and constantly wants to hold and touch you.
Expect that your new hedgie will hiss and curl up into a tight ball when you first bring them home. This is normal.
Don’t let it stop you from holding your hedgehog and having bonding sessions. It may just be that for the first 2 weeks, all you do is hold them in your lap in a fleece pouch.
Mentally prepare yourself for the time and effort it takes to properly tame a hedgehog. It can take months to win their trust, but just be consistent!
Their natural curiosity usually gets the better of them, and they eventually uncurl to investigate a new smell or come out and take a treat from you.
Tips to Bond with a Hedgehog
At first, you may not be able to bond with your new pet in the ways you see hedgehogs bonding with their owners on social media. But with time, effort, and consistency, you can build a great relationship with these cute, spikey little creatures.
- Get a hedgehog used to your smell
- Handle your hedgehog with bare hands
- Talk to your hedgehog
- Socialize your hedgehog to different sounds
- Hold your hedgehog every day to bond
- Be mindful of your shadow
- Pick your hedgehog up correctly
- Treats will win a hedgehog over
Get a Hedgehog Used to Your Smell
Hedgehogs have pretty bad eyesight compared to humans. They rely on their heightened sense of smell to know what is in their immediate environment.
Initially, your smell will be foreign to your hedgie. It will scare them. You need to get it to learn your smell and associate it with positive things, like treats.
Try not to use any scented body sprays, perfumes, or hand creams, as these mask your smell. If your smell changes all the time, your hedgehog will not associate it with you, and they will remain frightened of you.
Take a clean t-shirt that you have worn for a day or two and place it inside the hedgehog’s cage. You can also just drape the t-shirt over their cage. This will start getting them used to your smell.
Handle Your Hedgehog with Bare Hands
Hedgehogs are spikey. There are no two ways about it. As the owner of a pet hedgehog, you need to come to terms with the fact that handling them will always feel prickly and perhaps even a little painful.
Remember, their spines are not barbed, and they don’t shoot out the way porcupine quills do. Hedgehog spikes present no real danger to you.
There is no sense in wearing gloves or using a towel every time you handle your hedgehog. It will take them much longer to bond with you because they will not be able to smell you through the gloves.
The first few times, while you are still getting used to your unusual new pet, you can wear gloves or use a towel. But try to handle your hedgie with bare hands as often as possible after this.
Talk to Your Hedgehog
Hedgehogs are sensitive to sound, and they will initially be afraid of the strange sound of your voice. They are just scared of the unfamiliar (aren’t we all?).
Talk to your hedgie every day to get them used to the sound of your voice. Speak in your normal voice but try not to make any scary, loud, or sudden sounds.
It is especially important to talk to your hedgehog when you feed them. They will associate your smell and voice with one of their favorite things – food!
Socialize Your Hedgehog to Different Sounds
Hedgehogs will be terrified the first time they hear strange, scary sounds – the vacuum cleaner, television, loud music, dogs barking, cars starting. Things that seem ordinary to us are unfamiliar and frightening to a hedgehog.
Expose your new pet hedgehog to these sounds gradually. Over time they will come to realize that certain sounds do not signal danger.
Give them delicious treats, like mealworms, when they hear a scary sound to reassure them they are not in danger.
Do not keep your hedgehog’s cage in a silent room all day. If they grow accustomed to silence, then any small noise will scare them, and it will be very difficult to interact with them.
Put your hedgehog’s cage in a room of the house near the kitchen or lounge. Your hedgie will hear the sounds of your household every day and grow used to it.
If you go to work during the day and leave your hedgehog home alone, leave the radio or television on for them with some relaxing music playing.
Hold Your Hedgehog Every Day to Bond
Bonding with your hedgehog requires that you interact with them every day. If you leave them in their cage and don’t connect with them for a week, your hedgehog will “forget” you.
Remember, hedgies are not domestic animals, like cats and dogs. They will not initiate bonding sessions – you need to!
Hold them in a t-shirt or fleece on your lap, or put them inside the front pocket of your hoodie. Cuddle them like this every evening while you watch television or read a book.
The more they feel your warmth, smell you, and hear your heartbeat and voice, the faster they will get used to you. Soon your hedgie will start falling asleep in your lap – the ultimate sign of bonding.
Be Mindful of Your Shadow
Be aware of the light in the room when you approach your pet hedgehog’s cage. Because their eyesight is not very good, they mainly see light and dark.
If you suddenly cast a dark shadow over their cage as you walk nearer, they will get a fright and curl up. So, make sure the light source is in front of you and the cage, not behind you.
Knowing the right way to approach a hedgehog is key to bonding.
Pick Your Hedgehog Up Correctly
Never pick a hedgehog up from directly above. To your hedgie it must feel like a hawk swooping down and snatching them. They will get a huge fright, and they will feel less trusting of you.
Always let your hedgie sniff your hands before you pick them up. This will give them a heads-up on what is going on. Talk to them in a calm voice.
To pick your hedgehog up the right way, without scaring them, flatten both your hands, palms up, on either side of the animal. Gently move your hands underneath their body until they are cradled in your hands.
Keeping your fingers together and cupping your hands slightly, slowly lift the hedgie up and hold them close to your body so that they cannot jump out of your hands.
Treats Will Win a Hedgehog Over
If your hedgehog is just not uncurling, you can always offer them a tasty snack to lure them out. Use long tweezers to hand over a mealworm or piece of banana initially. When they are more used to your smell, you can use your fingers.
When they are curled up, cradle them upside down in your hand and put the treat close to their face. They should come out in response to the interesting smell.
There are various ways to calm a hedgehog down once you have bonded with them and they have developed some trust in you. When your hedgehog gets a fright, let them hide in your hoodie or jacket pocket or let them retreat into a fleece pouch on your lap. After a while, offer them one of their favorite treats, and they should uncurl. Hedgehogs also love to be given a relaxing bath.
It is more difficult to calm a new hedgehog pet down before they know that you mean them no harm. Most often, the best thing to do when they get a fright and curl up, or are puffed up and hissing, is to put them back into their cage and leave them a few treats. Give them some time to calm down.