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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Having a hedgehog as a pet is never dull. Hedgehogs are one of the most fascinating animals that humans have domesticated. I adopted a rescued hedgehog that was never handled or shown affection by his owner as they were too scared of him. He always used to curl up and look unhappy. It made me wonder why do hedgehogs roll into a ball?
Hedgehogs will roll into a ball to try to protect themselves if they feel unsafe, smell a new scent, or hear sounds that scare them. Hedgehogs don’t have great eyesight, and they rely on sound and smell to get around. If they sense strangers, new pets, or feel threatened by something, they roll into a ball.
It took a long time, but I got my ouch mouse to trust me with persistence and patience. He still had his moments when he would curl into a ball if the weather was humid, or he just wanted to be left alone, but it was a huge improvement. During that time, I did a lot of research, and I thought I would share what I found out about why hedgehogs roll into a ball.
Why Do Hedgehogs Roll into a Ball?
Hedgehogs are grumpy little critters that scare easily and tend to get offended by new smells and harsh sounds. They display this in various ways like hissing, huffing, and puffing, raising their quills, charging the offending object, and rolling into a ball. Why do hedgehogs roll into a ball?
Wild Hedgehogs Rolling into a Ball
Hedgehogs are domesticated to some extent, but out of the 17 species of hedgehogs, the most popular pet is the African Pygmy hedgehog. In the wild, hedgehogs tend to roll into a ball when they are cornered by a predator or in a situation where there is no form of escape.
They will try to scurry away, but if there is no way to do so, they will roll into a spiky ball to try and protect themselves. They do this to keep a predator or the offending object from eating them. It’s a very effective way of keeping predators at bay.
It could be deadly if a predator tried to eat a puffed-up hedgehog. The quills of a hedgehog are hollow chambers that are rather strong, so if a carnivore were to try and bite a hedgehog, it would end up with a mouth full of needle-sharp quills.
Seeing as there are no vets in the wild, this predator might not be able to remove all the quills. It might end up with an infection that will slowly spread, eventually turning septic, and can lead to death. Hedgehogs have survived this long due to the effectiveness of this defense mechanism.
Hedgehogs will roll into a ball when it is time to hibernate. Their bodies will sense a drop in temperature and start to slow down the movements of the wild hedgehog, and it will become sluggish, slow to respond, and eventually roll into a ball and hibernate for months at a time.
Domesticated Hedeghog Rolling into a Ball
When domesticated, or as we call them, pet hedgehogs roll into a ball, it could be for several reasons:
1 – New Scent Irritation
Hedgehogs are very sensitive to smell because they can’t see very well. So when they are faced with a strong, strange smell, they can roll into a ball to show their annoyance at this new scent.
2 – Strange or Loud Sounds
Hedgehogs have sensitive hearing and get scared or irritated by loud sounds. They will roll into a ball because they can’t run away from the offending sound in their enclosure. If they are running free, they might stop what they’re doing and run to their owner seeking protection.
3 – New Situation
Hedgehogs will usually roll into a ball when they first meet you. They are used to the breeder and the enclosure they have had up to when you get them. So don’t worry if you find your new hedgehog rolled into a ball when you first meet it; it needs to get used to you.
Rolling into a ball is primarily a defense mechanism, but in domesticated hedgehogs, it sends a clear message to leave them alone until they are more used to their new home and owner.
4 – Hibernation
As discussed earlier in this post, most pet hedgehogs are African Pygmy hedgehogs. It’s very important to know what species of hedgehog you are buying. If you see your hedgehog rolled into a ball and unresponsive, you have a major problem.
Hedgehogs like the European hedgehog hibernate, while the African Pygmy hedgehog has the instinct but should never be allowed to hibernate. The European hedgehog has evolved the ability to store enough fat and nutrients in their bodies to survive a cold, harsh winter.
They will hibernate the first sign of cold weather; they are meant to as it is a natural behavior. The European hedgehogs are larger and fatter than the African Pygmy hedgehog.
The African Pygmy hedgehogs are the smallest hedgehog breed, and their bodies can’t store enough fat and nutrients to survive the winter; they will die. This hedgehog breed has evolved the instinct to survive in dire and desperate circumstances in the wild but not in captivity.
So keep an eye on your hedgehog when the temperatures drop during a storm or when fall arrives. If you see your hedgehog become lethargic, moving slow, and unresponsive, it’s best to get it to a vet immediately. The last stage of hibernation is rolling into a ball.
The best chance your hedgehog has of surviving and coming out of hibernation properly is with the help of a vet. They need to raise the temperature slowly. It allows the hedgehog’s body to respond to the higher temperatures and wake up.
How Do Hedgehogs Roll into a Ball?
Hedgehogs have stiff quills; these quills don’t have barbs attached at the tip of each quill and don’t fall off of the hedgehog’s body after it pricks someone. The quills are controlled by very strong muscles in the hedgehog’s back.
The back muscles will stiffen up when the hedgehog feels threatened, scared, or irritated by something. When the back muscles stiffen, it raises the quills on its back. It’s a hedgehog’s primary defense mechanism. Rolling into a ball is part of this effective defense mechanism.
If the offending object doesn’t leave it alone and the hedgehog can’t run away, the muscles will tighten, allowing the hedgehog to curl its feet and face inward to protect its soft underside. This defense mechanism is accompanied by shaking and hissing to scare off predators.
In the wild, it is very effective and has allowed the hedgehog to survive attacks by vicious predators.
Is It Dangerous if Your Hedgehog Never Rolls into a Ball?
Domesticated hedgehogs usually roll into a ball because they are annoyed at something or a new smell, sound, or new person nearby. While it’s not something many hedgehog owners like, it’s a natural response to stress or irritation.
Some hedgehogs never feel the need to roll into a ball because they trust their owners and feel safe. However, if your hedgehog is confronted with a stressful situation and doesn’t roll into a ball, it might be a medical problem, and you will need to take it for a vet visit.
The instinct to roll into a ball is deeply embedded into a hedgehog, and if it doesn’t roll into a ball in a stressful situation, it could be a sign of sickness. If you see it tries and fails to roll into a ball, then it could be a problem.
It’s crucial to make the distinction between not wanting to roll into a ball and wanting to but not being able to roll into a ball.
Reasons Why a Hedgehog Might Not Roll into a Ball
We all love the idea that our hedgehog trusts us so much that it never wants to roll into a ball around us. It’s rather unlikely that your hedgehog won’t ever roll into a ball. You might not see it often, but it’s natural, and you will see it at least once or twice. But what if you never do?
One main concern when a hedgehog doesn’t roll into a ball is obesity. Hedgehogs are very small, especially the African Pygmy hedgehog. It’s the smallest of all hedgehog breeds and has a voracious appetite that will cause it to become obese quickly.
It could lead to other major health concerns, but it will also prevent it from rolling into a ball to defend itself. It might seem great to first-time hedgie owners, but if the need should ever arise where it needs to protect itself, it won’t be able to, and it might get hurt or worse.
The other reason a hedgehog might not roll into a ball is if it’s sick and unable to spread out, contract, or loosen its back muscles as a healthy hedgehog can. If your hedgehog is not obese and is still unable to roll into a ball, it might be an illness that your vet can help with.
How to Get a Hedgehog to Uncurl
When your hedgehog is new to the family, and it curls into a ball, it can be disheartening. It will do this until it feels safe in its new environment with its new owners. There are ways to get a hedgehog to uncurl easier.
Keep an Eye on Your Nerves
As we know, hedgehogs don’t see very well, but they have an excellent sense of movement, hearing, and smell. If a hedgehog senses a nervous owner, it will curl into a ball because it feels unsafe. So try to relax and steady your nerves; it will help the hedgehog relax as well.
Holding the Hedgehog Correctly
When you are trying to uncurl your spiky ball, you need to hold it the right way, or it will feel something is wrong. You should hold out your hands flat and away from your body. The further away you hold the hedgie from your body, the better. It won’t sense you as strong and will uncurl easier.
It would also help to hold your hands at a very slight downward angle. It will encourage the hedgehog to uncurl and see why it feels like it’s sliding off of your hands.
Helping Your Hedgehog Uncurl with Movement
Some hedgehog owners have said they get their hedgehog to uncurl easier by lightly bouncing it up and down in their hands. They say it prompts it to uncurl and investigate the movement. They also say to try and gently sway it instead of bouncing it.
Other hedgehog owners say this might not be the best way to get a hedgehog to uncurl because the one thing that will always make your hedgehog uncurl is feeling safe.
Try not to provoke your hedgehog as it will teach it to huff and puff when you are around. You should keep it calm by not moving too much. Sudden movements will scare a hedgehog, and it won’t uncurl faster.
If All Else Fails Try Bribing
If you feel you have tried just about everything to get it to uncurl, maybe try bribing your hedgehog. We know hedgehogs love food more than anything so if you battle to get it to uncurl, maybe try to take a mealworm or one of your hedgies’ favorite snacks and put it far enough away, so it has to uncurl.
It might become a learned behavior that can be a good thing. It will also build a tighter bond between the hedgehog and owner because it can see you will reward it for good behavior. It might not work with all hedgehogs, but I did have some success using this method.
In the end, all your hedgehog wants is to feel happy, safe, and relaxed. If you can provide that, it will uncurl for you in no time.
Hedgehogs roll into a ball for various reasons; the main one is when they are upset or afraid. They uncurl when they feel safe and relaxed, so the owner needs to keep calm and relaxed. Remember, if your hedgehog doesn’t uncurl at all, not even to eat, they might be hibernating.
In this case, you need to get them to a vet as soon as possible, or it might be a big problem. Domesticated hedgehogs should never go into hibernation.