Whether you’re keeping a hedgehog or you’re just a fan of those spiky balls of fur, you should know that they can be pretty challenging to understand. Compared to dogs or cats, there isn’t much information available on the behaviors of hedgehogs.
One of the most interesting and strange actions that a hedgehog does during its lifetime is known as self-anointing. If you’re wondering “why do hedgehogs spit on themselves?”, the answer lies in the explanation of this odd-looking behavior.
In today’s guide, we’re discussing what self-anointing is, the possible reasons behind it, and what you can do as a pet owner if you notice it.
Let’s not sugarcoat this. When a hedgehog starts to perform self-anointing, you’ll witness one of the weirdest sights in your time as a pet hedging owner.
What makes it even more bizarre is that you don’t see it coming at all.
There are no signs to indicate that it’s going to happen soon and when it does, it’s typically accompanied by the appearance of foam at the little animal’s mouth to make you even more worried!
One moment you’re looking at your hedgehog moving normally around its cage, and the next thing you know it has contorted its body into an unusual position with its tongue out to lick/spit on its prickly body. It’ll crank its neck to be able to reach all the spikes or quills on its back.
Within some time from successfully covering its quilts with the frothy saliva mixture, the hedgehog will go back to its regular routine.
These behaviors make up the process of self-anointing.
Despite looking super weird, self-anointing is a perfectly normal behavior in hedgehogs. So if you own one, you should expect to see it sooner or later.
During self-anointing, your cute hedgehog will look like it’s having a mini seizure or has suddenly developed rabies (or both!), so you’ll probably want to know how long this process lasts.
Unfortunately, there’s no exact answer as it differs from one hedgehog to another and depends on various factors such as age and environmental conditions.
Self-anointing can end in a few minutes or extend over several hours.
Figuring out why hedgehogs engage in self-anointing isn’t an easy task. There’s no data to interpret the definite reason(s) behind this behavior and researchers are still unable to pinpoint the precise cause(s).
Why? Well, it’s mainly because self-anointing isn’t dangerous. The lack of concern makes studying the behavior pretty low on the list of priorities.
That said, evidence suggests that hedgehogs are triggered to self-anoint when there are scents in their environment that undergo significant changes.
The following are the most common theories attempting to explain self-anointing in hedgehogs.
One of the most likely reasons why hedgehogs self-anoint is to mask their scents. It’s a camouflage technique where the animal tries to hide its natural scent and make it so it smells as close to its environment as possible.
Now, is this strategy effective for hedgehogs? That’s debatable but not unheard of. Other animals have used their saliva to mask their scents, plus, hedgehogs may be doing this in the wild for all we know.
This theory isn’t a sure thing, but it goes well with the fact that changes in scents in the environment trigger hedgehog self-anointing.
Additionally, baby hedgehogs are noted to self-anoint more frequently than adults as they haven’t been exposed to as many scents.
In the wild, hedgehogs are among the few animals that demonstrate great resistance against various toxins.
Animals with such an ability take it a step further by using it for protection. They coat their bodies with toxic substances mixed in their saliva to deter predators from attacking and devouring them.
This seems more possible when we recall the fact that hedgehogs can eat poisonous animals -such as giant toads- safely, deeming their saliva semi-toxic.
So, by covering themselves in their saliva, hedgehogs could be building a protective layer.
Another theory points out that self-anointing could be a sexual behavior in hedgehogs.
If a hedgehog considers certain odors attractive to sexual partners, it could self-anoint to deposit these scents onto its quills to heighten the odor and keep releasing it. It’s possible it does so as a way to ensure mating.
A non-adaptive behavior is an abnormal action that has been passed down from one generation of animals to another but hasn’t evolved into an activity that improves the survival chances of the species.
So, could self-anointing be a non-adaptive behavior? Well, maybe.
The saliva could be beneficial in cooling down the hedgehog’s quills. It could also be a by-product of some sort of stimulant.
There’s absolutely no reason for you to worry when you see your hedgehog self-anointing.
As we mentioned earlier, the fact that self-anointing isn’t harmful is the main reason researchers aren’t avid about studying its causes.
What’s more, no pet owners have ever reported adverse effects resulting from their hedgehogs’ self-anointing.
While the behavior is undoubtedly strange, it’s simply harmless.
You’re not supposed to do anything when your hedgehog is self-anointing. You shouldn’t even do any special cleaning for your pet.
Not only is the saliva layer on your non-poisonous, but it’ll also dry up into a transparent film that looks as normal as ever.
What you can clean, however, is the cage or the environment around your hedgehog if too much saliva has dripped from its mouth during self-anointing. Just use a paper towel to wipe the saliva off and everything will be fine.
- Avoid using soap or shampoo to clean your hedgehog or its surroundings after the self-anointing is over. Otherwise, the new scent could trigger another session of self-anointing.
Additionally, you shouldn’t touch your hedgehog as it self-anoints or try to stop it. You may not understand the behavior or find it gross, but it’s normal for your pet and you should respect that.
If you touch your hedgehog while self-anointing, you’re not just interrupting its ritual, but you’re also putting it through unnecessary stress by making it feel unsafe or anxious.
Sadly, such stress can affect your hedgehog’s health, and consequently, its lifespan. As long as it’s not hurting itself, let your pet be!
So why do hedgehogs spit on themselves? The answer is up for debate.
While theories suggest it could be for scent masking, protection, mating, or even non-adaptive, one thing is clear: self-anointing is harmless.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and over 10 years of experience working in IT. I have a wife and two children and love taking them to the zoo to see all the animals. I grew up with dogs and fish and now have two dogs and two cats. I’ve also played guitar for almost 20 years and love writing music, although it’s hard to find the time these days.