Handling Your Pygmy Hedgehog

When you bring your African Pygmy Hedgehog home, remember that relocating to a new environment can be stressful. Hoglets (baby hedgehogs) need a lot of sleep, so it’s important to make sure that they get enough.

I believe that it’s important to handle your hoglet from day one, as this will help it to adjust to you and your home. It may also help to put a piece of clothing with your scent on it into the cage. Hedgehogs have a very good sense of smell and if they become accustomed to your smell they will be less resistant to being handled.

How to Handle a Pygmy Hedgehog

It’s normal to be a little nervous the first time you try to pick up your hedgehog. If you’ve never held one before, the quills can be intimidating. If it makes you more comfortable, use a towel or hedgebag to pick up your hedgehog. It’s best not to wear gloves, because the more quickly your hedgehog becomes accustomed to your scent the more quickly it will become comfortable being handled. Here are some general instructions for handling your hedgehog:

  • Handle your hedgehog in the evening, when it is more likely to be awake and alert. A sleepy hedgehog is a grumpy hedgehog.
  • Let your hedgehog sniff your hand before trying to pick it up and pet it.
  • Place your hands, palms up, on either side of the hedgehog. If the hedgehog runs away, you may need to corner it in its cage in order to get your hands around it.
  • Push your hands gently under the hedgehog until it’s cupped in your hands. If you are not using a towel, you can pick up some bedding with the hoglet if it makes you feel more protected.
  • Lift the hedgehog, cradling it in your cupped hands. Makes sure to keep your fingers locked and away from the quills if it rolls up into a ball.
  • Your hedgehog may roll into a ball and/or making a huffing noise when you first pick it up. Unless the hedgehog is particularly cranky or aggravated, it’s fine to persist in handling it.
  • Cradle your hedgehog in one hand or in the crook of your arm, and place the other hand over it for stability. Place it gently into your lap. Most hedgehogs will unroll after a short time and start to explore their surroundings.
  • Use bribery if needed. If your hedgehog stays is balled up, offer it a mealworm or other treat as soon as it unrolls. Doing this may help your hedgehog to decide that being handled is a good thing.
  • Once your hedgehog unrolls, let it explore you and your lap at its own pace. Don’t try to force interaction, let it behave naturally.
  • When you first take your hedgehog out of its cage, it may have its quills up. Do not try to pet it until it relaxes and lays its quills down. At that point, you can stroke it gently (in the direction the quills are growing, not against!)
  • Offer treats intermittently as you handle your hedgehog. This will help it associate being handled with rewards and it will soon relax and enjoy being handled.

I believe that you should handle your hedgehog every other day as a minimum, for a short period of time – about twenty or thirty minutes. The more you handle your hedgehog, the more comfortable it will be with being handled.

Here are a few other things to remember:

  • Just as gloves will mask your scent, so will heavily perfumed soaps or hand lotions. Wash your hands with unscented soap before handling your hedgehog so that it can smell you.
  • When you are handling your hedgehog, make sure to keep your fingers clear of quills. While a hedgehog’s quills are not as sharp as porcupine quills, it is uncomfortable to come in contact with the points.
  • If your hedgehog tries to roll into a ball, do not let it ball around your finger. If it does, it will be painful for you – so avoid it.

Biting

One thing many new hedgehog owners want to know is if there is a risk of being bitten by a hedgehog. Hedgehogs have teeth, so there is a small chance that one could bite you. However, there are things you can do to make it less likely that you will be bitten.

You can minimize the chances of being bitten by washing your hands with unscented soap before handling your hedgehog. Also, if your hedgehog licks you that may be a precursor to a bite, so move it to a different position and continue doing that until it stops. Any animal can bite if it feels scared or threatened, so if your hedgehog is hissing or giving any other indication that it’s scared, don’t handle it until it has calmed down.

A hedgehog bite can be painful but not excruciating. Most bites are relatively gentle and do not break the skin. A bite that results from the hedgehog being hungry will in all likelihood hurt less than one that happens because the hedgehog is scared or angry.

If you do get bitten, be aware that your  Pygmy hedgehog may not let go immediately. They are insectivores by nature and will typically hold onto an insect until it stops struggling. Here are a few things you can do to get it to let go:

  • Push your finger (or whatever it has bitten) gently toward the hedgehog. Pulling may result in a power struggle, but if you push the hedgie may let go.
  • Lift slightly so the hedgehog’s neck is exposed. Most animals don’t like having their throats exposed, and that may be enough to make it let go of you.
  • Blow gently into the hedgehog’s face. This is a method that works well with puppies and kittens as well.
  • Say “No” loudly. Hedgehogs do not like loud noises. This can be especially effective when combined with a gentle push.

If you do get bitten, do your best to determine what caused the bite. It may not be possible to tell, but if your hands had food on them the hedgehog may have been hungry. If there were loud noises or a lot of people in the room, the hedgehog may have been stressed or nervous. If you can determine what caused the bite, it will be easier to avoid being bitten in the future.

Time Outside the Cage

Just as it is important to handle your hedgehog regularly, it is also important to give your pet hedgehog time outside its cage. There are various ways to do this. We’ve already talked about handling a hedgehog, and why it’s important to do that at least every other day. In addition, you can do other things to get your hedgehog time outside the cage. For example:

  • Carry it around in a hedgebag. This is a bag specifically designed for hedgehog transport.
  • Put it in an enclosure so it can roam around and play in a new environment.
  • Hold it while it’s sleeping (separate from regular handling time.)

In general, the more you handle and interact with your hedgehog, the tamer and more social it will be.  Make sure to give your Pygmy Hedgehog twenty minutes of play outside the cage at least every other day.