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Understanding Your Hedgehog

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Understanding your hedgehog takes time and patience. As you spend time with your pet you will learn to recognize his preferences and personality traits. Once you understand the basics of hedgehog behavior, you'll be able to figure out how to satisfy his needs and whims. The following is a list of the more common behaviors and characteristics of hedgehogs.

Body Language and Quills

One of the first things you will notice about your hedgehog is that he is covered in quills similar to a porcupine. There are over 7,000 quills on a hedgehog. These quills are modified hairs and contain air chambers that make the quills light. Young hedgehogs will shed their baby quills starting at about 2 to 6 months of age. At this time, the behavior of the hedgehog may change. During quilling, the hedgehog may be rolled into a ball for long periods of time. They may hiss and may have a poor appetite. Usually, quilling takes about a month and the hedgie will return to normal. It is acceptable to handle the hedgehog during quilling, just be careful and patient.

Hedgehogs use body language to communicate their emotions. They will often curl into a ball and use their quills, or spines, to indicate their mood. Hedgies startle easily. When they're frightened, hedgies will curl up into a ball with their quills erect. This helps protect the hedgehog's face and soft, vulnerable belly.

Most hedgehogs slowly uncurl after a few minutes. Another way hedgehogs show fear is by erecting their spines. Typically, the spines all over the body are erect when the hedgie is scared. If only the spines on the head are erect, this usually means the hedgehog is cautious and uncertain. When the spines lie flat on the body, the hedgehog is calm and comfortable.

Noctural Activities

Hedgehogs are diurnal animals, which means they are active at dawn and dusk. Some remain active until up to 3 a.m., which can be a problem if your pet is kept in your bedroom. Frequent handling during the day can help change the hedgehog's habits and help reduce the nighttime activities.

Housing

Hedgehogs love to dig and forage for food. They are also excellent climbers. Their housing should have a secure lid or slick sides (such as glass) to make it too slippery to climb. Hedgehogs prefer the solitary life so they should be not housed with other hedgehogs. Hedgehog housing requires ventilation and should not be placed in direct sunlight.

Vocalizations

Your hedgehog can make a variety of noises. Chirping, whistling and purring usually means that the hedgehog feels safe and content. A puffed up hedgehog that is snorting, hissing or clicking is frightened or aggravated.

Anointing

Hedgehogs have a peculiar habit of producing a large amount of foamy saliva when they encounter an unfamiliar smell. They will continuously lick the unfamiliar item until frothy saliva develops. This saliva is then placed on the hedgie's quills, referred to as anointing or anting. It is not certain why hedgehogs self-anoint but there are some theories. Some feel the hedgehog is trying to mask their own scent to hide from predators. Others feel that the saliva may be bitter, causing irritation if a predator tries to ingest the hedgehog.

By learning all you can about the normal behaviors of hedgehogs, you will be better able to provide a safe and comfortable home for your pet. And, this understanding will help you and your hedgehog develop a closer relationship.

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