Hedgehogs are prickly, yet adorable creatures that get more and more accepted as pet material. That’s why people’s interest in their behavior has grown higher. Before taking a new pet in your family, you want to know their character and behavioral traits. In this article, you’ll learn all about the hedgehogs’ behavior, including the surprising traits like ‘self-anointing’.
Table of Contents
Awake at night
Animals are categorized into three distinct behaviors: diurnal, nocturnal, and crepuscular. The first is primarily awake during the day, the second during the night, and the latter during early morning and late evening. Hedgehogs fall under the nocturnal animal category. Although, some of them might show some activity during the early mornings and late evenings. That makes some of the hedgehogs slightly crepuscular. Hedgehogs’ activeness depends more on the light levels than the actual time of the day.
Hedgehog experts recommend not to use regular light for observing your hedgehog during the night. As they rely on the lack of light to guide their daily activities, too much light at the wrong time messes with their brain. Use a red night light instead. You’ll see what your hedgehog is doing without them being aware of any extra light. Moreover, hedgehogs use daylight for balancing the circadian rhythms. Never keep them in a dark room because that will seriously affect their health.
Rolling into a ball
Stop where you are, drop down, and roll! Hedgehogs are great at this. The most common defense tactic for hedgehogs involves curling up into a tightly packed ball. When they use this posture, their quills move outward at a more dangerous angle for the enemies. Usually, this approach is considered to be a last-minute resort. Hedgehogs might typically try to flee the situation before curling up. Still, you might see this strategy used quite a lot as a new hedgehog owner. They don’t discriminate between actual and perceived danger. Even mildly stressful situations at a new home might trigger the reaction.
Consuming the bedding
As you might assume, this behavior can only be monitored in pet hedgehogs. Eating part of the bedding characterizes mostly hedgehogs that are babies or still quite young. Why would they do that? Curiosity seems to be the only reason. This behavior can be especially common when you have recently switched the brand or particular type of bedding. Usually, they’ll try to find out whether it’s something edible. After realizing it’s not food, your hedgehog will probably finish munching on the bedding.
This behavioral pattern comes with its risks. When you spot that your hedgehog has consumed some of the bedding, keep an eye on their stools. Anything out of the ordinary might indicate serious problems. These problems result from the bedding causing intestine blockages. Notice any hints of medical problems? Take your hedgehog to a vet immediately!
Hedgehogs bite just like any other animals for a variety of reasons. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common reactions behind this. When hedgehogs feel a lot of stress, they might start biting a lot. The particular stressor could be a lot of things: strange scent, too much socializing, and a sense of other hedgehogs nearby. But a much more common reason for biting is just curiosity. Your hedgehog might feel that something smells nice. This feeling is followed by tasting to see whether the aroma lives up to its expectations.
Of course, hedgehogs could get just plain angry. And don’t forget that aggressiveness and fear are close siblings. When your hedgie’s afraid of something, he could definitely bite you to show that he’s not just messing around. For example, has your hedgehog has curled into a ball? It’s not a wise idea to start poking around with your finger. He could bite you. It’s better to let him relax and then try to interact again a bit later.
Biting as a behavior can be quite complex. Even washing your hands with a new brand of soap could make the hedgehog more inclined to bite. If your hedgie bites you and doesn’t let go, then steer clear of any sudden movements. You could injure your hedgehog’s mouth after suddenly pulling away. It’s better to wait for a bit until your hedgie loosens the grip.
Some animals crave social connections and bond easily with others. Hedgehogs are the opposite. They are solitary creatures that don’t bond with other hedgehogs in the wild. Naturally, they exhibit the same behavior as pets. The only socializing is carried out during the mating process. That said, hedgehogs won’t mate for life and will go their separate ways after the intercourse.
You might have seen YouTube videos showing perfectly friendly cohabitating hedgehogs. Indeed, there have been numerous cases of hedgehogs exhibiting character out of the textbook expectations of their behavior. Still, you shouldn’t base your own hedgehog ownership principles on such exceptions. There are many downsides to cohabitation, including the high risk for aggressive behavior and an inconclusive overview of each individual’s food intake along with their excrements.
Creating a den
Hedgehogs come from the wilderness. In the great outdoors, they try to find undergrowth and rocks for creating a shelter. The process of creating a safe haven usually involves digging as well. So, what could you do to make them use this deeply ingrained instinct? Providing a digging area for your hedgehog goes a long way. It could just be a box that’s filled with stripped up newspaper. When you drop in some snacks into the mix, that will make the whole process even more enticing.
Did you know the hedgehogs’ bodies are built for digging? Yes, they have strong claws and adapted forefeet to meet the demands of digging holes. While their bodies adapt to conditions in the wild, some homes may be unsuitable for them. For example, digging really dusty bedding may irritate their bodies. Coarse sand and cat litter aren’t the best options for bedding. All the dust accumulates in their lungs, making them susceptible to a host of diseases.
Many people wonder whether hedgehogs have the same quills from birth to death. Actually, they don’t carry the same ones for the whole lifetime. Baby hedgehogs shed quills as part of the maturing process. As a hedgehog owner, try to be extra supporting and attentive during the shedding phase. Similar to human babies and teething, little hedgies might get quite grumpy and irritated. Moreover, even adult hedgehogs aren’t entirely safe from losing their spines. Illness and extreme conditions could easily trigger an episode of quill loss. However, once the sickness subsides or stressors disappear, the quills can easily grow back.
Huffing and puffing
It’s a train! It’s a kettle! No, it’s a hedgehog just roaming about! Once you have heard a hedgehog making its signature sound, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about. This is a sign that the hedgehog is enjoying whatever the business he’s dealing with. Usually, this sound is accompanied by exploring a new area or searching for something to eat. When hedgehogs are unhappy, they’ll make an entirely different kind of sound. The latter can’t easily be mixed up with the good ol’ huff and puff.
Estivation and hibernation
Both of these traits are very important for all hedgehog owners to understand. Estivation concerns African hedgehogs that estivate during the hot and dry summer periods. Hibernation is done by European hedgehogs because the winter time gets too cold for them to handle. They’ll use all the fat accumulated during the milder summer months in order to survive the harsh winter.
In the wild, both of these processes are completely natural. But that’s not the case in captivity. You don’t want your hedgehog to enter into these states when living in a cage. You would get an attempt at estivation or hibernation, not the actual state, which can become quite dangerous for them. Why is that? Basically, captive hedgehogs don’t have the same mechanisms of recovery compared to the wild hedgehogs. For example, recovering from hibernation may end up in death because the body’s not able to come out of the low-energy state as it should.
How do you know that your hedgehog’s gone into hibernation? When you touch them, they’ll feel cold under your hand. Your hedgehog will look very tired and lethargic or even end up in something that looks like deep sleep. All of this happens because the room temperature has started to decrease. It’s really important to keep the ambient temperature at a steady level. Otherwise, there’s a high risk of an attempt to hibernate.
What to do about it?
You need to warm up your hedgehog. Do it quickly, but in a really slow way. For example, place the hedgehog under your shirt. It might not be very comfortable for you, but it’s the safest option for the hedgie. The first sign that it’s working is feeling them moving around and not being able to be in the same spot. A heating pad is also an option, yet it needs extra careful attention. Most importantly, never leave your hedgehog alone with a heating pad. Failing to do this might result in life-threatening burns or even death.
After warming her up, it’s time to visit the vet. And not the next day or week, straight away! Only a certified veterinary can make sure everything’s back to normal. Sometimes they might even find out that it wasn’t an attempt to hibernate after all. It could have been a certain kind of illness. When you don’t act fast, your hedgehog might still be in danger.
Quills as a behavioral indicator
You can learn quite a lot about how a hedgehog feels by taking a look at its spines. When the quills point upwards, it means that the hedgehog is not in a good mood. There might be some kind of a stressor irritating them. In many cases, raising the spines acts as a defense mechanism against enemies or some unknown danger. Spines are pointing down? Your hedgehog is definitely in a more relaxed state of mind.
Hedgehogs have separate forehead quills. Some people call them spiny eyebrows. When the forehead quills cover their face, then it means negative things. For example, the hedgehog might feel afraid or irritated for some reason. In some cases, petting a hedgie too close to their face makes them raise their forehead spines as an automatic defense mechanism.
Hedgehog starts frothing at the mouth, followed by spreading the mixture on their spines. At first, this behavior might seem very strange. Maybe even a medical condition? Actually, don’t worry, this is completely healthy and common behavior. Hedgehogs do this whenever they experience deep stimulation of their sense of smell.
The actual process of self-anointing may take just a moment to a few minutes in some cases. Usually, the hedgies are extremely focused on the task at hand. Some owners use this extreme focus to get the hedgehog’s nails done. They might be so concentrated on self-anointing that the mission of trimming their nails could become many times easier compared to the regular cases.
What’s the reason for self-anointing?
Naturally, learning about the behavior might raise a big question: why are they doing this, exactly? One of the leading theories states that it’s for covering up their scent with something else. For example, doing this could be useful for confusing predators. Another big school of thought focuses on the relationships between hedgehogs themselves. Scientists believe self-anointing helps to make their own odor stronger; hence, warning other hedgehogs that they are around somewhere. Remember, hedgehogs aren’t that keen on meeting others.
One of the key findings behind this fascinating behavior is the fact that even baby hedgehogs anoint themselves. That’s why more zoologists have started to believe it’s useful for the mothers to find their babies as well. When the young ones give off a strong and unusual smell, finding them can become much easier. Finally, self-anointing could be just a random case of instinctive behavior that doesn’t serve any serious purpose from the evolutionary perspective.
Another common behavior, scratching is something that most hedgehogs do every now and then. Many hedgies scratch themselves straight after waking up in the morning. Others do this even while roaming around and looking for food. You shouldn’t be afraid of mites simply because your hedgie is scratching himself sometimes. There should be more symptoms instead of just some scratching. Furthermore, scratching is a very common occurrence during the quilling phase. Quilling might make the hedgehogs a bit itchy, to say the least.
Numerous hedgehog owners report that their male hedgies self-stimulate during the nights. This is a topic that many people would rather not discuss, yet it’s part of the reality of owning a male hedgehog. The effects of this behavior might result in some ejaculation landing on the hedgehog. If this ever happens, then try to clean it rather soon than later because the substance is notoriously hard to get rid of.
Hedgehogs are active creatures. All night long, they roam the grounds to explore the area and find something to eat. Of course, they will try to continue the instinctual habits in the domestic environment. Inside the cage, they might start to pace and run laps. Owners may become suspicious that something is wrong. Actually, it’s a completely normal thing to do.
Sometimes pacing may accompany anticipation of something good happening. Your hedgehog might be excited about getting food. If you have a very ‘athletic’ hedgehog, he might be genuinely happy about the expectation of having some exercise soon. Whatever the case, pacing shouldn’t be anything worrying. Still, as with any other activity, there are a few exceptions.
When the cage is too small, then your hedgehog might act in a very compulsive way, pacing in an abnormally intense way. You’d probably understand the difference intuitively. Also, in the case of some medical problems, hedgehogs start to tilt their heads while running. You need to contact the vet right away after noticing this kind of behavior.
Hedgehogs can be quite liberal in the wild when it comes to picking food sources. That doesn’t mean you could blindly give them any food available in your home. Since this article is mainly about behavior, we need to point out that hedgehogs’ food preferences depend on their particular personality. Still, the general nutritional need is based on a protein-rich diet. In the wild, hedgehogs tend to eat mainly insects alongside some plant-based food.
As hedgehogs are nocturnal, most of the energy consumption and expenditure happens during the night. There have been cases where scientists have found out that hedgehogs consume their whole body weight during the course of a single night! Captive hedgehogs don’t need as much energy as their wild counterparts. Also, food consumption needs to be balanced with plenty of exercising. An exercise wheel is an essential part of every hedgehog cage.
Similar to food preferences, the level of messiness really depends on the particular hedgehog. That’s why there’s no universal, fixed schedule for maintaining the hedgies’ cages. Some owners need to carry out the cleaning more often because they just happen to have hedgehogs that build up waste very quickly. Other hedgehogs may be cleaner and don’t need their cages cleaned that often. Whatever the behavior regarding messiness, you should definitely clean the cage at least in every 1,5-2 weeks.
Getting along with other pets
As we have established, hedgehogs are solitary creatures. Sill, many people wonder whether they might be interested in playmates from completely different species. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are known to interact with other animals in quite a nice and tolerant way. But the first interactions need to be in a controlled and highly supervised environment to avoid any serious trouble.
Usually, dogs get along with hedgehogs just fine. But big dogs that have chasing instincts might not get along with hedgehogs that well. When they start playing with them, then they might accidentally injure hedgies during bouts of rough play. Most of the time, cats tend to keep a healthy distance from the hedgehogs because of the sharp quills.
Keeping healthy barriers
When you have pets freely moving inside the house, then try to find ways for them not to harass your hedgie in its cage. Even if there’s a physical barrier between the two animals, frequent and aggressive attention might stress your hedgehog. Another thing to watch out for are animals with a strong instinct for chasing prey. Some dogs fall under this group of animals. They might feel the sudden urge to chase and get rough with your hedgehog. It’s better to limit the interaction to a minimum between these pets and your hedgehog.
While there are surely hedgehogs out there that do just fine with many different pets, it’s better to be on the safe side. And the safe side means having a hedgehog as the only pet. Hedgies can have quite good defense mechanisms, like curling into a ball, but is all the stress worth it? Not all hedgehogs have an open and curious mind that doesn’t care about dogs or cats. Some of them are afraid of bigger animals for their whole lives. Living under constant stress is not a nice fate for any animal, including us humans.
Behavior resulting from individual personalities
Hedgehogs are no goldfish! They do have their own character traits and behavior patterns that can be acknowledged quite quickly by the owners. True, there’s a lot of common traits in all hedgehogs, but still, some tendencies vary individually. As a hedgehog owner, it’s very important for you to learn and understand your hedgie’s personality, likes, and dislikes. Only in this way are you able to provide the best quality of life for them.
What’s the bottom line for hedgehog behavior?
Hedgehog behavior is an important topic for all current or future pet hedgehog owners. Some of the behavior traits are surprising and don’t really have a direct parallel among other popular pets. For example, self-anointing is a process that could raise the eyebrows of owners who aren’t in the know about this behavioral trait. Other traits are important to know because the hedgehogs’ survival depends on understanding the potential issues. Estivation and hibernation are some basic features of hedgehogs’ biology. Not knowing how and when to spot the warning signs might become life-threatening for these small creatures.