Some people can’t understand the following: why on Earth would someone take a pet that could easily hurt them? You know, the sharp spikes and all! Well, the truth isn’t that black and white. While hedgehogs do carry sharp spines in their defensive toolbox, it doesn’t follow that hedgehogs are dangerous or will easily hurt you. In this article, we’ll go over all the basic things you need to know in order not to get hurt by a pet hedgehog.
Hedgehogs can hurt you when they curl up into a spiky ball. In this case, wait until they calm down and return to the normal state. Otherwise, hedgehogs aren’t dangerous. All their quills run towards their rear end. Just don’t pet against the growing direction! Biting could hurt, but in most cases, the annoying behavior communicates pain, illness, emotional distress, or something else that’s important to know.
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What can make hedgehogs dangerous?
While hedgehogs’ undersides boast nice and soft fur, their back and sides is another story altogether. The sharp quills seem threatening even when the hedgehog isn’t in a defending position. Each hedgehog carries an armada of around 7000 individual spines. While the quills are sharp, they are definitely free from barbs as opposed to the porcupine ones.
So, do you fear skin cuts? Educating yourself is the best way to overcome your fears. Basically, these quills are spines, modified hairs that are hollow inside. All of the individual spines sit on top of two large back muscles. These muscles allow the hedgehog to perform the act of curling into a ball. In this ball-like state, the quills are extended and erect to defend against potential enemies.
You need to keep in mind that the spines have two different characters depending on whether the hedgehog relaxes or feels afraid. When they are calm, the quills aren’t really that sharp. Outside the defensive position, all the spines lay on your hand in an even fashion. The quills won’t protrude into your skin. The feeling of touching a calm hedgehog has been compared to the sensation of holding a hairbrush on its spiky side.
Why do the spines hurt when hedgies defend themselves?
The most important thing during the hedgehogs’ defense response is the shifting weight distribution of their quills. As the back muscles do their job, the individual spines spread out. In turn, each quill acquires a sharper character. Usually, the spines won’t pierce your skin, but you could still feel painful sensations. Of course, the actual result depends on your skin’s elasticity and other individual variables.
What else should I know about hedgehog quills?
You should remember that baby hedgehogs carry sharper spines compared to their adult counterparts. This results from the spines’ smaller size and an earlier phase in development. Moreover, some hedgehogs have sharper quills than others. It’s just a natural variation. As time passes, you’ll grow more accustomed to your hedgie’s spines. If they aren’t especially sharp, which is unlikely, you’ll get used to the sensation of holding them.
How do handle a hedgehog without getting hurt?
People without any hedgehog experience are afraid of getting hurt when handling the spiky creatures. Actually, there’s not much to fear if you do it in the correct way. The first step is to make sure your hedgie stays relaxed. When they are calm, their quills aren’t pointed upwards. Also, they won’t make any agitated sounds accompanying the protruding spikes. Scared or angry hedgehog, on the other hand, has its quills ready for action. Touching them can be a dangerous step at this point.
There’s not a great chance of getting hurt while your hedgehog is relaxed. Indeed, the quills are sharp, but they run flat along the hedgie’s back and sides. All of the individual spines point towards the rear end. That’s why it’s important to pet them in the quills’ growth direction. Doing it the other way around raises your chance of getting hurt significantly.
As an owner, you don’t always have time. Even if the hedgie curls up into a ball! Sometimes you just need to move your hedgie from one place to another. In this case, try to eliminate any stressors from their immediate surroundings. Just give your hedgehog some time to realize that the danger passes. It’s important not to start rushing them. This would cause further stress, delaying the whole process of decompression.
But if I really do need to handle them?
There are times when you really don’t stand a chance. You need to handle your hedgie even if they are under stress. In these situations, use an extra thick towel and protective gloves. And keep in mind that you should make sure your hedgie stays safe and sound in the process as well. For example, check that their quills are free from the towel’s fabric.
What else should I know to minimize handling risks?
The sharp quills form a big part of the handling risks. But there’s something else you should keep in mind. A threatened hedgehog doesn’t only make their spines stand up. Additionally, they will roll into a ball. When they do the latter, you have to keep your fingers out of the way. Otherwise, your fingers trap inside the ball in the process. At the same time, your hedgie’s quills will pierce your skin and the surprisingly strong muscles will tightly squeeze your fingers. This is painful!
Is it possible to cuddle without skin pierces?
Cuddling is a great way to bond with your hedgehog. Incidentally, a lot of people shudder at the thought of cuddling a hedgie. Again, just think about all the spikes! And what happens if they suddenly curl into a ball? Sounds dangerous. If you want to cuddle with your prickly friend, it’s definitely possible. You just have to keep in mind whether your hedgehog loves to cuddle or not. There’s not much point in hugging your hedgehog when they actually hate this bonding activity.
Whether they like to cuddle or not, greatly depends on their individual nature and personality. Some hedgehogs are naturally more tolerant against physical interaction with their owners. They might even start snuggling up without any push from the surrounding environment. From the owner’s perspective, it’s really like having a lottery ticket. On average, hedgehogs tend to keep to themselves, preferring to explore the surroundings instead of cuddling with a human.
Don’t take it personally if your hedgie doesn’t like to cuddle! And that’s the key to cuddling without getting hurt, actually! You need to respect your hedgie’s boundaries and preferences. Stepping over the limits may easily end in you getting hurt. For example, if your hedgehog feels stressful each time in your embrace, the chances of them rolling into a ball simply skyrocket.
What about just petting or patting them?
Yes and no. Don’t pat their quills, hedgehogs really don’t like how that feels. It would just raise their stress levels. But yes, as they get more acquainted with sitting in your lap, you could slowly start petting them. Just give them time. Getting comfortable with these activities won’t happen overnight. Also, try to stay clear of their face area. This tends to be the no-go area for hedgies.
No problem with quills. Instead, my hedgehog bites me!
Biting is definitely a reaction that needs attention. In a normal setting, biting shouldn’t be part of their regular interaction with humans. While we understand that biting can hurt you, never react in a violent way. This won’t help the cause even a bit! Hitting back or any other violent reaction will make your hedgie fear you. Also, this could hurt them a great deal, resulting in medical problems. Never raise your hand against any small animal!
One of the best reactions is blowing some air at your hedgie after they bite you. That sudden burst of air won’t hurt the little guy. But it will give a discouraging signal. Also, you could try ways to distract them from biting you. Give them something to do or a safe place to explore. Speaking of exploring, don’t confuse an exploratory nip with an aggressive bite. Your hedgie might just be testing out the surrounding environment and learning about it in an oral fashion.
Biting could have more significance than you think. Sometimes it’s the hedgie’s way of communicating that they are sick and/or in pain. Similarly, the bite could signal an emotional issue, such as intense discomfort or fear. Try to understand the possible reasons behind their behavior. But if there are suspicious symptoms accompanying the bites, please contact the vet immediately.
The bottom line: can hedgehogs hurt you?
Hedgehogs usually won’t hurt you. When relaxed, their quills aren’t that sharp. Plus, their weight distributes equally, so you shouldn’t be afraid of any skin piercing. Even hedgehogs in defense mode tend not to draw any blood from humans. But biting could really hurt you. Don’t treat biting as just an aggressive trait! In most cases, the hedgehog is trying to communicate something. It could be an illness, pain, or emotional distress. If the biting behavior persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, consult a veterinarian. And never act violently when a hedgehog bites you.