Hedgehogs are gaining more popularity as household pets. But regardless if you plan to get one or encounter them in your yard, you might wonder whether it’s an issue to touch them. All the spikes on the hedgehog’s back may look quite unnerving. Many people who have zero experience with hedgehogs shudder at the thought of touching one. In this article, we’ll go over all the questions related to touching and handling a hedgehog. After reading this piece, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the ways we can interact with these prickly creatures.
Yes, you can touch a pet hedgehog, but don’t handle a wild hedgehog unless they are in imminent danger. And even then, there are exceptions. See paragraph on wild hedgehogs below.
Touch a pet hedgehog only when they are relaxed. Otherwise, you could subject yourself to their sharp quills and get hurt. Don’t touch a hedgehog who doesn’t enjoy human contact.
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Why are people so reluctant to touch hedgehogs?
People are afraid to touch hedgehogs because these little fellas have spikes on their backs. Scientifically speaking, these growths are called quills. Also, you might see the term ‘spine’. Usually, people use these terms as synonyms.
But let’s put the linguistics aside. The hedgehog quills look quite threatening. Many people imagine that upon touching the hedgie, the sharp spines will pierce through their skin.
Are you one of the people who fear that handling a hedgehog will cut your hand? The first step towards diminishing your fears is education. That’s why we’ll learn more about hedgehogs and their quills.
What’s exactly on their backs, then?
Quills are modified hairs. When you’d look them under an X-ray, you could see that the spines are completely hollow. These quills grow out of their backs as there’s nothing similar on their undersides.
There are two strong back muscles under the skin covered with quills. When a hedgehog feels threatened, these large muscles contract. In turn, the hedgehog can curl up into a ball. This serves as a deterrent against potential enemies. Hedgehogs have quite a few natural enemies in the wild who would love to have the little critter for breakfast.
When do these quills become dangerous?
Note that these quills act differently whether the hedgehog has its muscles tensed or not. When they are relaxed, you shouldn’t worry too much about the quills. When you put your hand on the spines, you feel that they distribute evenly across the skin surface. As a result, they don’t have too big of a potential to hurt anyone.
On the other hand, when something startled a hedgehog, the muscles contract and quills’ weight distributes differently. Now, each individual spine feels sharper against your skin. Many hedgehog owners can attest that the quills probably won’t pierce your skin. Still, you can feel pain and discomfort. As a caution, we do have to mention that some people have less elastic skin. In this case, the hedgehog quills in a protruding position could draw some blood.
Keeping this in mind, it’s hard to say that hedgehog quills are outright dangerous to humans. Unlike porcupine quills, the modified hairs on a hedgehog’s back aren’t barbed. Also, they won’t fall off the back after piercing something. They might be mildly dangerous in the anti-threat mode for unsupervised small kids and people who have very soft skin.
Are there any techniques for safe hedgehog handling?
Sure, there are some ways you can make touching a hedgehog much safer.
- Always make sure that the hedgehog you are about to touch is calm and relaxed. There’s no point in handling a hedgehog who’s grumpy, tired, stressed, or simply afraid of something. For experienced hedgie owners, it’s easy to understand when their spiky buddy feels tense. The quills protrude from the skin and they sound agitated as well.
- Pet the hedgehog in the same direction as the quills grow. When you closely look at a hedgehog, you’ll know exactly what we mean by this. All the quills point towards their rear. Petting them in the opposite direction could result in getting hurt.
- Sometimes hedgehogs don’t roll into a ball straight away. They might raise their spines at first and act generally agitated. In this case, you need to be extra careful. You have to remove your fingers out of the way before they curl up into a ball. If you don’t do this, you could have your fingers stuck inside the ball. The muscles would squeeze your fingers while the spikes drill into your hand. That’s definitely a situation you want to avoid getting into.
But owners need to handle tense hedgies!
That is completely true. When you are a hedgehog owner, there’s a great chance that sooner or later you have to handle an upset hedgehog. For example, you would have to move your hedgie inside the cage.
So, what’s the best-case scenario? You wait a bit until the “furry pin cushion” relaxes. But that’s not always the option. In these cases, use protective gloves and a thick towel. And then you don’t only have to worry about your own safety. Make sure that your hedgehog won’t get hurt while you move them around. For example, make sure that their tiny toes won’t get stuck in the fabric.
I’ve heard owners cuddle with hedgehogs…
Some owners do cuddle with their hedgehogs. And that sounds more intense to people than just touching the hedgies. While it’s true that the quills can get a little prickly, you could still cuddle with your pet hedgehog. You just need to follow a few rules of thumb.
- Not all hedgehogs enjoy cuddling. Don’t impose this on your hedgehog if they clearly don’t like this activity. You can’t train them to start loving the physical bonding. Whether they enjoy this depends greatly on their individual personalities and tastes.
- Note that most hedgehogs aren’t into cuddling. They prefer to discover what’s in their surrounding environment. If your pet hedgehog loves to cuddle, then consider yourself lucky. Most hedgies don’t like this.
- Go slow. Start off by just putting them on your lap. See how they feel and move on from there. Avoid any patting of their quills because no hedgehog likes this unpleasant sensation. Also, don’t pet the face area as they would feel threatened if you touch them there.
Can I touch wild hedgehogs, though?
Please don’t touch wild hedgehogs. Of course, you may encounter them in your garden or other places. It’s really not a good idea. Think about the following. Basically, humans are predators for hedgehogs. When you handle wild hedgehogs, they might be less inclined to defend themselves against predators. Or even dogs!
There’s a lot of discussion and controversy surrounding this topic. Many people have fierce Facebook group battles over wild hedgehog handling. There are people out there who handle wild hedgehogs, checking them for ticks and even petting them. They defend the right to touch wild hedgehogs. But many people oppose them. Instead, they claim that this familiarization puts hedgehogs into danger.
We recommend you to respect wildlife. Treat hedgehogs in your garden or some natural setting the same way you’d address any other wild animals. If they are in obvious danger, of course, you can quickly help them. But you need to do this in a smart way. Also, there are always exceptional situations. In not that urgent cases, please contact your local wildlife service and ask for practical advice. They have the experience and knowledge to give good guidance.
But what if it’s an emergency?
Contact your local wildlife service to make sure it’s really an emergency.
Never touch a hedgehog in its nest. They sleep there during the daytime. If it seems that part of the nest covering has been lost, then quickly add more cover and stay away. In a similar fashion, you should never-ever disturb a nest of babies. When you do that, the hedgehog mother could abandon or even kill them.
The only exception is this. When you have solid evidence that the nest has already been disturbed, and the mother doesn’t return in a few hours, then you do need to get the tiny hoglets to a wildlife care center or a qualified vet. But we always recommend contacting a relevant authority before making any moves. Better to be safe than sorry!
The bottom line: can you touch a hedgehog?
Yes, you can touch a pet hedgehog. If it’s not an obvious emergency, then never touch a wild hedgehog. You handling them could decrease their chance of survival.
Touching a pet hedgie could feel daunting. But don’t worry. Taking safety precautions ensures that you won’t get hurt. The key is to handle hedgehogs that are relaxed. When you feel that the spiky creature gets tense, then take it easy and release them from your grip.