How To Socialize A Scared or Grumpy Hedgehog

I’ve gotten emails and comments about other aspects of hedgehog care in response to my two hedgehog blog posts – How To Care For A Pet hedgehog and Must-Have Products For Your Pet Hedgehog.

One question that I’ve gotten multiple times is how to tame or socialize a hedgehog that is scared or grumpy. I thought I would do a blog post on the question to help others who have this question.

Socialize your anxious or grumpy hedgehog

When you have a hedgehog that is scared or grumpy it’s important to remember that they rely heavily on scent. They do not see as well as most other animals, so they rely on scent more to accommodate for this. Hedgehogs can smell the difference between people, so to get him comfortable with you, you want to get him used to your smell.

To get a hedgehog used to your smell, you want to try to avoid having your smell change much. For example, if you are in the habit of rotating through different types of lotion, body wash, laundry soap, etc it would be best not to do that while you are socializing your hedgehog. Don’t use any strongly scented soaps before spending time with your hedgehog.

Hedgehogs are also sensitive to light and dark because of their poor vision. If you have a lamp in the room with the cage, and you step between the light and the cage, you will cast a big shadow over your hedgehog which will probably frighten him. Try to be aware of your shadows and avoid putting your hedgehog in a large shadow when picking him up.

Hedgehogs are also sensitive to sudden or jerky movements. If you are really scared when handling your hedgehog and move suddenly this will make your hedgehog scared too. Getting poked isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t hurt that badly. Focus on having smooth, calm movements to help relax your hedgehog.

To begin, focus on “cuddling” with your hedgehog even if he stays balled up. It’s not as fun to spend time with your hedgehog if he’s in a ball, but that is often your only option with a grumpy hedgehog at first. Try to take time (half an hour or so, perhaps) to hang out with your hedgehog. Early on, I would wear a hoodie and put my hedgehog in the pouch of my hoodie! Spending this time together, even if he isn’t walking around, will get him used to the smell of your clothes, hands, etc. You can also take an old shirt or other clothing item that you’ve worn and leave it in their cage so they can get used to your scent while they are in their cage. Be sure to carefully check over the clothing piece for any loose strings before doing this, so they don’t get tangled.

If your hedgehog is staying balled up, it’s okay to use a blanket, gloves, or something similar to protect your hands when you first pick him up. However, I’ve heard of people who *always* wear thick gloves when handling their hedgehog out of fear of being poked. If you keep your hands inside of the gloves that puts a barrier between your scent and your hedgehog so he won’t ever adapt to your scent. Part of owning a hedgehog is coping with the risk of getting poked a little from time to time so work on getting past that fear.

Keep cuddling with your hedgehog until he starts to uncurl while out of his cage. Once he begins to uncurl a bit, you can introduce treats. Many people purchase mealworms as treats for hedgehogs. You can also look up hedgehog-safe foods. My hedgehog went nuts for tiny pieces of banana! He also liked pieces of cooked chicken quite a bit. Once you find a treat that is safe for your hedgehog and that he enjoys, use it once he uncurls. This will help him to associate uncurling and spending time with you as a fun and enjoyable experience.

Once your hedgehog begins to uncurl more quickly during cuddle time, keep holding him regularly. If you stop holding him regularly he will ‘forget’ and get scared of you again.

 

 

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Comments 19

  • Tiffany Brandon

    Last night a good friend of mine found a hedgehog outside in the parking lot of my church and it was really cold I think someone dumped him there and I took him in and bought stuff for it and it’s and boy my little sister and boyfriend have hedgehogs and right now baby hedgehogs as well I thought on the one I found is he may have been treated badly

  • Kayla

    My hedgehog won’t take treats from me but if I put them in his cage he eats instantly. Am I doing something wrong or does he just not like me?

  • Jill

    WOW!!!!!This was so useful!! Thank you!!!!

  • Courtney

    This was really helpful! I have had my hedgehog about a month and the only way I can get her calm enough to come near me is if she eats when she first comes out of the cage..

  • Skyler*

    Hey* I got my Hedgehog Skyler 4 days ago and i’m a new owner never had an exotic pet. She is still a bit grumpy when i want to hold and cuddle her. Do you more experience owner’s have any good advice for me. I really want to build a bond with her but seems like she doesn’t want to at all. I must properly also mention that she is 7 weeks old and still a baby.

    Any advice will help me a lot*

    • Zanna

      I have that problem to a T. On the way hom ( about 5 hours ) he was very playful and happy, but since we’ve been home he has been grouchy. I understand he is stressed but I don’t see why he’s hissing and biting me 🙁 did I get a mean hedgehog or am I doing something wrong ??

  • Jenn

    Thank you!! I thought we were doing something wrong!!

  • Christy

    If just got a 3 year old hedgehog from a friend last month. He’s had two previous owners (kids) who handled him a lot but got bored with him. I decided to be his forever home. He is definitely a little on the “huffy” side, but when I took him to the vet they were shocked that they could do the exam without giving him anesthesia. Apparently being grumpy is very, very common, and according to them, my little guy is very sweet by comparison.

    Change stresses him out. Washing his fleece and his hide (he had mites) stressed him out a lot. Going to the vet did too. But I’ve bonded with him by handling him (belly is soft) hand feeding him treats, talking softly and calmly when playing with him. When we first brought him home we had a small pen that he could run around in, and I set out meal worms for him to “hunt” and he loved that! I put in toys like toilet paper rolls. I put a shirt in his cage, which he loved.

    Then I moved him downstairs (his activity kept me up at night). I started letting him roam in various rooms in the evening with supervision. Roaming was something he enjoyed, and it distracted him from being scared and he was less huffy when I picked him up. He also relaxed a lot whenever I gave him a bath. He loves baths and is much calmer to handle after a bath. I fill my tub with 2-3 inches of warm water and he wanders in the water.

    He still has moments of balling up but his curious nature keeps him pleasant. He likes playing in the grass outside and stays right by my body because he knows the smell. He sleeps on my lap if it’s daytime.

  • Brenda

    I completely with you. My hedgehog Cosmo loves to be cuddled and I also softly sing to him and he calms down quickly.

  • CHANTEL

    I HAVE MY HEDGIE FOR A WEEK NOW, HE UNCURLS AND WALKS AROUND BUT HIS DOES NOT RELAX HIS SPIKES SO I CAN NOT PAT HIM OR ANYTHING.. HE JUMPS AND HISSES..
    HE DOES HOW EVER LAY ON MY LAP WITH A FLEESE BLANKY..
    i SOOO WANT TO PLAY WITH HIM AND PICK HIM UP.. ANY OTHER ADVICE?

    • Emmy - Author of Post, FrankLovesBeans.com

      That is pretty good for only having him one week. I would keep letting him rest on your lap in his blanket regularly and I bet that in time e will relax more and put his quills down while walking around you. Be mindful of the light in the room so that you don’t cast shadows near him. He will not get more comfortable overnight but if you hold him daily I bet you’ll see him relax more over the course of a few weeks, maybe.

  • renee harrison

    Also hegehogs are sensitive to touch on their quills and body I would not pet him that could aggitate him. He might appreciate more being held firmly close to you in your arms, wrapped in a blanket or a t-shirt pocket. Also sometimes just sitting calm with them letting him smell you, moving slow and calmly and letting him explore on his terms might do the trick to opening up.

  • Kelly

    I just acquired a 2.5 year old hedgie girl who needed rehoming after her owner didn’t have the time to socialize her anymore, she’s horribly grumpy & pops up each time she’s picked up or even sees anyone across the room. I hope she’s able to calm down soon! We have a male who’s also 2.5 years old & he’s completely the opposite!

  • Foster E Bullock

    This is very helpful. I recently got a male hedgehog and every time we try to hold him, he will ball up and huff. He is 6 weeks old and we have been using a shirt of mine in the cage so he becomes accustomed to my scent. I did have another hedgehog for four years (she passed after Irma hit) and she was opposite. She would puff up but would calm after a second or two. But now with our new hedgehog (we named him Edge the Hedge) he keeps puffing up and nothing seems to calm him when we hold him. My mom did rock him while holding him in my shirt and he seemed to like it but when she tried to pet him, he puffed. We are growing very concerned. I will take these tips and use them.

  • Tanya O'Connor

    I got my hedgehog at a pet shop.
    He was the only one left
    The pet shop owner told me that he has been grumpy ever since his friend got taken away. He does not allow any one to handle him. He puffs when I pick him up but relaxes when he is on my lap. I can’t touch or pet him otherwise he hisses and puffs like crazy, he also does a kind of clicking sound while puffing. What should I do??

  • Emmy - Author of Post, FrankLovesBeans.com

    I would recommend that you keep holding him on your lap for a while each day and try to start gently touching him but if he huffs/hisses then back off. Just keep doing that and slowly he may start to tolerate the touching and if so, then do it a bit more and more until he continues to get used to it. It is a long, slow process but being consistent over a long period of time is the answer. He has to learn to trust you by seeing that you are safe so you don’t want to push too much (s don’t force petting him if he’s clearly upset).

  • Jessica Lynn

    Hey my name is Jess. I have had my hedgehog Ziggee for about 6-7 months. I hold her all the time and she uncurls as soon as she is compleatly out of her cage and in my hands. She usually even lays her quills down right away. But after just a couple of min in my hands she starts to get antsy and want to walk around. I usually let her walk from hand to hand or crawl all around me on the couch and burrow under the blanket. Is it ok that she never wants to stay in my hands for to long? Does this mean she doesn’t like me holding her at all? Or is it just that she likes to explore and is comfortable enough with me to do that? I would really appreciate some insight or experience from fellow hedgehog owners. 👍
    Thank you

    • Emmy - Author of Post, FrankLovesBeans.com

      My hedgehog was always that way too. He was nice and calm within seconds of me picking him up, but he would walk around and look for a dark corner to go hide in, he didn’t care to just sit in my hands or stay on my lap. His quills were down so I don’t think he was upset by being held at all, but he just didn’t particularly enjoy it I guess. From what I have read on hedgehog forums and in books on hedgehog ownership, they are *very* solitary animals. They honestly do not suffer neglect if they don’t get physical affection from people. It’s just that pet owners tend to want to interact with their hedgehog which is why we try to train them to be comfortable with us, but I really think it’s just for our own benefit, not for theirs. So, honestly, I think yes, your hedgehog probably does not particularly want you to hold her, but it shouldn’t make you feel bad as it’s not that she is scared of you or doesn’t like you in particular, that’s just how hedgehogs are. If she was afraid of you or uncomfortable with the situation she would be hissing, puffing, etc. So it sounds like she is comfortable with you but just prefers her solitude which is very typical for a hedgehog.

  • Carrie Ralph

    This is so awesome to read, understanding the common & instinctive nature of a hedgie. i’m in Cape Town, and was gifted with a little African Pygmy boy earlier this week. i have no idea how old he is, but so far he appears to be in good health. it takes a long time foe him to wake when i take him out his cage. but when he uncurls, oh wow, he’s the cutest little nugget. am grateful to have read that it’s a long process to socialising them. we also have a pug, they have met just yet as she gets terribly excited and with her grunting my hedgie gets totally anxious! i’ll keep you posted on our progress xxx

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