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 8

  • 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*

  • 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.

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