African Pygmy hedgehogs have sharp teeth, so my daughter was slightly worried about keeping a hedgehog at first. We decided to investigate further as she was worried about being bitten.
Do hedgehogs bite? Hedgehogs can bite if they feel threatened especially if they are startled. As they have poor eyesight, they will try to bite as a protective measure when they think they feel they are going to be attacked. When they are startled, they will hiss and jump as a warning and will eventually bite to protect themselves.
When hedgehogs smell food, they will try to investigate the smell and when they assume food is nearby, they will try to eat the food, going through the biting motion in the process. If smell of food is on the fingers of their owners, then with their poor eyesight they might find it difficult to see where the smell is coming from and end up biting their owners fingers.
As hedgehogs get used to their surroundings, feel less threatened and are served food in the correct manner they will eventually stop biting.
In the following part of this article, I’ll detail what to watch out for to make sure you don’t get bitten.
1. Let them get used to you
When you first get your hedgehog they are going to be confused at the new smells and the new sounds. This is the time they will feel the most vulnerable and will be most likely to bite if at all, as they feel threatened.
In the first few weeks, I normally suggest letting your hedgehog get used to their surroundings and try to keep contact to a minimum. Try to introduce some clothing you’ve worn recently like a T-Shirt or a sock into their cage. This will give them the opportunity to get used to your smell and appreciate you’re a friend and not a predator.
Try to introduce just one smell at the start, we just put in a T-Shirt for my daughter only. Later on, I introduced my smell to our hedgehog when he was in my daughter’s hands by putting my hand a few inches away from him.
The temptation may be there to try and bond with the hedgehog quickly but hedgehogs are not like normal pets such as cats and dogs. They require patience and time for them to get used to you, the more eager you try to bond with them, the longer it will take to make the bond as it will simply be counterproductive.
On the flip side even when they are completely used to you, when they are not in the mood for whatever reason, they may be tempted to bite if they just don’t feel like being handled.
We know when our hedgehog doesn’t want to be handled as he wriggles a lot and tries to move out of our hands. In such instances, we just put him back into his cage and don’t risk him getting agitated and potentially biting us.
Biting for a tame hedgehog is the last resort, so it’s imperative you get to know your hedgehog and learn the signs leading up to a potential bite.
2. Give them time to wake up
When hedgehogs are woken up they are at their most dangerous for bites. In this groggy state, they may feel threatened and it’s highly advisable to take steps to reduce the chances of being bitten.
When we wake our hedgehog up in the late evening, we gently roll him out of his pouch and leave him for about fifteen minutes. This gives him ample time to wake up fully, eat and drink, he also uses this opportunity to poop.
When he’s curled back up or more likely when he’s standing in the corner of the cage (making sure all his bedding, toys and the running wheel have been removed except his food and water), we’ll then scoop him out of his cage.
The chances of him biting us are less as he’s fully awake, he’s eaten and he’s attentive, knowing who we are and appreciating us as friends and not foes.
3. Keep them away from threatening smells
When hedgehogs feel threatened they can bite, as we found out. I remember taking our hedgehog to the vet to get his nails trimmed as we were not confident to do it ourselves. We had to wake our hedgehog up in the early afternoon and he wasn’t too happy about this and was quite grumpy.
We were careful to transport him in his special box where we had put in one of those microwaveable heat mats, taking care it wasn’t too hot and putting a folded blanket on top to make sure the heat was cosy and not unbearable.
We also took a bag of dry cat biscuits but not the variety we give him normally in his food bowl but a different variety (it’s got more fat in so it’s only used as a very occasional treat).
These cat biscuits do have more fat in them so we only tend to use these as treats and in moderation only. At the vet’s, we were taken into a side room where one of the assistants put on a glove and tried to get our hedgehog out of the cage. Suddenly from his calm state, our hedgehog became very agitated, hissing and snapping at the assistant’s glove.
She eventually picked him up but he was not happy, he kept turning his head around trying to bite the glove. I could see the worry in my daughters face and she took the hedgehog off the assistant and he’s calmed down somewhat.
You could see him breathing heavily as his little chest went up and down quickly. As soon as she’d hand him back to the assistant, he’d change into this hissing, biting hedgehog.
My daughter asked if the glove was causing the problem and if it had been used to handle any other animal? The assistant remembered she’d used it with a cat earlier and then it dawned on her, this was what the problem was.
Our hedgehog felt threatened by the glove as he could smell a cat and was trying to fight back, causing him distress and anguish. The assistant apologized and we asked whether it would be better to use another assistant who hadn’t handled a cat and a fresh pair of gloves.
To be fair she was accepted our request without question and the next assistant with a clean pair of gloves made it easier to get our hedgehog’s nails clipped. He still hissed and still need to be coaxed with a little bit of food but he was nowhere as upset he’d been with the previous pair of gloves.
4. Watch out for food on your fingers
Whilst I have never been bitten by our pet hedgehog, my daughter has been bitten three times I think, on one occasion it was quite painful and the bite actually bled a little. Fortunately, she was up to date with her medicines so we only had to worry about using an antiseptic wipe to clean the area and then put a plaster on.
On all three occasions, she was bit, she’d made a mistake and that mistake was handling his food prior to then playing with him. He smelt the food on her fingers thinking it was dinner and went to eat it. On the occasion where she’d been cut and was bleeding from the bite, he’d bit her quite hard using his sharp fang-like teeth and the poor child had cried at the pain from the bite.
I came close when I made the same mistake as my daughter when I’d handled food and can remember vividly I had him on my the palm of my hand, with my other hand near his face. Whilst I was talking to my daughter, from the corner of my eye, I saw him open his mouth and move to my protruding index finger.
In fact, half my finger was in his wide-open mouth before I realized and I quickly managed to pull my finger out of the way. Wow, that was close but it was all my fault for having the smell of his food on my finger and him with his poor eyesight not realizing it was my finger and not his dinner.
Hedgehogs can also like a salty taste and human sweat can produce a salty taste. My daughter’s hands (or my hands) have never been sweaty enough to test this out but we did hear from my vet about one of their other hedgehog owners been bitten in such circumstances.
5. Watch out for curious biting
Hedgehogs are curious creatures and they like to investigate and explore. In their cage, as they rummage around they may bite not only their food but their toys too. So it’s important to appreciate they’ll exhibit this behaviour when they are away from their cage.
They may be prone to assuming that what your wearing, such as rings, watches, bracelets and the like objects to be investigated and by investigating it can mean by biting. By trying to bite these object under their investigation to check them out, they could end up missing and biting you by mistake.
We haven’t found this to be the case as I wear a watch and rings but it’s important to keep an eye out just in case they bite what they think is food when it’s clearly not.
6. Watch out for quilling!
Quilling is the process of hedgehogs shedding their spines and this may cause them discomfort and irritation, making them more moody and grumpy than usual. This can lead them to get upset more easily and possibly biting as a response.
When we have noticed any spines (quills) in the cage, my daughter is generally more vigilant with her hedgehog and if he seems more irritable, she simply puts him back into his cage.
In conclusion, as you spend more time with your hedgehog you start to learn more about their personalities and how they respond including pre-warnings about potential opportunities for them to bite.
Generally, when they are tame and have become used to their owners they don’t tend to bite. Initially, they may bite but steps can be taken to limit this and using the 6 steps we’ve come up with makes a difference.
Do African Pygmy Hedgehogs like to cuddle? Pygmy hedgehogs do like to cuddle by relaxing in the hands of their owners and sometimes they can be so relaxed, they’ll fall asleep this way.
Do African Pygmy Hedgehogs bond with their owners? Yes, pygmy hedgehogs can bond with their owners but it can take time and some hedgehogs are harder to bond with than others, as all hedgehogs have different personalities.
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