Photo by Ian Beck via Flickr

The Hedgie and his Quills

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a hedgehog is his quills. It is actually interesting to watch a hedgehog roll into a tight ball, and to see his quills stick up in every direction, all for the sake of protection. But, if you have a pet hedgehog, how can you handle him without getting injured by his quills?

First note that a hedgehog’s quills are not as dangerous or as damaging as those of a porcupine. In fact, unless he feels threatened, his quills are actually quite soft. Do not think, however, that they won’t hurt if they poke you.

So, the first objective is to make sure that you have a hedgehog that is well socialized, as well as a hedgehog that understands that you never mean him any harm. Start socialization at a very young age. First, socialization should begin with the breeder, and the hedgehog should be handled regularly starting when he is about two weeks old.

Next, when you bring your new hedgehog home, make sure that you handle him a great deal. Always scoop him up…slowly and gently…by his underbelly, which will enable you to avoid being pricked by his quills. If he is in a ball, you will have to search for a spot to start smoothing back his quills. However, if the hedgehog is well socialized, and not being threatened, he will generally unroll from his ball on his own within a few minutes, and you can simply wait until he does to pick him up.

Try to keep the same smell. Remember that hedgehogs have very poor eyesight, and he probably actually has no clue what you look like. Instead, he knows you by smell, and if you change soaps, shampoos, and perfumes, this can confuse him, and he may feel the need to get to know you all over again from scratch.

Try to avoid patting or petting your hedgehog’s quills if you can. They simply do not like this, and it can cause them stress. Instead, pick them up, and set them in your lap, and just let them sit there. As trust develops, he will actually start to enjoy petting, and will especially like gentle scratching between his quills. Don’t rush this, however.

Some people acquaint picking up a hedgehog with picking up a pincushion with all of the pins turned in the opposite direction, but in reality, it really isn’t that bad. You should not wear gloves when handling your hedgehog. Instead, give him time to get to know you – your smell and the sound of your voice – and to associate you with friendliness. This can be accomplished by talking to him while feeding him small treats.

Allow the hedgehog to sniff your hand before you attempt to pick him up. This is very important, especially if he doesn’t know you at all. He may even want to taste you, and this should not be painful for you. If it is, this may not be a hedgehog that you want at all. Use both hands when picking up your hedgehog, but do not allow them to meet in the middle of his belly. If he gets nervous and rolls into a ball, you will be in a fix…a painful one.

Here’s a nice little video I found about handling unfriendly hedgies: