One of the most common concerns that we encounter when it comes to hedgehogs and hedgehogs care is the belief ‘my hedgehog hates me.’ It is prevalent to the point that if you type in the words ‘my hedgehog’ on Google or a similar search engine that is often one of the top results that comes up, or it will even autocomplete the sentence to say that. The concern is one people to come to us with, surrender hedgehogs over, or explain as they surrender hedgehogs. Sometimes it’s explained in nicer language:
- My hedgehog is shy.
- He’s a bit skittish.
- He doesn’t like to be handled.
- He can be a bit grumpy.
It all amounts to the same thing, the eternal question. Why does my hedgehog hate me?
First, it’s important to acknowledge that your hedgehog does not in fact hate you. The negative reactions that you get from your hedgehog are likely the result of one or two causes either singularly or in combination with each other. So let’s break it down with two of our current adoptables, and learn what causes these behaviors and how we can possibly alter them.
Marty McFly is a hedgehog that was surrendered to us due to his behavior. In spite of his owners having had him for a year, he had never quite warmed up to them. When we received him it was easy to see just how bad his behavior had gotten. In spite of having been involved with hedgehogs for close to a decade now, we found him nearly impossible to handle. Spiky, hissing, huffing, and popping he was quite a wonder to behold.
Some hedgehogs get the way they do due to not being handled enough. Some persist even when being handled often, as Marty certainly did. We forced him to unball via a tickling technique we’ve developed – there will be a post on that later – and set about trimming nails, bathing, and generally cleaning. It was when looking at his ears that we discovered part of the reason for his pain.
Blood stained the white fur beneath his ear, and clogged his ear canal. It was while removing the bulk of the old blood with a q-tip that it became apparent that this was no new wound or puncture. The scent of infection and necrotic flesh was difficult to miss. Something was very obviously wrong, and had been wrong long enough to have expanded to the area behind his ear as well. The injury had not been easy to find due to his general huffiness. An aggressive hedgehog is not the easiest animal to examine, treat, or otherwise medicate.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth taking care of, though.
A trip to the vet was enough to diagnose him with an ulcerated abscess in his ear. He was put under sedation, the abscess cleaned, and the bulk of it loosely sutured to aid in its healing. We were given instructions on how to clean it, as well as painkillers. Did that help him overcome his grumpiness? Was the general aggressive personality due entirely to the pain he was in?
His skittishness has gone down as the wound has healed and he is easier to handle than he was before. He no longer is so reactive that another hedgehog huffing is enough to set him off as well. It’s obvious in retrospect that pain was the cause of some of his grumpiness. As the pain grew, his own attitude continued to turn more negative. Now that the pain is gone, the abscess healed, the blood-flow stopped – he has begun to come out of his shell.
Every night we catch him on the wheel, now. A few nights ago he even came to his food bowl as we filled it, and ate while we stood there. He is still a standoffish hedgehog, and likely will be for a while yet. Nonetheless, the first step has been made towards his full recovery and rehabilitation.
Given time, patience, and attention he is likely to become an affectionate, even cuddly, hedgehog.
Kurt Wagner (formerly Sonic)
Kurt Wagner (formerly Sonic) is a very young hedgehog. Born in December, his family did their best to socialize him but has seen little success. Kurt remains a very skittish hedgehog, one that we rarely even see emerge from his igloo to eat at night, let alone get on the wheel. He is wary of new people, and has little confidence about his own ability to interact well with others.
If he isn’t hurt, does this just mean he hates people?
No, not at all.
While breeding can account for some of the social issues and high anxiety that Kurt experiences, it is by no means the only explanation for the way that he is. His family did their best to socialize him, but they might have expected a bit too much from a new hedgehog. When you get a hedgehog from the breeder, you have to keep in mind that this is often their very first time being away from their mother, and their siblings. This is their first time in a car, their first time one on one with a stranger. It’s easy to overwhelm a new hedgehog, and I think that might be what he’s going through.
The way we’re moving forward with Kurt is initially giving him the space he needs. We won’t socialize him for long periods, and when socializing him take care to set him back in the cage only when he has uncurled and has his quills down. Putting a hedgehog back when they are beginning to warm up like this might seem counterintuitive, but it serves to reinforce the idea that this calm behavior is what is being sought – they’re being rewarded for being calm and social, rather than scared and aggressive.
Another tactic is allowing him to gain confidence by letting him explore his environment. Allowing him to wander, self-anoint, and get comfortable lets him be calmer about his environment. Knowing what is around him helps the hedgehog feel more at home, the same way when you’re house hunting you want to explore the whole house… even if you won’t end up spending much time in the attic. In these instances we put him away after he’s done self-anointing, thus allowing him to feel protected after he’s covered himself in whatever scent/texture/flavor he best enjoys.
So. Injury? Oversocialization or undersocialization? Your hedgehog doesn’t hate you, he simply requires a bit more attention and patience to figure out what the source of his discomfort is. It can be remedied – it might just take a while and some detective work.