Some hedgehogs are explorers, boldly forging into new territory and constantly trying to escape from their cage. Others are cuddlers, perfectly content to pass an evening resting in their human’s lap. Still more are loners who may be eager to solve mazes and puzzles but will hiss at the touch of an unwanted human hand. Even within the same litter, the personalities of individual hedgehogs vary widely, and it’s very important to spend some time with the animal before you decide to adopt it.
That being said, the average hedgehog tolerates handling but rarely looks for attention. Hedgehogs are solitary in the wild, only coming together to mate. They won’t get lonely without other hedgehogs around—in fact, they do best when housed singly. Male hedgehogs should never be kept in the same enclosure with another animal, male or female. Two or more females can usually cohabitate peacefully but should be carefully monitored and separated if they begin to fight.
Hedgehogs communicate through both body language and vocalizations. A content hedgehog will have smooth, flat quills and make a whistling or purring noise, or a pig-like snuffling sound that’s especially common when they’re foraging for food. An annoyed or nervous hedgehog will make puffing or snorting noises and erect the quills on its forehead over its eyes. Consider this a yellow light—move slowly, gently, and cautiously if you continue interacting. If all of a hedgehog’s quills are erect, and it’s hissing or clicking, the hedgehog is either scared or angry and you should leave it alone. He may also jump or “pop” when he’s feeling especially grumpy. A well-treated hedgehog should rarely curl up into a tight ball. This is a defensive posture and a sign the hedgehog feels threatened. If the hedgie’s curled into a loose ball and you can still see his face, he’s just resting and all is well. When they’re afraid, angry, or in pain, hedgehogs are capable of producing extremely loud screaming sounds. This is a cry for help and you should immediately find the source of the hedgehog’s alarm.
One odd hedgehog behavior that deserves special attention is the practice of self-anointing. Hedgehogs are extremely odor-sensitive and when they encounter a particularly pungent or pleasant smell they’ll start foaming at the mouth and then spread saliva over their quills. No one’s completely sure why hedgehogs do this. Some speculate it’s a form of camouflage to make the animal smell like its environment. Others think it’s an attempt to increase the effectiveness of their quills by coating them with toxins. Whatever the reason, it’s a perfectly normal hedgehog behavior and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. The unsubstantiated claim that hedgehogs frequently have rabies is likely due to a misunderstanding of this behavior, since foaming from the mouth is a common symptom of that disease.
Hedgehogs and other pets
You should supervise interactions between hedgehogs and larger pets, at least for the first few weeks the animal’s in your home. A dog’s curious pawing can injure a hedgehog just as much as an outright predatory attack from a cat. Luckily for the hedgehog, his quills will usually deter both kinds of attention. Though you want to make sure your enclosure is secure, most of the time cats and hedgehogs come to a kind of truce—after the first time your cat gets a paw full of quills, they’ll usually leave the hedgehog alone (though they may sit and watch the hedgehog for hours, which could stress the little guy out). Interactions with dogs tend to be trickier. A large dog, especially, may try to pick the hedgehog up in its mouth, or bat it around like a ball. These actions are rarely aggressive or predatory in nature, but they can be equally harmful. Keep your dog’s personality in mind before allowing the hedgehog to run around with it in an open space. Calm dogs often ignore or gently sniff at hedgehogs. More manic breeds may never learn how to interact with hedgehogs safely.
Surprisingly, ferrets tend to be the most dangerous animal common in a home. The ferret’s strong natural odors will intrigue the hedgehog, while its sharp teeth and claws could cause the hedgie serious injury even if they’re only trying to play. Shared playtime between the hedgehog and other small animals—like rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats—should be fine, though you should never house multiple species of small animal in the same enclosure.