It can be tempting to want to show off your new hedgehog to everyone who comes to your house—it’s exciting to get a new pet, and you want him to be a part of your family. You should resist this urge, though, and continue to introduce new people to your hedgehog slowly until you’re sure how he’ll react. Don’t introduce your hedgehog to any strangers until he’s completely comfortable with you. After you’ve reached this point, have a friend come over and start the same way you did—take the hedgehog out of its enclosure, settle him into the newcomer’s lap, and instruct your friend not to attempt to touch or move him until he decides to begin exploring on his own.
Some animals can quickly reach the point of feeling comfortable with anyone and seem to love human attention; others bond very closely with a single handler and are wary of any other hands coming near. There’s no way to tell which kind of hedgehog you have until you’ve seen him interacting with a variety of people. If it’s especially important to you to find a gregarious hedgehog, you may want to get an adult individual from a breeder whose personality is fully known and developed.
Dealing with bites
Even well-adjusted hedgehogs occasionally bite, and it’s something you should be prepared for. There are two kinds of bite: a playful nipping and a serious fear reaction. Nipping can happen during play or when feeding treats. As noted above, hedgehogs are very scent-sensitive and may lick and nibble on things it thinks smells or tastes good. If your hedgehog starts aggressively licking something it’s priming to take a bite and you should move it—especially if that thing is your finger. Scents that hedgehogs find appealing include perfumes and colognes, so if you wear scented products on your wrists you may be at risk for nibbles. Salty things taste very good to hedgehogs; if you’ve recently eaten salty or savory snacks the taste of them might still be on your fingers. Tobacco smoke is another common cause of exploratory nibbles. Most hedgehogs will want to self-anoint with this aroma. The best way to prevent these kinds of exploratory bites is to wash your hands thoroughly before handling the animal. Even if he does nibble you, these kinds of nips rarely break the skin and are no more painful than a sharp pinch (though they should still be discouraged).
Fear or defensive bites are a more serious issue. These bites are more aggressive and typically do break the skin. To make matters worse, a hedgehog will often lock its jaws once it’s bitten down. This is to prevent wriggling prey from escaping in the wild and can make bites very damaging and painful if they’re not handled correctly. Don’t try to tug the bitten item forward out of the hedgehog’s mouth—you’ll injure yourself, your pet, or both. To force the jaws to unlock, push the bitten item in toward the hedgehog’s head. Stay as calm as you possibly can if your hedgehog bites you. Return it safely to its cage then wash and disinfect the wound.
If defensive biting becomes habitual, it’s imperative that you find out the root of the problem. Make sure he’s being handled gently by everyone. Hedgehogs differentiate between multiple owners by their scent and the sound of their voice, so look for patterns in the animal’s aggressive behavior. If he’s acting out because of improper handling, looking at who puts him on edge will help to identify the culprit. If he’s biting everyone equally, it could be out of pain. Check his body for bruises or visible wounds, and make an appointment with the vet to make sure nothing’s wrong. Also thoroughly inspect his cage to see if there’s something inside of it causing discomfort.
If the hedgehog is being handled well and there’s nothing wrong with him or his enclosure, there are a few methods you can try to curtail biting behaviors. A drop of rubbing alcohol on the hedgehog’s nose when it bites will make it release. The animal will likely self-anoint with the odor but it won’t harm him and he should stop biting with time. You could also blow gently in his face, or use a plant sprayer to gently mist his face when he appears to be preparing to bite. Don’t turn to these methods until you’re sure there’s not a legitimate reason behind the habitual biting. You don’t want to discourage your hedgehog from showing you when something’s really wrong.