• When Hedgie Comes Home

    Written by Antigone Means-Burleson

    Some hedgehogs handle change very well, while others find it difficult to adjust to a new situation. Some hedgehogs never seem to notice anything even changed and take their move to a new home totally in stride. If your hedgehog is like this, kiss his/her little nose (if s/he'll let you) and count your blessings! Otherwise, here are some ideas based on our experiences about how to help a hedgie feel comfortable in a new home.

    1. Smells: Hedgies get a lot of their information about the world through their sense of smell. They can't see very well, which is probably why they are so inclined to duck and snuffle when strange blurs come at them. But if that strange blur smells familiar, it'll be less threatening.

    There are a couple of ways you can help your new hedgie get used to your smell. Give it bedding that smells of you; wear a T-shirt and then give that to the hedgie, or tuck its hedgebag under your pillow for a few nights before giving it to the hedgie to cuddle in. This way your smell gets associated with a safe place. Don't use gloves. If your hedgie is real prickly, use a towel (preferably one you've handled a lot or tucked under your pillow for a couple of nights) and pick up the hedgie, then set it in your lap. We've had hedgies that were supposed to be totally intractable that were won over by patiently doing this every day for several weeks, and offering the occasional mealworm to the huffling ball.

    If you have a new smell on you, like if you've just handled some food or you've used a new perfumed soap, expect that curious hedgies may want to taste. We handle this in different ways. Some people use the same laundry, bath and hand soap and the hedgies are used to it, and don't nip. We have so many different critters and smells in our house that we try to expose them to as many different things as likely to be on our hands (patted dog, dog food, ferret, etc). Either way works fine, it's just a matter of personal preference. They usually lick before they taste anyway, so you'll likely have the chance to move your hand out of the way and get them familiar with your smell without being tasted.

    Exploring: Some hedgies want to explore everything when they get to their new home. Others just want to sleep. Both are normal. Usually it's best to give the hedgie a few days without much handling while it starts to adjust, especially if it's being real shy in it's new home. Some thoughts on this: If it wants to explore, give it a hedgehog proofed area to play in where it can run around, and just sit and talk to it. You can offer treats, and this may help it to think of you as the bringer of good stuff. Some hedgies will run right to you, knowing that yummy things may come from you, while others don't seem to notice even if you drop a mealworm between their paws.

    If your hedgie wants to hide in it's nest box or hedgebag, then sit outside the cage and quietly talk to it. The more it gets used to your voice and presence, the more it will get used to you. Once you notice the hedgie seems a little calmer, start offering treats to help cement the idea that you are indeed the bringer of good things.

    Personality: One of the really neat things about hedgies is that each one has it's own special personality. To some extent, we control temperament through carefully breeding only those hedgies that have good temperament and avoid inbreeding. Then we help enhance this with early handling. But still, there seem to be a few basic personality categories that most hedgies fall into. Understanding what sort of hedgies seem to like being interacted in what way may help you to relate a little better to your hedgie, whether its an adult who is already set in its ways, or a baby whose personality is still being formed.
    The snuggle bunny: These hedgies like to be held. Some will curl up at your neck, others like your lap or the crook of you arm. But these hedgies are usually pretty calm and content to be held quietly. Some hedgies who initially huff up and roll into a ball and refuse to come out at first can tame into real sweet little snuggle bunnies once they discover that you don't intend to make them lunch. They may also let you pick them up with spines completely down.
    The runner: These hedgies just don't want to sit still. They are perpetual motion machines, and squirm like crazy when you try and hold them in your hands. They do well with lots of things to climb on and under, and lots of room to roam. Try laying on the couch and letting them use you for terrain. They usually think you're pretty neat to climb, and may want to sample your hair. Though, watch out the ones who explore armpits, they usually think the scent of deodorant warrants a taste. These hedgies may also have spines down the whole time, or have them at half-mast for a minute, or two, after being picked up.
    The scaredy cat: These hedgies may unball and snuggle or may explore, but it seems like the slightest thing scares them and they instantly snap into a ball at the tiniest noise or movement. They usually need a lot of patience and understanding, and with time may learn to be a runner or a snuggle bunny, though some will always retain that high-strung tendency. A few tend to come around, and it's probably an excellent help for survival in the wild, though it's a trait we're trying to reduce in the domestic bred hedgies.
    The hermit: Some hedgies just want to be grumpy and hide in their hedgebag or burrow under the laundry pile, or sack out under the couch. A good way to get these guys interacting with you is to put a blanket over yourself, and then turn them loose to hide under there. They'll usually end up curled next to you when they go to sleep, because you're warm! They may not want to snuggle with you without some protective blanket hiding them, but they can be real sweet when they feel safe. They're sort of like grumpy old men (or women) who just need a little understanding.
    The pick-me up!: These hedgies will come out of their bags when they hear you in the room, and may even walk straight into your hand and try to climb up your arm! Like the runners, they often don't want to sit still, but are more likely to come and try to crawl up your leg when you set them on the floor than to run laps of the room. They are certainly a rare and delightful treasure! Both of us are blessed with this type of hedgehog and we hope that there will be many more in the future. There's nothing like a hedgie that will follow you around and come to you if they know you are about!

    4. Treats: Hedgies usually have one of three reactions to new foods: ignore it, gulp it down, or anoint with it. Sometimes you have to introduce a food to the hedgie several times before it will actually try it. But once you've got something that you know your hedgie likes, it can help it to associate you with good stuff if you give it a treat every time you get it out for handling, and each time you put it back in its cage. Of course, too many treats are like if we had a diet of nothing but chocolate, so you don't want to overdo it. But giving treats in moderation can help add variety to a hedgie's diet, as well as helping the two of you to bond. Some treats our kids like include mealworms, crickets, low fat diary products, bits of fruit, or bits of cooked meat.

    5. The "elimination" problem: Although this isn't the most pleasant of topics, it is one of the most common questions that we answer. Almost all hedgehogs will poop/pee on you while being held. Lots of hedgies will do both at the same time for double the mess! Juvenile hoglets are the worst, with the older ones being less of a problem. Once you have awakened your hedgehog for playtime, it doesn't take him/her long to feel the urge to eliminate. Be aware that the snuggle bunnies can fool you, too. They usually don't give any signs and the only way you know that something has happened is either by the warmth of urine or the smell of poops!

    This can be remedied by some of the following suggestions. Always have some type of clean up material close at hand (paper towel or toilet paper, wet cloth, etc.) The BEST thing to do is have an old shirt on, or be willing to change clothes. One great word of advice: NEVER hold your hedgie for playtime if you're going out! It's almost inevitable that you will be "awarded" with a smelly present and have to change clothes. As soon as you wake the hedgie up and say hello, place it in an area blocked off where there is a tile or linoleum floor, or plastic mat. This makes clean up easy.

    Most hedgies are not modest and are known to run right into the mess several times if you haven't gotten to it first. They can track it everywhere, not to mention getting it all over themselves. After s/he has "taken care of business", it's time to snuggle. If your hedgehog becomes extremely squirmy, while being held, check it's tail. This happens with the explorer/runner types quite a bit. If the little stub is up and sticking out, more than likely turds will follow! It's a very good idea to have a paper towel handy for these occasions. We have been known to rush to the toilet, or trash container, when this happens! We hold them above the opening and let their little hind end stick out. It works for the poopies.