• Self Annointing

    Self annointing is an often discussed part of hedgehog ownership. Many first time hedgehog owners post panicky messages to mailing lists or hedgehog friendly forums with concerns of seizures, vomiting, and occasionally even demon possession. None of these are to be worried about, self annointing is a completely natural behavior of hedgehogs that is displayed by a particularly interesting new scent or taste.
    It is unknown exactly why hedgehogs self annoint, though there are several possible explanations. They may be trying to disguise their scent with ones less likely to be interpreted as food by predators. They may be trying to "arm" their quills with a possibly toxic substance that will make their quills more irritating to those who get poked. They may be acclimating themselves to substances that may be mildly toxic to prevent future reactions. Or, my favorite explanation, they might be trying to drive their owners nuts. This last one doesn't exactly work though, since wild hedgehogs also are known to annoint, even without owners to worry.

    Self annointing begins with a hedgehog chewing or licking on a foreign substance, which can be almost anything that is new to the hedgehog. They then usually chomp their teeth a few times, and begin to produce a white foamy spit. Then, they bend into amazingly impossible contortions and wipe this saliva onto their quills. Typical target areas are going to be the rump or the sides, but I have seen hedgehogs that were capable of annointing right in the middle of their backs above their shoulder blades. Often, the animal will fall completely over onto their sides or back while vigorously spreading the foamy saliva as far as the tongue can reach.

    Self annointing itself has no risk or danger to the hedgehog. It is not a sign of illness, nor likely to cause an illness. However, some substances that your hedgehog may find fascinating or desirable are not safe. You should not allow your hedgehog to come in contact with cleaning products, other chemicals, spoiled foods, or other animal feces. Annointing can make nasty messes on your hedgehog quills, depending on what they prefer to annoint with, but these can almost always be cleaned up with a good bath. In my opinion, the lighter colored the hedgehog, the more likely they are to annoint. I am not sure if this observation is simply because annointing splotches show up more on albinos and light hedgehogs, or if they actually DO annoint more to help camoflauge themselves.

    Photo courtesy of Jaimie Jusczyk