Do hedgehogs bite?
Even though the answer is technical yes, it’s a little more complicated than that.
In general, hedgehog bites are not something you’ll have to worry about very often. These little critters usually keep their teeth to themselves!
But there are certain situations where your hedgie might feel the need to chomp down on your hand. While this isn’t very painful, it’s your responsibility as an owner to understand why.
If your pet hedgehog decides to bite it often means they’re trying to tell you there’s something going on that they don’t like. What happens next is up to you.
In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hedgehog bites. We cover what it means, how to handle it, and ways to stop your hedgie from biting in the future.
Let’s get started!
Why Does A Hedgehog Bite?
There are a surprising number of reasons why your hedgehog might bite, but it’s important to note that biting isn’t normal.
Typically if a hedgehog is upset or scared they will go into their ball and raise their spines. This has been their primary defense mechanism for ages, and it’s not going to change anytime soon.
However, in the typical domesticated setting biting can occur for a number of reasons. The amount of handling and potentially unnatural situations a hedgehog is faced with can lead to miscommunication or stress.
It’s your job as the owner to understand the cause, so you can make sure they’re more comfortable in the future.
The first and most obvious cause of a hedgehog bite is if they’re physically uncomfortable. There are a lot of noises and other signs they’ll exhibit if this is the case, but biting is definitely one of them.
There’s a laundry list of possible things that can make a hedgehog physically uncomfortable, but some are more common than others.
Nail trimming is a time where owners commonly report biting to occur. This can be an annoying process for these animals in the first place, and the sensation of their nails getting clipped might freak them out a bit.
Cheap uncomfortable bedding is another thing that might be uncomfortable and put them in a bad mood before handling.
Poor handling techniques can also cause discomfort. If you’re preventing them from being able to move or are pinching or squeezing parts of their body without realizing it, they might feel the need to bite.
Quick Note: You’ll get better at this over time and will learn to read their moods a bit better as well.
Illness can also make a hedgehog more prone to biting. Just like how you might not feel super happy when you’re under the weather, the same goes for your hedgie.
Quilling is another common cause. This process can be rather uncomfortable and put your pet on edge.
Lastly, an uncomfortable temperature can lead to biting. Hedgehogs like warm weather (and they need it if you want to prevent hedgehog hibernation). If your hedgehog is too cold they might decide to show you by giving your finger a little nip.
General stress is another common cause of a hedgehog bite. There are a bunch of possible reasons why your hedgie might get stressed in the first place, but let’s look at the most common ones.
Their environment plays a big part in how relaxed or nervous they can be. If you tend to play with them in an area that has loud and startling noises this will keep them in a constant state of stress, making them more likely to bite.
Stress levels will also rise if your hedgie is tired. This can come from too much handling, trying to play with them at the wrong time of day, previous time on their wheel, and many other reasons. Try not to overwork your hedgehog by increasing the amount of time you play slowly over time, but never overdo it.
A lot of experienced owners recommend setting some sort of a timer so you can be sure they get the rest and quiet they need. Even if they might have more energy, they could just want a break from you!
Before a hedgehog bite, you’ll often see a few signs that they want to rest and be on their own. The big one is they’ll make increased attempts to get out of your hands or away from you.
Quick Note: Hedgehogs are pretty good at sensing if the person holding them is nervous as well. As a result, this can make THEM nervous and make them more likely to bite.
Something Might Seem Tasty
This is a bit more obvious but it’s still worth mentioning. Hedgehogs love to sniff and smell things as you’ve probably noticed if you own one already. This is one of the most effective ways that they collect information about the world around them!
Scent and taste are closely linked and as a result, they like to taste things as well. If you happen to smell tasty to them they just might give you a quick nibble. It isn’t malicious at all in this situation.
If you’re sweaty from working out, just ate, or have some nice-smelling lotion on your hands, a nibble might come. It’s easy to see this coming ahead of time because they’ll often sniff and lick a certain area rather intently before trying a curiosity bite.
This is another non-malicious hedgehog bite example that might happen at some point. Just like human babies, hedgehogs learn more about objects when they put them in their mouths. This isn’t something they do all the time, but will definitely give it a shot if they’re curious.
Funky jewelry, objects, or clothing that they aren’t used to can increase the chance that they might want a nibble. This is still an uncommon occurrence but since they’re animals it’s always a possibility.
They’re Hormonal Or Territorial
Another situation where hedgehog bites can occur is during phases where they’re feeling hormonal or territorial. If a mother hedgehog is focused on making a nest or you’re attempting to breed she might be a little more high-strung than normal (understandably).
This can happen with males as well. In general, the chance of a hedgehog bite happening is often higher when they’re near a hedgehog of the opposite gender for example.
Territory and jealousy can sometimes play a part as well.
There have been owners who’ve reported repeat biting episodes when one hedgehog is given attention before the other. This isn’t common but it’s something to consider if this happens regularly. Also, they might be more prone to biting if you reach into areas of their cage that they consider their territory.
What To Do If One Bites You
Fortunately, a hedgehog bite isn’t a life or death situation. With that being said, there are some techniques you should use if it happens.
Don’t Pull Away
If your feisty little hedgie has their teeth latched on to your skin you’ll need to do something counterintuitive to disengage without hurting them.
Your instinct will likely be to try and pull yourself out of their monster jaws of death, but that’s the opposite of what you should do. Instead, push toward their mouth.
Pulling just triggers their instinct to keep chomping down. If you keep tugging you could injure their mouth/teeth as well as turn a harmless bite into a cut.
When you push toward them it makes their jaw relax and encourages them to stop biting as well. There’s no risk of this hurting them and it works like a charm!
Don’t End Play Time
A mistake that a lot of new owners make after a hedgehog bite is they put their pets away immediately after the incident. While this makes sense at first, it’s actually the wrong approach.
Hedgehogs are pretty clever, and doing this can teach them that if they want to go back to their cage all they need to do is chomp down. This isn’t behavior that you want to reinforce.
So what do you do?
Instead, give them a break for a few minutes out in the area where you’ve been playing with them. Some space should let them settle down and relax a bit. Then you should attempt to handle them for a little bit before putting them back in their cage.
Quick Note: If your hedgehog is really upset then it’s not the end of the world to put them away (it’s actually the right thing to do). But for a little nip, you should avoid moving them over immediately if possible.
Aside from the pushing method, there are a couple of other trucks you can try if your hedgehog has bitten you and won’t let go.
The first is blowing on them. This might sound a little silly at first, but a firm burst of air in their face is usually enough to make them release their jaws. It’s such an unexpected sensation that they’ll typically need a second to regroup and figure out what happened!
Some experienced owners and breeders like to make noise as well. The main purpose of this is negative reinforcement and helps them start to think of biting as a bad thing to do. Don’t go crazy and yell at the top of your lungs, but don’t be afraid to tell them “no” or “bad” very loudly when it happens.
How To Reduce The Chances Of Them Doing It In The Future
If you want to reduce the chance of your hedgehog biting again in the future there are a number of easy things you can do.
Keep Your Hands Clean
This is a very easy way to remove temptation from the equation. Food that might still be on your hands or a scented soap or land lotion can make your hedgehog think your finders are a tasty snack!
Take the time to wash your hands with unscented soap before handling them. This is a super easy fix that won’t interrupt your playtime routine.
Handle Them In A Calm Environment
In general, you should aim to keep your hedgehog in a stress-free environment. This goes for the location of their cage as well as the spot where you play with them.
Loud noises or kids running around while you’re trying to handle your hedgehog might put them on edge. When this happens, the chance of a bite goes up significantly.
Try to come up with a schedule or plan for your time together if you think this is an issue. If you live in a city, shutting the windows during playtime might be the solution. If you have children, set a rule for them to be quiet and respectful of your hedgie during this time as well.
Quick Note: Also be mindful of other animals. Even if you have the nicest dog in the world, it probably makes your hedgehog nervous when it’s around.
Pay Attention To Their Mood
As you become a more experienced owner and establish a stronger bond with your hedgie you’ll be able to read their moods. This makes it significantly easier to prevent hedgehog bites.
As time goes on you’ll know when your hedgie really wants to be left alone and is tired, or simply want to investigate something else. Your ability to understand how they’re feeling is one of the more rewarding parts of hedgehog ownership and will keep them happy as well.
Try A Different Schedule
The time of day that you handle and play with your hedgehog might not be optimal for them. If a hedgehog bite occurs then it’s worth looking at the time of day and testing something else.
There isn’t a perfect formula for this. Instead, experiment and monitor their mood to see what works best.
The worst thing you can do is reduce the amount of time you’re handling them (or stopping altogether). While you might think it removes the chance of a hedgehog bite, it’s not a realistic solution.
The whole point of having these pets is to enjoy each other’s company and grow a bond. If you put up a wall then it’s not fair to anyone, and won’t solve the biting issue.
Continuing to interact with them is the only way they’ll learn to get more comfortable with you. It’s also the only way you can start to recognize their behavioral patterns and keep them happy.
Quick Note: If there’s frequent biting without apparent cause or improvement then it might indicate a health problem. As we mentioned before, hedgehogs can bite when they’re physically uncomfortable and illness could be the cause.
Does A Hedgehog Bite Hurt?
Lastly, we wanted to take a second to address this common question we get a lot from new and prospective owners.
While a hedgehog bite doesn’t feel good, it’s definitely tolerable and pretty low on the pain scale. A curious nibble will feel a lot nicer than an angry bite, but even that isn’t the worst thing in the world.
To It’s nothing compared to a wasp sting or a bit from a more aggressive small mammal.
Now you know what to expect from a hedgehog bite and the likely causes. This information will make the overall process a lot easier to navigate and help you provide better care to your hedgie.
In very rare instances these rules and guidelines won’t be enough to prevent your hedgehog from biting in the future. In that case, it’s worth considering the possibility that something more serious might be happening (like a health-related condition). If that happens don’t hesitate to reach out to your vet.