One question that I’ve gotten multiple times is how to tame or socialize a hedgehog that is scared or grumpy. I thought I would do a blog post on the question to help others who have this question.
When you have a hedgehog that is scared or grumpy it’s important to remember that they rely heavily on scent. They do not see as well as most other animals, so they rely on scent more to accommodate for this. Hedgehogs can smell the difference between people, so to get him comfortable with you, you want to get him used to your smell.
To get a hedgehog used to your smell, you want to try to avoid having your smell change much. For example, if you are in the habit of rotating through different types of lotion, body wash, laundry soap, etc it would be best not to do that while you are socializing your hedgehog. Don’t use any strongly scented soaps before spending time with your hedgehog.
Hedgehogs are also sensitive to light and dark because of their poor vision. If you have a lamp in the room with the cage, and you step between the light and the cage, you will cast a big shadow over your hedgehog which will probably frighten him. Try to be aware of your shadows and avoid putting your hedgehog in a large shadow when picking him up.
Hedgehogs are also sensitive to sudden or jerky movements. If you are really scared when handling your hedgehog and move suddenly this will make your hedgehog scared too. Getting poked isn’t the end of the world and doesn’t hurt that badly. Focus on having smooth, calm movements to help relax your hedgehog.
To begin, focus on “cuddling” with your hedgehog even if he stays balled up. It’s not as fun to spend time with your hedgehog if he’s in a ball, but that is often your only option with a grumpy hedgehog at first. Try to take time (half an hour or so, perhaps) to hang out with your hedgehog. Early on, I would wear a hoodie and put my hedgehog in the pouch of my hoodie! Spending this time together, even if he isn’t walking around, will get him used to the smell of your clothes, hands, etc. You can also take an old shirt or other clothing item that you’ve worn and leave it in their cage so they can get used to your scent while they are in their cage. Be sure to carefully check over the clothing piece for any loose strings before doing this, so they don’t get tangled.
If your hedgehog is staying balled up, it’s okay to use a blanket, gloves, or something similar to protect your hands when you first pick him up. However, I’ve heard of people who *always* wear thick gloves when handling their hedgehog out of fear of being poked. If you keep your hands inside of the gloves that puts a barrier between your scent and your hedgehog so he won’t ever adapt to your scent. Part of owning a hedgehog is coping with the risk of getting poked a little from time to time so work on getting past that fear.
Keep cuddling with your hedgehog until he starts to uncurl while out of his cage. Once he begins to uncurl a bit, you can introduce treats. Many people purchase mealworms as treats for hedgehogs. You can also look up hedgehog-safe foods. My hedgehog went nuts for tiny pieces of banana! He also liked pieces of cooked chicken quite a bit. Once you find a treat that is safe for your hedgehog and that he enjoys, use it once he uncurls. This will help him to associate uncurling and spending time with you as a fun and enjoyable experience.
Once your hedgehog begins to uncurl more quickly during cuddle time, keep holding him regularly. If you stop holding him regularly he will ‘forget’ and get scared of you again.