Hedgehogs have been gaining popularity as pets for several years now. It’s no surprise, given how cute they are! Because they’re considered exotic pets, though, it’s important to learn about their behavior before you adopt one. A common thing people worry about when considering a hedgehog as a pet is whether they bite.
Hedgehogs aren’t particularly known as biters, but anything with teeth can bite, and there are a few reasons hedgehogs will be inclined to do so. You’ll find those reasons in this article, along with what to do if your hedgehog bites you, plus ways to reduce the chance of being bitten.
The 6 Reasons Why Hedgehogs Bite
Even if it’s not a behavior they typically engage in, hedgehogs will bite for several reasons, including stress, pain, and exploring their surroundings.
1. Something Smells Good
If you own a hedgehog, you’ve likely noticed it sniffing everything around to get a hint of the scent. Smells are one of the best ways hedgehogs can get information about their surroundings, especially since their eyesight isn’t great. And sometimes, these tiny critters come across a smell that’s delicious enough they want a taste.
If you smell yummy, chances are your hedgehog might go in for a little nibble; usually, they’ll lick you first, though. Yummy to your pet might mean you smell salty, or it could even be because you just washed your hands and the soap smells interesting. It isn’t a malicious act of biting, just curiosity.
2. Pain or Discomfort
Hedgehogs can’t talk to us, so sometimes they use biting to communicate. One thing they could be communicating in this way is that they are in pain or discomfort. Take quilling, for example; many bites happen when a hedgehog is going through this. Other things that can make a hedgehog uncomfortable include trimming nails, poor bedding, or a person getting right in their face.
If your hedgehog is acting off and gives you a nip, check to see if there is something that’s making them uncomfortable or causing them pain.
3. Stress or Frustration
Your hedgehog also might be communicating that it’s stressed or frustrated with something if it gets bitey. There are plenty of reasons your hedgehog could become stressed or frustrated too. If you leave them in an area that’s constantly loud, they certainly won’t be happy. Your pet also will get cranky when tired, just like a small child. Change can get your hedgehog stressed as well; for example, moving homes. These little guys have no other way to communicate their annoyance, thus the biting.
4. Too Much Handling
One particular area where your pet may express their frustration or discomfort through biting is when they are being handled too much. Hedgehogs are solitary creatures by nature. Like human introverts, they can easily have their social batteries run down by overhandling. You’ll want to be especially careful when handling your pet right after you get them because they’ll need to learn to trust you.
Your hedgehog might also be frustrated that it’s being handled instead of being put down to explore, leading to a nip.
And speaking of exploring, hedgehogs don’t just learn about their environments through their sense of smell. Much like human babies, hedgehogs will put things in their mouths to explore them. They might be curious about a piece of jewelry you’re wearing or the fabric of an article of clothing. They might even be interested in the polish on your nails. This exploration could lead to some nibbling.
It may not happen a lot, but there could be times your hedgehog feels territorial and will bite as a result. If your pet has decided that something in their habitat is theirs and theirs alone, you might get a nip if you reach for it.
What To Do If Your Hedgehog Bites
If your hedgehog bites you, the most important thing to remember is to hold your composure. If your pet has bitten you while you’re holding it, and you react by moving around a lot, you could drop or hurt them. And don’t yell at your hedgehog or flick their nose or anything similar to that—all you’ll be doing is scaring them.
Instead, blow a puff of air at them to discourage biting behavior. If you’re getting nibbled on, you can also try distracting them with something else. Once you’ve done this, resume whatever you were doing before your pet bit you, rather than putting them back in their habitat. Putting your pet back in their home will teach them that the way to get back there when out and about is to give you a chomp.
How To Reduce Biting Behavior
By making a few changes to when and how you interact with your hedgehog, you should be able to reduce biting—and, hopefully, stop it entirely!
If you’ve found that your hedgehog is consistently nibbling your fingers when you go to play with them, it could be that they smell food or soap. Washing your hands thoroughly with unscented soap before handling your pet is an easy fix to stop the nibbling!
The biting problem may be happening because whatever time of day you’re interacting with your pet isn’t optimal for them. Try experimenting with handling them at different times of the day to see if there’s a time when your hedgehog seems more relaxed. Once you’ve found the best time, stick with it.
Learning to read your hedgehog’s body language can go a long way in preventing biting behavior. For example, knowing that a lick of the finger can mean a nibble is coming means you can redirect your pet’s attention to something else and save yourself the pain. Or knowing when your hedgehog is feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed means you can put them down before they, not-so-politely, request to be let down.
One excellent way to get an idea of how your pet is feeling is by looking at their quills. A calm hedgehog will have quills that aren’t sharp. One that’s feeling defensive will have sharp quills that are standing on end.
Hedgehogs may not engage in biting very often, but there are a few important reasons they will do so. It may be that they think you taste good, or they could be trying to communicate how they’re feeling. They may also simply be exploring their surroundings. Whatever the reason behind your pet biting you, knowing how to react and restrict this behavior will help immensely.
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Featured Image Credit: Vyacheslav Saltayev, Shutterstock