Grouchy Hedgehogs

May 27, 2013 by

Grouchy Hedgehogs

Are Hedgehogs Truly Grouchy or Are They Simply Misunderstood?

Understanding Hedgehog Behavior

  • “I’d rather be alone.” One of the biggest misconceptions about the hedgehog is that this naturally shy animal is “grumpy” or “grouchy”. The reality is hedgehogs are simply fearful of changes in their environment (i.e.: Being handled by a new person).
  • “I heard that!” Hedgehogs have poor eyesight, but heightened senses of hearing, motion detection, and even emotion detection. This makes them very sensitive to changes in their environment, and changes in your approach and mood.  The way in which hedgehogs are approached and handled can determine their reaction.
  • “Trust takes time.” You must to prove yourself trustworthy before a hedgehog can completely relax and enjoy being in your company. To do this, you must be persistent, patient, and relaxed. If your pet senses you are scared to handle it, then it will most likely react defensively.
  • “Take a step back, please.” When hedgehogs are nervous or scared they will ball up, becoming a handful of prickly quills. This natural defensive mechanism is not a sign of aggression. They are simply protecting themselves from the unknown.
  • “I don’t feel so good.” Hedgehogs with health issues may be less responsive to handling due to pain or discomfort, and may prefer to be left alone. Quilling is an example of a normal process that can be very uncomfortable for a hedgehog and can impact how the hedgehog prefers to be handled. If your usually calm, sweet pet becomes “grouchy” take time to investigate the cause and assure yourself that your pet is not ill.
  • A cold hedgehog is an unhappy hedgehog. Hedgehog owners have reported that adding heat sources to their pet’s cage has often resulted in a pet that is more comfortable, and therefore more relaxed and friendly.

Owner’s Responsibility

  • Proper handling is critical to having a well-socialized hedgehog. Your ability to handle the animal gently, and confidently, is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not a hedgehog is the right pet for you.
  • As a hedgehog owner, you will need to learn to understand your pet’s subtle ways of communication, their behavioral patterns, and how to respond accordingly.
  • Owners need to learn:
    • When to handle a hedgehog.
    • How to pick up and hold a hedgehog.
    • What can cause a hedgehog to be scared or nervous.
  • Bonding, as with any pet, is an important part of the socialization process. You will most likely find it takes longer to bond with a new hedgehog rather than a new puppy. Be patient and persistent in your handling routine.
  • Speaking of patience … this is probably the most important virtue a new hedgehog owner can have in order to see successful hedgehog socialization occur.
  • When you are having problems, the most important thing you can do is to stay in touch with your breeder.  Most breeders will ask you to send a video of you handling your hedgie or have you return to their home or place of business.
  • Many breeders will exchange a grouchy hedgehog when they are confident that you have done everything in your power to socialize your new pet.

Quality Time Versus Quantity Time

  • Our years of experience with hedgehogs has led us to believe that the more time spent with an animal does not always equal a more socialized pet and better bonding.
  • Your actions, and emotions, during the time you handle your pet (quality time) may very well make a larger impact, than the amount of time you spend with your pet (quantity time).
  • Certainly, the amount of time spent with an animal is important, but how you handle and react to the animal during that time and bonding process is far more important.
  • If an owner continually handles their hedgehog in the wrong way, or if they are afraid of the animal, little to no progress will be seen in socializing and bonding with their pet.
  • However, by handling your pet the right way, and responding to its needs with confidence, you can dramatically speed up the bonding and socialization processes.

Learned Behaviors

  • Many “grouchy” hedgehog behaviors such as clicking, popping, and huffing are learned responses to the way they are handled.
  • When hedgehogs sense something coming towards them, they will naturally huff and puff to protect themselves. Hedgehogs quickly learn that they should huff and puff when a hand approaches, because they are going to be picked up. You should find this reaction becomes less frequent as you bond with your pet. But, if you are handling your pet incorrectly, this reaction may remain.
  • Hedgehogs become more nervous about the process of being picked up when the person picking them up is nervous. Making repeated failed attempts to pick them up, due to your fear, increases their anxiety when you approach. Imagine a nurse preparing to give you a shot. Instead of giving you the shot confidently, the nurse has to aim at you six times before she makes the plunge.
  • Please refer to the article about Huffing, Puffing and Popping.

Born Grouches

  • Some animals are just born grouches. However, the way young hedgehogs are handled — and the persistence and patience that they are shown — can greatly alter their adult personality.
  • Just like a human, a hedgehog may become grouchy because something is makin them uncomfortable — they may be in pain — or they are simply nervous.
  • More often than not, a “grouchy” hedgehog can be coaxed out of its grouchiness with proper handling, a lot of patience, and time.

Abused Hedgehogs

  • It is unfortunate that some hedgehogs, like other pets, are abused both intentionally and unintentionally.
  • Intentional abuse includes neglect and deliberately cruel behaviors.
  • Unintentional abuse occurs when individuals simply do not understand proper pet care and handling. Pet owners have said their hedgehogs like to be “bounced on the bed” or “rolled on the floor” like a ball. (They don’t!) Some people, often children, are simply ignorant of how their actions truly affect their pet.
  • Hedgehogs do not cope well with abuse. An abused hedgehog may never enjoy being handled by humans. This is important to remember when adopting an older hedgehog. Try to find out as much as you can about the care and conditions your new pet was exposed to, before bringing them home, so you will be prepared.

True Grouches

  • Occasionally, there are hedgehogs that simply do not like human interaction. No matter how much time is spent trying to socialize them; they will refuse to bond with their owners.
  • It is rare, but hedgehogs have been known to try to bite in retaliation to being handled, properly or improperly.
  • Note: If a hedgehog does bite you, try to remain calm and secure the safety of the animal before tending to yourself. Most bites are quick nips and don’t even break the skin. However, some hedgehogs have been known to latch on. If this happens, do not pull away. Set the animal down on a secure, solid surface and wait for them to let go.
  • In cases of a true grouch, we personally think it is helpful to find an experienced hedgehog owner and/or rescuer who can assist in attempting to turn a hedgehog’s personality around.
  • Unfortunately, there are times when the personality of the owner and the hedgehog simply do not match.
  • We think this quote by Nancy on Hedgehog Central is fitting:

For some hedgehogs no matter how much time and attention they are given from the time they are a week old, they will still be unsocial. It’s like people. Some are simply born shy.

  • Some hedgehogs’ personalities change during the process of quilling. You could look on this as their adolescent angst period.
  • Littermates, like human siblings, will have different personalities.
  • To say that all hedgehogs will become socialized with proper handling and time is deceiving. Most will, but there will be the occasional exception.
  • When all else fails contact the breeder as soon as you begin having problems.  We suggest sending a video of you handling your hedgehog so that the breeder can give you handling tips to help your bonding progress more smoothly.
  • Many breeders that work with you during the handling process will exchange a grouchy hedgehog for a better fit.

Lavender Essential Oil

  • Many hedgehog owners have had success using Lavender essential oil for their grouchy stressed hedgehog.  One or two drops applied topically or used in a diffuser in the room.  You can save 10% on a 2 oz bottle here: by using this promo code: MelissaRamos10off


Primary Author: Gail Dick, Millermeade Farm’s Critter Connection

Contributor:  Laura Unger

Nancy. (2009, May 31). Behavior Expectations. Hedgehog Central Forum. Retrieved February 4, 2012, from

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