Last Updated on August 23, 2022.

The Key to Uncurling

  • The key to getting your hedgehog to uncurl is getting them to relax.
  • When hedgehogs are scared or nervous their primary form of defense, or protection, is to ball up and “hide”.
  • Most hedgehogs won’t uncurl until they feel it is safe for them to come out of their ball to explore.
  • Keep in mind that your hedgehog can’t see anything around them, so they rely on other senses to determine if it is safe to uncurl.
  • We, at Millermeade Farms, and Shelly, at Beach Bum Hedgehogs, have found that when baby hedgehogs are handled gently and in ways that cause them to feel secure, they are less likely to have serious problems as they grow older.
  • Friendly hedgehogs can become nervous with nervous owners/handlers.
  • When someone is nervous, the hedgehog immediately picks up on this and becomes nervous, scared, and defensive as well. It is an excellent idea to use gloves, a sleeping bag, or a hedgehog hat to assist you in picking up your hedgehog if you are nervous.  
  • We teach all of our customers how to handle our hedgehog babies without gloves because we want your hedgehog to feel more comfortable with your movements and in turn, you won’t be as fearful of them.  However, using gloves to learn how to pick up your hedgehog is better than not handling your hedgehog at all, or not having the confidence to pick them up properly.

Where and How to Hold Your Hedgehog

  • Simply holding the hedgehog on your hands out flat in front of you, away from your body, helps the hedgehog feel more comfortable and more apt to start to uncurl, versus holding the hedgehog in cupped hands or close to your body.
  • One can think about how a groundhog or prairie dog determines if it is safe to come out of hiding. Their “lookout” burrow is way out in the open and not next to brush or trees.  The groundhog and prairie dog like to be able to see all the way around them to make sure they are safe.
  • Your hedgehog does not “look” all the way around, but they do sense things that are nearby.  When you hold them close to your body they may not come out as quickly because they can’t sense your closeness.

Flat Hands = Feet Down

  • The first and easiest method to try is to simply hold the hedgehog out in front of you in flat hands.
  • If you can hold your hand at a slight downward angle the hedgehog may feel like it is falling and come out to investigate.
  • You can gently and very carefully bounce the hedgehog, which may also help encourage the hedgehog to uncurl.
  • As your hedgehog becomes more comfortable it should begin to uncurl.  Once your hedgehog becomes comfortable with you, they may only ball up a little or not at all.
  • Do your best to avoid provoking your hedgehog to huff and puff.  You can actually teach your hedgehog to react this way when you pick it up.
  • In order for your hedgehog to uncurl and want to come out and investigate, your hedgehog needs to feel safe.
  • You can encourage the feeling of safety by holding your hedgehog out, away from your body, allowing it to sit on your flat hands.
  • Please be mindful that any sudden movement or loud noise may cause your hedgehog to retreat back into its curled position, which will likely result in the handler being “poked.”  It is recommended that you continually talk to your hedgehog to make them feel at ease. 
  • Patience is the key. When the hedgehog feels comfortable it will come out to investigate its surroundings.

Natural Curiosity

  • Once your hedgehog is picked up, out in the open, and simply being held, curiosity will most likely get the best of your hedgehog, and they will begin to uncurl. 
  • Angling your hands so the hedgehog’s head is just slightly lower than the rest of its body may also help it to come out. It will feel as if it is headed down hill and may come out quicker to see what is going on. Be careful not to tilt your hands too much so that it rolls off your hands.
  • A couple of gentle bounces (raising and lowering your hands about an inch) may also encourage your hedgehog to come out and see what is going on.
  • Until your hedgehog begins to relax, you don’t want to try to pet your hedgehog, but instead simply talk to it and let it know that it is safe.
  • When your hedgehog realizes that it is out in the open, it will begin to try to move around on your hands.
  • Watch for your hedgehog to duck its head. This is its main form of self-defense. Notice what you were doing that caused it to duck its head. Most likely it might have heard a sound, or it did not like the way you were approaching it with your hands.

The Water Method

  • Many hedgehogs enjoy spending time in water, as described in the “Bathing Your Hedgehog” guide.
  • A bath may help your hedgehog relax and get to know you through the bathing process. Even the grouchiest hedgehogs will uncurl in water.
  • Allow a tiny gentle stream of water to run over your hedgehog’s back.  Many times the sound of the water alone is enough to get a hedgehog to uncurl.
  • Gently lower your hedgehog into a shallow pan or tub of water and allow your hedgehog to walk around.
  • Breeders have never known a hedgehog to drown, but certainly one needs to be careful otherwise the hedgehog can inhale water or suck water into its lungs.
  • Some veterinarians use the shallow pan of warm water method to get their uncooperative patients to uncurl. This allows for a basic visual examination without the need for anesthesia.
  • It is very important to make sure your hedgehog is completely dry after its bath. Snuggle time after a bath is also a great time for bonding.
  • Another simple method to encourage a hedgehog to uncurl when trying to trim toenails or treat an injury is to place the hedgehog in a shallow pan of warm water.
  • Hedgehogs can hold their breath for a short time and will likely come out fairly quickly.  Be sure to use caution to prevent a stubborn hedgehog from harming itself.
  • By simply applying a couple of drops of water on its back, a hedgehog may be encouraged to come out and investigate. 

The Pencil Method and Back Rub

  • Many years ago we, at Millermeade Farms, learned a trick from Antigone, at Hedgehog Valley, in which the eraser end of a pencil was used to gently massage between a hedgehog’s shoulder blades.
  • We have found that the trick to this method is to exert gentle, but firm pressure and then move the eraser in a circular motion.
  • It is important to avoid “poking” the pencil at the hedgehog, because that may make the hedgehog huff and puff more.
  • Shelly, at Beach Bum Hedgehogs, has found that once the hedgehog is in your hands you can also take the other hand and rub the quills on the back/rump in a circle. This will help them to uncurl.

Anesthesia at Veterinary Clinics

  • It is difficult for a veterinarian to examine a balled up hedgehog.
  • Your veterinarian may need to anesthetize your hedgehog in order to properly examine it.

Contributors:  Gail Smith, Shelly Fowler, Beach Bum Hedgehogs, Melissa Ramos, Holly Payton

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