Handling Hedgies
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Hedgehog Valley- Quality African Pygmy Hedgehogs

Hedgie Handling Hints

Hedgehogs are prickly creatures, so it's not surprising that many people are intimidated by the idea of picking one up. I have met more than a few people who insist that a glove is always needed to pick them up, and this myth is carried on by several commonly available books. Certainly, a glove can be helpful when you're in a hurry and hedgie is not cooperative, but in general you don't need gloves to handle a hedgehog!

Many people (wrongly) think that a hedgehog's quills are like a porcupine's spines. They aren't. A hedgehog's quills are like modified hairs, or perhaps even more like a bird's feather without the fluff. They are hollow and secure to the hedgehog. Hedgehogs lose quills like we lose hair and birds lose feathers. They don't shoot or easily shed them, so you aren't going to have a bunch of quills stuck in your hand if you get poked. They also do not have barbs on the end. In fact, hedgehogs and porcupines are not at all related. Other than both having pokey things on their back, they have very little in common, so the nightmare stories you may have heard about people or dogs getting stuck with porcupine spines do not apply. Occasionally you may have an allergic reaction to something the hedgehog has annointed with (to blend with their environment, they will take substances in their mouth, get it all frothy, and rub it over their quills), but usually about the worst that will come of this are litte red aftermarks that typically fade within a day. Most often this is a reaction to the bedding the hedgehog has been living on.

Hedgehogs to have an amazing set of muscles that enable them, when frightened, to ball up and to point their quills in the direction they feel the threat is coming from. They will also make a lot of noise and can sort of pop and jump about an inch high, giving a good poke to whatever is coming at them. If a hedgie is this upset, I won't argue that a glove may be a good thing! The drawback, though, is that many hedgies learn to associate your scent with safety, and will unball and calm down when they smell you. If you are wearing a glove, they can't smell you and it may interfere with your ability to bond with the animal. My personal feelings are to avoid using gloves with my hedgies as much as possible. We almost never use them. So, what do we do?

If a hedgehog is calm, it will have its quills down and if you pat them, it will make a sound that is like patting a beanie baby. I think the quills feel kind of like astroturf in this state. If a hedgehog is calm, the best way to pick it up and keep it calm is to scoop it from underneath, sliding one hand under each side to provide a firm footing. Even if it startles, most hedgies will relax as soon as they realize they have firm footing. Never try to touch a hedgie's head first, especially if it's a hedgie you don't know. Most animals are afraid of things coming after their heads, and most hedgies will at least raise their head quills to protect themselves. If a hedgie is relaxed, it can also be scruffed like a kitten or puppy. This is useful if you need to give medication or examine the animal, as it prevents the hedgehog from balling up, but not many hedgies are very happy about being picked up like this.

The method from picking up underneath can be used with a balled-up hedgehog, too. It takes a little practice, but you can learn to distribute the weight so that the quills set on your hands without poking into them. If the hedgehog is really heavy this doesn't work so well, but for the average hedgehog it does. If I have a hedgehog that doesn't unball when picked up this way, I take my finger, find a spot between the spines on the back or rump, and begin to rub in a circular motion. You can also use something like a the eraser end of a pencil to do this if you're afraid of getting poked. Most hedgehogs will begin to calm down when rubbed like this and will at least show their face. Some will totally flatten out and relax in your hand. I think they know when you feel confident, and when you are intimidated. Be confident, remember that the worst part of getting poked by a hedgehog is usually the anticipation more than the actual poke, and practice!

This article originally appeared in Animals Exotic and Small magazine. To subscribe, visit their website. This article is copyright and may not be reproduced in part or whole without giving credit to the author, and may not be reproduced for profit.

Antigone Means

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