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Old 03-29-2015, 03:39 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default So your hedgehog is a biter, now what?

Hello everyone! I've noticed lately that type of posts I've been responding to the most are in regards to hedgehogs biting. Since I have experience with a biter, I thought it was time to put my hard earned knowledge down in one place. Thank you in advance for reading my novella!

Why do hedgehogs bite?


This right here is the big question. Why? Why is this little ball of sharp pokies using their teeth on me? Well, there's lots of potential reasons. If you're able to determine the why of a bite, you're a long way towards avoiding future bites altogether.

Just to list off a few common reasons a hedgehog may choose to bite:
  • Fear
  • Curiosity
  • Hunger
  • Interesting Smells/Self anointing
  • Attention
  • Health
Lets talk about the first thing on the list: Fear. In my mind this is probably the number one reason why most biters start biting to begin with.

We have to remember that a hedgehog is a prey animal whose primary defense is curling up into a tight ball and hoping their quills are enough to deter a predator from eating them. To them, we are giant scary monsters that are going to eat them any second. We become even scarier because we put them in positions where they are either unable to curl up or curling up is ineffective. That leaves them with one last ditch effort: Teeth.


So now we know why they are afraid. What can we do? Well, all we can do is show them that we are not in fact here to eat them. This is not a fast process for many hedgehogs. While some come around faster than others, it's fair to expect to spend months getting them to trust us.

How do we do that? Daily handling. Every day, no exceptions. 30 minutes at a minimum, but longer is better. Does that mean hold them still in your hands every day for that long? No, of course not! That would be weird for both of you. Handling can mean many things. It can mean nap time in your lap while you're doing something else. It can mean time in a play pen exploring around you. Whatever it is so long as it's hedgie safe and involves both of you. And I know there will be times you're sick, or even out of town. Try to get someone to handle them for you for the times you can't. It's not quite the same as handling them yourself, but it keeps the routine up.


Next on the list: Curiosity.


Hedgehogs, believe it or not, don't have hands. So they sometimes use their mouths to explore their world. Much in the same way a baby will stick anything and everything in their mouths, some hedgehogs will lick, chew and bite whatever they come across.


Next up: Hunger


Yep, it can really be that simple. They may just be hungry.

My recommendation is to give your hedgehog a few minutes to eat and drink before really getting into your daily bonding session.


Interesting Smells/Self anointing


The big mystery! We all know hedgehogs love new smells, smells they find interesting, and sometimes strong smells. And we know they love to chew on said interesting smells and lather themselves up with them. Why? Who knows. Only the hedgehog knows, and they ain't saying!


This is somewhere where you really need to examine the specifics of your life. What kind of soaps do you use? Do you forget to wash your hands after you've handled food or other smelly items before handling your hedgehog? Are there certain things your hedgehog responds to that causes the biting? What do you do for a living? Does that leave odd smells on you?


It may be you need to be more diligent in making sure your hands are clean before waking up your hedgehog for the night. It might be you need to switch to a fragrance free soap. It might be that you just need to pick a single scent to stick with and always use that one.


Attention.

A lot of times, your hedgehog may be trying to tell you something, but you aren't listening. Maybe you've been holding him for a bit too long and he needs a potty break. Maybe he really wants to go see that thing over there but you simply are not cooperating with him. Maybe he just wants to sleep but you keep interrupting his nap.


Does that mean put your hedgehog down and never bother him ever? Nope! What it does mean is you need to learn how to listen to what you're being told. Watch their body language. What is it telling you? A little bit of communication goes a long way.


Health:

This one is tricky. It could be that your hedgie is going through a round of quilling and feel uncomfortable. It could be he's sick and doesn't know what else to do because he feels rotten. It could be he's injured and is feeling vulnerable. Always check your hedgehog for signs of injury or illness when you have him out. If your normally friendly hedgehog suddenly bites you for no apparent reason, it may be time for a trip to the vet. If your problem is likely something simple like quilling or dry skin, do what you can to make him comfortable and wait it out. If you aren't sure, or the problem is more complex, work with your vet to find the solution.


How to stop the biting


The first step in getting the biting to stop is going back to our discussion on fear. Daily handling, daily handling, daily handling. There is no substitute, no quick fix. Just dedication and time. But there are some things you can do to make the process easier.


Building trust


Building trust is how we end fear. Your hedgehog has to trust you will not hurt him. To do that we have to make his experience with you positive.


The T-shirt trick


I'm sure most of you are familiar with the T-shirt trick, but for those that aren't: Wear a t-shirt for a day or two. Sleep in it if you'd like. Then place that shirt in your hedgehogs sleeping area. The idea is to get your hedgehog to associate your smell with safety. Trade the t-shirt out every couple of days to keep your scent in there. It doesn't have to be a t-shirt either. It could be a piece of fleece you've carried on you or slept with. Any fabric that is hedgehog safe that will hold your scent will do.

Reducing distractions


When you have your hedgehog out, make the situation as comfortable and stress free as you can. Have the TV or radio on playing softly to cover up sudden noises. Ambient sound goes a long way toward keeping sudden scary noises from stressing out your hog.


Lighting is also a big factor. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and have poor eyesight. Having them in a brightly lit room could be very scary and may encourage biting if you haven't yet built trust with your hedgehog. Keep the room dimly lit. Make sure you can see! Complete darkness isn't necessary, but keep the lighting low enough to not overwhelm your hedgehog.


Finally, on reducing distractions: Your family. Be sure to have the conversation with anyone in your household what your hedgehog needs to be happy and healthy. Make sure they understand that it's hard work to bond with a hedgehog and silly pranks like intentionally scaring your hedgehog could set you back months. Be respectful and polite, and just let them know you need a calm environment for your hedgehog. And don't forget about your four footed family members! Dogs and cats, as well as other pets may not get along with your hedgie. Even if they behave perfectly around your hedgehog, he may be scared and lash out. In most cases it's best to keep other pets away from your hedgehog.

Schedules

This is a major tool! Make a schedule for everything you do concerning your hedgehog and do your best to keep to it! Get him out at the same time every day for about the same amount of time. Clean the cage at the same time, clean and refill food and water at the same time. If your hedgehog knows what to expect everyday, he won't need to be afraid and if he isn't afraid he probably won't bite.

Do's and Don'ts


Do:
Handle your hedgehog daily. I know I've said it a hundred times already, but it bears repeating.


Don't:
Use gloves. As much as it makes logical sense from the stand point of protecting your hands, don't use gloves. They cover up your scent and from the view point of the hedgehog have got to be super scary.


Do:
Use fleece! I'm a big believer in fleece. You can have lots of different sized pieces to use. The great thing is they won't mask your scent, and you can in fact make them smell like you!


Do:
Use bribery! Be sure to give your hedgehog tasty (but safe and healthy!) treats while you have them out. It may take some experimenting to find what he or she likes, but providing a delicious snack will go along way towards building trust.


Do:
Talk to your hedgehog. They don't just rely on smell, they heavily use their sense of hearing also. Talk in a calm, pleasant tone. Chatter away.


Don't:
Put your hedgehog back in his cage after a bite. This will only teach your hedgehog that biting gets him put back in his cage and gets you to leave him alone. Keep him out at least another 10 minutes before putting him down. As always, the longer you have him out the better.


Don't:
Overreact to a bite. Those teeth may be little, but they sure do hurt. That doesn't mean jerk your hand away or try to punish your hedgehog. Scream if you need to, but otherwise do your best to limit your reaction. Pulling away before your hedgie has let go can cause her to clamp down tighter, cause her to break skin when she might not have, can result in an injury to her, or make her hold on longer. Just wait. She will let go. Punishing your hedgehog in some way will just result in scaring her and putting you back at square one. Remember, they don't have the capacity to understand why you're suddenly being mean to them. To them, the bite and the punishment are unrelated.


Do:
Be persistent! Your hedgehog is going to make all manner of unpleasant noises at you, attempt to poke you and of course try to bite you. Don't let that scare you off! Keep handling her! Keep getting her out of her cage. She won't get used to you if you leave her alone. Over time it gets easier so long as you keep at it.


Don't:
Hand feed. Hand feeding leaves the smell of food on you, and may result in confusion for your hedgehog. You smell like a treat, therefore you must be one! Use other methods of offering treats. Chop sticks, plastic tongs, spoons. Just not your hands.


Don't:

Get discouraged! This can be a long process. Bonding (and therefore eliminating biting) is not an overnight thing. It may feel like sometimes you're not making any progress, but with persistence you realize one day that your spikey little friend is actually your friend!


My hedgehog is still biting!


So, you're doing all the things you need to do to bond with your hedgehog, but maybe you're still getting bitten. Sadly, many owners have let the biting become a habit before they seek advice. Habits can be hard to break. But don't worry! It's not impossible.

Breaking the cycle of biting

If you have a habitual biter, or a hedgehog on his way to becoming a habitual biter it's necessary to break the cycle of biting. The sooner the better. How? Fleece! Fleece is you friend. Use fleece to pick up and hold your hedgehog with. Use fleece as a barrier between your skin and his mouth. He will either bite the fleece or not bite at all. Either way is a win since you were not bitten. So long as you don't put skin in front of his face, he can't bite you. If he can't bite you, he won't be continuing a bad habit and may stop biting altogether. In some cases it may be necessary to always keep skin away from your hedgehogs face. There's nothing wrong with that. It's not a failure. It just means your baby must really like how you taste or smell, and that's ok.

Fleece training

I won't go into too much detail here as it's not something I've done, but I know some have had great success with it. Rather than avoiding bites, some owners have learned to read their hedgehogs body language and what typically triggers a bite. They then substitute fleece in to be bitten rather than skin. From there it can evolve into a tug of war game. It's fun for both you and your hedgehog and no one gets hurt.

Aggressive hedgehogs


I personally believe that very few hedgehogs are genuinely aggressive. Could you have one of those few? Maybe. But probably not. Keep in mind how they were raised. Did they come from a neglectful or abusive home? Did the previous owner give up on bonding before giving him a chance? You'll get out of your relationship with your hedgehog what you put into it. Some hedgehogs are going to need more time and love than others, but you'll get that energy back in the form of a companion that enjoys your company and whose company you can enjoy.
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Old 03-29-2015, 10:15 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Default Admin. Please Pin This!!

That's great! I have not had a biter, thankfully, but I have been seeing lots of posts about this lately and have heard of people giving up on their hedgies because of this....
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Old 03-29-2015, 10:54 AM   #3 (permalink)
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This is wonderful!! And great advice.
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Old 03-29-2015, 03:55 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Wonderful post! I hope you don't mind if I make it a sticky. There have been quite a few biting posts recently & I think this post would be a good addition to our forum stickies if none of the other mods disagree!
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Old 03-29-2015, 05:16 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Thank you guys! I don't mind at all if this becomes a sticky. I just hope some people find this post helpful
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Old 03-29-2015, 05:17 PM   #6 (permalink)
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GREAT JOB!

I really think that hedgies go thru a stage where they are more apt to bite, something like the toddler "terrible twos". I think it's when they are in this stage that biting becomes a habit.

Like someone once said "anything with teeth can bite!"
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Old 03-29-2015, 05:17 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Great info! Thanks a lot for taking the time to write all that out. I think everyone that has questions about biting should read that and try what is appropriate for their situation. My little guy bit me a few times the first few times I held him, so I think he was just getting used to me.... and also I was hand feeding him some meal worms, so lesson learned! I also know know when he's about to bite and I just move my fingers away so he can't. Thanks
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Old 04-08-2015, 12:44 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Great post! My Gideon never bites me, but he will bite and try to anoint with anything that smells like my husband, including skin! He once chased my husband's foot all over the floor trying to bite it!! It's not aggressive, and he's not fearful, just curious and/or excited. We have tried the t-shirt trick a few times to no avail, so now my husband holds him on his lap (with jeans on lol!) or inside his snuggle sack. I like having a curious hedgehog, it just takes some accommodation.
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Old 05-08-2015, 11:19 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Toby suddenly started biting this week. This thread is great help, thanks!
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Old 05-29-2015, 10:20 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Thank you for posting this!
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