Care and Acclimation | Handling Tips and Instructions | Litter Training | Bathing & Nail Trimming
Indoor & Outdoor Play | Hedgehogs on the Loose | Keeping Your Hedgehog Warm
Bonding With Your Hedgehog | Biting

Handling Tips And Instructions

Hedgehogs are wonderful little creatures that have unique habits and personalities.  Their response to you will depend on how you handle them and how you respond to their needs.  You will need to learn to respond to your hedgehog’s subtle way of communicating and adapt to their prickly protectiveness.

Our human nature is to want to reach out and touch or pet our prickly friends.  Naturally shy, hedgies will require you to earn their trust before they accept your handling.  Once hedgehogs are comfortable with you they will appreciate your affection. 

Hand Washing

  • It is always a good idea to practice proper hand washing techniques before and after handling your hedgehog. 
  • It is best to use an antibacterial soap that isn’t fruity smelling.
  • Hand washing protects you from having your hedgie take a sample bite of you!  It is only critter nature to want a sample if your hands smell like food or something tasty.
  • Proper hand washing also protects your hedgehog from bacteria.

When to Handle Your Hedgehog

  • We recommend handling your hedgehog for at least a half hour a day.  The easiest way to accomplish this task is 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.
  • Some hedgehog owners suggest that you wait to handle your new hedgehog a couple days so that it has a chance to get accustomed to its cage.  This is not a bad idea but it is not always necessary in many cases.  We believe that if your hedgehog is not showing signs of stress it is o.k. to handle it from the beginning.  This allows the bonding process to start immediately with your new pet.
  • Time of Day
    • You will find that your hedgehog will be more receptive to handling at different times of the day.
    • We typically handle our hedgehogs in the morning because that is when it is most convenient for us and for our customers when they come to select their new pet.
    • Keep in mind that the hedgehog’s night time is our day and vice versa.  Giving your hedgie a chance to wake up is a key to daytime handling success.  I know that when I have to wake up extra early to go to work or another early morning activity it takes me a little while to clear the sleepiness and get moving.  Sometimes we except hedgehogs to wake up and be active when really they need some time to get their bearings too! 
    • Most hedgehogs are receptive to handling in the evening because this is the time they naturally start to wake up and become active on their own.
    • Hedgehogs can slowly adjust to your lifestyle over time and with a little patience.    Gradually feed and play with your hedgehog earlier and earlier in the day.  Eventually, your hedgehog will get used to eating and being more active during the day.
  • Signs of stress

    • The first, and possibly the most overlooked, sign of stress is the hedgehog’s frantic attempt to get away. Many hedgehogs are busy and want to try to explore but a stressed hedgehog will be much more persistent and not easily distracted.
    • The stressed hedgehog may also twitch or shake its head nervously.  It is almost as if the hedgehog is saying “Sensory overload.  I can’t take it anymore.”
    • The hedgehog might give you a warning bite if the first two signs are overlooked.  Keep in mind this bite isn’t out of aggression or meanness but simply an attempt to say, “Hey, you aren’t paying attention to my needs.”
    • Green poop is the most obvious sign that your hedgehog is stressed.  This result is from food going through the hedgehog too fast and you are seeing green bile.

Picking Up Your Hedgehog


  • When picking up your hedgehog JUST DO IT!   It is important to move steadily and confidently.  Certainly picking up a hedgehog doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as getting a shot but the spines are sharp and they are gong to prick you to some degree.  How you handle your hedgehog will determine how much they prick you. 
  • Compare picking up a hedgehog to a nurse giving you a shot.   You don’t want her to ram the needle into you but at the same time you don’t want it to be drawn out and extremely slow.  Steady and confident are what you want in a nurse.
  • When you move fast and jerky your hedgehog may feel you are attacking it.
  • Hedgehogs have poor eyesight but they can detect movement very well.  When you hesitate or jerk your hands away from the hedgehog when picking it up, it will sense that you are scared, and in return it will flinch and huff because it will become scared.
  • The more confidence you have with your hedgehog, the more secure the hedgehog will feel with you.
  • Hedgehogs will learn how to respond when they are picked up.  Many times (but not always) a scared, nervous hedgehog has learned to respond that way when picked up.


  • Use both hands to scoop your hedgehog up from underneath.  You can also use the side of the cage to roll the hedgehog onto your hands if you can’t get your hands on both side of the hedgehog.
  • Try to distribute the weight of the hedgehog over your hands.  The more even the pressure of the spines the less it will hurt.  A good comparison is when a performer walks on nails.  They don’t walk on one nail at a time; instead they distribute their weight on many nails.
  • Some people prefer to use the sides of their hands to scoop the hedgie and other people use their fingers to slip under the belly. 
  • You can scoop the hedgie up with bedding for cushioning.  Soft fluffy bedding such as Care Fresh work well for cushioning
  • It is natural for the hedgie to ball up when you are picking it up but as it becomes more comfortable it should begin to uncurl.  Once your hedgehog becomes comfortable with you it may only ball up a little or it may not ball up at all.
  • Do your best to avoid provoking your hedgie to huff and puff.  You can actually teach your hedgehog to react this way when you pick it up.


  • Necessity
    • Quite a few hedgehog books and owners recommend the use of rubber or leather gloves when handling hedgehogs but gloves are NOT a necessary part of hedgie handling.
    • The rational behind using gloves is so that you will be more comfortable handling your pet and that the spines will not poke you.
    • We teach all of our customers how to handle our hedgie babies without gloves.  The hedgehog can get more comfortable with your movements and you won’t be as fearful of its movements.
    • However, using gloves to learn how to pick up your hedgie is better than not handling your hedgehog at all or not having the confidence to pick up your hedgehog properly.
  • Type
    • We suggest using cotton gardening gloves with rubber coated palms and fingers. 
    • Leather gloves are stiffer, harder to maneuver, and more difficult to take off.  They also smell completely different and will be a litter harder for hedgie to acclimate to your hands.
    • It is a good idea to sleep with your cotton gloves under your pillow or tuck them into your shirt so that they are completely permeated with your smell.  That way the hedgie will associate the gloves with you.
  • Technique
    • Use the same method to pick up your hedgehog with gloves as you would without gloves.
    • Let the hedgehog uncurl in your hands and begin to walk around.
    • Once the hedgehog has begun to relax you can start to remove your gloves.
    • Take one glove off and allow the hedgie to get to know your bare skin smell when you and your hedgehog are comfortable with each other.
    • Once one glove is off and the hedgehog is still comfortable you can take off the other glove.
  • Other Methods
    • Some people choose to use a kitty litter scoop to gently lift it up out of its cage.  We don’t recommend using this method because the hedgehog won’t get used to you and it will make handling more difficult in the long run. 
    • Hedgehog prickles may leave little red marks on your skin and depending on your reaction to the prickles they may itch.  Many people find that this irritation is a minor inconvenience and that does not occur every handling.

Huffing, Puffing, and Popping

  • Understanding Huffing, Puffing, and Popping
    • When you first pick up your hedgehog it may have its spines erect and it may make some defensive noises. 
    • It is quite natural for the hedgehog to be scared or nervous and the huffing and puffing noises are an attempt to scare you away.
    • Until your hedgehog knows who you are and that you have good intentions it is simply trying to communicate its uncertainty with you
    • Keep in mind your hedgehog may have just been woke up during what may be for it the middle of the night.  Not too many people enjoy getting woke up from a sound sleep so your hedgehog may be telling you “Hey, I just woke up.  Give me some space.”
    • Listen to your hedgehog’s “language” and watch the way you handle your hedgehog to see what causes them to increase their shyness.
  • What to do about Huffing, Puffing, and Popping
    • As described above picking up your hedgehog properly is the first step in minimizing huffing, puffin, and popping.
    • The best thing to do is nothing!  Simply hold your hedgehog in your hands out away from your body (explore mode) and wait.
    • Don’t attempt to pet your hedgie, but simply allow it to come out of its ball and begin to explore on its own.  Once your hedgehog relaxes it will begin to lay down its quills and move around on your hands.
    • When you hold your hedgehog near your body it will sense your clothing and it may try to burrow into your clothes.  Your hedgehog is less likely to lay down its quills when it is close to your body.
    • DO NOT provoke your hedgehog to huff or hiss by touching its tines while it is in its cage or on the floor.  This encourages the hedgehog to react this way every time a human hand comes near it.  
    • Always pet your hedgehog while it is in your hand.  Never reach into the cage to pet your hedgehog unless your hedgehog is completely comfortable with you.


  • 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 hedgie and it will begin to uncurl and stick its head out to see where it is and what is going on.
    • 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 him/her 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 heard a sound or didn’t like the way you are approaching it with your hands.
  • The Water Method
    • Many hedgehogs enjoy spending time in water as described in our Bathing and Nail Trimming 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 hedgie to uncurl.
    • Gently lower your hedgehog into a shallow pan or tub of water and allow your hedgehog to walk around.
    • I have never known a hedgehog to drown but certainly if you aren’t careful 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.

Explore Mode

  • When your hedgehog uncurls it will most likely begin to explore and start to check out its surroundings. 
  • Some hedgehogs are brave explorers and will immediately uncurl and start walking on your hands. Others will start out by sniffing and duck their head at the slightest of noises.
  • Hedgehogs will not jump but they will walk right off your hands.  As your hedgehog walks off one hand move it in front of it so it has a new walking platform.
  • Hedgehogs are not “fast” when compared to other animals but when a hedgehog starts moving in your hands it will certainly seem quite speedy.
  • As your hedgehog gains confidence exploring in your hands it will gain confidence in you.

Petting Your Hedgehog

  • Even though hedgehogs are “pets” the may not automatically enjoy being petted.  You must first earn your hedgehog’s trust so that it can relax and enjoy your touch rather than fear your touch as potential harm.
  • It is o.k. to begin to attempt to pet your hedgehog once your hedgehog is relaxed and exploring in your hands.
  • When you notice your hedgehog pulling its “visor” down over its eyes that is a signal to you that it isn’t quite comfortable with you yet or it doesn’t like what you are doing.
  • When your hedgehog huffles or puffs, just relax and give your hedgehog time to relax.  Don’t attempt to continue to pet it. 
  • You are actually TEACHING the hedgehog to huff and puff in your hands if you continue to pet the hedgehog when it isn’t ready for you to try and pet it. Give it more time just to explore in your hands so that it gets more comfortable with you.
  • Always pet your hedgehog while it is in your hand.
  • Never reach into the cage to pet your hedgehog unless your hedgehog is completely comfortable with you.


    • Most people know to pet a hedgehog from front to back just as you would with any other animal.
    • I have found that hedgehogs respond much more quickly to petting if done so that it can see your hand, smell your hand, and know what is about to happen.
    • It is important to approach your hedgehog from the front and below eye level.  The most frequent mistake I see in hedgehog handling is that most people are included to approach the hedgehog from behind.
    • It is also important to you firm and deliberate strokes rather than a light pressure over the top of the spines.  Compare the light pressure approach to a tickle and the more firm petting to a massage.  I know I relax when my back is massaged but I tense up and get goose bumps when someone runs a single finger down my spine.

The “Root”

    • The easiest way to pet a hedgehog is to let it do the work for you.  Once your hedgehog is moving around in your hands it is likely to “root” under your thumbs.
    • Pay close attention for opportunities to rub your hedgehog from its nose to the top of its head.  Most likely your hedgehog will lift its nose into your hand as if to say “ah that feels good.
    • The “Tunnel”
    • If you are right handed you will want to hold your hedgie in your left hand.  Make a “V” with your thumb and pointer finger and move your right hand up and over the hedgehog’s nose.
    • Again, by allowing your hedgehog to see, smell and feel your hand coming towards its face, it will be better prepared for your touch.
    • Many hedgehogs will lay down their spines, relax, and lift their head and nose up towards your hands and “tunnel” under your hand as you rub your hand back over its body.
    • Use your whole hand to apply firm pressure over the hedgehog’s spines when petting your hedgehog.  A firm, deliberate pressure is similar to a massage.  Light pressure or a “one finger pet” over their spines is more like a tickle and it will cause the hedgehog to raise its spines rather than to relax.

Grouchy Hedgehogs

  • Hedgehogs are often referred to as “grouchy” when they won’t uncurl, huff, click, or pop.
  • Most grouchy hedgies aren’t truly mean or aggressive they are just shy, scared, and trying to protect themselves.
  • Patience, persistence, and proper handling are essential to winning over your prickly friend.
  • Hedgehogs may go through periods of grouchiness when going through the quilling process, are upset about changes, or are ill.  It is important to watch for these signs especially when changes in behavior occur.

Transitional Behavior

  • It is common for new owners to experience changes in hedgehog behavior between the time they purchase their hedgehog to the time a hedgehog is settled in its new home.
  • This change can occur for many reasons and by understanding these reasons you can help your hedgehog transition smoothly into your home.

New surroundings

  • First, keep in mind your hedgehog is leaving familiar surroundings. 
  • It is leaving its cage-mates and home and entering into a strange new world. 
  • A change in environment and associated affects is often called “shipping stress”.
  • Animals all react differently to change.  Differences in stress levels between animals are even noted at the time of weaning. 

Handling Techniques

  • Handling hedgehogs is prickly business!
  • Owner confidence can range from no fear at all from getting prickled to someone who is basically scared to death of their new pet.
  • Proper handling is something that is learned and perfected with practice.
  • Read and review the tips outlined above to make sure that you are doing what is best to encourage a good response from your pet.


  • The quilling process is likely to already have started or will soon start when you take home a baby hedgehog.
  • Hedgehogs can have a range of pain and discomfort throughout this process similar to a child and teething.
  • Our Quilling article will give you some insight about the process, what you can expect, and ways to ease the discomfort.
  • Try to minimize petting if your hedgehog huffs and puffs which are the first signs of discomfort.  Instead, continue to bond with your hedgehog by allowing the hedgehog to explore you by crawling on you and to get to know your sent by sleeping on you.
  • More bonding tips and information can be found in our Bonding guide