Self-anointing

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Self-anointing

(A peculiar and fascinating part of hedgehog behaviour)

At times when a hedgehog comes in contact with an unfamiliar smell or taste, such as fruit juices, soaps etc., it may lick, bite or chew at the object, attempting to accumulate some of unusual substance in it’s mouth. Then the hedgehog, using it’s tongue, produces a mass of frothy saliva, and spreads the saliva over it’s quills.

While this is a natural behaviour it is more often observed in baby hedgehogs that find everything new and exciting. As pet hedgehogs mature and become accustom to numerous smells and tastes they tend to self-anoint less often. Some of our teenage and adult hedgehogs never bother to self-anoint. We have noticed that when hedgehogs that are not socialized or accustomed to being handled, no matter what their age, will self-anoint more often when they are first introduced to new items and may continue to do so throughout their lives.

The saliva dries quickly and is not noticeable. We do not find self-anointing bothersome. However, whenever one of our hedgehogs does self-anoint we give him or her a quick rinse with slightly warm water, just to make sure they are clean and not sticky.

No one knows for certain why hedgehogs do this. Some people speculate that:

  1. The hedgehog is trying to disguise their own scent with the environment, thus helping to hide from predators.
  2. The hedgehog feels if this tastes bad to himself then maybe it will taste bad to other predators and they will leave me alone.
  3. The foam of the saliva acts as an irritant to the hedgehog's enemies. When the quills come into contact with the delicate skin on the nose or paws of a bothersome creature it will cause a minor irritation making the creature leave in search of another type source of entertainment.
  4. Hedgehogs may be using some of the substances in the frothy saliva to control parasites.

While the reasons why hedgehogs self-anoint may never be fully understood, it truly is a little bizarre and yet a fascinating part of their behaviour.

While some people find this behaviour distasteful or alarming it is important to realize that there is nothing to be alarmed at. It is quite normal.

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