Self-Anointing Behavior

When hedgehogs encounter new smells they have a strange habit of licking and biting those things that smell strongly. They then are able to turn their saliva into foam (a similar consistency to foaming hand soaps) which they then lick over as much of their bodies as they can with their long tongues. It is not clearly understood why they do this exactly, but the most likely reason is that they are trying to camouflage their scent with something from their surrounding. Don’t worry – your new pet does not have rabies or any other disease, nor is your hedgehog car sick. This is just normal hedgehog behavior.

If you are holding a hedgehog and they begin to lick you, then put them down and go wash your hands well. They are fixating on a smell on your hands and want to self-anoint with it. The next stage after licking is sometimes for them to bite if the smell is really interesting or intense for them. They do not bite because they don’t like you. It is actually the oposite – they bite because they like whatever they are smelling and this is just a natural thing for them to do when there is a new smell that they want to self-anoint with. Often a new smell could be some food you ate, hand lotions, or if you smoke or have even been near someone who was smoking. If they continue to lick after you have washed your hands, then you can try holding them in your lap with your hands nearby for them to smell – just pull your hands away if they start to lick them again. Eventually they will get used to you and your house smells and this behavior will stop. An easy way to help them adjust faster is to rub a small amount of the smell on some fleece that you can leave in the cage for a couple of days so they can self-annoint with that without the risk of them biting your hand. This is especially necessary when you smoke or come in contact regularly with someone who smokes. It is recommended that for someone in this situation bring a piece of fleece that has been near or even on the person who smokes so that your new pet can get used to the smell while you are taking them home and it won’t cause too much excitement for them once you do get them home.

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