You will be able to tell how your pet hedgehog is feeling from its body language and the sounds it makes. Here are some of its typical responses and what they signify.
Rolling into a ball is a defence mechanism and it means it is frightened or doesn’t like what’s going on around it. Reasons for this could be sharp noises, the smell of a predator or when a person it doesn’t know tries to handle it. Hedgehogs also sleep rolled up in a ball but not as tightly as when it is in its defensive posture.
Raising its forehead spines
Hedgehogs will raise the spines on their foreheads to protect its eyes whenever it is feeling wary or distrustful. It will often raise its spines when you are caressing its back and your hand strays to close to its head. When young hedgehogs play together they always keep their forehead spines raised.
Once your pet hedgehog gets to know and trust you, it will keep its spines flat while you are caressing it. It might take a while longer for it to stop raising its forehead spines.
The flehmen response
When a hedgehog smells something interesting or dangerous it will hold its snout high with its mouth slightly open and its top lip curled back. This behaviour is known as the flehmen response and is also seen in cats and dogs.
You will sometimes see your hedgehog foaming at the mouth and if you don’t know what’s happening it can be quite disconcerting at first. This behaviour typically occurs when it smells something new in its cage or its surroundings. It will sometimes lick or chew the scented object and salivate profusely producing foam. It will then spread the foam over the spines of its back and neck and the hair along its flanks. Nobody is really quite sure why it does this and theories range from it being a way adding a form of toxin to its spines to deter predators, a kind of perfume to attract a mate or a defensive strategy to make the hedgehog blend in with its surroundings.
The most noticeable and frequent sound your hedgehog will make is the huffing and snuffling noise you will hear as it searches for food or moves things around in its cage. It will also hiss and make a jumping motion if it disturbed or annoyed. You’ll hear soft grunts or sniffs of contentment as it goes about the important business of feeding. If you hear loud screaming or squeals it means your hedgehog is in severe pain or danger. If you have more than one hedgehog in a cage it may mean they are fighting and they should be separated immediately. Baby hedgehogs make a chirping sound that later turns into a cry which can become loud and piercing if they find themselves separated from their mother. A happy hedgehog will make soft snuffling noises as they crawl all over you but will hiss and huff if they are startled by something while being handled. Hedgehogs will often snore while sleeping and make other noises that may indicate they are dreaming.
Observing your hedgehog
Apart from the typical responses and behaviour mentioned above, you’ll also find that your hedgehog will develop its own individual characteristics and quirks. One author reports that one of his hedgehogs learned to stand on its back legs and lean its fore paws against his leg when it wanted attention. If you observe your pet you’ll soon learn about how it is trying to communicate with you and further increase your enjoyment of owning your spiky little friend.