How can I effectively re-socialize an African pygmy hedgehog?
December 6, 2010 9:35 PM   Subscribe

[TraumatizedHedgehogFilter] How can I effectively re-socialize an African pygmy hedgehog?

Hello hive mind, perhaps you can give me a few tips.

I recently came into possession of a rather adorable albino african-pygmy hedgehog. I never really planned on owning a hedgehog and I didn't really know much about hedgehogs until the other day when he was given to me.

The reason I have him is fairly simple, his previous owner was not taking care of him very well at all. The level of care has been described to me by mutual friends as (at best) neglectful and (at worst) abusive.

So, now I appear to have a somewhat emotionally traumatized spiky little creature entrusted into my care. I could use a bit of help trying to coax him out of his hedgehog PTSD.

His behaviour is as follows. He stays inside his hiding spot almost exclusively. I'm sure he sometimes uses his exercise wheel (since there always seems to be droppings in it) but he almost never comes out when I'm in the room. He eats and drinks well enough, but if I so much as show my face over the cage he balls up and starts hissing.

My strategy so far has been mainly to try and give him positive associations with my scent and presence. I've been leaving worn articles of my clothing in his cage so he gets used to my scent, as well as a few treats tucked into them to try and give him some positive stimulus. Also, on a few occasions I have taken him out of his cage (amid hissing spiky protests) and sat him on my lap with some treats and just waited for him to uncurl and relax a bit. This seems to be helping a little, as he now takes a shorter time to calm down. However, he still hiss and spikes up whenever I move suddenly, make any noise, or make any attempt to directly interact with him.

I realize that really the only cure here is time, but does anyone have any tips for me? My main concerns (other than generally preferring to have pets which don't hate me) is to make sure he's not doing himself any damage by being so stressed (I seem to recall someone telling me that hedgehogs are prone to stress attacks which could lead to premature death) and I want to be able to take care of him effectively (in his current state I honestly can't imagine being able to trim his nails or bathe him without him having some sort of apoplexy)

Any advice the hive mind can provide will be deeply appreciated by both me and my spiky little ward. Thanks kindly!
posted by sarastro to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If he never gets better, it's not necessarily your fault. My sister had a hamster who was relentlessly horrible to her after spending too long in a pet store. She never got it to bond with her. When your brain is the size of a peanut, habits can really get ingrained. Others will have experience that will be useful - I'm just saying if nothing works, it might well be because nothing can work and don't feel bad.
posted by Dasein at 10:21 PM on December 6, 2010

Can you take your hedgehog to the vet? A checkup might help reassure you that your new pet is indeed fine, and is just getting used to you. At the very least, you can try calling a vet for some information on hedgehogs.

Maybe you can try putting his cage higher, so that when you approach him, its not from a oh-no-giant-hand-in-the-sky perspective. Any type of skittish animal that I've been around, I try to approach from below their eye level.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:19 PM on December 6, 2010

Best answer: Hedgehogs are sometimes never all that social. Unfortunately, what happens to them early in their lives really sets the tone for how interactive they are. I had hedgehogs, and several times a very social baby would end up being a crotchety adult/

I'd suggest making a "snuggle sack" for your new hedger. Make a soft bag out of flannel for him (line it, too, so no seams for claws to get caught in! important!) and take him out of his cage and offer the snuggle sack as a place to hide. Initially, this may mean gently taking your hissing, shaking spike-ball and placing him in the snuggle sack. Then set the snuggle sack on your lap (which is warm), and place a comforting hand on the snuggle sack, and ignore him for 20 minutes or so while you read a book, or speak in a low, comforting voice.

The vital thing is that he *needs* to get used to getting out of his cage and used to having you reach in and lift him out. Be gentle, be consistent, and understand that some hedgehogs are never able to overcome those early experiences and be friendly, and some will never be friendly no matter how well socialized they are.

Also consider getting him a ball to roll around in on the floor. Most hedgehogs I've known LOVE those things (though you will certainly have to remove hedgehog droppings from it...)
posted by arnicae at 11:52 PM on December 6, 2010

Our hedger is very social. The vet said he was one of the most social hedgehogs she'd ever seen. And he still won't leave his hiding spot if anyone is in the room. I think he sleeps 23 hours a day, only leaving to snatch bits of kibble and go for a run on the wheel in the dead of the night.

Balling and hissing is fine while he gets used to you. We had a designated hog blanket that we used to picked him up when ours was new. Take him out every day. You don't have to play with him actively, just make sure that he gets used to you. Even if he won't unfurl, just let him sit on your lap when you watch TV. Petting the back and the neck is usually fine. You may have to work your way up to petting his fur, neck, and face. Give it a try though and if he rolls up just go back to watching TV.
posted by valadil at 8:33 AM on December 7, 2010

Seconding what arnicae said.

Our little girl was not very social at first so we made a wearable snuggle sack and we'd wear her around the house for a couple of hours at a time until she started to relax.
posted by dolface at 10:44 AM on December 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips everyone! I think I'll try making a snuggle sack as you recommended. Hopefully that will help!
posted by sarastro at 11:56 AM on December 7, 2010

FYI, just take four rectangles of soft baby flannel (you can get it for cheap at fabric stores, and sew it with right sides together, leaving a ~2" hole. Trim the seams, carefully turn it inside out, then hand sew the hole. Then tuck half of the rectangle into the other half, and you have a lined snuggle sack! Even if you aren't a big time sewer, it should take less than 20 minutes total. And much more fun than buying one. Just make sure you make it big enough that it can offer a great cave for your guy (plenty of room to hide in the shadows and let the entrance of the cave flop over your nose if you'd like to hide)

Also, remember that hedgies NEED to hide a lot of time. If you can, you could position the cage so that half of the cage is hidden already, then give him the igloo (or shoe box) to hide in as well. You might find that he's more willing to be bold if part of his cage is already protected, for example tucked under the bed. OR just hang a towel over half of the cage.

Do you live in a busy place? Do you have loud roomies, or any other animals? If so, this is part of why your hedger is scared right now. If you do have a busy home environment, see if you can find a quiet place for him to live. It would be ideal if other four-footers wouldn't be able to stroll right up to the cage until he is more secure in his new place.

Hedgehogs are wonderful pets. And it is wonderful that you took a animal in who needed love.
posted by arnicae at 1:15 PM on December 7, 2010

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