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Hedgehog Self-Anointing – Why Do They Spit On Themselves?

Getting a pet hedgehog is only the first step towards a fulfilled life with the right pet. There are still several behaviors you will come across during the pet’s lifetime. Behaviors differ among different hedgehogs, and you will take time to learn the ones in your pet.

Even so, some like self-anointing are found in all hedgehogs. This is a mysterious behavior that most pet owners do not understand. Moreover, it looks quite strange and causes some pet owners to panic.

Owing to the lack of adequate information on what self-anointing constitutes, here are tidbits that will explain the behavior and help you understand your hedgehog.

What Is Self-Anointing?

Self-anointing looks pretty weird, but it is a completely normal behavior in hedgehogs. The behavior involves your pet covering its spine in a frothy saliva mixture for a few minutes to several hours.

Self-anointing typically has no certain preceding symptoms though it is often accompanied by foaming at the hedgehog’s mouth. The hedgehog will lick and spread the foamy saliva onto its back.

When self-anointing, your pet can contort its body into all manner of weird positions just so that it can reach all inches of its prickly body. In general, your hedgehog might look like it is having a mini-seizure when self-anointing.

Self-Anointing In Hedgehogs

Unfortunately, there is no definite answer as to why hedgehogs self-anoint. The leading reason for this is that minimal resources have been dedicated to finding the answer because the behavior does not harm the animal.

Even so, a few theories have been cited as the reasons for self-anointing in hedgehogs. Here are these theories:

– It is a self-defense mechanism

It is possible that a hedgehog self-anoints so that it can mask its natural scent and match it to its current environment. Though the efficacy of this behavior in this instance is contentious, this is not the first time that an animal has used its saliva for protection when threatened.

The self-defense theory is backed by the fact that hedgehogs typically self-anoint when they encounter new scents.

– It forms a protective toxic coating with its saliva

Hedgehogs are among the few animals in the wild that are resistant to various toxins. When threatened, the animals are thought to be coating their bodies with a toxic substance in their saliva. The toxic substance is meant to protect them from predators.

This theory is backed by the fact that wild hedgehogs can safely eat animals considered poisonous to other predators. As such, their saliva is thought to be semi-toxic.

– It is a non-adaptive behavior

Another theory suggests that self-anointing in hedgehogs might be a non-adaptive behavior. This means that it is a peculiar activity that has been passed down by different hedgehog generations and has not evolved to boost the animals’ survival chances.

This theory suggests that the saliva used to self-anoint cools the hedgehog’s spines or is a by-product of non-functional stimulants.

– It is a type of sexual behavior

According to one theory, hedgehog quills will retain scents that can be used to attract sexual partners. Self-anointing might thus be used to heighten a hedgehog’s natural scent and attract other animals for mating.

Is Self-Anointing Bad For Hedgehogs?

No, there have been no adverse effects reported by hedgehog owners because their pets have self-anointed. The behavior is largely considered ridiculous, and in the end, it is harmless.

Generally, there is no reason for you to worry when you see your pet hedgehog self-anointing. In most cases, baby hedgehogs will self-anoint more than adults. This might be because the young hedgehog is not exposed to so many scents and might interpret them as threatening, according to the self-defense theory.

Furthermore, male hedgehogs are thought to self-anoint more frequently compared to their female counterparts.

What to Do If Your Hedgehog is Self-Anointing?

There is nothing you are meant to do when your hedgehog is self-anointing. The foam spittle that the hedgehog spreads all over its body is not poisonous. It will dry and leave a clear body, so it does not need any special clean-up for your hedgehog to look “normal”.

Even so, you can clean up after the episode depending on how much saliva has dripped around the hedgehog’s environment when self-anointing. You can simply wipe this off using a damp paper towel.

Do not use any soap or cleaning wash to wash your hedgehog or clean its environment after the self-anointing. This is because the new smell this introduces might trigger another self-anointing episode.

Should You Touch a Self-Anointing Hedgehog?

No, do not touch a hedgehog when it is self-anointing. Though self-anointing, as indicated above, is harmless, some pet owners find it repulsive or do not understand it. Moreover, the animal is often too engrossed in the behavior and might take a long time self-anointing.

Touching the hedgehog when it is self-anointing can have negative effects. Though the process has little to no benefits for a pet hedgehog the animal does not know this. When distracted from self-anointing, your prickly friend often feels anxious or unsafe.

This stresses it and affects its lifespan and health in the long run. Let your pet hedgehog continue its natural behaviors, like self-anointing, so that it feels safe and comfortable in your home.

Wrapping Up

The above information has hopefully made clear why your pet hedgehog self-anoints and how best to handle the behavior. While it might initially look odd, do not let it worry you. In fact, after understanding it, most pet owners consider the behavior somewhat fun to watch.

However, if you still consider it a disconcerting, remember that all animals, like humans, have their small flukes. For a pet hedgehog, the fluke might be self-anointing. Even so, there are many positive behaviors that the animal exudes so do not write it off only because the self-anointing irritates you.

However, you can minimize the behavior by washing your hands each time before you handle your hedgehog. This way, there are minimal, if no new scents that will trigger self-anointing.

Hedgehogs - Updated: November 29, 2020
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.

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