Hedgehogs have some pretty strange quirks, one of which is a behavior known as self-anointing. If you're new to hedgehogs, or just researching them for the first time, this might be the first time you've ever heard of it.
It's actually still something we still don't have an exact answer for, but we have a few good theories.
Now, before we actually dive into what self-anointing is and why hedgehogs do it. Let me first say it's not something to be concerned about. Self-Anointing is a completely normal behavior and in no way harmful.
But lets jump right in!
What is Self-Anointing?
It's definitely an odd behavior that might cause you some concern when you see it for the first time.
You'll notice your hedgehog contort itself into an odd position and begin to apply saliva to their quills, or spines. You may also notice a slight frothing or foaming around their mouth as they spread the saliva across their back.
When you see it for the first time you might think your hedgehog has some sort of horrible disease or having a seizure. I know the first time I saw a hedgehog self-anoint my first thought was to call a veterinarian.
But, don't worry, this is completely normal behavior and nothing to worry about! Other than looking odd, why do hedgehogs put saliva on their quills?
Why Do Hedgehogs-Self Anoint?
Truth be told, we don't know with absolutely certainty why hedgehogs self-anoint. However, we do have a couple theories that seem to be the most likely reason.
The behavior is generally triggered by a change in their environment or new and unusual scents. We actually notice it happen most often when new owners are introduced to their hedgehogs for the very first time.
This is the first time most of our babies are exposed to a person other than us, or brand new smells. Others notice it when new bedding is introduced or when you start to use a new form of perfume or cologne.
Although we don't know with absolutely certainty why they do this, these are the most likely reasons:
Scent Masking As Camouflage
When a hedgehog is applying saliva to their quills, or self-anointing, they are attempting to mask their natural scent and more closely match their new environment.
I'm not entirely sure how successful this is in actually masking scent, but it seems the most likely theory for us.
It also matches up to how quickly it tends to happen when they're introduced to new smells. If we switch bedding we almost immediately notice them chew it, then quickly apply this new scent to their own spines.
Others also believe they do this for scents they enjoy or find pleasant. I personally find this theory to be unlikely, but it is entirely possible.
Protective Coating As Defense
Another possible theory is that hedgehogs self-anoint to coat their quills, or spines, in a protective film of potentially toxic saliva.
Now you might be thinking, wait a second. Does my hedgehog have poisonous saliva?
However, unlike most other animals, hedgehogs are far more resilient to toxins found in the wild. This means hedgehogs have the unique ability to eat a variety of poisonous and venomous plants and animals that would generally be toxic to other animals.
The theory is that this toxin from the animal or plant rests in their saliva and can then be applied to their spines as a further defense against predators.
If this is the case, your domesticated pet hedgehog won't have any of this toxin in their saliva. They instead have an implanted behavior that may take many generations of captivity to get out of doing.
So now that we have a rough idea of whey hedgehogs self-anoint, do we need to worry about it?
Is Self-Anointing Harmful?
Self-Anointing is in no way harmful to your hedgehog and a completely normal behavior. Although we might not be 100% certain why they do it, we do know its harmless.
It might be concerning to see your hedgehog contort itself in odd positions, or see some foaming at their mouth, but your hedgehog is completely safe. And please don't attempt to stop them from doing it.
There's no reason to cause them stress or anxiety for a behavior that is completely safe and normal.
Self-Anointing is completely normal behavior and not something you should worry yourself over. Although we still don't know with absolute certainty why they do it, it's most likely a defense mechanism when exposed to a new environment.
We notice it most often amongst our hedgehog when they're exposed to a new scent or moved to a new environment.
Because of that we find the theory of scent masking the most likely reason for this behavior. Again, there is absolutely nothing to worry about when you see you hedgehog doing this.
It's completely normal!