Anointing and the flehmen response

Hedgehogs can occasionally foam at the mouth. This delights children and worries adults. The process called "self-anointing" is triggered by new or unusual scents in the hedgehog's cage or on its handler. Scents can include a variety of things, including food, furniture, leather, another hedgehog, the hedghog's own smell or poop. The hedgehog will lick and sometimes even chew on the scented oject, then produce large amounts of frothy saliva. The hedgehog will then turn its head back and spread the saliva on its back and flanks with its long tongue. Some hedgehogs self anoint frequently; others rarely perform this behaviour. It is a most unusual act to witness and may be frightening to new owners if they have not been informormed about this odd behaviour.

No one is sure what the purpose of self anointing is, but it may be a way of making the hedgehog's quills more effective weapons by coating them with toxic substances. Some people experience an itching or burning sensation after handling hedgehogs; this may be due to the saliva coating the quills. Some experts think that the purpose of this behaviour is part of the hedgehog's mating ritual, that perhaps acts like a perfume to attract members of the opposite sex. Others believe it is an attempt on the part of the hedgehog to smell like other objects in its enviornment for purposes of self-defense. The saliva will carry the scent of the chewed substance and allow the hedgehog to blend in with its surroundings.

In addition to self anointing, hedgehogs, when scenting or tasting, may hold their nose high in the air, the mouth slightly open and the upper lip curled in a curious gesture. This shows that the hedgehog is smelling something interesting or dangerous and is extremely attentive to its surroundings. This posture, similar to that seen in dogs and horses, is known as the flehmen response.

anointing