When a hedgehog encounters a new smell it can react by first licking and then biting the object in question creating a frothy lather in their mouths. They then begin licking their quills spreading this lather over themselves. It is amazing the contortions that they can get into to reach that 'desired' spot. If not forewarned about this behaviour, it can be rather alarming for a new owner when first witnessing this.
There are several theories as to why they do this, from trying to disguise their own scent to attempting to spread potential toxins onto their quills to protect themselves from predators, but the real reason for this peculiar behaviour isn't known.
The pictures below show Hector going through the process of anointing.
Hedgehogs grow and lose quills throughout their lives (as we do strands of hair) and it is not uncommon to find the odd quill lying at the bottom of the cage. However they also go through several 'quillings', which is the shedding of baby quills to make way for the growing adult ones.
The major quilling tends to happen between 8 and 12 weeks of age and has been likened to a human baby going through teething. While some hedgehogs seem to go through this process without any problems, many become rather grumpy and are not happy at being handled. When your hedgehog is going through this stage you must keep handling them despite their protests. A young hedgehog must be handled daily to keep it tame and friendly.
If your hog seems to be suffering, a good way to relieve some of their discomfort is to give them an oatmeal bath. Aveeno makes a soothing oatmeal bath that you just sprinkle into the water, or you can make your own using porridge oats tied up in a piece of muslin (or even some old tights) and run under the tap when filling the bath turning the water a milky colour. Only fill the bath or sink a couple of inches (so their feet can still touch the bottom) and use a cup to carefully pour the water over the hogs back. Don't rinse the oatmeal bathwater off as it will continue to sooth afterwards.
While quilling there should never be any bald spots visible, if there are then there may be another reason for quill loss, such as mites.
These are a fairly common problem and are not a sign of poor husbandry. A hedgehog can get mites lots of different ways, such as from their mothers, other animals in the home, infested woodshavings, etc.
Signs of mites are, dry flaky skin, itchiness, excessive quill loss (outside normal quilling periods), bald spots, even discharge around the eyes, ears and nose.
Treatment for mites has to be obtained from your vet. DO NOT LET YOUR VET USE IVERMECTIN (IN ANY FORM) ON YOUR HEDGEHOG, IT IS NOT SAFE AND IN SEVERE CASES HAS CAUSED DEATH.
The only safe treatment for mites in African pygmy hedgehogs is selamectin spot-on. The brand name for this product in the states is Revolution, over here in the U.K it is called Stronghold and it is the 15 microgram pipette for puppies and kittens that should be used.
For hedgehogs under 400g the dosage is simply 1 drop from the pipette between the shoulder blades (try and get it on the skin between the quills) and for those over 400g place a second drop further down the spine near the rump. A single pipette should hold enough for several hedgehogs.
Stronghold is completely safe and has been used on hedgehogs of all ages as well as nursing and pregnant hogs.
Temperature is very important when keeping African pygmy hedgehogs. They need to be kept warm enough or they may attempt to hibernate. Unlike their European cousins, African hedgehogs in the wild do not hibernate and should not be allowed to try as they would not survive.
As stated in the 'Care' page, typically as long as the temperature doesn't drop below 65 degrees most hedgehogs are fine. However some hedgehogs require a higher temperature and may attempt hibernation at temperatures as high as 72 degrees. Another cause can be not enough light, making the hedgehog think that it is winter and so time to hibernate.
If your hedgehog is acting sluggish, his belly is cold to the touch or is refusing to wake up then it may be attempting to hibernate. If this is the case then you must heat it up as quickly as possible. A good way to do this is by using your own body heat, just place the hedgehog directly onto the skin of your stomach, under your top. Hopefully your hedgehog should soon start to come around. When he seems more lively you can put him back into his cage but you must keep him warm, once a hedgehog has attempted to hibernate he is very likely to try it again.
If your hedgehog does not start to come around then you must take him to the vets straight away, making sure that you keep him as warm as possible when doing so.
Please do not use any product containing tea tree oil on your hedgehog as it has been found to be highly toxic for African pygmy hedgehogs and can be deadly.