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7:46 PM   October 31, 2014
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Hedgehogs Have Heart

These critters are hardy and can bond with their owners.
By Margaret Cullison

While few states forbid the sale or ownership of hedgehogs, these critters make better pets than you think. (Photo courtesy of Joan Balzarini)
Hedgehogs that people keep as pets aren’t the larger European hedgehogs some might think. African pygmy hedgehogs have been bred in captivity for 15 years. They are still exotic, but they fit comfortably in the palm of a person’s hand. When surprised or frightened they roll up into baseball-size bundles. 
   
Short spines cover their backs and sides. This invites a comparison to porcupines, but hedgehog spines aren’t barbed. They feel like the bristles of a hairbrush and lie flat unless the animal senses danger. The hedgehog sheds the spines, one by one, every 18 months to make room for new ones. Hedgehogs live an average of four to six years.

Legal Issues
A few states, cities and counties forbid the sale or ownership of pygmy hedgehogs as pets. Retailers can check local and regional ordinances before deciding to offer them for sale.

“If a pet store decides to sell hedgehogs, it has to apply for a license from the animal division of the United States Department of Agriculture,” says Kelly Sosik-Hamor, owner of Hamor Hollow Hedgehogs, a breeding and rescue facility in Pelham, N.H.
    
After initial licensing, retailers can expect periodic inspections.

People Pets

Quick Critter Facts

  • Hedgehogs should not be forced out of their protective balls.
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  • They rarely bite but sometimes hiss when frightened.
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  • Hedgehogs react to unusual smells by creating foamy saliva that they spread on their quills to possibly deter predators.
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  • They may taste things they’re attracted to, so owners can make sure to avoid products that could harm them if eaten.
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  • Some hedgehogs are lactose intolerant and should eat only small amounts of dairy products.
Prospective buyers should be warned that hedgehogs wake up about the time humans want to sleep. The animals can be wakened during the day but need time to “come to” before playful interaction with owners begins.

“They have the ability to identify and bond with their owner,” says Brandy Rockwell, who has cared for rescued hedgehogs and works as a receptionist at the Pacific Veterinary Clinic in Grants Pass, Ore.

If a person is relaxed, the animal will also be able to relax, Sosik-Hamor says. When feeling tense, the animal raises its quills in defensive mode.

“I encourage people to come in to visit and to hold the animals and feel their quills,” Sosik-Hamor says.

She encourages her customers to go home and discuss the experience before deciding to buy hedgehogs. This ensures that owners and animals will be compatible. Children make good hedgehog companions when given proper guidance and education, Sosik-Hamor says.
    
“If the parents like animals and want to have one, the child will, too,” she says.

What to Expect
In their native habitat of central Africa, pygmy hedgehogs live in forests and deserts. As nocturnal animals, they spend their days in abandoned animal burrows or tree stumps. Their roaming range at night extends beyond a mile as they satisfy an omnivore’s appetite for fruit, bugs and worms.

Usually chocolate brown in color, captive hedgehogs are being bred for more color choices. These include gray and black; cinnacot and apricot, which are shades of dark and light orange; and champagne and albino. Patterns of any one color and white include snowflake, where 25 percent to 80 percent of the animal’s quills are white; pinto, a partial albino; and all white, where almost all quills are white.

Sosik-Hamor says she breeds for color to some degree but prefers to concentrate on producing healthy and personable babies. She advises retailers to buy the hedgehogs they stock from reputable breeders to ensure receiving healthy, well-socialized animals.

Care Concerns
Hardy and relatively disease free, hedgehogs have low-maintenance appeal as pets. They don’t chew on things and are nearly odorless.

“Hedgehogs are one of the easiest animals to take care of,” Rockwell says.

One concern, though, is they are temperature sensitive and require a range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Clues like sluggishness and bellies that feel cool to the touch indicate the animal needs a warmer environment. 

Sosik-Hamor says hedgehogs go into false hibernation when they get too cold. Hibernation can be fatal if not caught in time.

“An animal can be warmed up by holding it close to your body for a while,” Sosik-Hamor says. “How quickly they warm up depends on how far into hibernation they’ve gone.”

Habitat Essentials
Hedgehogs are solitary creatures and generally don’t do well sharing a cage. Some females will tolerate the company of other females, especially if they’ve been raised together. Males and females shouldn’t share the same cage.


Hardy and relatively disease free, hedgehogs have low-maintenance appeal as pets.


 

Housing parameters can be similar to those of a guinea pig, Sosik-Hamor says. The cage should be at least 2 feet square with solid plastic flooring. An 11-inch-diameter exercise wheel with a solid surface is recommended. Tiny feet could get caught in mesh or wire of a floor or wheel.

Hiding places such as a snuggle sack or small house give hedgehogs security and a place to sleep during the day. Other accessories retailers might want to stock include water bottles and bowls and small, low bowls for food.

Bedding can be a liner that’s changed daily or substrate made of pine or aspen. Sosik-Hamor doesn’t recommend corn cob bedding because it’s rough on feet and molds easily. Cedar bedding and clay cat litter cause health problems and shouldn’t be used.

Rockwell recommends nonabsorbent bedding that has to be changed frequently, because a clean cage helps keep the animal healthy.
“They should not be kept in an aquarium,” Rockwell says.

Glass-walled structures lack room for exercise and inhibit ventilation flow. Rockwell says doubling the suggested cage size provides space to climb, an activity hedgehogs perform in the wild.

When owners choose to litter train their pets, they’ll need ferret-style litter boxes and nonclumping cat litter.

Follow Food with Exercise
A captive hedgehog requires a diet similar to what its relatives in the wild eat.

Commercial hedgehog food can be purchased, but some owners prefer premium low-fat food for mature cats. High-protein food also is not recommended, although further research would be valuable.

“Not a lot of research has been done on hedgehogs’ nutritional requirements,” Sosik-Hamor says.

Rockwell says her rescued hedgehogs responded well to quality cat food and fresh fruits and vegetables combined with live food such as silkworms, butterworms and crickets. Mealworms have hard shells and can be offered sparingly.

To increase exercise potential, Rockwell suggests putting a hedgehog in a large enclosed space to catch live prey. Run-about-balls big enough for guinea pigs encourage exercise, and small-mammal playpens provide a wider area to explore outside the cage.

“It’s not wise to let them run around unattended,” Sosik-Hamor says. Hedgehogs search out dark hiding places and might disappear when left alone in a room.

Knowledge Works
Rockwell says neglect of her rescued hedgehogs happened because their owners didn’t understand the animals or how to care for them.

“The most important thing for retailers to provide is information about caring for hedgehogs when customers buy one,” Rockwell says.

Store managers benefit from educating their sales staff so they can inform customers about hedgehog husbandry. This promotes even more sales as owners keep coming back to buy food and accessories for their pets. <HOME>


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