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Hedgehog FAQ [3/7] - Intro to Hedgehogs as pets

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Archive-name: hedgehog-faq/part3
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Keywords: faq pet hedgehogs

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Last-modified: 20 October 2008
Version: 3.115

Compiled and edited by Brian MacNamara (
Additions, corrections, and suggestions for this file are welcomed.

This document is copyright 2008 by Brian MacNamara.  See section [0.6]
for authorship information and redistribution rights.  In short, you
can give it away, but you can't charge for it.

The basic Hedgehog FAQ has seven parts, all of which should be available
from wherever you obtained this one.  A complete table of contents for
all seven parts is given in part I.

Please note:  While my knowledge of hedgehogs has grown (far beyond my
wildest expectations when I began the FAQ), my knowledge is still quite
limited, especially in areas of health care.  I did not write, or verify, 
all the information in this FAQ.  I have done my best to include only 
accurate and useful information, but I cannot guarantee the correctness 
of what is contained in this FAQ, regardless of the source, or even that 
it will not be harmful to you or your hedgehog in some way.  For advice 
from an expert, I recommend you consult the books listed in part 2 [2.1], 
or, especially in the case of a suspected medical problem, a veterinarian 
who is familiar with hedgehogs.

Subject: CONTENTS OF THIS FILE 3. *** Introduction to pet hedgehogs *** <3.1> What are hedgehogs? Should I get one? What's good and bad about them as pets? <3.2> Where are pet hedgehogs illegal? <3.3> Are hedgehogs wild animals? <3.4> What's the average hedgehog lifespan? <3.5> I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to hedgehogs? <3.6> Do hedgehogs smell? <3.7> Do hedgehogs have tails? <3.8> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog? <3.9> Her-hog or Him-hog? What sex is Prickles? 4. *** Getting a pet hedgehog *** <4.1> Which types/colours are there? Male or female? What age? <4.2> How many should I get? <4.3> What to look for in a hedgehog / How to choose a hedgehog <4.4> How can I find a hedgehog breeder/contact in my area? <4.5> When Hedgie comes home <4.6> Hedgehog handling / socializing <4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/ rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 3. *** Introduction to hedgehogs ***
Subject: <3.1> What are hedgehogs? Should I get one? What's good and bad about them as pets? Hedgehogs are small insectivores, looking much like an upside-down oval bowl, that is covered with sharp quills, which feel much like a bristly brush, with an adorable little face and ears peeking out from one end. Neither legs nor tail are very visible during normal movement. Hedgehogs roll into a ball of interlocking spines when threatened, leaving themselves all but invulnerable to any natural predator. Hedgehogs do have soft fur on their faces and bellies, and so are not entirely prickly. Their spines or quills have no barbs on them, and feel much like a stiff brush, rather than bunch of needles, unless the hedgehog is very upset. Some hedgehogs have what appears to be a narrow reverse Mohawk hairdo (a narrow furrow that runs lengthwise), though this is not present in all species (e.g., the Egyptian hedgehog doesn't have this). It isn't a scar, they haven't lost quills. It is natural and helps the quills point forward without getting crossed when they bristle. -- Katherine Long Ranging in size from approximately 4 to 9 inches, or 10 to 22 cm, in length, mature African Pigmy hedgehogs look for all the world to be little armoured tanks being led around by one of the busiest noses in the animal kingdom. Hedgehogs tend to be quite nervous in their temperament, and will generally duck their head down, accompanied by rapid snuffling or snorting. This presents a very prickly forehead to any possible enemies. The more used to you (and awake) a hedgehog is, the less they will duck down and snuffle, and the more their quills will be flat. The hedgehogs that we keep as pets, throughout North and South America [4.1], and I believe many other parts of the world, have managed to muddy the already very clouded waters of hedgehog taxonomy. What we call ``African Pigmy'' hedgehogs, are actually a hybrid of a couple of species from northern and central Africa. Specifically, they are a combination of the Algerian (Atelerix algirus) and the White-bellied (A. albiventris). The Southern African or Cape hedgehog (A. frontalis) is not really part of the mixture, although they do seem to be sporatically kept as pets in their native regions. The status or categorization of the Pruner's hedgehog (A. pruneri) is up in the air, and this may actually be an alternate name for the Cape hedgehog (A. frontalis). Just to add to the mess, there is more than a little uncertainty which species actually makes up what we call the long-eared, or Egyptian hedgehog, in the pet world. You see, there are Long-eared hedgehogs (Hemiechinus auritus), and there are Egyptian hedgehogs (not an official name from what I can tell, most likely these being Ethiopian hedgehogs) (Paraechinus aethiopicus). Both of these, as you can tell by their taxonomic names, are of quite different genera let alone species. So, as you can see, things are a more than a bit muddled when it comes to deciding which hedgehog is what. I must extend my regards to Nigel Reeve, whose research helped provide some sense of consistency to all of this, at last. To add to the fray, here are some comments from Nathan Tenny: Hedgehog taxonomy is kind of a mess, and they have multiple Latin names; the leader now seems to be Erinaceus albiventris, but one also sees Atelerix albiventris and Atelerix pruneri. (I think that Pruner's hedgehog is now considered to be a separate species, but it hasn't always been.) [this remains pretty uncertain and iffy in most research that I've found - ed.] There may be some overlap with Erinaceus frontalis [Atelerix does seem to have become the accepted genus name for A. frontalis - ed.] as well, and just to complicate matters, older works refer to the genus Atelerix as Aethechinus. Grzimek's Animal Encyclopedia says that they weigh about 200-220 grams (about seven ounces); this is for wild animals. Captives seem to be much larger; the smallest of our three hedgehogs is 250 g and growing, and our large male weighs about 400-450 g when he isn't overweight. (However, all our animals have come from exceptionally large bloodlines.) Adults are about six to eight inches long, depending on how far they're stretching when you measure. Hedgehogs are basically nocturnal; they may wake up a couple of times during the day to wander around their enclosures, get a snack or a drink of water, and so on, but they really get active late at night (ours wake up between 10 PM and midnight, but that may be because that's when we turn the lights off). Whether they have wonderful personalities depends on your taste. Your prospective hedgehog will sleep all day, and, while it may well become quite sociable when awake, it probably will not let you pick it up when it wants to sleep. (Can you blame it? More to the point, can you argue with it?) We've never met an African hedgehog that would bite aggressively, though there are rumours of such. (Note that all the Africans we've known have been not only captive-bred but hand-raised from infancy; we make no guarantees about imports or non-socialized animals.) They do explore with their mouths, so if you smell interesting, you may get licked or nipped; they have fairly sharp teeth (a row of short pegs with points, but nothing drastic). As pets go, hedgehogs are generally not cuddly lap-fungus type pets, but if you want something that's a little different, not too big, and definitely adorable, then maybe a hedgehog is for you. If, however, you have been fascinated by hedgehogs for about twenty years, like I have, there is just no question. Among their pros and cons, you should keep in mind the nocturnal nature of hedgehogs. If you are a night-owl, or often find yourself up and around during the dark hours, a hedgehog can be a very welcome companion. On the other hand, if you jump out of bed early in the morning and fade with the sun, you and your hedgehog may never see one another. Although most hedgehogs rarely, if ever, bite or nip, it does happen, as can occur with any animal. For information on biting see section [6.6] Hedgehogs are also relatively low maintenance (though not ``no maintenance''). There's no need to take them out for a walk around the block in the middle of a raging blizzard, or head off to the park, pooper-scooper in hand, during a heat wave, with a hedgehog. Their small, but not too small, size also makes for a good compromise. They do prefer regular attention, but it doesn't need to be long at a time. Then there's always the one really effective decision factor: hedgehogs are irresistibly CUTE!
Subject: <3.2> Where are hedgehogs illegal? Unfortunately, there are some locations that do not yet allow pet hedgehogs. The IHA [2.5] can possibly help provide guidance on how you can enlighten any backward bureaucracies you run into. The list below started as a very stripped down version of the last list published by the N.A.H.A. to which I have also included additional notes thanks to people sending me information. At the moment hedgehogs are not permitted in the U.S. in the states of Alabama, California, Georgia, Hawaii and Utah, although I've been told that hedgehogs are quite available in both Alabama (where they are quite available in pet stores, according to Tim Pearson), and Utah (the official word there seems to be somewhat uncertain -- possibly the same situation as existed in Idaho). To start this off, I have some good news to add for a change. I have received word from Julihana, in Alaska, that: The Alaska Board of Fish and Game called off the ban on hedgehogs on July 1, 1998. There is still a little talk over having to have permits, but after talking to them today, Game and Fish assured me that they are 99% sure that no permit will be required. -- Julihana This is indeed good news, and even if permits are required, that makes it much better than before. Banning hedgehogs in Alaska is one of the few cases which made no sense, from any environmental perspective, as there is essentially no chance of feral hedgehogs surviving through the winter. Kudos to the Alaska Board of Fish and Game for showing a healthy dose of common sense. Arizona is somewhat open to doubt as to its status. It appears that given the right forms of registration, keeping hedgehogs is possible, though this level of registration may be very difficult to obtain. Here are some `clarifications' on the situation: The restrictions in AZ are rather bizarre. A.P. hedgehogs are ``officially'' legal, but F&G doesn't want them there. So, to get around the rules, they say that hedgehogs ``are'' legal if you can first meet certain housing and other requirements. The requirements that they stipulate are virtually impossible for even large, accredited zoos to meet, so the chances of the average Joe being able to keep hedgehogs as pets in AZ are virtually nil. -- Bryan Smith California is well known for being closed to most `exotic' pets. This, unfortunately, appears to be cast in concrete, with essentially no chance for change. At present the Ferret people have been working hard to get ferrets legalized, but even this (ferrets are officially domesticated), is being blocked at every turn, with laws in the works that are intended to all but permanently block any future attempts. The reasons given are `environmental,' with the claimed fear that any such animals being introduced might escape and survive in feral conditions, and possibly upset some part of the existing ecosystem. There are endless further `political' opinions as to further reasons, but this is not an appropriate place to delve into such suggestions. I do know that entering California, you are basically subject to inspection, and if found to be with hedgehog(s), you will be politely, but firmly turned back. A couple of years ago, Georgia clarified their position on hedgehogs, making them officially illegal. Thanks to Jerry in Atlanta for this unfortunate bit of news. My thanks to Alicia Look for letting me know the official word for Hawaii -- hedgehogs are not allowed. The N.A.H.A. had Idaho listed as not allowing hedgehogs, but courtesy of some checking by Wendi Smit, it appears the law is against allowing European hedgehogs as pets, African Pigmy hedgehogs are allowed, and are available in Idaho. Regarding Maine, I've received information from Jazmyn Concolor that indicates there is no actual law which prevents sale of hedgehogs in pet stores. Prior to this the information I had (from Jesse and Kris Welsh) suggested that it was apparently legal to own them, and to sell them privately, but not for pet stores to sell them. Whether this is because of a happy change in the laws, or from the previous situation being either an odd interpretation of obscure statutes, or even a case of it being a municipal regulation, I'm not sure, at least it seems to be a move in the right direction. Maryland has seen the light (in November of 1994 -- Woobie), and is now legit for hedgehogs. New Jersey requires a permit from the State Fish and Game. The permit is $10 no matter how many you have. My thanks to Pam Powers for clearing this up. In early 1997 there was a scare that hedgehogs had been banned in Oregon, but on further investigation it turned out that the ban only really applied to European hedgehogs, and that African Pigmy hedgehogs were legit, no permit required. Pennsylvania apparently has a law to protect its own animal breeders, making it illegal to import hedgehogs into PA (which thereby manages to make it impossible for PA breeders to legally get new stock), although PA-bred hedgehogs are legal. Please note that I've recently (Feb/2002) seen some indications that hedgehogs in general might be being considered illegal in Pennsylvania, and to be very careful of this. I'm sorry that I haven't had the time to look into this futher at present. Wyoming's statutes clearly allow for pet hedgehogs, which is good news: (E) Mammals: [...] hedgehogs (Erinaceus spp.); [...]; certificate of veterinary inspection is not required. -- Courtesy of Steph Hyne Some states also require you to go through their local Fish and Game department (or the equivalent) to get a permit. For example Wyoming and New Jersey require this, as pointed out to me by Marcia Kautz and Pam Powers, resp. In addition to all the above information, anyone breeding hedgehogs in the U.S. for sale or trade, must be USDA registered. This has changed from the previous exemption for ``Pocket Pets'' which allowed small breeders to go without registration and inspections. My thanks to Sharon Massena for passing along the change. In Canada most of the information I have been able to find (courtesy of John Ofner) is that hedgehogs are permitted in all provinces. Until recently, they were not permitted in Quebec, but thanks to Michael Simla, for passing along the following response he received after looking into the matter, it's now clear that they allowed: ``since November 14th, 2002, it is allowed to keep hedgehogs in captivity in Quebec, except the ones from Europe because of the risk of accidental introduction in Quebec's nature.'' There had been conflicting reports that hedgehogs are illegal in the province of Alberta, but it appears that this is now something for the history books. At the very least, there are an abundance of breeders there. Courtesy of Linda Wheatley, I finally have accurate information on the status of hedgehogs in the province of Alberta: Hedgehogs are legal in Alberta but our Fish and Wildlife people are still requiring us to have a temporary shelter permit. Some Fish & Wildlife offices are telling people that it is not necessary to get them and some are saying it is necessary. In short, the letter of the law appears to be that you still need a permit, but some jurisdictions, are simply acknowledging the reality of hedgehogs being pets, and waiving the obvious extra workload it would cause them. Prince Edward Island is that allows Hedgehogs to be bought and sold privatly but Pet stores are not allowed to sell them. Thanks to Shirley Ann Blakeney (and Wesley), for this information on the situation in PEI. There are also some municipalities which have passed laws banning hedgehogs. Here is a brief list of the ones that I am aware of: New York City, NY, USA Windsor, ON, Canada A recent attempt to ban hedgehogs and other exotics, in Toronto, was narrowly averted. I'm still not sure who managed to get thing changed, but they have my personal gratitude! In the U.K. it appears that African Pigmy hedgehogs are allowed as pets: European hedgehogs are partially protected in the U.K. Trapping them requires permission from the proper authorities. However, African hedgehogs are commercially available. -- Travis Carter It also appears that they are allowed as pets in the Netherlands, and possibly throughout other European countries as well. Here in the Netherlands (and other European countries as for as I know of) you're allowed to keep hedgehogs. In the Netherlands the only species that is not allowed to be kept, is the European hedgehog (!?). I know that you are permitted to keep the European kind in Germany. Therefore it's no coincidence that a lot of books about European hedgehogs are of German origin. I'm not sure about regulations in other countries according to the E. europaeus. I think that you can keep them there, except for the U.K. (I know that they are considered to be a delicacy in Portugal and in some East-European countries.) -- Anja van der Werf I should point out here that in spite of Anja's claim about being on the menu, I've been informed that due to their name in Portuguese this seems somewhat unlikely (at least in relatively modern times). Thanks to Teresa Claudino for this information, and as almost every hedgie lover out there probably feels, I can only hope this is true! ;-} It appears that Finland (now) allows African Pigmy hedgehogs as pets: We (yes, here in Finland) now have pet hedgehogs, and its all legal too! (1) it is illegal to hold "European Hedgehogs" as pets in Finland. They are a "protected" spieces, but there are some things you can do: o It is legal to feed the hedgehogs on your yard, as long as you don't take them home o It is legal to build them shelters on your yard, as long as you don't take them home o And (this should be ok) you can take hurt hedgehogs to see a veterinarian (2) apparenlty this protection law doesn't apply to other spieces of hedghogs such as the African Pigmy Hedgehog. Hence they can be freely kept as pets. There are several rules you need to obey when bringing a pet hedgehog from abroad to Finland, but they are mostly quarantine and paperwork related. (3) you can now find pigmy hedgies in at least one pet store (sorry, can't really say much more about this). As far as I can tell, there is now somewhere between 10 and 20 pet hedgehogs in Finland. I know one other owner personally, and know that one couple purchased one from the same petstore we got Noa from. These hedgies arrived from the USA during summer 2001. There should also be at least one breeding couple, but I don't have much info on that. -- Marcin Dobrucki It also appears that African Pigmy hedgehogs (both the white bellied and especially the Egyptian long-eared varieties) are quite popular as pets in Japan, and are legal there. My thanks to Tetsuro Oka, DVM for this information. There is also a growing interest in hedgehogs as pets coming from other parts of Southeast Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.), and from South America (Brazil, in particular). I am presuming that they are legal as pets in these locations (or that there are no laws limiting pets in place), but that `is' an assumption on my part, only. Again, I have no official confirmation of most of these (although the bans listed at the beginning, of this list, are pretty certain), and you should probably check first. There are a number of U.S. states that require permits, and various localities, and individual municipalities may also require special permits. While keeping European hedgehogs as pets is not permitted throughout much of Europe, there are exceptions. I believe it is quite common in Russia, and there is an interesting situation in Germany, as related by Jan Micheel: It is generally illegal to keep pet (European) hedgehogs in Germany since they are an endangered species and therefore protected. There is a notable exception: if you happen to find a specimen in the autumn months which does not appear to be fit for winter (there is also a weight limit), you may keep it until the end of winter. In this case, hedgehogs get free medical treatment. To my mind, at least, this is a policy worthy of some real commendation, and one that should probably be a model for other countries and animals as well. Is my pro-hedgehog bias showing again? ;-}
Subject: <3.3> Are hedgehogs wild animals? This depends on whether or not you are talking about African Pigmy hedgehogs or European hedgehogs. In the case of European hedgehogs, the answer is, of course, yes. In the case of the African Pigmy variety, the ones being offered and kept as pets are now far removed from their wild ancestors. In parts of Europe, some African pigmy hedgehogs are still being imported, which results in this being a more grey area. As Nathan Tenny pointed out [3.1], the hedgehogs available as pets are a captive-bred African species. These have been bred in captivity for roughly twenty years. As such, they should not be confused with the European variety that are wild animals (and are protected in most European countries). It is unlikely that a pet hedgehog could survive very long in the wild, especially in the colder parts of North America, which seems to be where they are most popular. However, the chance does exist, at least in the warmer climates, and needless to say, finding out whether or not they can is an experiment best left to theory, rather than practice.
Subject: <3.4> What's the average hedgehog lifespan? The absolute answer to the question of how long hedgehogs can live is that nobody is really certain. The average lifespan for African pigmy hedgehogs in captivity runs from 4-6 years, with some living as long as 8 years. From what I have read, this is already far better than the average of 1-3 years in the wild (though this is due more to predation, disease, and other environmental factors than to old age). African pigmy hedgehogs have not been kept in captivity for many years as yet -- that along with the fact that we are still in the early stages of learning how best to care for them, is likely to allow their longevity to continue to increase over the upcoming years. In addition to the good care aiding this, the fact that hedgies are starting to settle down and become much less nervous will likely also help considerably. All in all, their lifespan is quite long compared to many smaller mammals, which means that there's a good chance you can continue to get along with your prickly little pal for many happy years.
Subject: <3.5> I'm allergic to cats. Will I be allergic to hedgehogs? The short answer here is, probably not. The main reason for being allergic to cats is because of the dander, not the hair. When a cat 'bathes' itself, it deposits a coating of saliva over its fur. It is this coating turned to an extremely fine dust that is the cause of most allergies to cats. While hedgehogs do not generally do this (other than when self-anointing [7.1]), it is not inconceivable that a person could be allergic to almost any animal. I would suggest that if you have severe allergies to cats (or any other animal), you find a friend who has hedgehogs and visit them where they keep their hedgehogs to see whether any reaction occurs. Note: if your allergic reactions are serious enough, you may want to discuss it with a doctor first, and/or take precautions in case a reaction occurs. In almost every case I have heard of where a person appears to be allergic to a hedgehog, the actual culprit is often the bedding, rather than the animal. Most forms of bedding are dusty to some degree or other, and are much more prone to causing problems than the hedgehogs themselves are. If you suspect this might be a problem to you, there are various forms of bedding you can experiment with (such as products like CareFRESH, astroturf, or even good old fashioned dirt or gravel) that have much lower levels of dust than most wood fibre bedding products.
Subject: <3.6> Do hedgehogs smell? They have VERY busy noses; they smell everything they can! People who have had experience with small pet rodents, or with ferrets seem to ask this question most often. Hedgehogs do not have scent glands like ferrets, and as long as their cage or pen is kept reasonably clean there is generally very little odour. Most (some?) hedgehogs can be trained to use a litter box, making the task of keeping the cage clean that much easier. Even those that don't adapt to using a litter box will often use one area of their cage or pen for this which assists in cleaning. While hedgehogs do generally have little in the way of odour, what you feed them can affect whether or not their droppings smell. Generally the more ``wet'' food you feed a hedgehog, the more their droppings, and their environment, will smell, although brands and types of food can have as great an effect as just wet versus dry foods. Also, Pretty Pets hedgehog food is has been reported to result in smellier than average droppings [6.3]. Younger hedgehogs and pregnant/nursing females also tend to have much stronger scented urine and droppings. If your hedgie is still in his or her `teens' just be patient, and keep cleaning the cage, often. They will almost certainly grow out of it. If you are finding your hedgehog pen tends to smell, try changing the blend of food he is getting, or just clean house on him a bit more often.
Subject: <3.7> Do hedgehogs have tails? Yes, but barely. There really is a tail under there. Most hedgehogs have only a pointed little nub of tail that spends almost all of its time hidden under the quills. This leaves the poor hedgehog looking for all the world like he doesn't have a tail. Here are a few interesting words from Katherine Long on hedgehog tails: My hhog, Ambergris, uses her tail - it isn't a useless appendage. She uses it as a pusher when she is trying to go underneath stuff. Strange and wondrous.
Subject: <3.8> Hedgehog monikers -- what do I call a hedgehog? I can think of a lot of things here -- especially when I remember the times that Velcro closed up on my fingers! However I will try to keep this civil. This section is more for amusement than much else, and to keep track of some of the ways people refer to our prickly little friends. Probably the most popular one I've seen is ``hedgies'' with ``hhog'' running a close second. I would argue that the first is probably more pronounceable but they both pale in comparison to the following from Cathy Johnson-Delaney who contentedly referred to her FussGus as a ``Tribble from Hell.'' With the media's love of ridiculous catchy names, it probably comes as no surprise that the term ``Yuppie Puppy'' has appeared in some places (including the N.A.H.A.?!?!) applied to hedgehogs. While I'm on the subject, baby hedgehogs are usually referred to as ``hoglets'' or ``hedgehoglets'', or more frequently as ``aren't they so CUTE!'' The term piglet seems to be used quite frequently in Europe, and sometimes elsewhere as well. I don't know if an official term exists for a group of hedgehogs (other than maybe a ``contradiction-in-terms'' since hedgehogs often don't tend to live in what we would consider groups. The official name for a group of hogs is a ``drift'' but I question if that applies to hedgehogs. Most breeders appear to refer to their hedgehogs as a ``herd'' but I have to admit the thought of trying to ``herd'' hedgehogs strikes me as somewhat ridiculous to say the least!
Subject: <3.9> Her-hog or Him-hog? What sex is Prickles? One question I get asked a lot, and I haven't the slightest clue why I didn't add the answer here earlier, is how do you tell what sex a hedgehog is. Unfortunately, hedgehogs don't come with blue or pink tipped quills to make the job easy (at least most don't). Some breeders add a spot of non-toxic paint, etc., but even that's no guarantee. There have been more than a few people who brought home ``male'' hedgies, only to have them give birth to a litter, only a short time later. In fact, it can be downright difficult, to figure out the sex, unless your hedgehog is willing to let you hold him or her on their back long enough for a look. The idea is to get a good look at their tummy. If you can't get your prickly little friend to unroll enough while being held in your hands, you might try a piece of glass or clear plastic and look up at them while they are wandering (hopefully not too far) on it. Anyway, enough beating about the quills, on to how to tell if you have a her-hog, or a him-hog. For male hedgehogs, the sex organ, or penal sheath, is located about 2/3 of the way from the nose to the tail (along the tummy), and looks like a large belly-button. In the female, the sex organ is located all the way down the tummy, directly adjacent to the anus. The female will also have a row of nipples along each side, below the quill line, within the soft tummy fur. These are often hard to see, but do show as small pink spots, if you have the chance to look carefully. In babies, it can be difficult to tell sexes, without experience, due to the small size causing everything to be together. Beyond the baby stage, the rule of thumb is that if you look, and can't tell for certain, it's probably a female, as males are usually pretty unmistakable. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 4. *** Getting a pet hedgehog ***
Subject: <4.1> Which types/colours are there? Male or female? What age? What are referred to as African Pigmy hedgehogs that are available as pets, throughout North America [3.1], and most of the world, are generally a blend of a couple of species of hedgehogs: Four-toed or White-bellied hedgehogs (Atelerix albiventris) and Algerian hedgehogs (A. algirus), though there has been some speculation that that there is some Pruner's (Cape) hedgehog (A. frontalis / A. pruneri) added as well. My thanks to Sharon Massena, for reminding me that most of our pet hedgies are actually hybrid varieties, and again to Nigel Reeve for helping straighten the whole mess out. This is not necessarily the case elsewhere, such as in Europe, however, even with African pigmy type hedgehogs. In addition, Egyptian (? long-eared) hedgehogs, are kept as pets in some places. Of these, the first group are similar in appearance and temperament. These tend to be very well behaved, and will rarely, if ever, nip an owner, but like with any animal, given the right (or wrong) circumstances, it can happen (see [6.6] for advice on biting). Four-toed or white-bellied, and Algerian hedgehogs tend to have a whitish or light coloured face, while Pruner's hedgehogs have a darker or masked face. The real difference, though is in the number of toes on the hind feet: Pruner's and Algerian hedgehogs have five like most hedgehogs, while the White-Bellied hedgehog is also known as the Four-toed hedgehog for obvious reasons (but only the hind feet). Egyptian or long-eared hedgehogs (the ears being the most obvious differentiating factor) are, however, known for having a somewhat more aggressive personality, and will frequently nip or bite, as suggested here by Nathan Tenny: [Cerebus] (one of Nathan's former troupe -- ed.) is an Egyptian hedgehog (_Hemiechinus auritus_). The [care instructions in this FAQ also] apply to him, but his personality is rather different. There aren't many on the market as yet, but they're distinguishable by their loooong ears. They are extremely cute animals, very active and seemingly rather intelligent, but they *really* bite, and are not recommended as cuddly pets! We hand-raised Cerebus from a very young age, playing with him a lot in hopes of making him comfortable with us, but to no avail; as he's reached adulthood, being comfortable has come to mean that he's not scared to bite us. Oops. This behaviour has been confirmed by Anja van der Werf, who has also pointed out that in spite of this, they are generally more popular as pets in Europe than are White-Bellied or Pruner's hedgehogs. Regarding colour, most hedgehogs are covered with white and grey or brown ticked quills, sometimes called salt and pepper coloured, or agouti (though I'm told this term is now `out of favour' as it largely implies all such `banded' appearing hedgehogs are the same, which is incorrect). As colour research has progressed, one of the things that has come to light is that there is no such thing as a `basic' hedgehog colour. Each hedgehog is a specific colour, even though many of the grey or brown ticked ones will look `similar' to an observer who is unaware of the (sometimes subtle differences). Some of the more dramatic appearing colour variations are the ``snowflakes.'' These are often all white, or almost all white, but do not possess the albino gene. Albino hedgehogs also exist, and apparently the early problems with them being unhealthy and not terribly robust, are now largely a thing of the past (if, indeed, there ever were problems). The list of known colours seems to be ever expanding with new variations appearing every time I turn around. For details on colours, see the Advanced Topics part of the FAQ, in section [10.4]. As far as personality goes, it has historically been thought that females are generally friendlier than males, and will become familiar with a new owner more quickly. This, however, appears to be primarily a result of how a lot of breeders handle their animals -- males are usually not handled as much, and hence are not as gentled down. Properly handled when they are young, there is little or no personality difference between sexes. Being friendly generally means their quills will be laid back smoother, and they will have less of a tendency to roll into a ball. Females tend to be more expensive, both because of their perceived friendliness, and because of their ability to produce more hedgehogs. Breeders usually keep a ratio of several females for each male, which makes for a higher quantity of males available as pets, and hence another reason for the usually cheaper selling price of males. Males on the other hand, do tend to self-anoint [7.1] more often than females, and this amazing feat of dexterity is something not to be missed! The unusual colour varieties, such as snowflakes, were originally considered to be somewhat more high-strung in temperament than the more common salt and pepper hedgehogs. From what I have been able to determine, this is not directly related to the colour, but is more a side-effect of the inbreeding done to try and propagate the special colouring. In any case, temperament is going to depend largely on both the breeding, and on the type and amount of handling, rather than the exact colouration. It appears there is another way to create a different colour hedgehog ... while not quite in the same genre as the colourations above, one of the people I've been in touch with on the net (whose name I will withhold to avoid potential embarrassment) passed along a story to me. This kind hearted hedgehog addict once fed her little herd of hedgies a treat of strained carrots (baby food) one night along with their normal food. The hedgehogs seemed to find this new item interesting and proceeded to munch on it, then, as hedgehogs will do, they all self-anointed. My friend thought nothing of it, other than that hedgehogs don't really like strained carrots. In the morning, however, when the light wasn't quite so dim, my friend (who is probably a lifelong enemy by now) discovered an entire small herd of very ``orange'' hedgehogs! There it is folks -- the latest in hedgehog fashion -- the Orange Hedgehog. I have since learned from friends and relatives with small children, that few things come close to strained carrots in staining ability, so I can well imagine that the effect of this was pretty amazing. I know I'll probably be blacklisted for life for adding this, but it was much too good to resist! ;-) To compound the trouble I've gotten into above, I have also heard of another kind hearted hedgie addict who offered her hedgehogs a treat of raspberries. Come morning, once she realized they weren't showing the results of a vicious fight and that the `blood' was nothing more than two seriously raspberry-anoited hedgies, it too, became time for a hogwash. It seems you can create an amazing variety of impromptu colours (and flavours) of hedgehogs! ;-) The best age to acquire a pet hedgehog is shortly after they have been weaned (after about 6-8 weeks of age). Hedgehogs are completely independent by this stage, and adapt to new owners much more readily when young. This doesn't mean that an older hedgehog won't become used to you and friendly towards you, it will just take a little longer and a little more patience.
Subject: <4.2> How many should I get? Hedgehogs have historically been considered solitary creatures, that do not particularly get along well together, and in fact only like to be close to one another during mating. This now appears to be changing, with many breeders keeping at least females together in groups, and in some cases even males. I don't know whether this is the result of African Pigmy hedgehogs taming down as a species, or whether they were always a bit more social than we gave them credit for. In any case, keeping same sex groups together (though groups of females do better than groups of males, who still seem to be a bit more territorial) can tend to be just fine, though it is always important to keep an eye open for problems. Kept together, hedgehogs will often curl up together to sleep, and if one is quite young, it might treat an older one as if it were its parent, and follow it around -- an adorable site to see. One of factors that helps in keeping groups of hedgehogs together is to provide adequate space. If things are too crowded, you can usually count on fights (gee, that almost sounds like elementary school...). All that having been said, hedgehogs are quite happy when kept individually, and don't seem to miss the company of other hedgehogs, unless they were previously housed with others. There is no problem with having only a single hedgehog as a pet. Keeping a male within vision, or scent range of a mother with hoglets (even if in separate enclosures) can result in the babies being eaten. If you do want more than one hedgehog, be sure you provide plenty of privacy for each. Of course, opposite-sex pairs are a definite no-no unless you want babies. -- Nathan Tenny Hedgehogs that are used to being kept together with others, do often tend to show signs of depression if separated. This is something to keep in mind if you do plan to keep your hedgies together, then need to separate them later.
Subject: <4.3> What to look for in a hedgehog / How to choose a hedgehog The one carrying the little sign saying `hedgehog lover wanted, inquire within' is probably a good start. If that fails, pick the one with the cute face! Oops, I can see myself getting in trouble from someone who bought them all by following that advice. Selecting a hedgehog can be rather difficult. Unless you are after a very specific colour, it's largely a case of trying to see enough to decide on which hedgehog to pick. The normal situation for looking at a prospective pet is not very well suited to looking at hedgehogs. Hedgies like to be up and around in the very early morning, or in the late evening. They don't like bright lights, and often get nervous around people they don't know. All of this can make it difficult to look at hedgehogs. So what do you try to choose based on? Here are some tips that should help: (1) It is best to start young. About 6-8 weeks old (just after having been weaned). At this age, hedgies should be quite small, still -- about 2" or 5 cm long. Older hedgies are also fine, but may take a bit more time to get used to you, or if from a pet store, they may not have been played with and socialized for some time. (2) In spite of the time and lighting, the best hedgehogs will wake up and come out to play readily, exploring and sniffing your hands without balling up or snuffing too much. Some snuffling is to be expected, but the quills should stay pretty smoothed down once your potential new little friend wakes up. Balling up, snuffling too much or being too afraid are not good signs. Of course, biting (not the tasting, gentle nibble type) is an instant black mark. (3) Look for bright clear eyes, and a well rounded body. Some hedgies do have a leaner, straighter body shape, but this is usually not a good sign in a young hedgehog. Hedgehogs should be energetic and inquisitive. (4) Check the paws and toes to make sure they all look good and the hedgie is able to get around just fine. If possible, you should also check the tummy for any problems, sores, or just to double check the sex. Beyond that, there isn't a lot I can suggest. There will always be some potential for problems -- hedgehogs are prone to congenitive problems, some of which don't appear until the hedgehog is a few months old. Even the healthiest seeming hoglet can wind up having such problems. Besides, you're only going to get as far as seeing the first little face and lose all sense of control, anyway...
Subject: <4.4> How can I find a hedgehog breeder/contact in my area? One of the best options here is to contact the International Hedgehog Registry (IHR) [2.3], who can probably direct you to a reputable local breeder, and who may be the best source of information. In addition, you can check in the yellow pages under exotic animals, or look in the classified ads section of your local newspapers. Many breeders will place an ad here, especially when they have babies available. Another good source, and one with a beneficial side effect, is to contact veterinarians in your are, to see which treat hedgehogs, and whether they can point you to any breeders in your area. You're going to need to know a hedgehog friendly veterinarian, anyway, and this will ensure you find a breeder who takes good care of their hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are becoming more readily available, and are showing up in many pet stores, and I've even heard of them occasionally being available at animal shelters. Another possible lead towards finding that perfect hedgehog is to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.). Breeders in the U.S. are generally supposed to be registered with the U.S.D.A. This is generally not observed very seriously. Still, the U.S.D.A. may be able to provide names and addresses of large breeders in the U.S.
Subject: <4.5> When Hedgie comes home Congrats! Your new little friend just came home with you. So what do you need to know ASAP, other than to spoil him absolutely rotten?! (1) Hedgehogs are escape artists! Make sure that whatever cage or enclosure you use, has openings too small to get through, or to get stuck in. Hedgehogs can squeeze through any opening just a fraction bigger than their skull, and they will. They can, and will, also climb -- anything, especially water bottles. Lids are NOT optional, especially with babies. (2) Temperature. Hedgehogs need to be warm -- warmer than you keep your house. See section [5.2] for ideas on keeping a hedgie warm enough, but generally something like a heating pad on its lowest setting, under part of the enclosure (so the hedgie can get away from the heat if it gets too warm) is the usual way to go. (3) Food and water. For food, at first, the best thing to do is use the same food your hedgehog was eating at the breeder or store, at least to help them adjust to the move. Ideally, you should feed them one of the better hedgehog foods now available see section [6.3]. If you can't find that, then a diet, or light, premium cat or dog food will suffice, at least for now. A Guinea pig water bottle works well (if your hedgie is used to one), if not, a small water dish works well. (4) Cage, bedding, and a den. The enclosure is up to you, but beware of number (1) above. It should also be big enough -- 2' x 3' is pretty much a minimum for a hedgehog. If yours is smaller -- it's VERY temporary, at most. See section [5.2] for ideas on cages. For bedding, pine or better yet, aspen chips work well -- avoid cedar! A den can be anything from a big piece of plumbing tube to an empty Kleenex box with a door cut in one end. (5) Playtime. Play with your new friend as often and as much as you want, keeping in mind that your new hedgie will likely tire quickly, especially if young, so give your new friend a break at times. It will also help to keep the lights low, and not be too loud -- both of which will increase the nervousness of a new hedgehog. (6) Expectations. Your hedgie is going to be nervous and upset over the change to a new home. Hedgies don't like change, and rely mostly on sense of smell to know their way around. Don't be surprised if your hedgie gets a bit withdrawn for a while. It takes time for a hedgie to adjust to a new home.
Subject: <4.6> Hedgehog handling / socializing There's an old joke that goes: Question: How do you pick up a hedgehog? Answer: Carefully! Actually the original tends to deal more with the mating habits of our little friends, but I'm sure you get the point (or would that be points?). One of the points I had missed in early versions of the FAQ was the need for handling pet hedgehogs to socialize them with you. Until recently, this section has dealt primarily with the technical side of the rather thorny question of how to handle a hedgehog, rather than why. Hedgehogs tend to be very nervous by nature and do not enjoy nature's best eyesight. Hedgehogs rely primarily on sense of smell. Their sense of hearing is a distant second, and their vision is way down the list. In fact, vision is generally used mostly as a source of warnings of danger. Hearing serves both purposes -- tracking interesting sounds, or warning them of dangers, and smell is usually used for finding things they are used to. Keep all of this in mind when trying to win the heart of a hedgehog. When you first get a hedgehog as a pet, it is important that your new friend come to identify your smell with that of a friend. Because of this reliance on sense of smell, if you are constantly changing perfumes, or sometimes use strongly scented items, you are going to have much more difficulty than normal, but by no means is it an impossible task. The best way to socialize your hedgie is to spend as much time as you reasonably can (without over-stressing the hedgehog) and gently hold or play with him. Hedgehogs that are thoroughly familiar with their human friends tend to be a lot friendlier in most cases -- although it depends on the hedgehog, as it does with any animal with a personality (or should that be critterality?). In simple terms, hedgehogs do best with (possibly short amounts of) regular attention, rather than large periods of infrequent attention. A few minutes each day is far better than hours once a week. It is also important to keep up the contact, to maintain the bond. Spending some time with your hedgehog(s) every couple of nights should do the job. Clearly, doing so almost daily is better, but reality rarely lets you do this. One point that I've missed here, until now (my thanks to Lisa Ladouceur for pointing this out), is how to handle your hedgehog. Most hedgehogs, at least, at first, do not like to be patted on their quills. Just try gently holding your hedgie, and letting it uncurl in your hands. Let it explore around your hands and arms, and it will eventually start to become comfortable around you as it realizes that you are safe. Eventually, you can get to the point of petting most hedgehogs along the back, and some even like to be scratched in amongst their spines, but, this level of trust can take a while to develop. What do you do when you just won't have the chance to spend as much quality time with the hedgekids as you want, or if you've just gotten a new hedgehog and want to do everything possible to help get him used to you? Here is a tip from Dave Ehrnstein, who, as a fairly large breeder, doesn't have the time to spend with each and every new hedgehog: Another way to acquaint them with your scent is to wear an old T-shirt for two days, then put it in their cage. They will nest under it, and your scent will become ``homey'' to them, not threatening. You should be careful that there are no loose loops of thread on the shirt (or hairs) that hedgefeet can get caught in (see caution in sections [5.2] and [9.1]) and you should also at least check on the hedgehog daily, but otherwise this idea will help acquaint your new friend with your smell, and settle him into his new home. Now on to the ``how do I pick up a pincushion with the points all facing out'' section. Picking up a hedgehog, or otherwise handling him is difficult, at least until he gets to know your smell. Because of this, there is one cardinal rule about hedgehog handling and that is ``never wear gloves.'' If you do, your hedgehog will never become used to you, and your smell. That said, there are, indeed, times when you have to. As with any so called rule, there are exceptions, and using your common sense is the best thing. Remember, it's much better to use gloves and take your hedgie out to play, then not to play at all. One thing you should do before trying to pick up any hedgehog, is to let your little friend sniff your bare hand, before you pick him up, that way, he will come to know the picking up is safe. The recommended way to pick up a hedgehog is with one hand at each side of him, then bring your hands gently together to cup him. Never grasp a hedgehog in a way that could allow any of your fingers to be caught in the middle should he decide to roll into a ball. Being in the middle of a hedgehog ball is an extremely painful experience -- it's truly astounding just how strong their muscles are [words of a single, never to be repeated, unfortunate experience by the editor]. Most hedgehogs, unless really upset, will end up stepping up on your hands as they come together. Once on your hands, you can transfer your little friend to your lap (a towel spread on your lap can help, here), or onto your chest. Properly handled, from shortly after birth, pet hedgehogs are very friendly, playful animals that will keep their quills smoothed down, and enjoy being with people. Once socialized with you, your hedgehog will be like this any time you want to play (at least after it has had time to wake up, if you decide to play during hedgie's naptime). Are all hedgehogs like this? No, of course not. That's the ideal, and it is something most people will only achieve if they get lucky, and kept up the right attention, or if they are persistent at trying to win their little friend over. The one key thing to remember, above all else, is patience, patience, patience, and patience! So you say your hedgehog is a grump? Fear not, that's not unusual. I must admit that Velcro, my first hedgehog was a thoroughly endearing little grump who took me 4-5 months to win over. Once I did win him over, though, he was a real little sweetheart, and would often come to his cage door when he heard me, to come out and play. So why are some hedgies so grumpy or seem to be unfriendly, and what are the reasons? For the answer, we need to look at the making of our little grumps, um, er, friends, and how they relate to you. Keep the noise levels low around hedgies, and preferably the lighting not too bright. This will help avoid triggering nervousness. Remember that, to a hedgehog, you are very large, and cast a huge shadow. Think of yourself being picked up by something the size of a small skyscraper! Move slowly, and do your best not to suggest you might be a threat. If you are still at the glove stage, once you have your little friend out, try to take off the glove and do without it as much as possible. Remember too, that with hedgehogs, bribery IS considered appropriate. Treats are welcome. Let's face it, your hedgehog is not going to turn you in for graft! So what about hardcore cases? The I-wanna-snuffle-myself-into-a-fit- and-you-can't-do-anything-about-it type grumps? The first thing to do is to decide if something is bothering the grumphog. Often, a problem, like being too cold or not feeling well can be the source of the excess grumpyness. Even something like toenails that have become ingrown are frequent causes of grump syndrome in hedgehogs. If you've made sure of the basics, here are a series of things (some of which might be a bit redundant after all the discussions above), for dealing with these spoil-sports: (1) Make sure that the lights are low, that there are not causes for discomfort (cold, injuries, mites, etc.), and that there are no major disturbances like loud music, etc., nearby. (2) Does your hedgehog have a secure feeling den, and comfortable cage, or enclosure? Somewhere a hedgehog can curl up in and feel safe can help boost his sense of security. This doesn't need to be too elaborate. (3) Play with him regularly, for 15-20 minutes each day, at around the same time of day. Some hedgies treat this as a battle of wills. Once he knows he's going to come out and play, whether he snuffles his butt off, or not, he will knuckle under. If you let him get the best of you, you've lost, and he will know it. After that, he can do whatever he wants, and you are at his mercy. (4) Think of your little friend's situation. Most new hedgehogs are still essentially babies. Here you have a timid little animal which has just lost everything it ever knew. It was recently separated from its mother and then from any brothers or sisters that it might have been with. Now everything smells different, tastes different, sounds different, and this huge creature is grabbing for it. Needless to say, this is a pretty nerve-wracking experience. This is why patience is so important. (5) Bribery works. It can even be fun experimenting to find out what treats your hedgie likes. (6) Hardcore snufflebutts can sometimes be won over, at least in part, by a bath. Almost every hedgehog will smooth their quills down when in water, and you can become the rescuer when extracting him from the evil bath. Some hedgies even actually enjoy baths! See section [6.5] on how to bath your hedgie. Remember, patience is the key. It will often take time, sometimes weeks of patient playing to win over a hedgie, but it is worth it, and it can be done. Okay, so Spike is coming along fine, he's willing to come out and play, or sometimes even snuggle, but there are some little habits that are leaving you a bit unsure of things. It seems a favorite trick of some hedgehogs to go to the bathroom just after you pick them up and start to play. Is this an attempt on their part to be left alone? You may be starting to think so, and that it might work, if it keeps up. Of course your hedgie is not mistaking you for a litter box, nor is he making a social commentary on you -- basically, he just can't help himself. This particular `habit' is far more common in young hedgehogs who still don't have as much control over their bodily functions as they will have later on. It also appears that in hedgehogs, there is usually a need to go to the bathroom shortly after waking up, when you combine this with the fact that hedgies like to go, when on the go, it pretty much covers the causes. So what is the solution? Obviously, one necessity is to just keep some Kleenex or paper towel handy -- it's going to happen at times, no matter what! The other thing that can help is when you first wake up your little friend, give him a minute or two back in his cage to try and do his business before you really take him out to play. Of course, there is the wait until he grows up approach, but just try and resist wanting to play for that long! For dealing with problem behavior, like biting, see section [6.6].
Subject: <4.7> How can I introduce my hedgehog to my (dog/cat/bird/fish/ rabbit/etc.) with the least trouble? In what limited experience I've had, I have seen no problem with interaction between hedgehogs and other pets -- my wife and I have five cats (Kit & Caboodle, Oreo, Snickers, and Scrapper) in addition to our group of hedgies. Velcro always thought the cats would make nice mealtime treats and chased them whenever possible, while some of the others take little notice of the cats, other than an occasional duck of the head and a snuffling session. For their part, the cats have only shown peaceful curiosity towards the hedgehogs. The occasional very careful paw will reach out and almost, but not quite touch one of the hedgehogs. The cats seem to know that these snuffling little armoured tanks are actually animated pincushions that would hurt if they really connected. For his part, Velcro omce actually shoved the largest cat (18+ lbs.!) out of the way with nothing more than a slightly indignant look from the cat. Aside from this, I imagine that it will really depend on the personality of your other pet(s). I would expect more aggressive cats/dogs to try nipping at or swatting at a new hedgehog (an action that is unlikely to be repeated by any animal with the ability to learn from its mistakes). Some terriers and other hunting dogs might be an exception here, and might be best kept separate from hedgehogs for the safety of both parties (not to mention any humans who try to separate them!) Hedgehogs are admirably well protected -- the worry is ``how safe are your other pets?'' As long as you supervise the first few encounters between your hedgehog and your other pets, there `should be' no problem in either direction. The only time there should be cause for worry is if one or more of your other pets could potentially be food in the eyes of your hedgehog (such as pet mealworms?). By way of an example of this, I would recommend that you not introduce your hedgehog to any herps you might have -- it seems that, for example, hedgehogs enjoy the taste of iguana tail. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- Brian MacNamara - macnamara@HedgehogHollow.COM Hedgehog Hollow: http://HedgehogHollow.COM/ - Brian MacNamara - macnamara@HedgehogHollow.COM Hedgehog Hollow: http://HedgehogHollow.COM/

User Contributions:

Hi, my hedgehog started running around her cage squealing so I took her out to see what was wrong. Her genital area was inflamed and she had open sores all around that area. I gave her a bath, but I'm really worried about her. Do you have any idea what this could be?
Thank you!

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