Hedgehogs have become quite popular as an exotic pet throughout the United States in recent years. Most pet hedgehogs were bred from domesticated, African hedgehogs. In pet stores, they are usually called African Pygmy Hedgehogs. These adorable little critters can be great companions, as long as you know how to care for them properly. Here are some things you should know before you get a pet hedgehog.
Handling a Scared Hedgehog Can Be Tricky
Hedgehogs are covered with sharp spines, not fur. Similar to a porcupine, their spines are meant to protect them from predators. Thankfully, unlike porcupines, hedgehogs are not able to shoot out their quills for defense. If they get caught by a predator, they jump and twitch to poke the aggressor in the lips and mouth until the predator gives up and lets go. As you can imagine, handling a scared hedgehog can be a bit tricky, so you will want to hold your new friend in a towel at first until he gets to know you.
They Like to Roll Up in a Ball
Their other defense mechanism is to roll up into a tight little ball when they feel threatened, causing their spines to point out and hiding their limbs and faces from predators. Once they’re curled up, you’ll just have to wait for them to decide to uncurl. You will need to spend a lot of time gentling handling your new pet to get him to uncurl and relax. If you don’t, he’ll just become a prickly little ball every time you interact with him.
They’re a Little Strange
When a hedgehog encounters something new, he will bite and lick at it. Then he’ll create a frothy ball of spit in his mouth that contains the new scent. Throwing his head back, he spits the frothy saliva onto his spines. This behavior is pretty strange, but it’s likely that they do it to camouflage their scent from predators. Although it’s kind of gross, it’s perfectly normal behavior for a hedgehog.
They’re Not Miniature Porcupines
Porcupines are classified as rodents. However, hedgehogs are actually insectivores. Although their natural diet is mainly insects, they eat a variety of foods in the wild that includes fruits, roots, mushrooms, fish, eggs, lizards, snakes, and more. While a pet hedgehog will enjoy a limited number of insects like mealworms and crickets, their main diet should be commercial hedgehog pellets. Cooked meat, fruit, and veggies can also be given as treats. Don’t overdo it on the treats because they will gorge on them and not eat their pellets, which they need for a properly balanced diet.
They Have Unusual Habits
Hedgehogs are most active at night, so if you like peace and quiet while you sleep, don’t get a hedgehog. They are also very vocal, making all sorts of noise, from squeals and snorts to grunts and snuffling sounds. They may even click or hiss when they’re stressed and purr or whistle when they’re content. If they’re in pain, they make a very distressing screaming sound.
They Need Exercise
Domesticated hedgehogs must be able to exercise and socialize, or they will become obese. Obesity is very common in pet hedgehogs and it can be a serious issue. You must provide your hedgehog will plenty of space, toys, a wheel, and a ball so he can get enough exercise.
Although hedgehogs can be good pets, be aware that they can carry diseases that are contagious to humans, including salmonella and fungal spores like ringworm. Owners should be meticulous about washing their hands after handling their pet or cleaning out his cage. If you’re thinking about getting a pet hedgehog, make sure you do your research to ensure that they’re a good fit for your household.