New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL 2002


ALTERNATIVE PETS

HEDGEHOGS AND HOGLETS

By Nicole Gendler

Last Thursday, I took our 30 hedgehogs out to the garden. We keep a small pen with grass and leaves and tunnels for the hedgehogs to play in. As different hedgehogs approached and crawled around me, I realized that I could tell each animal apart without looking at it. From Isis, to Mr. Big, each hedgie is unique and quirky. I have been a licensed hedgehog breeder for 2 years now and love having these animals in my home.

Hedgehogs are small, insectivorous mammals that can be found throughout the world. They are native to England, continental Europe, Africa and Asia. Hedgehogs are most closely related to the shrew family and despite their similarity; they are totally unrelated to porcupines. Other hedgehog-related species include tenrecs, a spiny, near look-alike animal found on the island of Madagascar, and moonrats, the hairy hedgehog of South-East Asia.

The hedgehog that most pet lovers in North America are familiar with is commonly referred to as the African Pygmy Hedgehog. This animal is the product of not one, but two different species of hedgehog--the White-Bellied (Atelerix albiventris) and the Algerian hedgehog. (Atelerix algirus) Whether the crossing of the two was a deliberate act or simply an accident is unclear. Both of these hedgehog species are native to Africa. The White- Bellied is found in central Africa, while the range of the Algerian hedgehog is limited to the northwest regions of the continent along the Mediterranean coast.

Hedgehogs readily lend themselves to just about anyone's lifestyle and schedule. Being diurnal (awake parts of both day and night) just like house cats, nearly everyone can find a time of day in which to enjoy them. They do not require a great deal of room in which to live and their dietary requirements are very easy to meet. Since they are solitary animals by nature they neither require nor want the companionship of another animal. I have found that this animal makes a great children's pet. Unlike other small rodents, hedgehogs do not give off any odor and they are easily litter trained. They live much longer than rodents, too. With the proper care and diet, your pet can live to be 5 - 8 years old. Add to all of this the fact that they require no immunization shots and are very disease resistant; you can see why so many people consider hedgehogs to be the perfect pet.

Hedgehogs have adorable raccoon-like faces, set with beady little black, red or garnet eyes and small pointy noses that twitch constantly. They come in a range of colors, from white and albino to dark black, with apricot, cinnamon and chocolate shades in between. Their quills are not barbed or nearly as sharp as porcupines, and remain attached to their bodies. Their little white tummies are covered with short, white hair. When frightened, they can roll up into a tight ball and look very much like a sea urchin. Watching a hedgehog run on their tiny little legs with a round body is a real sight to be seen. Despite their solitary nature, they can become very affectionate with their owners and will even enjoy watching TV with you or just snuggling in your lap.

The best place to purchase a hedgehog is from a breeder rather than a pet store, but unfortunately, this isn't always possible. No matter where you end up looking, make sure that the breeder or store is licensed, and has at least some information on the age and background of their hedgies. Licensed breeders register their litters (like dogs and cats) and this will give you important information about your animal's history. You will want to choose a single hedgehog since they are solitary and don't normally like to share a cage. Never buy a male and female to be placed in the same cage unless you intend to breed! Since hedgehogs are exotic animals, you are required to get a USDA license in order to breed.

Temperament should be a deciding factor as to whether you buy a particular animal or not. Pick up a potential pet and examine it closely. Does it unroll after a few seconds? Does he click, jump or hiss? Hissing is okay. He is simply frightened because he doesn't know you. Clicking, however, means that he's trying to threaten you. This is NOT acceptable hedgehog behavior and you should look at a different, better-tempered animal. Every hedgehog is unique. Some like to play and explore, while others are more content to cuddle. Keep in mind that young hedgehogs require a lot of sleep. You will be most satisfied with your new pet if you carefully choose the one that best suits your own personality and lifestyle.

Both male and female hedgehogs make equally good pets. Never take a hedgehog home before it is at least six weeks of age. Older hedgehogs are OK too, but keep in mind that the younger the hedgehog, the better the odds of him bonding with you. Make sure all the spines are present; that there are no signs of mites, fleas or crustiness on it's back. Also, any green droppings or diarrhea means a sick animal. A healthy hedgehog should have a stride that is somewhere between a walk and a shuffle with no wobbling. Ask the person you are purchasing the hoglet from if they have any guarantees. They should at least guarantee the hoglet from genetic defects that will show up in the next month. By following these guidelines, you will be helping to ensure that the pet you choose will live a long and healthy life.

Your hedgehog will require a secure home since they are very good climbers. If you do use a cage with an open top, it must have slippery sides that are at least 12" high and a floor space of at least l6" x 24". A storage container is ideal because it is easy to clean and you can drill a hole in the side for a water bottle. In addition to a cage, your hedgehog will require the following accessories: bedding, food bowl, water bottle, hiding place or sleeping bag, littler box, a wheel (no bars to catch their feet in) and toys (hedgies love toilet paper tubes and small stuffed animals).

Although there are many foods available in stores, those designed for hedgehogs are ideal. I feed my hedgehogs a combination of hedgehog kibble and insect mush. The food you choose should be supplemented by a variety of other foods such as vegetables, mealworms and crickets, cooked meats and fruit and vegetables. However none of these should be fed as anything more than a treat 3 or 4 times a week. The dry food should be the staple.

There is great information available on the web about owning hedgehogs. Also, we are sponsoring New Mexico's first hedgehog show, Legend of Sleepy Hedgehog, on October 20 at the Albuquerque Garden Center. This will be a great opportunity to see the personality and color varieties hedgehogs come in. There will be many hoglets for sale, along with hedgehog supplies. Please see hedgehogsinspace.com
for more information.

Nicole Gendler is a Ph.D. candidate in developmental psychology at UNM and the owner of Hedgehogs in Space, which specializes in breeding friendly and happy hedgehogs, as well as supplying their owners/slaves with everything they need.

HOME   NM Resources   Archives   Links   Top