• So You Think You Want A Hedgehog?

    Written by Laura Tong

    Disclaimer: Hedgehogs DO make wonderful pets. If they didn't I would never have fallen in love with them and ended up with so many! However, like any pet, they have their advantages and disadvantages. I wrote this article trying to make sure that any potential hedgehog owner has a chance to look at the downside of hedgehogs before they buy one, both for their sake and for that of the hedgehog.

    Disadvantage #1: Hedgehogs are Living Beings
    Okay, so this seems terribly obvious, but people who have not had pets before don't always think about what it really means. This is a living creature that you are becoming responsible for. You are going to have to care for it and provide for it's needs, even if you're sick, or tired, or have work to do, or would rather be doing something else. If you're buying this as a present for a child, the responsibility for it's care still falls back onto you. As the adult, you are going to have to be willing to check and make sure it's being properly cared for. If it isn't you are going to need to either be willing to remind your child to care for it, or take over its care yourself.

    Is there an advantage?:

    Of course there is! Animals are wonderful friends. They have been proven to decrease blood pressure and stress, and they can be wonderfully relaxing to play with and snuggle. If you get a pet as a project with your child it can be a fun activity for you to do together, as well as helping to teach your child responsibility and compassion.

    Disadvantage #2: Hedgehogs Have Quills
    I know, this also seems horribly obvious, but you might be amazed at how many people don't think much about what this means either. While a hedgehog that is calm and in a good mood will lay back it's quills making it very smooth, and even a hedgehog who is being watchful is no worse than petting a hairbrush, picking up a hedgehog that is on the defensive is an interesting challenge at best, and possibly quite painful. A good pet hedgehog should spend very little time balled up like this, but if you have to give it medicine, clip its nails, or get it out from somewhere it has crawled under, you will have to deal with this. (we keep a pair of heavy gloves on hand for these occasions) Hedgehogs also DO shed. A healthy hedgehog will only loose a quill or two now and then, but that is not much comfort if you find one of them in your carpet with a bare foot.

    Is there an Advantage?:
    There are several advantages to having a friend with quills. One of them is that you don't need to brush your pet. Hedgehogs need very little in the way of grooming. An occasional bath and nail trim is all that is needed to keep them clean, healthy, and looking good. Hedgehogs also have a small measure of protection against other pets or children. This does not mean you can leave them alone with the five year old or the great big dog, or turn them loose to play outside. It DOES mean that after the first sniff or swat your dog or cat will think twice about bothering them again if they do happen to meet. Incidentally, our hedgehogs are allowed free play time in our den, and have a truce with all our cats. We don't allow the dogs in the den during free play time, but they are frequently down there during nightly cares and treat the hedgehogs with affectionate respect.

    Disadvantage #3: Hedgehogs do not jump through hoops, greet you at the door, or crawl into your lap and purr.
    While hedgehogs are wonderfully engaging little creatures and quite intelligent, they are not going to be the same sort of pet as a cat or dog. Most hedgehogs will become accustomed to a schedule and be waiting for you at their regular play time. Most of them also show some degree of affection to their owners, anything from poking their head out of their hiding place when they hear your voice to laying spread out, completely relaxed, snuggling with you. We have several who are waiting at the front of their cage when we get down there for nightly cares, and one who actually climbs the front wire and hangs there if we don't get to her quickly enough. However, this is still not the same degree of cuddling, loyalty, or trainability people expect from their dog or cat, and to expect that from your hedgehog is unrealistic.

    Is there an advantage?:

    Hedgehogs are gentle, sweet, charismatic pets. They are less demanding of your time than a dog, making them great for people with busy schedules. They live in a cage, so they're less likely to get into mischief while you're gone than either a dog or cat. Their small size and quiet nature also make them easier to keep in many housing situations where a dog or cat would be completely impractical.

    Disadvantage #4: Hedgehogs do not go to the bathroom outside or use a litter box.
    In reality, while some hedgehog owners are fortunate enough to have a hedgehog that uses a specific area of the cage, and are able to put a litter box there, most are not. In fact, most hedgehogs seem to prefer to use the restroom while running on their wheel (leading to messy feet and possibly a messy hedgie) or as soon as you wake them up to take them out of their cage (leading to a messy human). The later disaster can be almost completely averted by waking your hedgehog up, holding it for just a minute or two, then putting it back into its cage for a couple of minutes to do it's business before you pick it up again. This is not a guarantee of a poop free encounter though. Hedgehogs quite simply seem to like to poop on their people occasionally. If the thought of this, even on a rare basis, makes you want to go take a shower, then a hedgehog is probably not the pet for you.

    Is there an advantage?:

    If you can live with the occasional "oops" on your clothes this is one pet you don't have to take for walks in the rain. And to be honest, with all the hedgehog handling we do around here, we don't get pooped on all that often. If you shop well for your cage, weekly cleanup is quick and simple, and a hedgehog that has a regularly cleaned cage has almost no odor at all.

    Disadvantage #5: Hedgehogs have a rather unusual schedule.
    The schedule of hedgehogs is most often described as nocturnal, but that isn't truly accurate. Most hedgehogs seem to be awake and active in the late part of the evening or early night time and in the early morning, but this can vary from one hedgehog to another. Nightly hedgehog feeding and play is not terribly noisy, but one that has a squeaky wheel, enjoys jingling cat toys, or banging around their cage with a tp tube on their head can make more noise than you want going on two feet from your head while you're trying to sleep. They also don't make very good classroom pets, due to the fact that almost all of the time you'll be in class they will be in bed, and a good share of hedgehogs are far less charming than usual when woken up from a deep sleep.

    Is there an advantage?:

    If you spend the day at work or school, your hedgehog will be waking up and ready for some play time about the time you get home and finished with dinner instead of being frustrated waiting for you all day. Hedgehogs are also very adaptable. If you keep a regular playtime with a hedgehog, even if it's during the day, the hedgehog will adjust it's schedule accordingly, just like a person working the night shift rearranges theirs.

    Disadvantage #6: Hedgehogs can be considerably more challenging to keep than other small pets.
    Hedgehogs are not a commonly kept pet and this can lead them to be a more difficult pet to keep. Not as much research has been done into their daily or medical care as has with dogs, cats, and common smaller pets. Good care information can be hard to find, although this site will provide you with a good starting point and links to several other sites for great information. If you're in a smaller town it can be very hard to find some of the items that those of us with easy access to the bigger pet store chains take for granted, and while mail or computer ordering of these items is a solution, it can be a more costly one. Finding a vet can be a long and frustrating search that doesn't always end in sucess, and many emergency vets (open holidays and off hours) refuse to see them all together.

    Is there an advantage?:

    Hedgehogs are a unique pet, and while they aren't for everyone, if you find yourself loving one, the little bit of extra effort needed to keep it properly cared for seems more than worth it. Information may be harder to find than on some pets, but it is out there, and when you find it you are likely to find a very special community of people who love hedgehogs.