Hedgehogs are prickly little creatures whether you are talking about their spines or grumpy attitudes when you wake them. Owners say it’s love at first glance at those adorable little faces and with proper care that love is returned.
Whether their first introduction to a hedgie was meeting Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3, or when the Queen of Hearts used them as croquet balls in The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, people have been fascinated by the little mammals that are more closely related to the shrew than the porcupine.
When Jan Sandridge of Stow asked me if hedgehogs make good pets, I forwarded the query to Beacon Journal pet experts and discovered that because they are considered “exotic” pets, most veterinarians don’t have a lot of contact with them.
I then turned to a hedgehog owner to get the lowdown on the little creatures that are fast becoming favorite house pets.
Akron residents Sarah January and her boyfriend, Nate Cain, decided several years ago they were in the market for a pet that would fit into their busy lifestyles.
“We wanted something small, and this may sound silly, but not as messy as a cat. We also wanted something more interactive than a rabbit or guinea pig,” said January.
They researched hedgehogs’ physical and emotional needs and made a commitment to provide for one.
They found a breeder at Millermeade Farms in Montpelier in Williams County with a young female hedgehog that looked promising.
They spent two days building a 3- by 6-foot solid floor cage for her and appointing it with items she would need, such as a horizontal, solid surface running wheel to keep her trim and entertained. They determined she would need lots of socialization and were prepared to give her supervised time outside her cage where she could interact with them.
The couple brought home the African pygmy hedgehog they named Minima because she was so tiny (the opposite of Maxima). That was three years ago, and Minima has been a delight, January said.
The little pets probably wouldn’t do well in a family of rambunctious youngsters, she said, because they tend to be jumpy and they seem to like it when things are quiet and calm.
Small children may also not like the feel of the spines and that could cause them to drop the animals, January said.
“It’s like shaking hands with a pinecone,” she said.
Hedgies are not inexpensive. A search on the Internet shows that a hedgehog from a reputable breeder can cost more than $200. Setup fees can run a couple hundred more and annual upkeep is estimated to run from $200 to $400. There are hedgehog rescues because some people abuse the tiny creatures and they have a fear of humans.
Hedgehogs do well on a diet of better-made cat kibble that is high in protein and low in fat. They require additional nutrition provided by freeze-dried crickets and mealworms that Minima finds hidden in a small bowl of river rocks in her cage.
“You can tell when she wants treats when you hear her moving the rocks around looking for them,” January said.
Hedgehogs need a warm environment, between 75 to 80 degrees, and the couple keep their apartment warm and use heat lamps around her cage at all times.
A hedgie can live from five to seven years and have no particular health problems, but owners must keep their weight in check to prevent fatty liver disease. They have also been known to contract cancer and develop a degenerative neurological disease called wobbly hedgehog syndrome.
Experts say hedgehogs have different personalities, and while they rarely bite, they tend to get grumpy and make hissing sounds if they are displeased with your behavior, especially when you wake them.
They are solitary in the wild, and domesticated hedgies are equally so. But if you spend enough time with them, you can see they become attached to you, said January.
Although Minima loves to cuddle and will run to the couple when she is startled, January warns that when outside their cages, they must be carefully watched.
“They are escape artists. They may be still, but the first time you take your eyes off them, they run,” she said.
Learn more about hedgehog care and decide if they are the right pet for your family at: www.hedgehogcare.org/care-sheet.
Other animals in the news:
New adoption hours — Paws & Prayers pet rescue has teamed with Chapel Hill PetSmart, 355 Howe Ave., Cuyahoga Falls, and the Brimfield Petco, 3975 Cascades Blvd., to feature adoptable cats and kittens during store hours. For more information, visit Paws & Prayers at www.pawsandprayers.org.
Auction for airline tickets to help homeless pets —PAWsibilties, Humane Society of Greater Akron is sponsoring an auction for two round-trip Southwest Airline tickets to anywhere in the continental United States. The auction that began Monday continues through 5 p.m. Jan. 17. All proceeds will benefit the animals awaiting adoption in the shelter. Tickets, which must be used by Nov. 1, 2014, are valued at $800. Visit the auction at pawsibilities.eflea.ca to begin bidding.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to email@example.com.