A New Beginning

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Otherworld Exotics began as a breeder of African Pygmy Hedgehogs. But, over time we discovered that there were many hedgehog breeders, but there were no good sources for people to learn about, surrender, or have the support needed when adopting an exotic animal. So, we registered with the Hedgehog Welfare Society and became Maryland’s only hedgehog rescue. In addition to rescuing animals, we have begun developing education programs to allow people to learn more about other exotics, and other native creatures.

While we no longer breed, we do offer surrendered hedgehogs up for adoption. We offer to adopt them out with full cage setups, to make the adoption as easy as possible. This website, while advertising our adoptable animals, will also serve as a center for information regarding the animals we work with, their care, and natural history. We hope to help others learn to appreciate not only hedgehogs, but the other animals we encounter on a regular basis.

We are available to go to schools, nature centers, libraries, and ever birthday parties. We are happy to have people over to interact with our animals as well. The prices for such encounters can be found on our website here. Of course, you can also email us at OtherworldExotics@gmail.com to set up dates to visit or discuss us coming to your event.

The website will be updated once a week on Thursdays, but we are always available via e-mail and text to answer any queries.

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Focus On Grumpy Hedgehogs: Marty & Kurt

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One of the most common concerns that we encounter when it comes to hedgehogs and hedgehogs care is the belief ‘my hedgehog hates me.’ It is prevalent to the point that if you type in the words ‘my hedgehog’ on Google or a similar search engine that is often one of the top results that comes up, or it will even autocomplete the sentence to say that. The concern is one people to come to us with, surrender hedgehogs over, or explain as they surrender hedgehogs. Sometimes it’s explained in nicer language:

  • My hedgehog is shy.
  • He’s a bit skittish.
  • He doesn’t like to be handled.
  • He can be a bit grumpy.

It all amounts to the same thing, the eternal question. Why does my hedgehog hate me?

First, it’s important to acknowledge that your hedgehog does not in fact hate you. The negative reactions that you get from your hedgehog are likely the result of one or two causes either singularly or in combination with each other. So let’s break it down with two of our current adoptables, and learn what causes these behaviors and how we can possibly alter them.

Marty McFly

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Marty McFly is a hedgehog that was surrendered to us due to his behavior. In spite of his owners having had him for a year, he had never quite warmed up to them. When we received him it was easy to see just how bad his behavior had gotten. In spite of having been involved with hedgehogs for close to a decade now, we found him nearly impossible to handle. Spiky, hissing, huffing, and popping he was quite a wonder to behold.

Some hedgehogs get the way they do due to not being handled enough. Some persist even when being handled often, as Marty certainly did. We forced him to unball via a tickling technique we’ve developed – there will be a post on that later – and set about trimming nails, bathing, and generally cleaning. It was when looking at his ears that we discovered part of the reason for his pain.

Blood stained the white fur beneath his ear, and clogged his ear canal. It was while removing the bulk of the old blood with a q-tip that it became apparent that this was no new wound or puncture. The scent of infection and necrotic flesh was difficult to miss. Something was very obviously wrong, and had been wrong long enough to have expanded to the area behind his ear as well. The injury had not been easy to find due to his general huffiness. An aggressive hedgehog is not the easiest animal to examine, treat, or otherwise medicate.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth taking care of, though.

A trip to the vet was enough to diagnose him with an ulcerated abscess in his ear. He was put under sedation, the abscess cleaned, and the bulk of it loosely sutured to aid in its healing. We were given instructions on how to clean it, as well as painkillers. Did that help him overcome his grumpiness? Was the general aggressive personality due entirely to the pain he was in?

Well, partially.

His skittishness has gone down as the wound has healed and he is easier to handle than he was before. He no longer is so reactive that another hedgehog huffing is enough to set him off as well. It’s obvious in retrospect that pain was the cause of some of his grumpiness. As the pain grew, his own attitude continued to turn more negative. Now that the pain is gone, the abscess healed, the blood-flow stopped – he has begun to come out of his shell.

Every night we catch him on the wheel, now. A few nights ago he even came to his food bowl as we filled it, and ate while we stood there. He is still a standoffish hedgehog, and likely will be for a while yet. Nonetheless, the first step has been made towards his full recovery and rehabilitation.

Given time, patience, and attention he is likely to become an affectionate, even cuddly, hedgehog.

 

Kurt Wagner (formerly Sonic)

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Kurt Wagner (formerly Sonic) is a very young hedgehog. Born in December, his family did their best to socialize him but has seen little success. Kurt remains a very skittish hedgehog, one that we rarely even see emerge from his igloo to eat at night, let alone get on the wheel. He is wary of new people, and has little confidence about his own ability to interact well with others.

If he isn’t hurt, does this just mean he hates people?

No, not at all.

While breeding can account for some of the social issues and high anxiety that Kurt experiences, it is by no means the only explanation for the way that he is. His family did their best to socialize him, but they might have expected a bit too much from a new hedgehog. When you get a hedgehog from the breeder, you have to keep in mind that this is often their very first time being away from their mother, and their siblings. This is their first time in a car, their first time one on one with a stranger. It’s easy to overwhelm a new hedgehog, and I think that might be what he’s going through.

The way we’re moving forward with Kurt is initially giving him the space he needs. We won’t socialize him for long periods, and when socializing him take care to set him back in the cage only when he has uncurled and has his quills down. Putting a hedgehog back when they are beginning to warm up like this might seem counterintuitive, but it serves to reinforce the idea that this calm behavior is what is being sought – they’re being rewarded for being calm and social, rather than scared and aggressive.

Another tactic is allowing him to gain confidence by letting him explore his environment. Allowing him to wander, self-anoint, and get comfortable lets him be calmer about his environment. Knowing what is around him helps the hedgehog feel more at home, the same way when you’re house hunting you want to explore the whole house… even if you won’t end up spending much time in the attic. In these instances we put him away after he’s done self-anointing, thus allowing him to feel protected after he’s covered himself in whatever scent/texture/flavor he best enjoys.

 

So. Injury? Oversocialization or undersocialization? Your hedgehog doesn’t hate you, he simply requires a bit more attention and patience to figure out what the source of his discomfort is. It can be remedied – it might just take a while and some detective work.

 

Is a Hedgehog Right For You?

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So, you want to get a hedgehog.

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Our very first hedgehog, Púca.

In the past few years hedgehogs have become a very popular pet. The internet is rife with videos of them doing everything from floating happily in a sink to enjoying tummy rubs from their owner. There are even photos of them camping, kayaking, and cheering the viewer on in hopes that they make the most of their day. Hedgehogs, in short, have become a bit of a fad. How accurate are the best known depictions of their behavior, though? How high is the likelihood of getting a pet that will happily don a shark-hoodie and delicately accept a slice of apple from your baby spoon?

The first thing I ask a potential adopter is whether or not they have had experience with hedgehogs before. The vast majority of people who adopt from me have not, although many have had some exotic animal experience in the past. Whether rat, rabbit, or reptile the experience of owning a non-traditional pet does indeed help understand the complexities of dealing with a hedgehog. Hedgehogs are not nearly as difficult as some people assume they would be – for instance, unlike sugar gliders the cat food that comprises the bulk of their diet is easy to come by – but they do require a slightly different skill set than most animals do. None of this is to say that you need exotic animal experience prior to owning a hedgehog. It is just something that would make the transition easier.

The second thing I ask a potential adopter is whether or not they have a sense of humor. Hedgehogs, you see, require just that: a good sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh through the difficult times of owning such an animal and not take too seriously the huffs, puffs, and prickles that they offer you. You have to be able to laugh when they become little more than a potato with toothpicks sticking out of it in your hand. Patience is also a virtue, of course, but a sense of humor will serve you better and longer when the bonding process stretches from days, to weeks, to potential months. I doubt many will face the uphill climb of two years that it took for me to find the sweetness inherent within my second hedgehog Sebastian, but it still is a possibility. Hedgehogs can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth the time and effort.

The third thing required for owning a hedgehog is time. Time not in the sense that the hedgehog will dominate your every waking moment as a husky or a crow might, but rather in the sense that you must devote a certain amount of time to the hedgehog in order to socialize it successfully. Like most exotics, the hedgehogs sociability is based upon the amount of time you spend handling them confidently. The more used to your scent, touch, and voice that they are the calmer they will be around you and others. The less time you spend with them, the more their natural skittishness will overtake their curiosity. This is especially true of rescue hedgehogs who likely already have a history of minor neglect.

Before deciding upon getting a hedgehog it is vital that you consider the time and effort that the creature will require. Is this a pet that you will enjoy, even if it huffs and hisses at you for the first week or month? Is this a pet you are confident enough to handle, and amused enough to not feel threatened by? Finally, are you going to put in the hour or so a day that they require to become well socialized? It is worth noting that socialization can be as simple as holding the animal in its snuggle sack while you are occupied with other things, but devoted time for play and enrichment is by no means a bad idea.

Consider the above, and if it all still sounds delightful to you, then continue with the research and potentially go to meet some of these silly animals.

 

Hedgehog Storytime at AACPL

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On Friday 22nd Otherworld Exotics made an appearance at Odenton Regional Library, part of the Anne Arundel County Public Libraries here in Maryland. Jen, our librarian friend, invited us to join her for an event called Hedgehog Storytime. We will be doing this event again, and it will be advertised here on the website as well as on Twitter and Facebook. We will advertise every event we do here and through our Twitter, so keep your eyes peeled.

Let us know if you plan on being at an event – if you can’t make it, we can always schedule a date for you to come and meet the hedgehogs (and other animals) another time.

Hedgehog Storytime was a fantastic event. In addition to the usual storytime, we added an educational element after the reading finished. We explained basic hedgehog facts including the number of species, what they eat, how long they live, etc. – and followed this discussion with a chance for the children and adults present to actually touch three different hedgehogs. This period was a mixture of petting hedgehogs, answering questions, and in general chatting with the kids. They were particularly enamored with Pimento, who we described as being ‘the spiciest hedgehog.’ He was indeed the most skittish of the bunch we brought (Pimento, Pan, Khaleesi – along with Jen’s hedgehog Kibibi) but the children nonetheless loved him. He is going to be a great ambassador, and we can’t wait to experience future event with him.

This event attracted over 140 participants across two sessions.

We’re planning two more Hedgehog Storytimes with Jen this year, and are in tentative talks with the library for our Spooky Animal Storytime including our rats around fall.

Watch this space for updates! We hope to see you at future events.

What is an African (Pygmy) Hedgehog?

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One of the first things I tend to hear when people handle my hedgehogs is an exclamation of surprise at their size. Most people assume that African Hedgehogs should be as large as their European counterparts – some even think that they are their European counterparts and don’t realize the sheer abundance of hedgehog species in the world. Currently, there are believed to be seventeen different species of hedgehog in the world, with only three to my knowledge that are fairly common in the pet trade. That number can easily be reduced to two nowadays, with two of those species having been interbred enough in the United States to qualify as one species.

Long-Eared Hedgehogs (specifically the Egyptian Hedgehogs) are popular in the pet trade in Europe but have so far failed to take a hold in the US. They are smaller than African Hedgehogs generally, and easily distinguishable from them due to their enormous ears, pointier face, and fluffier underbellies. Their temperaments tend to be a bit more wild as well, as they’ve spent less time being kept as pets and bred for such purposes.

Attempts were made to import them to the United States in the 90s, but failed. Egyptian Hedgehogs carried an illness that quickly decimated the breeders herds and resulted in an import ban for a number of years. Attempts have not been made since to establish them in the United States, breeders focusing instead on the Lesser Hedgehog Tenrec and the Greater Hedgehog Tenrec, of which more will be written in a future post.

The African Hedgehog, commonly referred to as the African Pygmy Hedgehog, is what you will find being bred and sold in the United States. These hedgehogs are a crossbreed between the Algerian Hedgehog and the Four-Toed (also called White-Bellied) hedgehog. The two were previously viewed as separate species, but as the years went on the distinguishing marks became more and more difficult to discern so now they are all classed under the African Pygmy Hedgehog title.

African Pygmy Hedgehogs are technically just African Hedgehogs. They aren’t diminished in size from an earlier, larger population. They are just the size they need to be. I prefer calling them African Hedgehogs for that reason, but the term African Pygmy Hedgehog (APH or Pog) has caught on in most exotic animal circles.

African Hedgehogs are small in size, their weights generally ranging from 250g to 600g, with the odd outlier topping 1,000g. They tend to be a pleasant round shape, like most hedgehogs , with a fluffy white underbelly and four toes on each dainty paw. I have heard them described as potatoes with toothpicks stuck in their back. This is not an inaccurate description.

All hedgehogs are insectivores, and require a particular breakdown of fat, crude protein, and carbohydrates in their diet. This nutritional breakdown is generally achieved by feeding hedgehogs a base diet of cat food with occasional crickets, mealworms, superworms, or waxworms (which lack the chitinous shell) as supplemental food. Depending upon the hedgehog you can occasionally give them fruit, veggie, or baby food as a sometimes treat. Too often with sugary foods and teeth problems will develop.

They are vigorous animals and require a wheel in their cage so that they can spend the night running as they would in the wild foraging for food. They can run the equivalent of a human running 3 marathons in a single night, and their maximum speed is 5mph. Quite impressive for something so small! They are curious, solitary, generally benevolent creatures in spite of their stereotyping as grumpy animals. With the right care they can become a loving pet for the five to seven years of their life.

Which leads us to the next section – Is a Hedgehog the Right Pet For You?

Upcoming Litters

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We’re going to be trying for two litters in August, and a third in September.

I’ll update this space with information on how it’s going, and sending e-mails out to those who are interested once the hoglets are three weeks old for reservations to be made.

What kind of commitment is a hedgehog?

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Sebastian

One of the most common questions I’m asked can be summed up in this post title — What kind of commitment is a hedgehog? It is a good pet for my classroom, my child, my teenager – how long do they live? What is it like to own an exotic pet?

Now, I’ve previously said here that a hedgehog is not terribly difficult to take care of. That is still true.

They’re easy pets to care for if you know what you’re doing.

That is a very large if.

Hedgehogs require research. They require having a vet on hand that you hopefully won’t need to use too often. They also require a lot of patience.

Which is to say, hedgehogs are a large commitment.

They aren’t a commitment in the way that a dog or a cat is. Hedgehogs are not going to be following you everywhere, an they aren’t going to be demanding attention and needing a lot of time to play. Instead hedgehogs are going to need you to be willing to look up information you don’t have an immediate answer to – and possibly look up information that your vet might not know. They’ll require your patience as they prick up and are scared, they’ll require a daily commitment of spending time with them so you can get to know them and their personality properly. These are a very different animal from cats and dogs, but a very, very rewarding one if you’re willing to put in the proper time and effort for them.

Happy 2015. 🙂