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.

 

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Hedgehog Party!

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Ever wanted to meet a hedgehog in person? Have questions to ask, but don’t feel like doing it online? Then we have the perfect opportunity for you!

Saturday 19th from 11 – 3 we’ll have a table at the Fallsgrove Petvalu with two prickly friends for everyone to meet!

Come by, ask questions, pet a hedgehog!  If you ever wanted to know what the spikes feel like – now is the time to find out!

New Hedgehogs, New Upcoming Litter, and New Experiences

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Hello, hedgehog lovers!

It’s been a while since we’ve posted here, but a lot has been going on with Otherworld Exotics in the interim. Just a few short weeks ago we took a trip up to Buffalo, New York to visit the incomparable Hog Heaven Hedgehogs. We got to visit their hedgehogs and tenrecs, and more importantly, add two new beautiful girls to our herd.

 

Jenny and Frozone

Here are our new girls!

Jenny

Meet Jenny

Jenny is around 10 weeks old and a bit, well, large for her size. It seems that as each of her siblings got adopted she began making up for the loss by eating their food, and eventually was eating for six. Oops. She’s been put on a diet since she joined us, and happily given a wheel. It’s rather amusing seeing a hedgie have to jog rather than run, but she’s been steadily decreasing in girth in a healthful way.

Jenny Wheeling

Jenny has a need. A need for speed.

Frozone

Where’s my super suit??

This is Frozone, a rather happy hog. She’s about a year old now, and is a chocolate chip girl.  She comes from a platinum line, and is very close to being so herself. We’re hoping we might get some double white hoglets in our new litter with her! She’s extremely outgoing, and was actually going to be kept as a pet before we got her. We put Watson in with her recently, and fingers crossed, will probably have a prickle born around April 20 – 30…

In other news, Niagra is positively beautiful in the wintertime. The day we arrived a blizzard had just passed over and it did snow while we were there…

Niagra Falls

Niagra in winter

Niagra Rainbow

We even saw rainbows

Your hedgehog is what? Tickling the urchin.

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One of the many delights of the hedgehog is how incredibly weird they can be.  It’s been said that one of the biggest problems encountered when attempting to do a scientific survey of the species is the difficulty of stating any generalizations about them. The males may be bolder than the females… except for these females. The females may typically be larger than the males, but here are some big boned boys. It seems that the hedgehog endlessly contradicts any attempts at classification. But isn’t that part of their wonder?

Every hedgehog owner has their stories of just how odd their hedgie’s behavior is!  For instance, our boy Sebastian has a a very special distinction that none of our other hedgies quite have. When we first rescued him, he was often just a spiky ball of quills. He refused to open up to us – not for treats, not for food, not for anything. We even set him down with one of our females. Would he open up to say hi to her? She licked his quills and he complained in huffs and growls that really, really confused the girl. She eventually gave up. He seemed satisfied then. As satisfied as a ball of spikes can be.

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So satisfied

There was only one way to get him to uncurl for any amount of time. The uncurling was important, as it let us feel his belly to see if his fever had broken and touch him more so he could gradually get acclimated to it. Nowadays Sebastian is a very playful, much more gentle individual. He enjoys being held to some degree, enjoys cuddling much more when we don’t touch him. He’s mouthy, much more vocal than the others. He’s still quite a piece of work, but at least now he’s healthy and a good pet.  And he’s still extremely, extremely ticklish.

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More than any of our other hedgies Sebastian enjoys being tickled. He stretches out into it and uncurls from a ball. He relaxes into it to the point that sometimes his front legs are up above his head and his eyes are shut in an expression of bliss. It works on both sides – between his shoulders and near the base of his spine. It’s utterly ridiculous. He stops complaining when we do it, and sort of flops back and lets us have at it. It’s truly an experience, tickling a hedgehog.

This trick can be especially helpful at the vet. If you have a hedgehog that complains during its annual visit, I recommend you give tickling a try. A tentative try. The spines can be difficult to work your fingers between, but practice does make perfect. Sometimes even just rubbing the tips with your fingers can initiate this sort of response.

I warn that this trick won’t always work, but when it does it’s truly hilarious to see.

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Building a Hedgie Home, part one: housing

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There are a lot of strange notions going around about how to house a hedgehog.  Assuming we’re speaking of a pet hedgehog, and not a wild one, there really isn’t a great deal of work needed to set-up a cage that your hedgie would be happy to live in.

There are a great deal of options when it comes to putting together a more complex setup, but for now we’re going to focus on the basic design. Consider this a beginning hedgehog home.

What type of cage should I use?

The short answer is: No cage.

The cages that are used for small animals like a gerbil or a hamster would be far too small to house a hedgehog. The larger cages for ferrets and rats would be not only too large, but also contain wire mesh or metal bars which are to be avoided at all costs in hedgehog cages.

Hedgehogs have a tendency to try to climb, and their bodies and legs aren’t built for it.. Wire mesh, even if it is tiny, is a perfect size for trapping toenails and tearing them out. Even if it doesn’t tear, it can break toes and injure paws to the point of amputation. Likewise, the wire bars can catch thin hedgie legs and ankles and break bone or cut off circulation. One of the most common problems hedgehogs suffer come from inadequate cages.

I’ve heard a lot of mention of aquariums as hedgehog cages, and that is also not the best idea. While aquariums can come in the right sizes to house the animals, they offer poor ventilation and tend to capture heat. It’s easy to overheat a hedgehog in such a cage and they are prone to suffer heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

The best cage for a hedgehog then?

A Plastic Tub

Honestly.

The best option for keeping hedgehogs is a large plastic tub. 105qts is the minimum size tub a hedgehog can be kept in, but the best dimensions tend to be 24″ x 36″. It’s vital to ensure that the sides of the cage are large enough that the hedgehog can’t climb out  of it, even if it gets on top of other items within the cage.

Now, you may be worried that the cage is too small for the hedgie at that size. Honestly, it isn’t. If the hedgehog has too much space it’ll go crazy trying to figure out what to go in it. They’re prone to OCD like behaviors if given too much space, and can be watched running back and forth repeatedly and rearranging items in an obsessive way. Too little space and the hedgehog will get depressed and may start self-mutilating.

The plastic tubs are the cheapest option, and the easiest one to work with when it comes to setting up the remainder of the cage. They can be bought at most shops, including even the larger chain grocery stores if you look into the storage sections.

Is a Hedgehog Right For You?

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So, you think you want a hedgehog.

Look at those ears!

Look at that face. Look at those ears. Who could resist such an adorable creature? Combined with the novelty of having such an exotic pet, it’s not difficult to see how they’ve burrowed into our hearts and homes. Which leads us to the question…

Is a hedgehog right for you?

When deciding whether or not the hedgehog is the perfect pet for you it’s important to take into consideration certain aspects of our prickly friends that may make them a less than ideal pet for the casual owner.

Consider.

1. Hedgehogs are Primarily Nocturnal.

While hedgehogs can technically be considered diurnal, a bit active during the day as well as during the night, they are technically nocturnal animals. Although they can be taught to be more active during the day, this is very much not advised. They are most comfortable living the way they are genetically meant  to.

Hedgehogs tend to begin being more active around 7PM, with activity truly spiking around 10PM through to 5AM in my experience. All night they will be rooting around in their hedgie homes and running on the wheel. While some wheels can be very quiet, Carolina Storm Wheels being an excellent example, they still will be noisier than you are used to. Can you live with the noise and having a pet active at night time? Does this fit your lifestyle?

2. Hedgehogs are Exotics (and require specific care).

There are several important things to consider when caring for a pet hedgehog. Due to the fact that these are African Hedgehogs, it’s important to remember that their natural environment is one much warmer than most of the US states where they’re popular.  It is dangerous, and even deadly for them to reach temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit and over 80 degrees Fahrenheit with most people reporting hedgehogs at their most active and comfortable around 76 degrees or so.

In addition to this their diet is one not yet well established.  While there are several hedgehog specific foods out there, these tend to be both ill-designed and expensive compared to giving them a primarily cat food diet.

3. Hedgehogs Are Not Domesticated.

It was only in the 1980s that African Hedgehogs began to be imported as pets in America. While, if bought from a good breeder, they could be deemed tame they are by no means yet domesticated. They retain a good degree of wild behavior, and as such are not necessarily the best choice for someone with little patience.  Hedgehogs can be very cuddly, very affectionate, and very entertaining pets. They can become very trusting of humans, but will always be a bit wary of strangers, especially if not socialized well when young.

As pets, hedgehogs require patience, persistence, and a good degree of understanding from their owners. Unlike dogs and cats, they will not immediately be the cuddly pet happy to be woken up at any time and be around you. Like anything good in life, they require time and effort to reap the best rewards.

Keeping all this in mind, is a hedgehog right for you? Seriously ask yourself this before seeking one out, and do your research beforehand!

Close Up On: African Pygmy Hedgehog

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Let’s meet Puca.

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Hedgie in a mug!

Puca is an African Pygmy Hedgehog.

While the word Pygmy implies that the hedgehog is smaller than a normal member of the species, for the African Pygmy Hedgehog that is not the case.  These African Hedgehogs are exactly the size that they are meant to be.  They are the smallest of the hedgehog species, generally being between 15 – 25 centimeters (5.9 – 9.8 inches) in length though some have been measured up to 12 inches in size.  Their weight averages between 250 and 600 grams (8.8 – 21 oz).  Females generally are larger than the males of the species.

Contrary to popular belief their legs are not short and stubby, but actually rather long and elegant averaging at 7.62 centimeters (3 inches) long. The African Pygmy Hedgehog, also called the Four-Toed Hedgehog, is the only one of its species that has only four toes on each foot.  While there are anomalies within the species where the hallux may be slightly formed, it’s unusual enough to retain this distinction.

A well bred hedgehog will have large ears, a short muzzle, and long whiskers. it will have 36 teeth, the most notable of which are little ‘fangs’ at the front on the upper and lower jaw. Unlike rodents, the hedgehogs teeth will not continuously grow throughout its life, but are fully grown around the time they finish weaning. If fed too much hard food, or chewing on too many hard things, the teeth /will/ chip which can be a problem.

In the wild African Pygmy Hedgehogs are typically white or cream with gray or brown banding.  Their fur is occasionally speckled, with a brown mask, and the underside and legs are white in color earning them the name of white-bellied hedgehogs. In captivity the hedgehogs have a wide variety of colors – 92 variations thus recorded – including everything from split facial masks, badger stripes, and even pirate patches on occasion.