Filed Under: Small Animals

Hedgehogs aren’t just in Video Games

The City of Winnipeg recently passed the “Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw” replacing our previous Exotic Pet Bylaw.  This bylaw was originally proposed as a direct copy of Ottawa’s bylaw, and pet industry stakeholders were asked for input on it.  I took the task to heart, and recommended 10 separate changes to the proposed bylaw, 8 to do with reptiles and inverts, and 2 to do with mammals.  The only two that made it into the new bylaw were the ones about the mammals, the inclusion of Sugar Gliders and African Pygmy Hedgehogs as allowed pets.

Thank goodness I took the time to respond, otherwise we might have lost the option to keep these cute little critters.  Not for everyone, these pets find homes with advanced pet owners looking for a challenge (Sugar Gliders) or people looking for something different from a Guinea Pig or Rabbit (Hedgehog).

Sugar Gliders are not a part time pet.  They require a lot of care, and it is best if you do a lot of research before attempting these cute little rascals.

On the other hand, Hedgehogs make excellent pets, if you get them young and work with them often.   We don’t tend to keep them in stock, preferring to bring them in for customers who have done their research, and want to imprint as early as possible on the pet.

Their defensive ability to form a ball that is all spines makes them a pet you don’t want mad at you.  The spines, modified hairs, really, make an ideal defense as well as protection in the case of a fall.  Hedgehogs have been known to climb trees, but like some cats, aren’t as adept at coming back down.  In the case of a fall, the spines have a flexible part of the shaft that can act as a shock absorber!

They are nocturnal creatures, so make sure you take this into account when deciding where the cage is going to be.  And make sure you get the largest cage you can, hedgehogs may not look like runners, but they are.  They will run around the cage, or on a wheel, for extended periods of time, their little nails making scritchy scratchy sounds all night long.   Cute for a while, but the noise can become an issue. 

Hedgehogs diet in the wild is bugs and worms, but they do very well in captivity on a diet of grain free or low fat/senior dry catfood.  Kitten foods can be a little too rich for them, and can cause obesity issues.  Occasional offerings of mealworms as a treat are also usually welcomed.

Handling a Hedgehog can be daunting at first.  They can turn into a prickly ball of hurt if mishandled or if they feel threatened.  Sometimes, having the scent of another animal can set them off until they get used to it.  My first hedgehog was a great pet at my shop, but when I took him home, he rarely came out of his defensive ball position.  I later realized, the difference was the fact that I had dogs at home, and he was probably freaked out by smelling the scent of predators so near.

Using gloves at the start can give both you and the Hedgehog confidence in handling.  Once both are comfortable, the gloves come off, and you can pick up your pet without it balling up, that’s when the fun of Hedgehog owning starts.

Another interesting thing about Hedgehogs is a ritual called anointing.  When it encounters a new scent, it will lick and bite the source and form a scented froth and paste it on its spines with its tongue.   This seems to be a form of smell camouflage to aid it in attacking anthills, and while it may look like it is a rabid beast, it is far from it.   More than once I’ve gotten frantic calls worried about a Hedgehog “foaming at the mouth”.

As with any pet, research thoroughly before making any purchase, make sure you are ready for their 4 to 6 year lifespan (some can live up to 10), and you will have a great companion.

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