My Experience Owning a Hedgehog

I wanted to write about my experience owning a hedgehog because I received some interest about the topic from readers a few months ago.  Plus, I've been debating writing a post just because I know it's not an animal that a lot of people have owned or even seen before.  So I'm going to tell you every thing I know about these adorable creatures.


In 2010, B was deploying for a whole year.  I was in NY at the time and had only lived there for a year so I had a new job, new friends, and family 5 hours away.  But, I'd be living there myself.  I decided that I wanted to get a little buddy, but a dog was forbidden at my apartment, and a cat, well that just wasn't for me.  So I think it was an animal planet episode that I was watching when I came across these adorable animals called hedgehogs.  I was hooked from that point.  I have this weird need to acquire unfortunate looking animals I guess.  (See; my Frenchie, Louis, and Sloths...).

  Anyway, from then on I started doing research.  This is definitely an animal that requires research, especially since it is considered an exotic pet.  I found a reputable breeder in another state and was in contact with them from there.  It turns out, the hedgie I had initially came to pick up was no longer available so they offered me a 6 month old female "chocolate" colored hedgie that they were planning on breeding in the future (Hedgies come in a variety of colors!).  After being a little upset that I wasn't getting a baby, the breeder reminded me that I wouldn't have to go through the "quilling" process with her because she was already 6 months old.  I'll explain what "quilling" is in a bit.  But I was sold.  I bought a cage, food, and supplies from the breeder, signed our contract, paid $200 for the hedgie and $100 for the cage and took my little "angel" home.  I named her Winifred.

Now these can be very cool pets, but they are also NOT for everyone.  I personally think these should be an adult pet and for several reasons.  I also think you need to consider not just a few, but a lot of things before you make the investment.  They aren't cheap.



Things to Consider before Choosing a Hedgie as a Pet:

1) Do your Research
I spent countless hours, learning about this species on the Internet, reading books, and reading reputable breeder pages.  They are African Pygmy Hedgehogs.  This is a pet that needs a certain living environment to survive.  Sorry, but do not be an irresponsible person who buys one on a whim, realizes they hate their hedgie and rehomes it in a week. If you do decide, it is not for you, then give them back to the breeder.  I'll repeat, these pets are not for everyone!

2) Find a Reputable Breeder
What does that mean?  Well, your breeder should be established and know the lineage of their animals.  They should  be able to tell you how long they've been breeding for.  Show you pictures and allow you to come to their home to meet your future pet.  (Sometimes they don't want you to be in the breeding room where the babies are, but you should be able to see some adults).  They should be knowledgeable about feeding, caging, temperament, and always be there to answer questions. Temperament is very important.  Hedgie's are very fickle and they need to be raised with good breeding and a lot of handling for them to be friendly.  Don't buy one from a pet store.  You don't know the lineage and they are likely to be very cranky because they are not held on a daily basis. It's best if they have a website and you can read or speak to others who have bought from them.  Reputable breeders aren't in it for the money alone.  They make breeding their lifestyle and you can tell they love their animals. 
3) They are Not Cheap
Hedgie's can run you anywhere from $150-$500 for a baby.  Older or rehomed ones can be anywhere from $100-$300.  If you are buying something cheaper, beware, think about why it is so cheap and maybe it is sick.

4) They Need to be Handled on a Daily Basis
In my experience, (and breeder suggestion) they need to be handled on a daily basis or they kind of revert to a feral state.  Hedgehogs have not been bread and handled domestically for long and they are still exotic animals.  If you aren't making a point to play and interact with your hedgie daily they will not be used to being handled and become very cranky.  I know this from personal experience.  When I played with Winifred everyday she was more friendly than when I played with her once a week.  If it had been a week she would take forever to come out of her ball.

5) Accept the Fact that While you may Love your Hedgie, they may Never Love you Back
Hedgies don't generally seek out humans like dogs or cats.  They don't even particularly seek out the company of other hedgehogs.  They are pretty much solitary animals (but two females raised together may be okay).  They all have their own personalities.  Some are more friendly than others and don't mind being held.  Some hate being held and will need a lot of handling and patience to come out of their ball.  You will need to spend time getting to know your hedgie in order to bond with it or at least find a way to interact with it.  But don't give up!  You made the commitment and if you are handling them often you will notice the benefits.  They will tell you when you haven't played with them in a while.  The upside is that they can bond with someone (usually one person) and that person could be you.


6) They have Quills
Yes, they have quills.  Will they shoot them at you like a Porcupine?  Are you serious? No.  They don't shoot out at you, but they are sharp!  If your hedgie is in a ball you can hold them but it kind of hurts.  When they are relaxed, it feel like the bristles of a brush. When they are scared they will curl up in a ball, it's seriously so adorable but it can also hurt.  If they are scared they might quickly curl in a ball and pop up and down making a hissing sound.  This was terrifying when I took my nice hedgie home only to see it doing this.  I was way too scared to pick it up but you just have to get used to it and used to handling them.  It can be very frustrating when they are being all friendly and then get scared and pop into a ball and poke you with their quills.  Don't take it personally.  They sense your fear.  This is also a big reason, I don't suggest them for a child's pet.  I will also mention that when they are babies, they go through a Quilling phase where they lose their baby quills and get adult ones.  Sounds cute right?  They are very cranky during this phase and don't like to be held, think of teething in human babies.  I got to miss out on this stage because my Winifred was 6 months when I got her.


6) Feeding
What exactly does a hedgehog eat?  Well they are insectivores, so a big part of their diet should be filled with bugs like crickets, meal worms, other worms, etc.  This is easy to find at a pet store.  Just shop in the Amphibian/Reptile section.  They also can eat cat food.  I would order a mix of cat food that was made by the breeder.  Why cat food?  Protein.  The breeder had determined that this mix has worked with their hedgies and if it works for them then it works for me.  I'd feed them about 2 tablespoons of it a day with the bugs!  Oh don't forget the bugs, they need this to be healthy and can't live on a diet of cat food alone.  They can also have treats like veggies and fruit and other protein filled foods, but my hedgie wasn't too big on that stuff.  Read up on things they shouldn't eat like grapes, raisins, nuts, seeds, chocolate, tea tree oil, and other stuff.  Let them have access to plenty of water with a water bottle, like for a hamster.


7) Caging
Hedgies need a big cage.  They are animals that historically spend their time running around all day.  Their cage should be at least a yard long (You can actually make your own with a Sterilite bin).  Don't use Cedar bedding! And they must have access to a running wheel.  They need a special running wheel that doesn't have wires or their little feel might get caught in them.  I suggest a California Storm wheel.  They should also have a place to hide, like a Pigloo.  And lots of toys to play with.   You can use little cat toys.  And as weird as it sounds, they love tubes.  You can put a toilet paper tube in their and they will play with it for hours.  I don't know what it is, but they will spend all day sticking their heads in them and then getting them off. I thought it looked like torture at first because they keep getting their little heads stuck, but they friggin love it.  It's funny too.  You can also make your own tubes.  Pretty easy.  I've also tried putting a piece of my clothing in their cage like an old sock so they get the scent of you on them and bond to you.  Note: I woke up one morning to find Winifred's wheel COVERED in blood.  It was scary, but I just realized she cut a toenail and kept on running.  I cleaned out the wheel and took it out of her cage for a few days until the toenail healed.  Clean their cages about every two weeks.  They pee and poop in their wheels and this can quickly turn into a disaster area, I assure you.  Clean with soap and hot water, nothing toxic.


8) Cutting their Nails
Speaking of cutting her toenails, this is something that you must do regularly.  Their nails need to be cut.  Out in the wild they would be running all over the place and their nails would naturally shorten on their own.   You will need to get some baby nail trimmers and figure out how to cut their nails.  This can be very difficult as they will ball up if they don't like what is going on.  I've found the best way to get to their nails is when they are relaxed after a bath.  Take your time and be careful not to cut the quick or they will bleed like crazy.  Also, watch out for their teeth.  They will bite you if they feel threatened!

9) Biting
Speaking of biting, they will bite you if they are frightened.  I've been bit a few times and it hurts but it usually won't break the skin.  They will latch on from there so you will have to be patient and gently pry off their mouth.  Don't be quick to rip your hand out of their mouth.  You wouldn't want to hurt your baby, would you?  Truth is, my hedgie has bit my husband more times than me because she wasn't used to his scent.  It's hilarious.  Think about why they are biting you.  Do you have the smell of food on your hands, are you hurting them, are you not spending enough time handling them?  You'll need to work on this if you have a biting hedgie.  Never hit your hedgie or punish it.  If you immediately put it back in it's cage it may think it's getting what it wants. 

10) Bathing your Hedgie
This was probably my favorite thing to do with my hedgie.  Hedgie's don't necessarily have odors, but if they've been running around in their own pee and poop, they may need a bath.  I would fill my sink with warm water and take a soft toothbrush with baby shampoo to their quills.  Works pretty good and my hedgie loved baths.  This was one of those times she was relaxed and they can't ball up in the water.

11) Hedgies Need a Certain Temperature
The ideal temperature for a hedgie environment is 72F.  Think about it, they are originally form Africa and parts of Europe.  They like it warm, but not too hot.  If the temps drop below this they can get sick or hibernate.  In Europe they hibernate, but don't let your domesticated hedgie go into hibernation or they could die.  I always had it warm in my apartment, but some people use heating lamps.  A few times the heat went out in my house and I had to rush my hedgie to our space heater.  If I wasn't at home and the heat went out.  I'd probably come home to a dead hedgie.

12) They are Nocturnal
These are nocturnal animals. So of course they are going to be cranky when you wake them up during the day.  They get most of their activities done at night.  You will hear them cranking away on their wheels at night.  It's really funny to catch them running when you turn on the lights at night. 

13) Find a Vet that Specializes in Exotic Pets
I'm going to tell you right now that you will need to make sure that there is a vet in your area that specializes in exotic pets.  I had one in my area that had met maybe one hedgehog.  Though he was very nice and eager to learn, he had pretty much no idea about hedgehogs, their diets, or how they should be handled.  You will probably know way more than they will about your hedgehog but you should make sure they are at least trained in exotics.  You should probably take them in for a check up when you get one.  And if you have issues, you should be able to have a vet to take them too.  Don't ignore your hedgie's needs because you are too selfish to make all the right precautions and arrangements before hand. 

14) They Might be Illegal in Your State
Oddly enough, this animal is illegal in some states.  It is illegal in my hometown of PA.  But at the time I was living in NY where they are legal.  (They are illegal in NYC).  Why are they illegal? I'm not really sure why?  My guess is because they are considered exotic animals and so they are clumped in with other illegal exotic animals.  And I don't think anyone has really fought to change the laws in those areas.  But, please don't think you can sneak one in an illegal city.  It would be terrible for your hedgie to get sick and not be able to take it to a vet because they are illegal in your state, so keep that in mind.  Here are the states they are illegal in: Maine, Arizona, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, NYC, and possibly more.  Check the laws in your state to make sure.

15) Be Prepared to Deal with the Loss of your Hedgie
Hedgie's only live for about 3 years.  I was prepared to deal with my hedgie's death, but what I wasn't prepared to deal with was Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.  This is a terrible disease that affects a small amount of hedgehogs and other small animals.  There is no known cause but it is believed to be genetic.  It affects the nervous system of the animal and makes their arms and legs stiff and unable to walk.  In Winifred's case, she began to act weird and not be too active. Then she couldn't use her hind legs and would just tip over for no reason. She stopped running on her wheel and would just spin around in circles trying to get to her food bowl.  It was the saddest thing ever.  I had taken her to my vet and expressed my concerns.  They gave me a pain killer to try which wasn't fixing the problem.  The disease is degenerative and only gets worse.  It's only suppose to affect a small percentage of hedgehogs but I only had one and she had it so to me it is a big problem.  The vet said there is no way of knowing if the disease was WHS without an autopsy but I am 100% sure that's what it was.  I watched videos on YouTube and my hedgie was going through the exact same thing.  It was heartbreaking to watch those videos.  I knew that this is what was wrong with her.

My Last Moments with Winifred

The day after Winifred's 2nd birthday she was peeing blood and she couldn't walk at all.  I took her to the vet again and explained that something had to be done.  The vet said that we would probably have to put her down, but ultimately it was my decision.  I knew Winifred was in pain and it was only getting worse.  I didn't see the point in watching her peeing large amounts of blood and crawling to her food bowl to desperately try to eat for the next remaining months.  I knew I had to put her down.  They explained the procedure.  What really bothered me was that they didn't really know how to handle her to calm her down.  Winifred was scared and she was balling up as tight as she could.  They stuck the needle in the center of her belly as she was balled up and I sat through the whole thing.  The whole time I was thinking, what am I doing they don't even know how to hold her, and I'm a terrible person for putting her down.

 They left for about 20 minutes and I could tell she was still alive, I could see her breathing.  It was really traumatic and I asked the vet why she was still alive.  They had to give her another dose.  I didn't think it was going to affect me so much, for God's sake it's a hedgehog, but I was bawling.  I just saw her dying and that needle sticking out of her balled up body and I was heartbroken.  She eventually passed and they assured me she would be taken care of.  They were all really nice people.  I opted to have her cremated.  I didn't have a backyard to bury her in and didn't want to go through any more stress.  I told them that she had WHS but they said it could only be confirmed with an autopsy which would  cost a crazy amount of money.  I asked if I could donate her body for scientific reasons so they could learn more about hedgies and WHS.  Even that was an ordeal, I'd have to freeze her body and drive her to a bigger vet clinic an hour away and then pay.  They wouldn't even take a donated body?  What the hell?  So I had her cremated and I informed the breeder so that she knew for future breeding.


The Good Times with Winifred



I didn't want to end on a bad note.  Though the ending was a sad one, the year and a half that I had with her was interesting.  She was my companion while my husband was gone for a year and she taught me that unlike a dog that will love you unconditionally, Hedgie love has to be earned and you may feel that they will never love you back, but it will teach you patience for another creature.  They are such cute animals with their own unique personalities and you can have a great time bonding with them.  Some people love them and are hooked for life!  I will always remember my Winifred.  She was definitely something that people were always curious about when I told them I had a hedgehog for a pet.  Most people thought I was weird, but they were always intrigued.

 Though I gave, what I feel, is a lot of information, I want you to be very informed before you choose to get a hedgehog as a pet.  I am not an expert, I've simply experienced having one myself.  Read more on the topics and make informed decisions with your breeder on what are the best options.  I don't know why Winifred got WHS.  I personally think that we (scientists, breeders, and owners) don't know enough about the species to be having them as pets.  They've only been domesticated since maybe the 80's so they are still kind of wild at heart.  Maybe it was her diet, or genetics, or other factors, but definitely keep an eye out for WHS. 

It's weird living in Germany now because there are European hedgehogs running around.  They are much bigger than than African Pygmy hedgehogs.  German's love these little creatures (they have a lot of hedgie decorations which I've embraced) and they are protected by law. I hope with this post I have helped someone who is thinking about adopting a hedgie.  I don't want to give out the name of the breeder that I had because I don't want to ruin their reputation.  I felt that they were responsible breeders and I informed them of Winifred's issues.  Please feel free to ask me any question in the comments section or to my email :)


My favorite pic of Winifred!



26 comments :

  1. How adorable! I have never considered a hedgehog as a pet (or anything else for that matter) because I am usually allergic to pet fur. I would love to own one, but alas I am in California and I would want a pet that had a longer life expectancy than 3 years. I love those pictures, especially the one with her head stuck in a tube!

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    1. It was so funny seeing her do that with the tube lol

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  2. What a lovely animal ! But I prefer them living free in nature.

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  3. This makes me so sad, thinking of her at the end and you at the vet, ugh. But it sounds like you really researched and knew what you were doing to care for her. I always thought hedgies were ridiculously super cute. I enjoyed reading this post!

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  4. Aww this is so cute! Such a sad ending but it would have been horrible to see her suffer more. Hedgehogs are quite popular in England, We helped a mummy and baby hedgehog become reunited after they got separated by some steps in our garden once and it was the cutest thing, I also used to see a Hedgehog in our garden a lot of evenings just eating and chilling, I named her Holly (I wasn't sure of the gender but I have a friend called Holly, so named the hedgehog after her). It would be lovely to have one as a pet but as you say, a lot needs to be considered first!

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    1. Do they have domesticated Hedgehogs in England or Europe? I haven't seen any in Germany. I know the one I had was different than the ones running around in Europe. The thought of that hedgie family that you helped sounds adorable!

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  5. This was so interesting and heartbreaking! I love the idea of a pet hedgehog, but know it just won't work for me.

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  6. I've always been interested in these little guys, but never broke down and got one. I had no idea they were so interesting though! What a cutie you had! Thanks for sharing your story!

    Thanks again for joining the Link Up this week!

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  7. They really are cute, and I would love the idea of having one, but with two cats and a dog, it wouldn't be fair to the hedgehog. I'm sorry to hear of your poor Winifred's passing, That must have been traumatic for you. They are very cute!

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  8. Awwwww, that last pic of her is so cute!

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  9. Oh my, I am so very sorry about Winifred, what a cute little baby girl! I am an animal lover since forever raising many ducks, cats , dogs, birds, hamsters and raccoons. I was a state lic. caretaker for the wounded and abandoned babies raccoons. That is an interesting animal so sweet with such a bad wild reputation. Sorry again about your sweet baby girl, I can see you are a wonderful pet parent. Will you be adopting another pet? So nice to meet you! Merry Christmas Lisa @ Sweet Tea N' Salty Air

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    1. We did get another pet. A French Bulldog and he is the best!

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  10. What a cute animal! Your hedgehog reminded me a bit of my guinea pig. Except for the smell, he is the perfect pet. Very sweet natured and he makes noises to let you know his mood. Thanks for your story and so sorry Winifred had such a short life.

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  11. My daughter mentions getting one every now and then. Adorable and Great tips:) Pinned

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post. A few years ago in the middle of a sweltering day, a young boy knocked on my door. He lived two blocks away and was looking for his run-away hedgehog. I am sure his parents realized the pet was not coming back alive and had sent him on his quest to help the pain of losing it. I assured him I knew what the pet looked like and would keep an eye out.

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    1. Aw, what a sad story, yea I doubt they are finding it. They won't do well in the wild in the USA if they are domesticated hedgehogs.

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  13. Aww, what a great post and a sweet pet. So, so cute. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, I know how hard it is to lose an animal. Thank you for sharing about your Hedgie.

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  14. Winnie was adorable! I'm so sorry to hear of her passing, but she got two years filled with love and great care.
    I learned so much from this post. Thank you for letting us get to know her, too.
    Hugs,
    Patti

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  15. Oh How precious! I've always wanted one of these! Am saving this post to study up! :)

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  16. They are so cute! But oh how sad to know she is no longer with you. I found your post so interesting and learned way more than I ever would have known about a hedgehog had you not posted. I am afraid my knowledge was limited to the Steif collectables a friend of mine had. They are just too stinkin cute!

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  17. What a fascinating post! I think they are adorable, but had no idea how to care for them! Thanks for all the info! I'd like to feature your post tomorrow at Tuesdays with a Twist. -Marci @ Stone Cottage Adventures

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  18. Hedgehogs are very cute indeed. Anyone would love to have them as a pet but not everyone can provide the kind of care they need so kudos to you!

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I love to hear from readers! Questions and comments welcome. I try to respond to everyone (I respond back to your comments on the comments page so check back for a response). Thanks for reading!

-Brittany Ruth