The Basics of Hedgehogs
- The hedgehogs commonly kept as pets in North America appear to by a mix of species, originally native to Africa. The term "African Pygmy Hedgehog" is a descriptive term (coined by breeders), rather than a true species name.
- They are considered primarily insectivores (insects make up the largest part of their natural diet).
- Their backs are covered with rows of short prickly spines and their bellies are covered with soft fur. When threatened, they roll in to a tight ball with just a mass of spines poking out. When relaxed, the spines lay almost flat.
- Thanks to selective breeding, hedgehogs are now available in a huge array of color variations.
- They are quite compact, reaching a size of around 5-8 inches in length.
- Estimates of expected life span vary widely, anywhere from 3-8 years, although 4-6 years is probably most typical.
- Illegal in some areas.
- Fairly low maintenance pets, and while they don't mind handling once used to it they don't really seem to "crave" human interaction.
Choosing a Hedgehog
- It is best to locate a reputable breeder who breeds for good temperament and makes sure young hedgehogs are handled regularly.
- Getting a young hedgehog (6-8 weeks) is the best way to make sure your hedgehog will get used to being handled.
- If possible, try to pick up the hedgehog to gauge its reaction - try to choose one that will allow itself to be picked up and maybe even turned on its back without rolling into a tight ball and staying there.
- Look for bright eyes, clear nostrils, and healthy looking skin, quills and fur. Watch out for flaky skin, missing quills, discharge around the eyes or nose, or evidence of diarrhea. Also make sure the hedgehog is in good body condition - neither too thin nor overweight (a good place to check is around the legs - watch out for rolls of fat as obesity is a common problem).
- Males and females generally are equally good pets.
- Plan on only one hedgehog to a cage. Most hedgehogs are perfectly happy to be kept alone and in fact often fight if kept with other hedgehogs.