Karen has had several exotic pets; the hedgehog was the funniest-looking, but nothing beat the skunk for getting attention!
How Do You Pet a Hedgehog?
When I first got to know my husband, I found out he had had a pet hedgehog. Since I had two ferrets myself at the time and grew up with a pet skunk and wished for a pet wallaby, I thought it might be fun as newlyweds to get a hedgehog. He said they were nice pets, after all, and they certainly looked cute in pictures. I just had one question: How do you pet a pet hedgehog?
1. African Pygmy Hedgehogs Are Not Related to Porcupines
A hedgehog's lifespan is only a couple years, so I never met my husband's average brown hedgehog, named Horatio. First of all, I had to learn that the African pygmy hedgehogs sold as pets in America are not the same thing as English hedgehogs. For one thing, they are smaller: about the size of a large potato, or when fending off an enemy, a curled-up potato with needles sticking out all over. (Maybe I should just let the graphics handle the mental images.)
They are not related to porcupines, though it is tempting to associate them. Not that I've ever met a porcupine, but I understand porcupine needles are quite long. Hedgehog needles are half an inch to an inch long, and fairly thick. And very sharp, especially when your bare foot steps on one in the rug. They don't really look too bad lying down in the same direction when the hedgehog is happy, but when he curls up in a ball, you need work gloves to pick him up!
2. Hedgehogs Do Not Land on Their Feet
Sometimes, gloves are not at hand, though. Such as the time my husband discovered that, unlike a proverbial cat, hedgehogs do not always land on their feet.
Horatio was on a table and for some reason decided to crawl off the end of the table, and fearing for his poor pet's life, my husband shot out his hand to catch Horatio. He made the painful discovery that Horatio had started curling up and all the pointy parts were out. Multiple needles impaling human flesh absorbed the force much better than tiny hedgehog legs would have and provided Horatio a soft (for him) landing.
My husband did not prove conclusively that hedgehogs always land on their back, but was content to theorize from this one piece of anecdotal evidence that landing on the back would make a lot of sense (for the hedgehog, not the landing place.) And it's always nice to be able to curl up into a ball in an emergency.
Cats Can Turn Around in Midair
So, having proved (sort of) that hedgehogs must twist around in mid-air, my husband went on to discover that cats also can turn in mid-air. The experiment went like this:
Cat is discovered to be preparing to pounce on prey, which is not in full view.
- Cat pounces.
- Prey is then in full view.
- Cat's sharp vision informs the cat that the object below is also sharp.
- Cat's incredible reflexes veto the decision to pounce on the object.
- Result: cat changes course in mid-air.
So my husband says, anyway.
3. There Are International Hedgehog Olympic Games
My husband was very interested in getting another hedgehog. I liked it except that I have never been too interested in pets you can't really pet, like turtles. (And some you can, like tarantulas.) So I wondered where we could find someone with a hedgehog so I could find out for myself whether they were pettable. (It wasn't so much that I doubted my husband saying so as that I couldn't picture how it was done.)
I looked on the Internet for hedgehog information, which way back in 2003 was not necessarily the most obvious first place to look for information. So I was amazed to find, not only was the International Hedgehog Olympic Games (IHOG) hedgehog show happening the following weekend, but it was happening just a few miles away in downtown Denver!
We went to the hotel the event was held at (hedgehogs are small enough you can hold their games in a hotel conference room) and were amazed. The variety of hedgehogs was amazing. The variety of things you can spend money on for your hedgehog was amazing. And the hedgehog people were really amazing. I mean, as a ferret owner I had realized ferret people are somewhat crazy, but it was nothing to hedgehog people! What made the biggest impression was the hedgehog psychic, who would tell you what your hedgehog thought. (And who are you to say that's not what the hedgehog was thinking?)
But in all the amazement, I did get to pet a hedgehog (and in the process discovered hedgehogs aren't potty trained.) And we talked to one of the breeders and arranged to buy our pedigreed baby hedgehog for $200 when it was old enough. So I became a hedgehog person too.
Pet Hedgehogs and Other Pets Compared
|Companion||Friendliness||Ease of Care||Pettability||You Have What? Factor|
8 if it would sit still
African Pygmy Hedgehog
2 on top 7 on bottom
Pet Rocks as explained by a friend who collects pet rocks from the Rocky Mountains
High - never bites, allows you to hold it any time. Can hurt if you drop one on your foot.
Low - requires only an occasional dusting
Varies. New rocks have low pettability. Rock tumblers increase their pettability. Ones with a lot of moss are highly pettable.
4. Hedgehogs Bite
Especially if you are wearing cherry-flavored hand lotion. We found this out because, of course, we had to show off our new pet to all our friends. Some of them wanted to hold him.
Hedgehogs do have individual personalities, and ours was, you might say, occasionally prickly. So he bit me occasionally, just to express that I was not treating him right, not a serious bite. It didn't draw blood. But it did hurt, and when handling a pet you already are easily hurt by, well, there are lots of relationship books about things like that. Mostly they say to stay away. Probably our hedgehog would have become friendlier if I had handled him more, especially as a baby, but as it was, he was generally nice unless dissatisfied with something, and then would nip.
So we were always a little hesitant over letting friends hold him, but I can only think of two times we had a problem. One was the friend who had just put the lotion on her hands. Out came this long red hedgehog tongue, and started licking, and licking. Usually the next thing he would do after licking like that was chew, so we separated him from those wonderful-tasting hands as quick as we could.
Then there was the elder of our church, who was over with a bunch of other people and almost before we knew he had even arrived, he came in the room saying, "Your hedgehog bit me!"
"Oh, hello, nice you could come," was our response. As we knew him to be a former goat farmer and also the father of one of the gentlest young men we know with animals, we figured we knew what he was getting into and probably deserved whatever he got!
5. Young Hedgehogs Shed Baby Prickles
Yes, those needles. All over. And then you step on them. We were glad when our hedgehog got past the shedding stage. The stage wasn't actually very long, but it did seem like forever before we were sure we'd found the last needle on our carpet.
6. Actually, You Can Pet a Hedgehog
If you can get a hedgehog relaxed enough with you to let you roll him over and rub his tummy, you will find they really do have a soft belly. They do like their tummies rubbed, but only by good friends.
7. Hedgehogs Turn Themselves Inside Out
Okay, not quite. But it looks that way, when they taste something they think is interesting. For instance, the leg of our antique coffee table. Our hedgehog would lick it and even chew on it for a bit, then start moving his mouth around to make really foamy saliva. Then he would start smearing the foam all over his back. That's the part that looked like turning himself inside out. After all, how would you smear saliva on your back if your arms were half as long? Well, you're right, you have no reason to smear saliva on your back, so you are probably wondering why a hedgehog does. I don't know. Experts don't know. Presumably hedgehogs know, but if they told the hedgehog psychic, she didn't tell me.
The main use I know of for this hedgehog behavior is to entertain the hedgehog's owners and astonished guests.
Our Baby Hedgehog
On a coolish day in Denver, we brought our new baby (hedgehog) home, having converted the second bathroom in our condo to a heated area we started calling "Africa", for the comfort of an animal that likes temperatures 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
As I recall, our hedgehog was considered a "champagne" hedgehog (click on the link to see pictures of the various colorations). I am not sure what the difference is between a pale, red-eyed hedgehog and an albino, but our baby hedgehog was cute—eventually, anyway.
A very young baby hedgehog looks like a small reddish potato with needles sticking out of it. Really. Well, maybe potatoes don't have noses, mouths, and legs, but otherwise, I stand by the description. If that one makes no sense to you, try picturing large baby gerbils with needles. Eventually, fur grows and they start looking cute and feeling soft, on one side anyway.
Hedgehogs love mealworms, and did you know you can actually buy mealworms at pet stores? Probably because we weren't the only hedgehog owners who had no intention of feeding our hedgehog homegrown mealworms.
Purchasing Equipment for a Hedgehog
I recall there being at the IHOG competition quite a bunch of things you could spoil a hedgehog with and at the same time get rid of a lot of burdensome money.
There was one thing that really did impress me, though, and we bought one of them —a hedgehog exercise wheel made out of a skateboard wheel, PVC pipe, and the bottom of a large plastic container. The thing was balanced well and was quiet too. The guy selling it assured us hedgehogs need lots of exercise, and ours used it a lot. The alternative is letting the hedgehog run free around the house, which sounds nice, but there are a few disadvantages:
- the lack of potty training
- if you step on a hedgehog you may regret it almost as much as the hedgehog
- the fact that any hole a hedgehog wants to get into, you aren't getting him out of until he wants to come out
The wheel wasn't easy to clean, but I would imagine any exercise wheel would have the same problem. That lack of potty training means after while there gets to be a whole lot of dried unmentionable substance on the running surface.
The way I would clean the wheel was take it out in the back yard, aim the hose inside the wheel, which would make the wheel spin faster and faster, and let the wheel rinse and spin itself. Eventually that would get just about everything, and it was fun, too, as long as I was careful to stand away from the splashes.
Tip: Beware of Feral Hedgehogs Roaming the Streets of Denver
This is hearsay, and those who I heard it from were hedgehog owners, so it could be not quite exactly the way things were. However, the idea was funny enough I have to mention it.
Last I heard, it is illegal to own hedgehogs in the city of Denver (not the surrounding towns), because they are concerned about feral animals. That is, you bring in an exotic species and some of them escape and find each other and breed and do horrible things to the native species. It is a reasonable concern.
Except that these are African pygmy hedgehogs. As in, from Africa. To keep ours healthy, we had to have a heat rock like those made for lizard cages. He spent most of his time on the rock in the winter, and that was inside a house! So it seems a bit paranoid to think that escaped hedgehogs are going to survive in Denver for more than a few weeks in the middle of the summer.
But we liked the mental image of herds of feral African pygmy hedgehogs, roaming the streets of Denver, causing terror and mayhem in feral cats, leaving a trail of hedgehog needles to puncture feet and tires, and messily devouring the hands of anyone with cherry hand lotion.
Recommended for You
Pet Hedgehogs Compared to British Hedgehogs
- They can run, climb and even have their own Olympics: A new book reveals the surprisingly sporty sid
A British perspective on the International Hedgehog games in Denver.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: What do you feed baby and adult hedgehogs?
Answer: I think larger pet stores have food specifically for hedgehogs.
© 2012 aethelthryth
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on January 01, 2015:
I can't wait to read THAT book!
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on January 01, 2015:
Thanks for the encouragement, GetitScene, I actually have a couple things ready to be WWI articles, but I'm trying to get a book about Iwo Jima published before the 70th anniversary of the battle, and that's been taking my attention the last couple years (writing and answering comments is fun, not work.)
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on January 01, 2015:
Write more hubs! I think I've read everything of yours several times. =) More WWI Ace stuff would be great!!
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on March 18, 2014:
Jeannieinabottle, sujaya venkatesh, and rebeccamealey, thank you for your comments! Hamsters are both cuter and more pettable than hedgehogs, but if you want to be a remarkable person, in the sense of a person people make remarks about, hedgehogs are an invaluable asset. People may tell the next generation about you, like a high-school friend of mine whose children have never met me, but know me as the one who had a pet skunk as a girl.
Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on March 18, 2014:
Never heard of having a hedgehog as a pet. I have to vote interesting. I like your chart!
sujaya venkatesh on March 18, 2014:
hedgehogging all the way ae
Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on March 17, 2014:
Well, now I want a hedgehog! I've had a few hamsters, but hedgehogs sound delightful. I think I would especially enjoy the Hedgehog Olympics. As far as the exercise wheel goes, I can say as a previous hamster owner, they are always difficult to clean. Eventually hamsters do typically become potty trained though... as much as one can potty train a hamster, that is. Thanks for sharing all your hedgehog knowledge. :-) It makes me want one as a pet now!
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on May 14, 2013:
GetitScene, I would think fresh cheese from a friendly hand would be much better for them than moldy cheese dug out of the trash, which I'm sure they eat anyway, assuming hedgehogs in the UK operate like skunks here! (I just got reminded yesterday that there aren't skunks in Europe - a story of Danish physicist Niels Bohr having to be told to keep his distance from a skunk even if it was cute.)
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on May 13, 2013:
Unique. Loved it. When I lived in the UK (pre-boat) 2 hedgehogs used to scratch at my back door and I would feed them cheese. In hindsight, cheese is probably not good for them but they sure seemed to love it.
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on February 02, 2013:
Redberry Sky - Animals native to other countries look so cute in nature photographs, but I guess the ones we live next to are always fleabitten varmints!
Between hedgehogs and their owners, the Hedgehog Olympics are quite a spectacle.
Redberry Sky on January 30, 2013:
These days, I'd be more in the market for the pet rock you mention, but when I was a little girl I used to bring home any wild animal I found. One day I found a hedgehog and carried it carefully home with me. My mum went absolutely nutsbananas; wild hedgehogs have an *inordinate* number of fleas nestled among their spines.
Cool and interesting Hub, Aethelthryth - I would *love* to go and see the Hedgehog Olympics! :)
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on October 05, 2012:
Hello shiningIrisheyes, thank you for the comment. I liked the name Horatio; I thought it was very original. And I'd have to say hedgehogs can even be cuddly, if they are very happy, but that can change very quickly too....
Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on October 05, 2012:
I so enjoyed reading about the hedgehog escapades - especially with your Hubby and Horatio. My niece had a hedgehog and it was the only one I ever laid eyes on. Very cute but not very cuddly!
Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on October 02, 2012:
Sadly hedgehog numbers in the uk are decreasing - according to the hedgehog preservation society by 25% over the past 10 years. I don't see them as often as I used to. If you visit the UK again you might enjoy a visit to Tiggywinkles which is a wildlife hospital which started of with hedgehogs and expanded. They have a visitor centre and I'm sure you'd get to meet hedgehogs there.
I shall look forward to your hub on artist writer collaborations.
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on October 02, 2012:
Thank you, Nettlemere. I would love to see English hedgehogs, but they've hidden themselves pretty well whenever I've been in England. As for the illustrations, I think I'm going to write an article about how artist friends seeking ways to promote their work on-line are a natural fit for Hub writers who do not know anything about art!
Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on October 01, 2012:
Well written, enjoyable hub and very cute illustrations. I've looked after a few European hedgehogs over winter which were too light to survive hibernation and I think they have just about the smelliest droppings of any creature I've cared for!
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on October 01, 2012:
Thank you, Farmer Rachel. I guess the main reason anyone would choose a hedgehog over a hamster is to see the looks on their friends' faces.
Rachel Koski Nielsen from from PA, now homesteading in MN on October 01, 2012:
Interesting and cute hub! Can't say I'm much interested in having a pet hedgehog myself, but this was really awesome information. Great job! Voted up and more :)