Want to time-travel into the past? Amazingly, you don’t even need a time-travel machine to do so. The hedgehog is a portal to the past; the present day hedgehog looks almost identical to the hedgehog that lived 15 million years ago. Obviously, the hedgehog has something good working for it, since it has not had to evolve to live in changing environments for this extensive period of time. The hedgehog has also found a place in many people’s homes because there is no other pet quite like this.
The African Pygmy hedgehog is the most commonly kept hedgehog as a pet. Hedgehogs have a few characteristics that you should be aware of if you are planning on having one as a pet. First, they are nocturnal. This means that their natural time to sleep is during the day, and they will be more active into the evening and night. They may make noises such as grunts, snuffles, and sometimes screams that could interrupt your sleep should they be near your bedroom and you are a light sleeper. Additionally, they are omnivores so basically they need to eat both meats and fruits/vegetables to get the necessary nutrients to thrive. Thus, it is likely very difficult to make a diet that will always satisfy these needs, and any animal can get very sick if they are missing an important part of their diet. It is important to either get a commercially available food or do proper research and discuss this with your exotic animal veterinarian. Lastly, though this may seem obvious to some, hedgehogs are NOT cuddly. People may be thrown off by their cute face and inquisitive nature but they are not lap pets meant to be petted like a cat. The main reason for this is that they have spines! The entire body of the hedgehog is covered by these spines, except for their underside. They are not barbed so if they get stuck in your flesh they are easy to remove and not as painful as porcupine quills, but they still hurt. When a hedgehog is scared or threatened it will roll into a ball exposing its spines. This is definitely not a ball that you want to play catch with!
Now that you know three important things about hedgehogs as pets, here is some more interesting hedgehog information. Hedgehogs like to bathe themselves in their own saliva whenever they smell something they haven’t smelled before. Does this seem irrational to you? Can you imagine smelling a nice bouquet of flowers then feeling the insurmountable urge to lick your entire body? Strange, but this is exactly what hedgehogs do. When they come to a new scent they lick and bite the object until they form froth in their mouth that is scented. Then they lick the spines on their body. This process, called ‘anting’ supposedly gives the hedgehog a kind of camouflage with the smell, providing protection from predators since they smell like their surroundings. This can also lead to poisoning or infection if their spines impale an animal that tries to eat the hedgehog.
Before you go plunging headfirst into hedgehog ownership you should know that they are not like other small rodents that only live a couple of years like hamsters or mice. Hedgehogs can live up to 10 years when properly cared for. Not providing all the essentials they need to thrive such as a proper diet can significantly decrease this life span. All in all, the hedgehog is relatively easy to care for and can be kept in a large aquarium or guinea pig sized cage, and is fairly clean – some even learn to use litter boxes. Though you cannot cuddle the hedgehog, if you are kind and gentle it will enjoy exploring you and perhaps sit in your lap; hopefully not rolling into that prickly ball too often.
By Laura Platt- Pets.ca writer