It has been said that no other exotic animal has caught the attention of the public quite like the pet hedgehog has. Their spines, friendly and curious nature, as well as that ever-smiling expression have endeared them to millions of confessed hedgehog lovers around the globe.
Those in Britain, Europe and parts of Africa have long known about the hedgehogs charm. British author and illustrator, Beatrix Potter, although most famous for her story of Peter Rabbit, also wrote the wonderful tale of a hedgehog named "Mrs. Tiggy-winkle", a matronly washerwoman. A British wildlife hospital dedicated to rescuing sick and injured hedgehogs is even named after this delightful character.
The interest in hedgehogs doesn't end there, though. Until recently, these remarkable little animals were virtually unknown in North America. But now, thanks to the pioneering efforts of breeders, the African Pygmy Hedgehog is now readily available and can be found in the homes of thousands of happy pet owners. "But why," you may ask, "is there such an interest in hedgehogs as pets?"
Besides having a peaceful and humorous nature, hedgehogs readily lend themselves to just about anyone's lifestyle and schedule. Being diurnal (awake parts of both day and night) just like house cats, nearly everyone can find a time of day in which to enjoy them. They do not require a great deal of room in which to live and their dietary requirements are very easy to meet and, since they are solitary animals by nature they neither require nor want the companionship of another animal.
Unlike hamsters, Guinea Pigs and other small rodents, pet hedgehogs do not give off any appreciable odor and they are easily litter trained. They live much longer than rodents, too. With the proper care and diet, your pet can live to be 4 - 7 years old. Add to all of this the fact that they require no immunization shots and are very disease resistant and you can see why so many people consider hedgehogs to be the perfect pet.
They have adorable little raccoon-like faces, set with beady little black eyes and small pointy noses that seem to twitch constantly, checking out the different odors of the room. Depending on the color variation that you choose, their little white faces may or may not have a mask. Although not related to the porcupine, they are sometimes mistaken for them because of the quills that cover their backs. The similarity ends there, however, since these quills are not barbed or nearly as sharp and remain attached to their bodies. Their little white tummies, on the other hand, are extremely soft and are covered with short, white hair. When frightened, they can roll up into a tight ball and look very much like a sea urchin. They have a short, stubby tail, but this is rarely seen since they keep it tucked up close their bodies. With their tiny little legs and round bodies, it is a real sight to see them scurry across the floor.
Unlike their much larger English cousins, the African Pygmy Hedgehog (or pet hedgehog) is rather small in size, with the average adult weighing between 1/2 and 1 1/4 pounds and are 5 to 8 inches long - about the size of a Guinea Pig. There are a few rare adults that will grow to as much as 1 3/4 to 2 pounds (without being fat) while others are as little as 6 or 7 ounces. Breeders are now concentrating on these differences so that someday, we will have a choice between two different sizes of hedgehogs.
They have a quiet, gentle, disposition that makes them a true delight to own and hold. Each has a distinct personality and will bond to its owner for life. (We are assuming you purchased a socialized pet). They are surprisingly intelligent, fun to play with and are easily entertained. They love to play with tunnels, mazes and specially designed hedgehog wheels. Even something as simple as a toilet paper tube will make a good toy, as they love to stick their heads in them and run about the floor. Despite their solitary nature, they can become very affectionate with their owners and will even enjoying watching TV with you or just snuggling in your lap.
Because they are quiet, they are very easy to travel with. Most people aren't even aware that a pet hedgehog is nearby. Many hotels that restrict other animals such as cats and dogs will allow hedgehogs. Once trained to a litter box, an adult can pretty well have the run of the house. With its excellent sense of smell, keen eyesight and good memory, it will know where the litter box is and will use it on a regular basis. Because they are not a rodent, they have no body odor, but it is still important to clean the litter box daily to eliminate all smells. Some people are not comfortable with a loose pet, so a cage with a minimum floor area of 16 x 24 will keep it happy and secure.
Hedgehogs truly are a low maintenance pet. Your pet hedgehog should be kept indoors at normal room temperature (65 to 80oF); it can be fed a good quality dry cat food or a specially formulated hedgehog food; they don't bark, although when happy, some will emit a quiet purr; they do not climb curtains or chew on furniture; and, they do not ask to be taken out for a walk. All that your pet asks for is to be fed and watered, loved and appreciated.
Besides simply being enjoyed as pets, there is also an active hobby.
Thanks to the efforts of the hard-working folks at the International Hedgehog Association, (IHA) there is now a working show system and standard of perfection for the pet Hedgehog. Breeders and pet owners alike can now show their pets in friendly competition. As well, many breeders are involved in the fascinating and challenging world of color breeding. Many beautiful new
colors have already been produced and many breeders are hard at work to produce even more. This adds a whole new dimension to owning hedgehogs and even those with only one or two animals are becoming actively involved.