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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. They do best with owners that are able to take them out later in the evening or at night, but if allowed to sleep, they can come out during the day for snuggles. While they require a decent sized cage, they don't need to be walked or let our regularly. 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.

While their urine and feces smell (like that of any animal), hedgehogs themselves do not have a strong odor. They have a medium lifespan of 3-6 years, which allows you to enjoy them for a number of years without a long-term commitment of over a decade like many other pets. They also don't need any immunizations, though they do require a yearly or twice-yearly vet check and are prone to some common health issues, especially cancer.

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.

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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. 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 (though this is not guaranteed) and will even enjoying watching TV with you or just snuggling in your lap.

Your pet hedgehog should be kept indoors in a large enclosure, which typically should be heated (73 to 80F). It can be fed a good quality dry cat or dog 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.

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