Hedgehogs can make unique pets.
Some of the happiest discoveries in life can be utter contradictions. Such is the case of the hedgehog, one of the cutest animals on earth that also happens to have a pelt of sharp quills. Hedgehogs don’t immediately come to mind when thinking about fun and cuddly pets, but these unusual creatures can be playful, loving, and loyal.
“We got our first hedgehog, Heidi, as a pet for my daughter,” Ann Salamon, a Connecticut based hedgehog breeder and proprietor of Hedgehog World told me. “She was a great pet with lots of spunk and attitude and she really bonded with my daughter and our whole family. We all really fell in love with her.”
Say Hello to My Little Hedgehog
Most hedgehogs come from Africa, and the species most commonly kept as a pet in North America is the African Pygmy hedgehog.
“It is a hybrid of two different species that were imported into North America in the 1990s,” Salamon said. “Virtually all of the pet hedgehogs in the US are domestically bred.”
Because of their origins hedgehogs typically need to be kept warm to stay healthy. They should be kept in a room that is at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit and preferably a little warmer, which makes them a great pet for people in warmer parts of the country. A typical hedgehog will live between three and five years, though some have been known to live as long as ten years in captivity.
“Hedgehogs are very intelligent and they each have their own distinct personality. Most of them are very independent,” Salamon continued. “They don’t require as much time and attention as a dog or a cat and often apartments that don’t allow dogs or cats will allow hedgehogs.”
These Quills Were Made for Loving
While hedgehogs can often be sweet and friendly creatures, their quills present a challenge for those looking to cuddle.
“Scent is very important to hedgehogs because their eyesight is not good, so hedgehogs should be handled with your bare hands whenever possible,” Salamon said. “If a hedgehog is used to a lot of human contact, most will not roll up or will unroll immediately when you pick them up.”
If you don’t feel comfortable trying to hold your new hedgehog with bare hands, try using some cloth that still has your scent on it so he or she will start to recognize you. An old fleece or baby blanket should do the trick, though be careful to check for loose threads, which can get wrapped around a hedgehog’s tiny toes and cause problems.
“Some hedgehogs like to cuddle and sit in your lap,” Salamon continued. “You can watch TV or use the computer with them on your lap, or carry them around in a sweatshirt pocket.”
A Home Fit for a ‘Hog
Hedgehogs are relatively small and can live happily in a cage similar to what you’d use for a guinea pig or rat. They love to have space to roam, but a single level cage of at least two feet by two feet will suffice. They also tend to enjoy exercise and Salamon says an exercise wheel is a must.
“Hedgehogs are burrowing animals so a safe wood bedding like kiln dried pine or aspen--but never cedar--or paper bedding makes an enjoyable environment for them to burrow and dig,” Salamon continued.
It’s also important to give your hedgehog time to play outside of its cage.
“If you have a runner or explorer, you can let them run around supervised or put them in a run about ball, children’s wading pool or ferret exercise pen,” Salamon said. "They love to run on an exercise wheel, play with toilet paper tubes and some also like to push around other child or pet safe toys in their cage.”
Hedgehog’ing is Not a Crime—Usually
Because hedgehogs are still a relatively unusual pet, laws affecting their ownership can vary from state to state. Most states in the U.S. and Canada allow people to own hedgehogs but they are currently illegal in Georgia, California, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. New York City residents are also out of luck.
While not illegal in the state of New York, residents in any of NYC’s five boroughs are forbidden from keeping hedgehogs as pets. In Arizona, Maine, and New Jersey you’re allowed to keep hedgehogs but you’ll need to apply for a special permit first.