Wild hedgehogs have been living in Africa forever but only in recent years have they been kept as pets. Most North American pet hedgehogs, typically called African pygmy hedgehogs, were bred from African species and are considered domesticated. These little animals can make terrific companions when housed and fed appropriately, and their popularity appears to be increasing. But hedgehogs are not meant for everyone. Before you consider bringing a hedgehog into your home, there are several things to be aware of.1. Hedgehogs Are Prickly
Like porcupines, the skin over hedgehogs’ backs is covered with sharp spines that protect them from predators. Thankfully, unlike our native porcupines, hedgehogs cannot shoot their quills out in defense. When caught in the mouth of a predator, however, hedgehogs will twitch and jump so that their quills poke into the skin and lips of the aggressor, making things generally unpleasant until they are released. Handling a nervous hedgehog can be tricky for an owner, and you may need to hold your friend in a small towel until he relaxes.
2. They Like to Play ‘I’m Out of Here’
As a defense mechanism, hedgehogs roll their bodies into tight little balls when threatened, causing their spines to point outward so that predators are unable to see their faces or limbs. They have very strong muscles over their backs, and it is nearly impossible to unfurl a hedgehog once he’s curled up. Pet hedgehogs must be handled gently and often to get them to relax and uncurl. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time staring at a cute but prickly little ball in your lap.
3. ‘Spit Balls’ Are OK
When a hedgehog encounters an object with a new scent, he will lick and bite the object and then form a frothy “spit ball” in his mouth containing the new scent. He will throw his head back and spit this frothy saliva over his spines with his tongue, possibly to camouflage himself with the new scent and make himself less obvious to predators. If you see your pet hedgehog engaging in this “self-anointing” behavior, don’t worry: It’s gross but completely normal.
4. Hedgehogs Are Not Mini Porcupines
Interestingly, though quilled porcupines are rodents, quilled hedgehogs are not. They are classified as insectivores (insect eaters) instead. They are not strict insectivores, however, as they consume a variety of foods in the wild, including snails, amphibians, lizards, snakes, birds’ eggs, fish, carrion, mushrooms, grass roots, berries and melons. Domesticated pet hedgehogs typically eat a limited number of insects (mealworms, crickets, earthworms, wax worms) in favor of commercially available pelleted formulas manufactured just for them. They can also eat a small amount of vegetables, fruit and cooked meat. Given their desire to catch live prey, pet hedgehogs should not be offered large amounts of insects or they will likely eat them to the exclusion of other foods needed for a balanced diet.