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Life With Your First Hedgehog

Passionate hedgehog keepers love their hedgies dearly — but these quilled cuties are not the right pet for everyone.

Patricia Knight
Posted: May 18, 2014, 9:10 p.m. EDT

Looking at a hedgehog’s adorable little face, it’s hard to not want one. While it’s important to do research before getting any new pet, it may be even more important for hedgehogs. You may not find that a hedgehog is right for you, or you may end up keeping more than one eventually, as owner Kitty Farrington did.

"If you had told me five years ago that I would be spending several hours each night collecting mealworms from a bucket of oatmeal and cornmeal bedding to feed to 12 spikey little animals, I would have laughed,” Farrington said. She now actually helps with rescue for the Hedgehog Welfare Society and is part of the International Hedgehog Association, though she is not officially associated with them. (Hedgehog rescue groups or individual rescuers can be approved by the International Hedgehog Association.)

hedgehog being bathed
© Kitty Farrington
Caring for a hedgehog involves feeding mealworms and, rarely, giving a bath.

Hedgie Personalities
Hedgehogs definitely show distinct personalities, so it is difficult to generalize about their character. Linda Woodring, vice-chief volunteer officer and rescue chair for the Hedgehog Welfare Society, was blessed to have the perfect first hedgehog, Dudley. By the time Dudley came to live with Woodring, he was already well-socialized, and he rarely raised quills or turned into a ball. "He loved to get under my shirt and sleep on his back, so I would rub his tummy,” Woodring said.

three hedgehog photos
© Deb Weaver
Some hedgehogs enjoy interacting with people, while others, not so much. 

In contrast, Deb Weaver, chief volunteer officer of the Hedgehog Welfare Society and show committee member for the International Hedgehog Association, said that her first hedgie, Gracie, was a "cranky girl who did not appreciate any show of affection from her mom.” Apparently, her friend’s hedgehogs were friendly, so she expected to get a cordial animal, as well. Since Gracie, Weaver has kept seven other hedgehogs, all with different personalities.

"Nothing can prepare you for a particularly huffy and unsocialized hedgehog,” Farrington said, noting that her first hedgie, Tiny Hedgum, fell into that category. At the same time, she admits that nothing can compare to when that "huffy, unsocialized hedgehog’s cute little face” peeks out at you for the first time or the first time it takes a bug from your hand.

Bonding is ultra-important when it comes to hedgehogs. Ali Gerstner’s first hedgehog was named Thor, and she has kept several others since then and is involved with rescue for NC Hedgehog Rescue and the International Hedgehog Association. She recently had two rescue animals that were not well-socialized — their original caretakers did not realize the necessary time commitment. The socialization of these hedgehogs included at least 30 minutes of socialization every night, treats for interactions and visitors to help them become familiar with strangers — and Gerstner even put her used T-shirts into their cages to help with the process.

hedgehog on hand
© Ali Gerstner
At least 30 minutes of socialization every night can help with bonding to your hedgehog.

One thing to keep in mind is that hedgehogs are nocturnal, which is great if you are a night-owl. Christine Matarese, who is also involved with rescue for the Hedgehog Welfare Society and the International Hedgehog Association, had a first hedgehog named Kayla Brittany Springer. "I am a night person and it fit my lifestyle, so I could brandish her with love. They sleep all day and play at night.”

The Good and Not-So-Good
If hedgehogs sounds like a good pet to you and you have allergies, they may be a good potential match. If you like to avoid noisy animals, the quiet hedgehog may also be a good choice for you. In addition, they are good for apartment-dwellers.

However, Woodring mentioned that hedgies are not appropriate for small children under the ages of 10 or 12. She has seen a lot of rescue hedgies due to the fact that the child became disinterested in the hedgehog. Also, she notes that not all of them bite, but if they do, they bite hard and have a tendency to hang on.

Then there’s the obvious part: the quills. "Hedgehogs can be prickly. You have to handle them with care,” Matarese said.

hedgehog on towel
© Christine Matarese
Hedgehogs have quills, so they can be prickly.

Hedgie Health
All animal species have health conditions they might be prone to, and hedgehogs are no exception. One condition to be careful of is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, which is a neurological condition. Woodring’s hedgehog, Dudley, developed Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome early in his life. "I didn’t realize that what I was seeing were very early signs of WHS,” she said.

Weaver mentions that they are also prone to cancer and that they have a short life span (between 3 and 5 years). And when they do get sick, it can be difficult to find a veterinarian who can treat hedgehogs. "They are considered an exotic animal, so obtaining vet care — and paying for it — can be a challenge.” She also notes that they are illegal in various areas of the United States.

three hedgehog photos
© Linda Woodring
One medical ailment that hedgehogs are subject to is Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome.

The Final Decision
Hopefully, you now have a good summary of what keeping a hedgehog entails, both the pros and cons. "The hedgehogs who have come through my rescue group haven’t been victims of abuse but rather have been the result of people who haven’t done their research,” Gerstner said. At the same time, there are hedgehog parents who love their hedgies dearly — hopefully, you will be one of them.

To read about hedgehog behavior, see the questions and answers from our expert, click here>>
Wondering about hedgehog health? See our veterinary questions and answers about chinchilla health, click here>>

Posted: May 18, 2014, 9:10 p.m. EDT

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Life With Your First Hedgehog

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Reader Comments
I just got my very first hedgehog, Howie, and I am his third owner. I've had him for a couple of weeks now yet he still does not too much care for me or my roommate. We both seperately spend at least 30 minutes a night with him, but he still is not having us. We both have him old shirts that he likes to burrow under but he dislikes us to the point where he bites. Just a nibble, but he definitely snaps. We've tried mealworms and everything we can think of but he just doesn't respond well. Do we just need to work with him more or what's going on? Any and all help is appreciated.
Eric, Amarillo, TX
Posted: 3/2/2015 9:48:55 PM
This is a great article! Thank you to the Small Animal Channel for allowing members of the Hedgehog Welfare Society to participate! I just want to add that if you do decide to get a hedgehog, it is better to buy from a reputable breeder who has the proper license to breed. Hedgehogs who come from back yard breeders (those who don't know what they are doing) are more prone to disease and are less sociable. The difference between a well bred hedgie and one from a back yard breeder is like night and day. Also, it is a good idea to join a social network dedicated to hedgehog care such as yahoo groups Hedgehog Welfare Society or Hedgehog Help.
Kitty, Granite Falls, NC
Posted: 5/20/2014 9:44:36 AM
Great article! I had my 1st hedgehog for months before I found out I was suppose to bathe and clip nails. Happily, it wasn't too late, no damage done. I am now a rescuer with Hedgehog Welfare Society & International Hedgehog Association, have 5 in my home and love the little guys!
Elaine, Roanoke, VA
Posted: 5/19/2014 6:35:00 PM
I loved this. I'm just starting to learn about hedgehogs and this was a great introduction. Very direct, clear, easy to digest. Lovely.
Wolfy, chattanooga, TN
Posted: 5/19/2014 6:26:22 AM
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