Peculiar Pets: Spiny Hedgehogs Make Unique Companions
Maybe not what you'd expect from these quilled creatures, but then again, hedgehogs are much more than adorable novelties. Pet African hedgehogs, Algerian and White Bellied hybrids, are on average about the size of a guinea pig, typically to 1 lbs. and 5 to 8 inches long. They're mostly nocturnal, mild-mannered animals whose quills aren't barbed like those of porcupines. And, for a growing community of hedgehog owners, their beloved pets are unique, friendly companions.
"My hedgie's temperament and personality are the best things about her," Gardner tells PEOPLEPets.com. "She sleeps during the day when I'm at work; eats and runs in her wheel all night while I sleep. She's a shy little girl who will run up to me and snuggle in my arms." Jodi Spillane of Irmo, S.C., paints a similar picture: "I love how Ender [her 7-month-old hedgehog] will burrow in his hedgie bag and sleep while in my lap. We can sit and watch TV, and he's quite happy that way."
If caring for these animals sounds like a piece of cake, though, hedgehog owners are quick to point out the challenges. The little guys tend to relieve themselves on their running wheels; cleaning up after them is a frequent commitment. Some Web sites give straightforward care parameters (68-80F, cat food), but many owners say their hedgies have very specific and special needs, such as live mealworms, crickets and space heaters.
"In some circles, hedgies have reached the status of a fad pet when they really shouldn't be. They are exotic animals; they cannot ... be treated like cats or dogs," notes Gardner. She read up at Hedgehog Central, Chins-n-Hedgies and Hedgehog World before deciding that she was ready for one and adds that keeping up with accurate information on proper care is still a challenge.
And the right breeder can make a huge difference. Renee Crnograc drove 1,000 miles roundtrip just to pick up her "well socialized ... curious and healthy" hedgie Marshmallow from breeder Lindsey Sweeney in Lolo, Mont. For Crnograc and many hedgie-lovers, finding a breeder who can answer any questions about the animal is important.
Those who are up to the task of owning these lovable creatures often discover delightful quirks in their tiny pal. "They have the funniest personalities," says Spillane. Miss Hufflepuff, for instance, tends to run over her food: "[The mealworms] are sitting beneath her belly while she looks around all disappointed because they've disappeared."
Despite their quiet reputation–which can be rather deceiving given the huffing noises they'll make when disturbed from sleep–hedgehogs invite quite a lot of vocal attention. After "poop-boot" baths, Gardner sings "You Are My Sunshine" to her hedgie – "replacing 'sunshine' with 'hedgehog' of course." And Spillane reveals how Ender grew on her mother, who was once afraid to be left alone with him. Now, "I catch her talking to him all the time."
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