Hedgehogs as Pets

Pet hedgehogs, or African Pygmy Hedgehogs (a name earned due to their small size relative to the European hedgehog species: they are not actually pygmy animals) originally come from Africa. What we keep as pets in the United States is actually a hybrid of two different species: Atelerix algirus (or the Algerian Hedgehog) and Atelerix albiventris (or the White-Bellied Hedgehog; also commonly known as the Four-Toed Hedgehog).

On average, pet hedgehogs are fairly small; just a little bit smaller than a guinea pig (or about the size of an adult hand). Even though hedgehogs look similar to rodents, they are actually closer cousins to shrews and are insectivores. They have fur on their faces and undersides with spines on their backs. The spines are modified hairs: they are thick and rigid, being only slightly flexible with sharp points. When a hedgehog is relaxed, its spines lie flat against its back and do not seem to be sharp (which is the normal state for most pet hedgehogs, as can be seen in the photo above to the right). However, when it feels threatened a hedgehog can tense the intricate muscles of its back which causes the spines to rise up in various directions so that they are held-fast and noticeably sharp. Their spines do not come out if they happen to prick you, although they do naturally shed them like hair. They also have the ability to roll into a complete ball as protection against predators to become an undesirable ball of prickles. If a pet hedgehog cannot roll into a ball, it has likely either suffered an injury or become too overweight.

Bonding

Manchot Napping in a Sunbeam

In the wild, hedgehogs are not social animals, meaning that they do not live in social groups. They are quite independent little critters that enjoy exploring and foraging. However, this does not mean that they are incapable of forming social bonds. They do tend to pick their people, and may act shy around anyone else. That is to say, hedgehogs seem to be fans of familiarity; many of them like their people and their places and might act discontented with change.

As pets, hedgehogs provide excellent outlets for those who prefer pets that do not constantly need attention from us, nor constantly give it. Much like cats, hedgehogs have their own agenda, but are even less social. They make great pets for people who can enjoy just watching them do what they do.

Play Time & Entertainment

While many hedgehogs will be interactive, and some will thoroughly enjoy using you as a jungle-gym (some of them will even learn their name unlike most other small animals), most are more content to entertain themselves. They may do this with small toys, such as little stuffed animals or squishy balls that they will tote around without you ever really knowing what their intentions are. Or just running in their a wheels and stopping on occasion to peer around the edge to see how far they’ve gotten. They also have an innate fondness of tubes; the tubes don’t even have to be big enough for them to fit in, just their head in a tube will provide great enjoyment for them.

Aside from their obvious spiny appearance hedgehogs are unique in a few other ways as well. For instance, they are considerably talented contortionists, which is how they are able to roll themselves into complete balls. They are also able to stretch themselves out a bit, lie out flat like a pancake while resting on a hot day, squeeze through openings that look too small for them, and sometimes (such as while yawning) will even roll themselves a little-bit in the other direction, which looks particularly odd if you ever get the chance to see it .

Anointing

Gris Grêle on the attack

They will also occasionally partake in a natural behavior known as self-anointing. Anointing is a common practice for many animals, although not many anoint themselves. This behavior involves the hedgehog producing some thick saliva or foam after licking or chewing on something that is of interest to it, and then contorting itself a bit to lick the foam onto its spines (this is presumably a tactic to add irritants to their spines to assist in making themselves less appealing to predators). Given, this is perhaps not one of their most aesthetic behaviors, but it is at least interesting.


Such unfound rarity and natural ability for entertainment has made the hedgehog a favorite comrade in households across the world. The fascination that is inherent with these wonderful animals has won the hedgehog into the hearts of many as beloved pets; with their unequaled charm and well-earned companionship they are ideal family pets, fascinating and educational class-room pets, and meaningful animal friends.

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