Hedgehogs as Pets
Many people worldwide keep hedgehogs as pets. It’s estimated that there are more than twelve million pet hedgehogs in the United States, making them one of the more popular exotic pets in North America. Hedgehogs are cute, spiky, and prickly — kind of like a cactus with fur. If you’re a fan of these beautiful little critters, here are some fun facts about hedgehogs that you might not know that can help with caring for a hedgehog.
Essential Things You Need to Know Before Getting a Hedgehog
The hedgehog is a small mammal that is native to Europe and Asia. There are many different species of hedgehogs, but the European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is the most common. The name “hedgehog” comes from the Old English word “hagge,” which means “hedge.” The term was used because these animals root through hedges and undergrowth in search of food. They make a distinct snuffling, grunting noise when they’re foraging for food, giving them the ‘hog’ portion of their name.
- Hedgehogs are NOT rodents. One of the most common misconceptions about hedgehogs is that they are rodents. Instead, they are omnivorous mammals from the order Eulipotyphla, which includes moles, shrews, moonrats, and desmans. As an omnivorous species, hedgehogs dine primarily on live prey such as insects ,snails, tiny frogs, snakes, and eggs, or they will forage for mushrooms, roots, berries, and other fruits. In addition, they are nocturnal animals and are most active at night, typically sleeping during the day.
- Hedgehogs are not spiny. Instead, a hedgehog has quills on its back that are made of keratin (the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails). These quills protect it against predators. They will curl into a prickly ball that deters most predators if attacked. Quills also help keep the hedgehog’s body temperature regulated. They can close them up to stay warm or open them up to let heat escape if needed.
- Hedgehogs have four- and five-toed feet. The front feet of hedgehogs have five toes while their back feet only have four toes — this is called pentadactyly. The fifth toe acts like an opposable thumb for gripping food items such as insects or berries that they use for food and water sources when exploring the wild.
- Hedgehogs have poor eyesight but excellent senses of smell and hearing. They use their sense of smell to sniff out insects and other small creatures like worms in the ground. While they use their ears to listen for sounds that indicate danger, they can also feel vibrations through their skin. This helps them detect predators like foxes and badgers, and prey like mice and other small mammals.
- Hedgehogs are pretty vocal creatures. They make a variety of sounds, each with distinct meanings. For example, while foraging for food, hedgehogs will grunt and snuffle like pigs. During hedgehog mating season, they’ll make a chuffing noise similar to a steam train to attract potential mates. Baby hedgehogs will chirp like baby birds to say they’re hungry. Adult hedgehogs will hiss or make clicking and popping noises when they feel aggressive or threatened, while a scream will indicate pain or distress.
And there you have it! Hedgehogs make great pets for a variety of reasons. Hedgehogs are social animals that enjoy being around people, so they are good pets to have indoors or outdoors. They rarely bite, and they’re clean. Hedgehog pet care is relatively simple as well. Aside from regular wellness checks by your veterinarian, the occasional bath, and regular teeth brushing, they’re straightforward to care for as a pet.
Do you have a hedgehog or another exotic pet? Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find an experienced veterinarian. Many locations in our family of animal hospitals provide veterinary care for exotics and pocket pets. Click here to find a vet for your exotic pet!