I’ve been receiving a number of letters from readers asking about Icky, the hedgehog in The Wishing Thread. So I thought I would write up a post answering frequently asked questions about what it’s like to own a hedgehog.
Icky is based on my own hedgehog, Cleopatra. But believe it or not, Icky came into my life before Cleo!
Initially, the Van Ripper sisters in The Wishing Thread had a cat. It was a perfectly nice ginger cat, but something about it didn’t seem right. I thought the sisters needed a more unusual pet to fit their unusual lives in The Stitchery.
At the same time that I was working on the book, I had wanted to get a hedgehog as a pet because I was so curious about them. But I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pull it off.
So since I didn’t know if I could get a pet hedgehog, I thought “Why not give one to the Van Ripper girls?” And that’s how Icky ended up in the story. A hedgehog was the perfect pet for my three “magical” knitting sisters.
A few months later, my husband and I adopted Cleopatra. And I had plenty of material to make Icky stand out!
So, here are the questions I’m most often getting about owning a hedgehog.
What species of hedgehogs make good pets?
Wild hedgehogs in England are different than the pets people have domesticated here. The African Pygmy Hedgehog is currently the species most often bred for companionship. But breeding hedgies is still very new, so hedgehogs tend to retain their wild (and more shy/skittish) personality traits.
Where do I get a pet hedgehog?
Hedgehogs are illegal in some states. Here in New Jersey, you have to have a permit. While some pet stores are beginning to sell hedgies as pets, be sure you get yours from a good breeder.
A good breeder will help ensure that your hedgie is “nice” and won’t curl up in an angry ball of quills every time you pick her up. Trust me, that’s no fun (and it makes for intensely expensive vet bills, since there’s not much a vet can do with a hedgie that won’t uncurl).
Plus, a good hedgehog breeder will be more responsible about socializing your hedgehog early, which is HUGELY important for these human-wary animals. My little Cleo curled up in my hand and went to sleep on the day I met her–I was instantly in love.
Do the spikes come out? Do they hurt?
Hedgehogs are actually not related to porcupines, even though it looks like they should be. So, no, the spike aren’t barbed and they don’t come out. They don’t draw blood.
When Cleo was a baby her spikes were a little trickier and sharper, kind of like how human baby fingernails are like tiny razors. Now that she’s older, her “grown up quills” are slightly more dull that her baby quills. Slightly. But oh man, going through the process of her big-girl quills coming in was hellish. She was a miserable girl! It was like she was teething, but instead of teeth coming in, her quills were coming in.
You get used to handling hedgies quickly, and they get used to you. The more they trust that you’ll hold them in a way that makes them feel secure, they less likely they’ll spike. Cleo will very rarely get herself is such a tizzy that she goes into full on angry-ball-of-spikes mode. Mostly, she just half-heartedly spikes when she wants to tell me something.
In a way, Cleo’s “language” is spiking. Sometimes she spikes a little if I look at her wrong. When she was a baby, words that started with T or P made her spike up–or a good hard sneeze.
Some of it is just instinct. You know how when something comes at your eye, you blink? She’s got hair-trigger reflexes that make her fearful, since she’s a prey animal. So I have to move slowly and speak softly around her.
Do they make noise?
I sometimes think that Cleo would say she’s talking all the time but nobody listens. The trouble is that with human ears, you can barely hear her.
She makes a sort of purring sound when she’s nuzzling around a blanket or exploring. And she gives the super softest squeaks you’ll ever hear, if you put your ear right up near her.
Her most audible noise is her “I’m annoyed with you” hiss (or snuffing), usually accompanied by a half-spike maneuver. And when she’s really, really perturbed she makes this sound like a trilling motor set to idle. I’ve only heard that one a couple times–once when she was sick.
Are hedgehogs “easy” pets?
It depends on your idea of easy.
Learning to take good care of Cleo was difficult. There’s no real infrastructure set up for hedgehogs at pet stores–so you can’t just go and buy the right kind of cage, or the right kind of food, or the right size wheel that will not wear down her spine after a lifetime of running. I had to do a lot of research. And I’ve built Cleo’s cage (twice) from scratch. You’ve also got to find a exotic animal vet that knows about hedgies.
Plus, they are very temperature sensitive. If the temp drops below 70 they can have organ failure. And over 80 they get heat stroke, because they don’t have sweat glands.
In terms of daily work, hedgehogs need to be taken out of their cage every day. They’ll “go wild”–that is, decide to stop being friendly to you–if you leave them alone too long.
The one downside to having a hedgie is, frankly, the bathroom issue (which is an issue no matter what kind of pet you have, since all animals “go”). From what I’ve heard from others who own hedgehogs, most poop on their wheels as they’re running. Which is gross. Because then they run through it. This means nightly foot washes and regular baths.
Some are littler trained, but most owners on hedgehog forums say the wheel is the preferred place for rest stops. Cleo, however, seems to have figured out that if she aims for her little box, she doesn’t have to get a daily foot bath. And so we’re doing better with that–but it took her over a year to figure it out.
What do hedgehogs eat?
Cleo eats cat kibble prepared by her breeder (hedgehogs need a mix of different types of specific proteins, so just buying one kinds of cat food alone could be harmful over time). She also gets treats of meal worms and bits of cheese. Some hedgies are more adventurous eaters and will nibble fruits and veggies. But not my girl.
Can a hedgehog cage stay in the same room that a person is sleeping in?
I wouldn’t recommend it. First, hedgehogs are noisy because they’re nocturnal. Second, they stink when they potty. I mean–it’s impressive how much they stink. So no–I wouldn’t recommend it (or wish it on my worst enemy).
How exactly does one hang out with a hedgehog? Are they fun?
Hedgehogs sleep all day and are awake all night. So plan to hang out with a hedgie in the wee hours of the morning or after dusk.
Some hedgehogs will play with toys, but from what I’ve read, the majority won’t. Cleo’s two favorite things (when she’s outside her cage) are cuddling and exploring. You may have seen my post about the day I lost her. Oh boy.
And yes, she cuddles. She likes to wiggle into the space between my lower back and the couch cushions, and she’s not afraid to spike me a little if I move in a way she doesn’t want me to move. It doesn’t hurt; she’s just bossy. Hedgie can have the personalities of divas.
Because they can be so sensitive, are still sort of wild, prefer late hours, and can be messy, I do not think they would make a good pet for younger kids.
Do you have a question about hedgehogs? Feel free to ask me! I’m not an expert, but I can tell you what my experience has been.
And if you haven’t already, be sure to watch for “Icky” the hedgehog in The Wishing Thread!
Lisa Van Allen